Some Ph.D.'s Choose to Work Off the Grid

Some Ph.D.'s Choose to Work Off the Grid 1

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."

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