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- Why do researchers need universities? 12 answers
I have read about many great researchers in various fields who were not involved in academia throughout their lives. Some were involved in academia only part of their life, but almost invariably, their greatest work came after a period of solitude and isolation from others. In fact, most great mathematicians, for example, were rather isolated figures. Bernhard Riemann and Isaac Newton come to mind, but others like James Clerk Maxwell were also isolated during their periods of research. More recently, Andrew Wiles isolated himself for around 7 years and didn't speak about his work to anyone while he was busy solving Fermat's Last Theorem. (I have mentioned only mathematicians because those are the ones I have read about the most.)
Hence, I am failing to see how being in academia/a university position aids one as a researcher, practically speaking. It seems as though the greatest research must come from within the individual due to an intense and personal love and desire for the subject, rather than due to collaborating with others or being given a better position or whatever. In fact, such things seem to be the opposite: detrimental. They would make the person focus not on the subject but on paltry things like gaining more and more money or a better reputation.
My question is simply: How does being in university position (e.g. professor) aid the researchers who are at the highest level in their field? I do not mean being involved in academia, because one can be involved (eg attending seminars and lectures) without having a position (please correct me if I am wrong, as I myself am not actually in academia).