Collaborative, university-like institutions out in the "real" world?
August 15, 2017 2:15 AM   Subscribe

It's been 7 years since I graduated university (computer science), and aside from a few years of work at a startup, I've been working on app projects all on my own. I like the independence and the pursuit of my own destiny, but lately I've been feeling terribly lonely. More than anything, I've been missing the institutional feel of college.

I miss having smart people all around me with different career tracks and interests. I miss spontaneous moments of collaboration and insight, guided from above by supremely gifted professors. I miss feeling like I'm in a place where everyone is working on themselves or for the betterment of society, all without the risk of getting "fired". And I especially miss feeling like I'm in the crucible of our collective futures. Aside from the obvious option of going back to grad school (which sounds extremely draining unless you're super into it), are there any collaborative, cross-disciplinary institutions like this in the "real" world?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I think that start up incubators, accelerators, and even some co-working spaces try to achieve the vibe you are looking for. And if you are working on app projects, you are likely a good candidate participate. There are new ones popping up everywhere these days, so a quick google search would reveal if there's one near you.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 3:08 AM on August 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

This may not apply to your situation, but I'm a writer, and I often (but not always) find this at artist's residencies, particularly ones with larger groups that draw from diverse disciplines, where there are lots of opportunities to spend "productive leisure time" with people whose creative practices are in different fields than mine, whose careers are in different places (whether just starting out or far ahead of me), whose interests and approaches and values are dramatically varied. Plus while writers can sometimes be insufferably apollonian, artists are often downright dionysian and I love getting out of the sometimes-competitive literary bubble to tell tales with folks whose very creative practice involves profoundly different 'ways of knowing' than mine.
posted by tapir-whorf at 3:31 AM on August 15, 2017

The Recurse Center in New York is a programmer equivalent of a writers' workshop or artists' residency. It lasts 6 or 12 weeks.

I have zero experience with it, but I read about it in Julia Evans' blog and it sounds kind of like what you describe: relevant posts are here and here, and the rest are on this list .

Here is the FAQ for the retreat. The manual looks good too, and is probably the best thing to read if you want to know more.
posted by rollick at 5:15 AM on August 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I work in museums, which have a similar atmosphere. But you might consider volunteering in a media or artistic collective or other activism project where you can put your skills to work.
posted by Miko at 6:02 AM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

A local makerspace?
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:48 AM on August 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

I participated in the Recurse Center and I would recommend it to you.

I'd also suggest that you consider the religious institutions in your area.
posted by brainwane at 8:05 AM on August 15, 2017

Have I got a place for you. The U.S. and many countries have national laboratories that sound like exactly what you describe. Without exception they assemble multi-disciplinary teams to attack challenging problems in a collaborative environment where crossing disciplines is crucial. Since they also tend to be addressing unusual problems, there is a need (and indeed, expectation) for you to be learning stuff not normally taught in school so training is the norm. The downside for many people is that these laboratories tend to be significantly focused on defense and nuclear applications, though there are also significant efforts in lasers, seismology, weather, etc., etc.
posted by wnissen at 9:00 AM on August 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is exactly what co-working spaces are for (particularly social innovation ones - if you have an Impact HUB in your region, it's all people trying to better society) and your co-workers will love having someone who does app development in the mix. Most co-working spaces offer a trial period and/or super flexible plans where you can work there once a week or cancel after a month if you just aren't into it.
posted by notorious medium at 9:32 AM on August 15, 2017

I also came in to suggest co-working spaces. I worked out of one for a year and a half and it was just wonderful. I was there as an employee of a small business who was renting part of the space, but the vast majority of the people there were self-employed, freelancers, and small biz owners with complementary skill sets, so there was always tons of chatter and networking and project-sharing and feedback gathering and collaboration. The best way I can describe it is that it constantly buzzed with good energy; you always had the impression that everyone was there because they WANTED to be. Which, as you know, is not the case in most offices.
posted by anderjen at 12:18 PM on August 15, 2017 [1 favorite]

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