20

I love my full-time job and do not wish to leave it (statistician in a small-ish research institute within a large university) because I believe the research we do will someday benefit humanity and because I get the freedom to pursue my own research and several open-source statistical software projects I'm developing.

However, I am not making enough to provide for my family, and we are starting to feel it. I'm looking for something low-risk that I can do from home and on my own schedule, so finding an adjunct position someplace is not on the table. I'm looking into ways to commercialize my software and teaching myself about investing, but neither of those will be reliable income streams anytime soon.

So, I would like to solicit people's stories/advice on how they got into freelance statistical consulting or any other "low-hanging fruit" jobs.

Also, are there specific types of businesses that are known to hire free-lancers to do survival analysis, repeated measures regression, and all-around R programming?

I'm not trying to be the next James Goodnight, just to find a way to make some extra cash doing stuff I find easy and other people find difficult. I'll do web development if I have to, but I figure there should be a more profitable niche where I put my less common skills to use.

  • 9
    It is a little disturbing to hear that a research biostatistician does not make enough to make ends meet. I always thought such jobs paid reasonably well. – Faheem Mitha Oct 19 '13 at 17:09
  • 5
    Academic research rarely pays well. – f1r3br4nd Oct 21 '13 at 20:13
  • I've seen statisticians doing consulting work on the side. As for where to find these jobs, I guess you need to look around. – socialsciencedoc Feb 28 '14 at 1:53
  • @f1r3br4nd But there is a difference between 'does not pay well' and 'cannot provide for my family'. The former is acceptable, the latter not so much. – xLeitix Feb 28 '14 at 11:33
15

This is more of a brainstorming session/life hack than an answer specific for academic, hopefully this can spark some more inputs. As a disclaimer, I identify with you as I am also working in the field of biostatistics and epidemiology, though I have not actively sought after extra income. However, I have always been a financial life junkie and I used to love to daydream how to be rich or at least to enjoy retirement with dignity. Here are some of my thoughts and, well, refined thoughts.

Saving = Income - Expenses

We should first recognize that you can save money by either getting more or spending less. Before going to get more, I'd recommend sitting down with your spouse and go over the financial situation. Here are a few exercises that I found easy to pick up, and once you have started, you may see if this route is good:

  1. Create a happy matrix for your spending: Print out your credit card statement(s), item by item, grade how each of them makes you happy (Likert's scale, etc. you know the drill.) Identify things that are not contributing any satisfaction and avoid making the same purchase again. For those that truly make you happy, evaluate if you can cut back (usually, from all my reading, the culprit is often the $7.90 something Starbucks grande latte and a scone for the breakfast), or substitute with cheaper options such as shifting to other vendors or make them at home. I especially recommend everyone to check their credit card bill, bank bill, and cell phone bill: When I first started this routine, I found out that I have $280 sitting in my credit card as cash back! I just never claimed it.

  2. Have an energy audit of your house: Most local government should be able to point you to some free energy audit service. They will evaluate your house's insulation, electricity usage, conditions of the heating system etc. and provide you a list of improvements and expected return on investment. For example, you can spend about $1,200 to inject foam in between inner and outer wall, and drop your heating bill by more than $200 per year. Other gadgets like motion sensing switch, smart thermostat, and CFL light bulbs may also help.

  3. Take public transport or bike: I actually use this method. I don't drive and I live about 9 miles away from work. I commute on bike in spring, summer, and fall; and use subway in winter.

  4. Commit to be green: This sounds like quite off. But I have come to realize that once you want to cut down on trash, you can't help but cut down on consumption. For example, I bring my travel mug and a collapsible box everywhere in case if I need to buy a drink or food. Since packaged food is automatically out of the equation (which are usually more expensive per weight), I save some money there. I also go to wet market or farmer's market for food, and I don't consume processed food. If I need an item I check out local flea market and freecycle websites (I give away stuff through freecycle as well.) For level 2 difficulty: Commit to be a vegetarian or vegan. Meatless lifestyle simplifies life tremendously.

  5. Use your educator's identity: Many vendors provide discount to educators. Since you work in a university, you can flash your staff card and get some good saving here and there. I'd also encourage you to check with your university's benefit page. I got a 24% discount on my phone bill just because I filled in an extra form.

Then up a notch

If you have mortgages and complicated insurances, etc. Consider talking to a financial planner. Most of them can point you to some restructuring to make the system more streamlined. Simple things like grouping the insurance to one company can save monthly payment. I have even read about an extreme case that a couple actually ends up saving more by having one of them stopped working because the commute, childcare, and other expenses were eating into the take-home income so much.

Now, zoom out

I do understand that you value your biostatistics skills. But when it comes to making money, you don't have to only work on biostatistics. For me, after 9 hours of coding and reading outputs, I'd rather see something else. Once you have broken out from the box, you'll feel more liberated. Reassess your passions and hobbies, and see if you can pursue an instructor position somewhere. For example, personal trainer, yoga teacher, musical instrument teacher, handcraft, carpentry, gardening, etc.

On my own spare time, I write video game walkthroughs, and post them on various websites and my own wiki sites. In the walkthrough I put affiliated links to vendors and in the wiki I earn Google Ads money. Given I am not very prolific, I don't earn a lot, but I can usually pocket about $300-400 a year if I happen to have written a walkthrough for a popular game.

Finally, zoom back in

Now, back to your question. There are many ways a biostatistcian can expand their job repertoire. Here are some examples:

  1. Consult your local classified websites such as Craigslist: Check for consultant type of jobs. You may even post an ad if you are so enticed. I used to do some consultation on and off as a student and got to charge $50 to $100 an hour.

  2. Propose a course to local adult learning center: Most cities should have some adult learning centers the provide classes on hobbies or professional skills. Meet with the director and propose a course (on R, for example). You can build clientele and enlarge your social network as well.

