Independent Research Scientist: Is It Worth It?

13 years ago today the dream of Insanitek was born. It was a mere flicker of thought in my head out of a desire to not work in a corporate environment, nor play the grant chasing game of academia. I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, but in a more tangible way so I could see the smile on the faces of the people who I served.

It was naively idealistic. I knew that then, which is why Plan A was to work an industry job, pay off my student loans, and get into a better situation. Alas, that wasn’t to be. When I finally graduated with my masters in 2014, the economy had taken a turn for the worse. Jobs were scarce. I had filled out and returned hundreds of applications in anything in my field and even tangent to it. You’d think geology and environmental science would have gotten at least one, but it didn’t.

For every single thing you can find a complaint about, there are dozens of remedies for you to choose from.

So I invented a new plan and officially started Insanitek. Part of the company was tutoring ─ both homeschoolers that wanted a science focus as well as public school students that just needed a bit of extra help in science and math. The other part was part science communicator, part independent researcher.

For some people, this is the stuff of dreams.

There is something to be said about the dream of being self-employed. It’s true, you can set your own hours, choose who you work with, how you work. It’s true that you can set your rate to make more. What isn’t true is 90% of the crap you hear people telling you in order to have you shell out for their classes and e-books.

There is a lot of work to do ─ not all of it pleasant or even what you want to do. For example, teaching. I like to doing it. What I’m not fond of is marketing to keep growing, accounting, and prepping endless amounts of mini lectures and assignments. Yet all of these things go into making sure I’m both providing for myself and serving the clients.

If I wanted Insanitek to only provide for me for just the length of my life, then it would be a good deal. But, I never did want that. I want Insanitek to be a company that would provide jobs and facilitate other independent researchers to live their dreams. The slow building process is driving me nuts.

Yeah, I know the trite motivational quotes about one day at a time, etc. Doesn’t stop me from feeling the frustration that I can’t even offer my long-term freelancers a stable, providing income for life plus room to grow.

Despite all the frustrations, it’s worth it for some.

You have to have a certain type of personality to want to struggle through a bunch of crap to want to fly solo. There is a lot of work to do, a lot of hours to put in, and a lot of extra things to sacrifice if you are trying to really make a company, not just freelance for some extra cash. (As a note, many of the consultants out there will try to get you to sell things at a much higher price than the market is willing to pay. And usually things are not so great of quality, and people will pick up on that lack of value for the money they paid.)

At the beginning I happily gave up many hours of time with family and friends to this adventure. A few years in for real, and I still am. Some people don’t want to do this. It’s a personal choice on how people want to live their lives. It isn’t for everyone, which is why entrepreneurship ─ which is different from freelancing ─ is not for everyone.

Is it worth it? Depends on you.

I like the numbers, the work, and the people ─ just in different ways. I enjoy the way numbers reflect what is going on in our marketing. I’m joyful while watching kids and parents “get it” and do a little dance, then take it to the next level. I love creating things people can use. I love doing science research and learning things about other’s research.

I find setting goals, planning projects, getting the results, and reiteration to perfect results. Blame it on my scientific brain, but for everything we try, we look at data. We see what works, where things are failing, and where things are succeeding. We constantly listen to feedback of parents, the students, the clients we do science for.

I’m always listening.

The process is exciting enough to make me go to bed with questions, then bounce out of bed ready to seek answers. Some parts are tedious, but those are eclipsed by the fun parts. This excitement and love for what I do makes all the frustrations worth it.