Despite the end of the “golden age of academia”, I yearn for an even earlier time: the time of 18th century coffee houses, or as they were known: penny universities. I have been out of academia for a few years (BA from UBC in ’02, MA from RMC in ’08) but I have maintained an interest in academic research. On my own I try to read, think and write with academic rigour. I would like to engage more with academia, and judging by number of meetups and plethora of platforms like Coursera, I think there are many “lifelong learners” that would love to continue to participate in expanding human knowledge in a part-time fashion. Thus, my proposal:
Universities and colleges should develop a bridge between their “professional” academics and “amateur” academics in the community. Astronomy has been able to benefit by organizing networks of amateur astronomers and citizen scientists, but those of us in the humanities and social sciences are locked out of participating and contributing to the academy.
Alumni events and public talks are great, but since they are aimed at the public, they are typically too general to be of interest to the engaged “amateur” academic. At his talk last week I asked Ron Deibert about how I can participate in Citizen Lab research. He didn’t have an answer for me. At the alumni event last night UBC was promoting their Aspire initiative, trying to crowdsource ways the university could interact with the community. I wrote my idea down and later saw that a few people +1’d it (talk about the blurred lines between online and offline!). I hope my alma mater UBC can explore this idea, and maybe develop a model to be used worldwide. It could be a small way to return academia to an earlier golden age of engagement, rather than merely the “diploma mill” it has become over the past generation.