A Day in the Life of Independent Researcher Beth Ann Fiedler

May 31, 2019 Anne-Marie Green

Q. What is your current area of research and how did you decide to enter the field?

A. I consider myself a health generalist.  There are so many facets of health (e.g., economics, business administration, regulation, clinical, biomedical, environmental health, public health, behavioral health, statistics, institutional quality, medical devices, etc.) that are inextricably linked together that I do not think a researcher in this field can be associated with just one area.    I became interested in health in 2001 while contracted to GE Medical Systems/PACS division in Mt. Prospect, IL.  From there, I continued my interest in auditing, then added training in biomedical engineering technology and a Master’s in Operations Management.  Finally, my research focus on health sharpened during my doctoral education at the University of Central Florida. I collaborated with community members, non-profits, academics, and business representatives on several projects such as Vocational Rehabilitation Service Model for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, creating the original business model for The Aphasia House, interoperable medical protocol standards for the Army Research Laboratory, and other projects that set me on my present path. This variety of experience in health and education contributed to my ability to perform the level of editing, writing, and research required in my publishing contracts.  I have focused on publishing books for the last several years as an independent research analyst.

Q. What is the most challenging area of your work? And what is the most rewarding?

A Apart from earning the credential of PhD which many have affectionately termed “permanent head damage”, the most challenging area of my work is waiting for the book to publish!  A book project from proposal to publication can easily take two years before the final product is available.  While a typical contract is one year, there are several steps that occur before and after the manuscripts are submitted.  Before a proposal can be submitted, I must conduct research on relevant topics, contributing authors, and specific publisher requirements for the proposal. Proposals entail project scope, readership, marketing demographics, table of contents, items that differentiate my book from other comparable books, and a number of other criteria in order to present the best possible perspective of the potential book.  Contract terms must be negotiated when the proposal is accepted.  Recruiting actual candidates must occur in a timely fashion to ensure incremental deadlines will be met. Then there is a blur of correspondence, writing, editing, generating graphics, copyright permissions and any number of questions that may arise from each chapter lead author.  Word count, number of graphics and graphic quality, spreadsheets for projects and copyright permissions, utilizing electronic portals, and a number of other project tools require multiple skills and time management. Even after everything is loaded and sent to the publisher, the proofs must be clear of any problems with citations, grammatical errors, permissions, or other items that could halt production.   This process can occur for several months after the manuscript submission.  Six months is the typical length of time a publisher will require from receipt of the complete project to publication. But the quality of work submitted can easily shorten that time. To be an independent research analyst (editor, author, and researcher) is to be a Jack/Jane of all trades AND master of all trades.  Otherwise, you will not have the tools to complete the project in a timely fashion.

Despite these hurdles, I find the process of investigation, research, writing, and publication highly rewarding. I have found the progression of recruiting, mentoring, and collaborating with contributing authors to be a wonderful way to keep ideas fresh and to transfer knowledge.  The ability to create, exchange, and disseminate usable information to improve policy, suggest alternative solutions, promote services, or generate awareness is a great privilege and one I hope to continue participating in for a very long time.

Q.  What special challenges do you face as an independent researcher and how do you handle  those challenges?

A. Special challenges as an independent research analyst include overcoming the hurdles in accessing research funds and costs associated with publishing.  In the United States, higher institutions of education will cover publishing costs for their faculty and offer assistance to students through various programs. That is not the case for an independent, who must absorb the costs of acquiring literature, editing costs, and other items as needed.  (Some costs cannot be avoided but I have been able to rely on colleagues to offset editing using a barter system.)

Typically, utilization of university library systems is prohibited after graduation in most US universities. This privilege is given to current university students, administration, and faculty.  So, access to databases (both literature and statistical information) can be cost-prohibitive, too.  I must be careful not to rely too heavily upon any one database so that my work remains informative but also mindful of out of pocket costs associated with any given project. Therefore, overcoming the obstacle of ineligibility for most grants, even when the independent has formed a business entity such as a corporation, can be a huge barrier and extremely frustrating.  Federal funding and grants are typically only offered to research institutions and universities where the organization benefits by monitoring assets and the principal investigator is apportioned funds for their specific project.  For example, grant money is given to the institution (about half) and the other half is given to the principal investigator. Rarely are grants and other funding given to individuals directly for special projects though most are in nominal amounts.

I have dealt with some of these challenges by peer-reviewing for several different publishing houses.  The publisher will often reward reviewers with access to their databases as a perk for a specific period of time or allow a certain number of papers to be downloaded free of charge. I always conduct a literature review on common areas of interest and store papers for future use. Unfortunately, I have to limit my publications to book journals of late because the cost of publishing in certain key journals has simply been prohibitive.  However, I have been able to focus my research and writing on book chapters as one method of keeping my publications current.   

The recent movement to Open Access has me a bit concerned. If publishing is linked to journal subscription costs paid by universities then I don’t know if there is a way for me to overcome this obstacle.   I certainly cannot subscribe to a database and then pay publishing costs.  This would place a greater financial burden on an independent and severely restrict where I could publish.    I have been made aware of organizations for independent researchers such as the National Coalition of Independent Scholars (NCIS).  I am hoping that NCIS and similar organizations will form a pathway for publishing that takes into consideration active independent researchers in the event that Open Access continues to lean towards utilizing university library subscriptions linked to publishing payments for academics. I am also concerned that royalty-based incomes may become a thing of the past. 

Q. Do you participate in peer review? If so, why do you feel it’s important?

A. I participate in the peer-review process for several different publishers and am often asked to read conference papers for certain organizations.  I think refereeing journal manuscripts is a positive way to encourage the best research possible and to keep research fresh, educational, and useful. 

Q. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

A. I spend so much time in front of a PC that I jump at the opportunity to head outdoors to take a leisurely stroll with friends or with my neighbor’s dog Fiona.  I even enjoy mowing the lawn and picking the weeds.  There is plenty of yard work year round in Florida but especially when the growing season is longer due to warmer weather.  I am often accompanied by my three cats (Skinny Diva, Big Bubbilicious Q, and Gunny Bean) who like to supervise my yard work. 

Q. What is one piece of advice you’d give to early career researchers?

A. Remember that researchers are human, too.  Developing research and writing skills takes practice.  Do not expect to get everything right in the first draft.  In fact, I can guarantee that you won’t.  Accept this reality and practice, practice, practice.


Images credit: Beth Ann Fiedler

About the Author

Anne-Marie Green

Content and Communications // Anne-Marie has worked on the marketing and communications side of publishing for over 15 years. In that time, both the marketing and publishing worlds have been turned upside down. She currently serves as Managing Editor of The Wiley Network

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