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For context: I know exactly the topic and have an idea for the methods. I have done background research and seen what similar research has been done (and how). I have an associate’s degree. I live in Boston where I feel confident there must be some professor or postdoc or grad student who understands the details of the scientific method and academic publishing around here, but I am not in their social circle.

For now, I am mostly looking for someone to at least look over my methods and critique how scientifically sound they are (or perhaps propose better methods). Ideally they would also help me to publish this in an academic journal and offer some guidance as I conduct the project.

I will be doing this research either way as it is about an important social issue. I will be sharing the results with (hopefully) in news media, with (small grassroots) advocacy organizations I work with, and with local legislators. I figure, if I’m doing it either way, it would be best to have the institutional backing of academia. But I don’t really know anyone, so how?

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    Does your study require IRB approval or is purely secondary data analysis? I don't know of anyone who would be super excited to add an IRB submission to their to-do. – Azor Ahai -- he him Sep 30 '19 at 19:14
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    @Azor Ahai At least w my current methods a standard uni researcher would need IRB approval. However, I am not in a university so I’m not sure whether IRB approval actually applies in that case – electriclady Sep 30 '19 at 20:03
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    @electriclady I'm one of the few social science people here and I must say I don't think you are going to have much luck seeking this sort of relationship with an academic outside of study. What you are looking for is time consuming, first of all, and second of all it's what people pay tuition fees for. However crass it may sound, the University doesn't want us to give that sort of supervision and training away for free when normally they would charge for it. Doing further study is how you learn how to do academia and it simply does take time: your time and the supervisors time. – GrotesqueSI Oct 1 '19 at 8:27
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    @electriclady Regarding IRBs, a social scientists cannot get involved in your project if it doesn't demonstrably conform to accepted ethical standards, not even as an advisor. If you are doing any data collection at all from humans (even simple surveys) the academic you are working with would have to get ethical clearance to participate. It doesn't matter if you aren't involved with an org that has an IRB, THEY are...and they are bound to only conduct and participate in ethical work anyway. – GrotesqueSI Oct 1 '19 at 8:30
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    @electriclady I unfortunately don't want to give any guidance to you on what to expect out of an IRB, but Grotesque is correct, and like I said before, I don't know anyone who wants to do an extra IRB for fun. – Azor Ahai -- he him Oct 1 '19 at 14:01
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There are a lot of universities in and near Boston. They all have websites and the websites usually include lists of faculty and their specialties. Find someone that way and write to them with a proposal and offer to meet with them personally at their convenience. Introduce yourself and give a bit about your ideas, but don't make it too long.

Even if they don't want to work directly with you, many would be willing to give you advice about how to proceed once they know what your interests are. The larger institutions, with grad students, may even have a way for you to work with one of them. But academics are good at giving advice if nothing else.

But, your proposal will need to be pretty compelling, since such people are pretty busy with their normal tasks. Some people will just ignore you for that reason. Keep trying.

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Research the local universities' research goals, then contact those which are compatible with your organization's area about becoming an industry or government partner.

You've stated that you're a member of a political organization that this research would be done on the behalf of, so, basically, the goal here is to avoid contacting the individual academics, and instead contact the universities as a whole, while acting as an official representative of your organization - and if you don't have the authority to act as such, either ask your superiors for permission to do so, or for someone who does have that authority to act in your stead.

You'd want to begin the process by researching the areas of research that each individual university nearby prioritizes; you said you were in Boston, and a quick Google search turned up this page for Boston University; I imagine that each other university in the area likely has similar pages on their website, though if you can find a document called something like a "research roadmap" that would also work. Once you find these, consider how your organization's nature would align with these research goals, and contact those universities that you think would have compatible goals, while explaining how partnering with your organization would help advance those goals and benefit the university. For Boston University, there is this page that includes information about how prospective industry partners can contact them; I imagine that other local universities would have similar pages.

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Why would an academic spend the time to develop your research skills and expertise for free? Not only that, expose themselves to media critique and potential political condemnation for your "research"? Could it be that what you think of as "research" is actually consulting rather than research. Your aim is publicity and exposure. Not to further the field of science? Will you be spending the time to write up your "research" for peer-review after all the media fanfare?

The aim of academia is not media exposure. Political scrutiny can also destroy careers and funding opportunities for the non-tenured staff? Have you considered political research groups? There are activist and non-governmental organizations with thinktanks and research expertise that can provide the support and structure that you seek. There are academic fields that are more "activistic" than others. Ecology, environmental science, etc all have strong "activistic" leanings, so you would have better luck finding supportive academics in those fields compared to the more politically sensitive areas with more precarious funding.

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