Some Ph.D.’s Choose to Work Off the Grid
Kelvin Ma for The Chronicle
Thomas Ernst (left), a linguist who is a visiting scholar at the U. of Massachusetts at Amherst, stops by a reception on the campus. “I’ve thought many times, I could get a 9-to-5 insurance job,” says the independent scholar, “but my reaction to that is: Yuck. I’d rather live on the edge and be uncertain in life, and do what I love.”
By Robin Wilson
It might be easy to mistake Thomas Ernst for a traditional academic. His CV has a long list of journal articles, and he can often be found on the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He attends lectures, works with graduate students, and spends time in its libraries. But Mr. Ernst is not on the tenured faculty at UMass, nor is he a professor anywhere else.
He is an independent scholar, who does most of his research and writing from the solitude of the second bedroom in his small apartment near the Amherst campus. In the past 20 years he has written a book, published a dozen journal articles, and contributed two chapters in encyclopedias.
“Tom is a known quantity in the field. He is an expert on adverbial constructions and how they contribute to meaning,” says Rajesh Bhatt, head of linguistics at UMass. The department has given Mr. Ernst the title of visiting scholar, which comes with an e-mail address and access to the university’s libraries and to academic presentations by UMass professors and visitors, but nothing more. “It’s remarkable that he has persisted,” says Mr. Bhatt. “It’s not an easy life…read more