  3. Statistical editor and reader: You can also contact local editors and discuss on possibility to be an ad hoc statistical editor. I am actually working towards this direction. In my institution there are a lot of orphan data: grants ended, staff left, no body works on it and publishes the work. I found my niche of being a data undertaker, and I grew to be very interested in writing as well. Other than editors, you can also sell your skills to students who are writing their thesis. Most of their works can benefit by having a round of quantitative examination.

  4. Look for an adjunct position: I know you don't want to, but I'd urge you to be a bit more adventurous on this option. Since online education is actually picking up traction, your skill in biostatistics and website building may actually be a good combination for some institutions looking for a way to move their program online. For remote course you usually just need to meet the student in the first 1-2 weeks or every other week, which can still preserve your flexible time table. Use online chat or billboard for office hour, give students feedback using track-changes, etc. You can do most of these at home.

Closing remarks

I hope I didn't sound patronizing. But I wholeheartedly hope you may find some of these useful. I used to have mindset like you do, thinking of how to expand my income sources (I have my own expense and family in my home country to support), but after a few rounds of thinking, and sorting out what are the most important, I didn't feel like that any more. Now I make sure I have good pre-tax saving taken out first, save at least 10%, allocate money for family, allocate minimal expenses, keep about 5% or so for entertainment, buy used, give away or sell my own used goods, bike to work, stop all cable TV, lend to people on Kiva.org, simplify my closet, practice the motto of "buy the experience, don't buy the stuff"... etc. I realize that I still have enough, and I am not really sure what I was fussing about in the past. I'm happier, calmer, and definitely feeling clearer about what I want. And I certainly hope you'll be able to find your solution as well!

  • +1 I'd add that the most useful thing to better align spending with actual needs is a budget (be it a paper spreadsheet, an excel sheet, or an app like ynab or the like). Also, check out the personal finance stackexchange. – henning Sep 29 '18 at 12:09
9

I found private tutoring to be a great way to earn money on the side as an academic.

This often just involves going through exam papers with your tutee (e.g. studying Maths A-levels, GCSEs etc).

Here are some advantages:

  • Great pay: ~£15-30/hr (depending on whether you are free-lance or via some agency or academy)
  • Flexible hours: Often demand for tuition is after school hours ~5-7pm
  • Rewarding and satisfying, your students remember you and may one day be great interns
  • Self-improvement:
    • Keep up to date on pre-university curriculum/vocablurary (good if you need to lecture 1st year undergrads)
    • Keeping afresh the fundamental concepts
    • Great way to network with parents who may be in areas of business you may be interested in future
  • 3
    What you call tuition, I'd call tutoring... – Paul Feb 28 '14 at 1:38
  • 2
    If you can tolerate it, and your university is large, there's almost certainly demand. Statistics seems to be one of the most sought after tutoring subjects among masters students I see. – chmullig Feb 28 '14 at 2:39
7

My answer complements the other, nicely crafted answers.

Disclaimer: My core competency is that of a statistician as well and I am still a graduate student.

I don't really need to earn extra money. However, in the recent past, I have been hired on as an analyst or statistician for various projects by other professors or researchers in my university or in other universities.

How did this happen?

Personal networking I presume. I don't really make an effort to network at conferences or their ilk (I mostly attend talks which I want to ; the poster sessions and hang out with whomever is most fun. :))

However, through formal and informal interactions with professors in my department and elsewhere, I have come to understand that I almost always position myself (to them) as a researcher coming from a math/stat background who is trying hard to understand and put on curious foot after the other in the interdisciplinary world of HCI/privacy etc.

This unintentional (and honest) positioning infrequently results in conversations like " Hey ! We have a cool dataset and need to publish a paper which answers some of these research questions. Do you want to lend us your skillz in return for money/19th authorship? "

Usually, in such cases, I almost always take the authorship offer but I have also done it for payment in the past as well. Sometimes, if its a really cool collaboration, it yields both !!

Therefore, I advise you to reach out through your contacts, other researchers in your institute/university/college/department informally (lunch/dinner/happy hour) or formally (seminar/colloquium/email) and see what opportunities might be there in your own backyard. You never know.

Good luck !

6

I have a few friends with similar stories, though in different fields of science. Overall, they realized that their specialty is not their only skill, and that as successful researchers, other generic skills are more in demand. In particular, you can be a scientific or technical editor, scientific writer, copy-editor, technical translator (especially if you live in a country where English is not the primary language). These tasks are in very high demand, and allow you to work on a “as needed” basis.

3

Have you tried Zombal?

Disclaimer

I have nothing to do with Zombal. I don't get paid whatsoever.

I am a statistician working in the government sector, and I don't earn a lot. So I too was looking to get some side income. I found Zombal through this blog, which makes Zombal look quite good. I have yet to give it a try because I don't quite have the time (yet) and like @penguin_knight, I am not sure I want to do more stats after work. But since you are asking how you can get side jobs, I am throwing this out as an option.

  • @Zimmerman. I suppose I got downvoted because i put in too many irrelevant content (assuming it came from you). I thought a warning like what penguin_knight did was more compassionate, given it is a genuine post, and it seems to be the only post that actually gives a specific place to look for freelance jobs. (the other posts are great, but mine adds value by being specific) – qoheleth Feb 28 '14 at 2:38
  • I don't think Zimmerman downvoted it given his vote record (13 downvotes out of 1764 votes casted). I upvoted it for two reasons, you have a disclaimer and Zimmerman edited it very well. – scaaahu Feb 28 '14 at 3:07
  • Ok then.... maybe someone else did it, and yes, Zimmerman edited it quite well. – qoheleth Feb 28 '14 at 3:17

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