Thursday, August 11, 2011

On ronin and the future

So, for the past six years, I have been on the resident faculty at the Santa Fe Institute. As I am writing this, I am sitting at a laundromat in Santa Fe, preparing for a cross-country road trip to Montclair, New Jersey, where I am going to be founding my own research institute.

What does that mean? Well, technically speaking, I will be forming a non-profit dedicated to research. At least to start with, the non-profit will consist of me, so, practically speaking, it's like I'm becoming a freelance scholar.

My new outfit will be called the Ronin Institute. Ronin refers to a masterless samurai. It may be familiar to you from this:

or maybe from this:

Since this is a career path that is a bit different from the one that most academics follow, I thought it might be interesting to write about it here. I'll share some of the details of what is involved in establishing a non-profit, and the process of becoming an independent scholar. This is a new venture for me, one that is going to involve some trial and error. As I go along, I'll let you know what's working and what isn't. Most of you are probably not going to start your own institutes (although I hope a few of you will), but many of you may be interested in thinking about alternatives to the archetypal academic career trajectory. I'm hoping that my experience will be helpful in thinking about your own plans.

Or maybe it will at least be comforting and entertaining to you in a schadenfreude kind of way.


  1. Good luck, Jon! I'll be interested to read your updates on the Ronin Institute. (Montclair? My mom's originally from that area of NJ.) I hope you find the time to keep up Darwin Eats Cake.

  2. Thanks, Kristina!

    Actually, in a way, that's the whole goal. One of the reasons for my going independent, rather than pursuing the standard academic track, is the freedom to devote plenty of time to my full range of interests, including poetry as well as Darwin Eats Cake.

  3. Good luck Jon! I'll definitely be reading your updates on the Ronin Institute. I've been doing some reading about alternative career tracks for scientists but have not come across anyone doing this kind of unique and exciting project!

  4. If you need other Ronin, I can point you to one...

  5. Best of luck to you -- I really enjoy reading Darwin Eats Cake and your other entries, so hope you'll still have time for that. Will you miss New Mexico? I spent my postdoc there and really loved it.

  6. Wilkins! Long time, no contact whatsoever. But, I've been hearing about you through the wife connection, and I've been a stealth reader of your blog for a couple months now. I decided I must un-lurk myself and wish you good luck. Maybe you could lobby EvolDir to create a 'Patron Opportunities' posting category. :)

    P.S. I'm a big fan of Darwin Eats Cake. Hope we see you guys sometime now that we're in the same time zone again.