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I am a social scientist about to finish my PhD program, and I'm hoping that I will get an academic job that will enable me to PI my own studies. However, I think there is a chance that this will not happen. I love doing research, so I'm wondering - is there a way I can affiliate with a university so that I can use its IRB and do (self-funded) research part-time?

I was thinking I might try to find a job that pays well and then do it just 4 days per week so that I can have the 5th day to myself to do research. I am in the U.S.

Please also feel free to suggest tags in the comments so that I can get this post seen by the right people.

Thank you!

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I will guess that this will be difficult to do in your early career. Universities have a lot of rules and a lot of lawyers worried about liability and such. If you teach part time, perhaps in the evening, then it would be a different situation. The pay is terrible, but it does establish the relationship you need.

But note that the IRB process isn't limited to universities. There are companies who are qualified to do it for a fee.

Anyone can do research and anyone can submit to conferences and journals. It is a way to build up your credentials. You don't need academic affiliation to do, or publish, research. Finding collaborators is a bit harder, but you can manage that as well, perhaps just by visiting a local institution and opening a dialog. Perhaps you would be permitted to join a research seminar or such. And joint publication with someone affiliated avoids some of the complications.

But, as you know, the best path is to get an academic job if it otherwise appeals to you.

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Yes, by continuing to collaborate with your PhD advisor, you could continue to do self-funded research part-time

If an academic job doesn't materialize, but a private one does, you could arrange to continue to collaborate with your advisor on that 5th day of the week.

If what you want to do closely matches with your advisor's needs, you might even be able to negotiate a part-time post-doc position. Besides the 1-day aspect, this is very similar to what sometimes happens to recent PhD graduates during the summer after graduation. They continue to work with their advisors until they start a post-doc or some other job.

If your interests are further away, you could try to arrange to be a lab 'volunteer' and use that time to develop a grant application or collect preliminary data (as long as your advisor consents). In such scenario, you would need to talk to your advisor about the IRB process to collect the preliminary data. If there are any costs or you need equipment, you could offer to pay for them out of pocket (using the money you earned from your private sector job), and work out the details of what would happen to the equipment when/if you left.

From the advisor's perspective, you would be a 1-day-a-week, low-risk (they know you), post-doc-level research associate that provides their own equipment and funding. If you offered authorship on any resulting papers and helped with grant applications, there is very little risk to the advisor.

You could continue to do this until one of the grant applications go through and you can make enough money to quit your private sector job.

If you get a grant that allows transfers to other institutions, then your prospects of getting a full-time academic research job become much better.

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