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Basically, I am working on a project which is scientific/scholastic/academic by nature, but I am not in a university at the moment. I mainly just want university affiliation so I can access a research library, plus some minor other things, such as Research Gate only allowing you to join if you have an “institution” email address.

I know some good specific places and ways to suggest a research proposal for some kind of official acceptance from a university.

I was curious, is there any general way? It would be interesting to have a single “marketplace” where people could suggest research seeking supervision or backing, or someone could suggest a topic they would like to get a researcher for. Ideally, it would be global, sort of like Fiverr freelancing, a place for researchers to connect and find partnerships.

What’s the nearest thing to this?

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    such as Research Gate only allowing you to join if you have an “institution” email address --- FYI, I haven't had an institutional address since July 2005, and yet I archived an unpublished manuscript at RG a few years ago, and I don't recall having to jump through any hoops (unlike arXiv, where I originally wanted to put it). In fact, as described in my comment to this question, I didn't even initiate trying to get an account with them, but instead I finally decided to do this after several months of getting "spam emails" from them. Nov 26, 2022 at 22:28
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    See if you can find a researcher in a local university in your field (look on linkedin or university websites), and e-mail them a polite letter asking to sit down for coffee to discuss your ideas. Most professors love nothing more than to talk about their subject. Of course, try to be humble - they speak to a lot of misguided students and have seen a lot of proposals, so they have a good idea of what will do well and what won't. That being said, they won't be able to get you an institution email adress, thats limited to members of the institution for financial reasons (uni pays for it)
    – Rugnir
    Nov 28, 2022 at 15:27
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    You don't mention what is your industry affliation. That can be a good way to introduce yourself to the local university, as some researchers enjoy the industry-academic partnerships. If you are looking for people that are doing research in your idea, look at the bibliography section of papers you read that are close to your research idea.
    – gns100
    Nov 28, 2022 at 17:56
  • @gns100 That’s a great idea, thank you. I currently see myself in computational linguistics with entrepreneurship. By establishing a sole proprietorship and small business entity identity, it may be a good way for universities to be interested in joint work of some kind.
    – hmltn
    Nov 29, 2022 at 12:22

6 Answers 6

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There aren't really any legions of bored researchers waiting for some idea to work on. Moreover, if you do indeed have a promising, sufficiently specific research idea, you'd want to reach the tiny, tiny fraction of people with just the right expertise - no chance for any automated filtering systems here.

The options that are available to you:

a) You seek the relevant guidance to learn how to carry out your research project yourself.

This is what a PhD programme is for. Ideally, you even get a scholarship for this, and then you can spend a couple of years getting paid to learn the skills you want from a specialist in the area.

b) You have plenty of money, and you just want someone to work on the topic you care about.

You can offer a research grant. While most of these come from government organizations, also companies and charities often offer research grants. You would invite researchers to pitch how they'd address your research challenge, and then give money to the most convincing team. Depending on how expensive the research you have in mind is, you may already be getting somewhere good for £100000.

c) You have money to spare, and you want control over the project.

In the grant situation, the researcher would execute the project as they see fit. Alternatively, you could hire a researcher on a consultancy contract and just get their input/contribution to the parts you really need help on.

d) You know your stuff, but you don't have much money to spare

If your situation is such that you can genuinely contribute to the project you have in mind, but that you just cannot do it all alone, you may try and find a collaborator who is also genuinely interested in it. Attend the relevant conference in your field, talk to people. Maybe there is a matching research group at your local institution, and they'd welcome you at their seminars? There isn't really a shortcut here, but hardly anything in the way academics usually start their collaborations with one another is dependent on being affiliated with a university,

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    Thank you! Couple follow up questions. A - PhD - bothers me because it feels constraining and not general. There have been scholars in history that changed fields, like Joseph Needham. I thought a PhD was more like a certification than an “excuse” to research a topic. (Especially since you generally only do one.) C is not really my thing because I’d like to be the researcher myself. B + D - looking for a research grant or finding a collaborator - is more my style. My question could be simplified - is there any central hub/organization for that, or searching around is just how it is?
    – hmltn
    Nov 27, 2022 at 10:15
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    @peters I think you're wrong about the PhD-part. There is no hub etc. Searching around, making connections etc, is the way to go.
    – Arno
    Nov 27, 2022 at 11:09
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    @peters IMHO the most appropriate way to think of a PhD is as a "research apprenticeship" - there are certain skills useful to do research, and most of the world has decided that the most appropriate way to obtain them is effectively in a "master-apprentice model" by doing a few years of research with someone's assistance and guidance until you're ready to do independent research and get the degree after demonstrating that. And if you already are ready to do independent research, usually there are ways to get a PhD certification based on that research without the studies.
    – Peteris
    Nov 28, 2022 at 3:59
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"Affiliation" means you have a job with or work as a student at that institution. There are some special cases like retired faculty maintaining university affiliation, but otherwise, no, there is not a way that you can just "affiliate" with a university based on a research proposal.

Research Gate is poorly viewed by every academic I know. It might have had some potential, but their tendency to spam in particular has given them a scammy reputation. You don't need a Research Gate account to do research.

Library access is a separate issue, which you've already asked about at What is a direct and universal way to affiliate oneself with a university (library)?

Research is hard, and almost all people require mentorship and training to be at all competent as a researcher. If you don't already have a PhD, I think the best path towards doing research would be to look at applying to PhD programs.

