Occupation: Independent Scholar
Area of Research: Twentieth century U.S. history, women's history, biography
Education: B.A. Wellesley College, Ph.D. Harvard University
Game, Set, Match: Billie Jean King, Title IX, and the Revolution in Women's Sports. Will be published by The University of North Carolina Press in 2011.
Title IX: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford Books, 2006)
It’s One O’Clock and Here Is Mary Margaret McBride: A Radio Biography (NYU Press, 2005)
Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, ed. Susan Ware (Belknap, 2005)
Letter to the World: Seven Women Who Shaped the American Country (W. W. Norton & Company, 1998)
Still Missing: Amelia Earhart and the Search for Modern Feminism (W. W. Norton & Company, 1994)
Partner and I: Molly Dewson, Feminism, and New Deal Politics (Yale University Press, 1989)
Beyond Suffrage: Women in the New Deal ( Harvard University Press, 1987)
Holding Their Own: American Women in the 1930s (Twayne Publishers, December 1982)
When the economy tanked in the fall of 2009, I remember thinking that it was a good time to be an independent scholar, because I was already used to no job and little income. At times I have been an independent scholar out of necessity (the terrible job market in the late 1970s and early 1980s); now I am one by choice, having realized that I value the freedom and flexibility to set my own work agenda more highly than the security of a regular job. Such a choice works best for people who are highly disciplined and able to work productively and creatively on their own for long stretches of time. It also helps to have, as I have had my whole career, a regularly-employed partner who is supportive of my ambition to forge a career as a biographer and historian. Needless to say, those are two fairly significant preconditions for success, to say nothing of peace of mind.
Here are a few tricks of the trade that I have learned over the years. It is very useful to have some kind of institutional affiliation even if you don't have a regular academic appointment. Explore options to be a visiting scholar or affiliated researcher at a center or university. No money may change hands, but you have access to fancy stationery plus—this seems really silly but it has tripped me up on numerous occasions—something to put on your conference badge or book jacket for identification other than the town you live in. Even an accomplished scholar like me sometimes feels like a nobody when I can't trot out a quick answer when I am asked what I do and where I do it.
As a corollary, it is very important that people can easily find you. Think how easy it is to click on an email address for any faculty member in any university. In contrast I'm still stuck with the America Online account I started in 1995 when I left New York University. To increase my visibility without having to take the Facebook plunge, I am in the process of developing my own website to promote my books and provide a more reliable way to find me in those all-important Google searches.
The other important piece of advice I would offer is to always have several projects going at once, and at different stages of development. You can't only do background reading eight hours straight, or manuscript research, or fact-checking, but you can do such tasks productively if they are interspersed with other projects. It is always healthy to have options for stimulating intellectual work other than your main project. Book reviews or manuscript evaluations for university presses are a nice break, ditto essays like this. And you always want to have a new project or two percolating as you send a manuscript off into production.
I haven't always been able to follow all my advice, but I've done pretty well. Mainly I feel enormously lucky to be able to spend my time doing what I love, which is researching and writing history, and I see no reason why I can't continue to do so indefinitely, which I consider my own special kind of job security.
Susan Ware can be contacted at SDWare@aol.com.
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