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The Rise of Fractional Scholarship

Underemployed post-graduate researchers represent a vast, untapped resource that could be harnessed to address America’s thorniest scientific challenges, according to this report. The paper suggests that “fractional scholarship” could employ surplus scholarly expertise to advance scientific research, much as distributed computing projects – which recognize that most computers are largely idle during their lifetimes – utilize spare computational cycles to seek answers to complicated problems.

American universities produce far more Ph.D’s than there are faculty positions for them to fill, say the report’s authors, Samuel Arbesman, senior scholar at the Kauffman Foundation, and Jon Wilkins, founder of the Ronin Institute. Thus, the traditional academic path may not be an option for newly minted Ph.D.s. Other post-graduate scientists may eschew academia for careers in positions that don’t take direct advantage of the skills they acquired in graduate school.

However, the report cautions, it is nearly impossible for individuals to become lone fractional scholars. For fractional scholarship to be feasible, institutions must step forward to provide affiliations and resources, aggregate grant support and management, and establish research communities that allow scholars to interact online and in person. The institutions would benefit from the affiliation with scholars, who would spend all of their funded time on research, operating at a much lower cost than a typical university professor can.