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    RG is, like any social network, heavily community-dependent. FWIW, I've seen a fair number of good researchers there in some fields like genomics or spectroscopy, but HEP people and mathematicians seem to be non-existent (and I might be wrong on that also). Spam is bothersome for sure; I personally view RG like many view Twitter: it is bad, but its usefulness can be hard to deny. Overall though, great advice!
    – Lodinn
    Nov 27, 2022 at 5:18
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    @Lodinn The issues most people have with RG are their spam and pushiness, which originates from the site itself and is not community-dependent. But yes, whether the value the site provides is worth the cost may depend on the specific community you're involved in and whether people from that community use the site.
    – Bryan Krause
    Nov 28, 2022 at 17:31
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Researchers aren't seeking research proposals, they're proposing

someone could suggest a topic they would like to get a researcher for.

As a rule of thumb, almost every researcher has far more interesting research ideas than they have the capacity to pursue. The main competition of research ideas is prioritizing which ones to work on and which ones to postpone or abandon. Researchers do take on supervising ideas from e.g. students as a "service activity" or a job requirement (i.e. to facilitate the training of those students), because doing that is useful to others at the expense of the researcher's time, who has their own research priorities and interests. Researchers do work on ideas of others if they are paid for that, so the way of suggesting topics is through institutions (academic or commercial) who fund research; but in general researchers apply for resources (often highly competitive, with low acceptance rates) to try and fund their own research ideas.

Research proposals are evaluated based on execution, not only ideas

Usually "research proposal" doesn't mean proposing an idea, but rather proposing a project - i.e. a specific plan for specific activities by specific people with a specific timeline and outcomes. Purely saying "hey, this would be neat, somebody should do this" is something you can effectively do as a side remark in a research conference filled with relevant people, but a research proposal should be far more fleshed-out.

The organizations evaluating research proposals (in general, for purposes of assigning funding, and thus researchers' time) do not evaluate the idea in isolation, as a major factor (IMHO far more important than the idea) is the specific research teams' ability to execute that idea. Ideas are important, but there is an abundance of good ideas, the ideas are discussed in public in the research community, and whenever it is clear that an idea is worth pursuing it could (and perhaps should!) be pursued by multiple teams, so the question of "are you the right person/team to do this" is as relevant as "is this worth doing compared to other options".

Research organization is decentralized

It would be interesting to have a single “marketplace” where people could suggest research seeking supervision or backing

Research is heavily decentralized. Almost all opportunities for research backing are limited nationally or regionally (e.g. EU funding), and opportunities for research supervision are evaluated by people and organizations who are willing to offer that (e.g. research universities or various industrial contests).

There are some efforts to summarize (and in some cases globalize) the available options (e.g. various mailing lists, special-interest-groups, etc), but those tend to be split by research areas, because those are the communities in which researchers work, communicate and self-organize.

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  • Wonderful, your answer augments my accepted one excellently. Thank you.
    – hmltn
    Nov 29, 2022 at 12:25
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One idea would be to approach a potential collaborator (call them Professor X) at a local institution who has some expertise in the area you want to work on. If the proposal is promising enough to support and this person has some extra time and money, they may be able to hire you as a staff scientist or consultant (or something of this nature); that would lead to you being formally affiliated with that university as an employee of Prof X, without necessarily being a PhD student or applying to be a postdoctoral researcher and so forth.

I want to point out that there are a few big obstacles here, mostly because time is a limited resource in academia and there is no shortage of good ideas worth collaborating on. Is the proposal well-written enough to read quickly or is it tempting to dismiss it? Does Prof X have time to spend on advising? Does Prof X have money to spend on a new hire? Is it promising enough for Prof X to think it will be worth investing time and money into? I'm flagging these for you so that you're aware of what it's like on the other side. If I were in Prof X's position these would be my primary concerns. Depending on your specific arrangement, some of these could be surmounted --- but rightly or wrongly, it's easier to ignore people emailing me ideas for research, chiefly for the reason that I simply don't have time to engage with them (even if they are good ideas!). Nonetheless I wish you good luck. You can increase your chance of success by finding someone who you know will be interested in your work, perhaps someone who has done similar work in the past.

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A situation where one just performs good research in their spare time is exceedingly rare, at least before retirement.

One does not have to be affiliated with an university to do so, although an input from "professional" researchers could help. There is no shortage of research done in an industry setting, especially in the modern ML/AI landscape. If this is, indeed, your case, the easiest way would be to either contact a local university (similar to what Dalton suggests) or just do the research on your own entirely. You do not have to be employed by the university, either - one option would be to invite an university researcher as a consultant on your project, as per Arno's third suggestion. More specifically, they would help you with access to literature and provide insights about the field from an academic perspective. I have found these arrangements to have good potential, they are also not uncommon.

Some industry labs are better equipped to do certain kinds of research than universities these days, and universities are always open to proposals that are money-neutral for them at least. If you are not hiring professors as consultants or fresh graduates as regular workers, your "sales pitch" instantly becomes weaker.

One other major thing you can lure researchers with is providing them with access to unique data they would not have otherwise. If you are performing large-scale experiments they could only dream of in an university setting, that is enough for a collaboration: they make sure the design is sound and get to play with the results; win/win. To achieve that, you could just show up on their doorstep with a proposal (well, not exactly, you just e-mail them asking if they have relevant expertise to help you with the project which they often would). This cross-pollination often happens at exhibitions and conferences, so make sure to participate in those, if applicable. Does not take that much to register and attend, and many cities/universities host local events.

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There are some ways (in NAmerica at least) of getting “adjunct”, “affiliated” or “honorary” status in a department, which would usually get you access to most university resources.

Presumably different units have different requirements, and those are laid out in some policy somewhere. Many units, especially in smaller institutions, will often have adjuncts as a way to broaden the research or course options for students.

Typically, you can expect to have to show how getting such status will benefit the unit, and “getting in” is highly dependent on precedents and the history of the unit.

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