See companion question here.

I realized that after I posted my previous question that asking that question might be a "solution in search of a problem." I'm interested in what people perceive to be their biggest bottlenecks in doing great work in independent research.

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I was an independent researcher for a while. Some things that come to mind:

  • Having gotten a commitment for funding in the long-term would have taken a weight off my back.
  • I really disliked it when my lower quality or less useful posts got more upvotes. I think I get a lot of value from contexts where doing more good -> more respect, rather than when the two are uncorrelated. This is something that I think EA Spain gets very right.
  • I should probably have spent more money on better computer setups much sooner
  •  I should have started circulating drafts as google docs much sooner

These were pretty quickly written, more may come to mind. 

This is something that I think EA Spain gets very right.

What are they doing right, do you think?

6NunoSempere5mo
They invested early into hiring a competent leader full-time. We have a high-quality slack with nice conversations. And we have Jaime Sevilla, who is a few years older than me and thus further along the road into researchdom. Otherwise, I don't really know!

Could you elaborate on what a better computer setup is for you?

A computer with backups that happen automatically, and which is fast enough that I don't have to worry about speed. I was previously using a fairly old laptop and then an old tower machine, and these broke occasionally, which was kind of a pain.

I was also being thrifty on monitors, and bought a really nice keyboard only fairly late. It would have made sense to have a fairly good keyboard and monitor all along, given that I spend a whole lot of my time in front of a computer  

I also made the mistake of not buying good enough equipment for calls, so my video calls were a bit janky for a long time.

This is how my setup looks while working in the Bahamas. The special keyboard is probably overkill, but I had an RSI scare, and I thought it was worth it. Elements: 

  • Beefed-up computer from Tuxedo (overkill, but worth it for me in particular because I used to break computers by overheating them while compiling intensive stuff.)
  •  Wide monitor, stand for the monitor (would recommend)
  • Laptop stand (would recommend)
  • Big, wireless mouse (would recommend)
  • Adjustable table (nice, but overkill)
  • Kinesis advantage (very nice, but overkill, and it takes a few days for accommodation). I previously bought a really nice but relatively cheap mechanical keyboard looking at Amazon warehouse offers, and before that I was using an older mechanical keyboard which was also fairly nice.
    • I still have to get accustomed to this keyboard, but I'd probably still recommend it. My younger self wouldn't have accepted the recommendation, because I would have felt that it's too expensive.

Things you don't see in the picture:

  • Good noise-cancelling headphones (would recommend). I bought some really nice ones with one of my first salaries, after asking for advice in r/HeadphoneAdvice
  • Backup service and some nice Lin
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3ren5mo
This is incredibly useful. Thanks for sharing!

Strong agree re: good enough computer - but that's a general thing people under invest in, even at companies, albeit to a lesser extent.

7gavintaylor4mo
Coincidentally the day after seeing this response I realized the replacement battery in my 2012 macbook pro was swollen and I had to replace it with the original (long dead) one. I probably should stop putting off getting a new laptop...

Longer term funding is definitely an issue, but the biggest thing is working alone. I appreciate interacting with people around my work and ideas, so when I am working primarily as an independent researcher, I build collaborations and work with others to ensure that I stay motivated. But even then, not having support for the work in the form of institutional backing and promotion, along with things like help with proofreading and copyediting, and doing graphic design, is definitely a possible cause for reduced impact.

Seconded,  independence offers freedom but creates many difficulties to work around as well. 
That said, I never received any structured institutional support for proofing, editing, graphic design etc when working in academia although some of these tasks were supported by co-authors or supervisors. 

2Davidmanheim4mo
Yeah, academia often sucks at this for students. Professors more often have staff in the department or for the school as a whole, or there is a center which does that stuff, or have grants which they can use. (And other organizations often have a much better setup.)

I actually reflected on what points were holding me back as independent research quite recently.

A major point seems to be a lack of research oversight. This isn't so much about accountability for getting things done, more to have somebody thinking objectively and providing a detached perspective on which ways to address open-ended problems and when to change directions, etc. This kind of management isn't necessarily well done in academic research (at least in my experience) but I have recently found that Jason Schukraft's management style has been helpful for a project that I'm working on with him at RP.

Another I've noticed is that it can be hard to prioritize my independent research over competing projects that I already have in progress with academic researchers (or getting drawn into new projects with people who I've already published with - although I'm getting better at saying no to new things). In most cases, I think my independent research in physical virology is likely to have much more impact than continuing research in my former field of visual biophysicis, but dropping an in-progress academic project (particularly if I've been paid to do some work on it previously) feels like a strong violation of an academic norm so I tend to stick them out until they are done. These projects usually also involve working with a larger team of people, which is also appealing when you are used to working alone.

For me what leaps to mind is all of the in-between stuff, like proofreading, LateX issues, graphics, plots, etc. Of course, I've also tried to hire help on some of these fronts with very mixed results (generally negative). So I guess I'd say that fundamentally, independent work can really suffer from its independence (not having various supports and connections that would make it better). Building relationships and collaborations that alleviate these problems is part of being an effective independent researcher.