Kolabtree Reports: 56% of Freelance Scientists Are Optimistic About the Future of the Science Gig Economy According to a New Survey

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Kolabtree, in collaboration with an international social science research team led by Brianna Caza at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Susan Ashford at the University of Michigan, Erin Reid at McMaster University, and Steven Granger at the University of Calgary announced the preliminary results of their initial study, “Understanding the Work of Independent Scientists”. The study aimed to explore how science-based gig workers experience their work, the challenges they face, and the extent to which their working lives are characterized by positive and negative work perceptions.

A total of 542 independent scientists on Kolabtree took the survey. Respondents had been working independently for an average of 4.5 years.

Key findings from the survey: 

79% of freelance scientists say they work independently by choice
The majority of independent scientists said that they freelance or consult out of choice. Kolabtree respondents were highly educated and worked in a variety of industries including pharmaceuticals, food science, medical science, biology, and psychology. 49% had earned doctoral degrees, which shows the trend towards freelancing among highly-skilled knowledge workers.

Ability to work across geographical boundaries highly valued by scientists 

73% of scientists said that they turn to freelancing to have the ability to work across geographical boundaries. Respondents were spread across the globe, with 41% working in North America and 22.5% living in Europe.

Scientists cite flexibility and control as major benefits of independent work
Flexibility in working style and the freedom to choose projects they worked on seem to be the primary motivating factors for scientists to consult or freelance. Over 90% said that flexibility is highly important, and 85% said they want to choose the projects they work on. While over 50% of respondents took up freelance work only in their area of specialization, 42% said their independent work was a mix of gigs both inside and outside of their specialization.

56% of freelance scientists are optimistic about the future of the science gig economy

Slightly more than half of the respondents said that they were optimistic about the future of freelancing for scientists. 27% said that they planned to make the switch from a traditional career to full-time freelance work, while 12.3% did not, and 21% were unsure if they would make the switch.

Kolabtree CEO and Co-founder Ashmita Das said, “The findings from the survey show that scientists are actively looking for freelance opportunities where they can contribute their skills and expertise. The fact that scientists value flexibility, freedom and the ability to have control over what projects they take up is of great benefit to businesses looking to collaborate with experts across geographical boundaries.”

Additional findings from the survey:

Levels of income as compared to traditional roles

37% of respondents were earning between $35,000 and $100,000, 35% earning less than $20,000 per year, 16% earning between $20,000 and $34,999, and approximately 8% earning over $100,000.

Approximately 17% of respondents said that they earned more in their freelance work than they had previously in a traditional role, 12% earned about the same, 39% earned less than they did in a traditional role.

Income and location did not seem to impact reported level of thriving

Respondents who reported earning less than $20,000 a year reported almost the exact same level of thriving (emotional stability, high levels of energy) as did those making over $150,000 a year. Interestingly, despite the majority earning a smaller income, those living outside of the UK, US, and Canada reported higher levels of thriving than did those inside these countries.

Lack of career security top challenge for independent scientists

The most prevalent challenges independent scientists face are a lack of career security, financial unpredictability, and intellectual loneliness. The extent of positive or negative experiences were shaped by individual levels of cognitive flexibility and tolerance for ambiguity. This suggests that developing these individual-level attributes are likely to be important for independent workers’ ability to handle the stressors of independent work.

These findings are from the initial part of a longer research study being conducted by Brianna’s team. The research group is continuing to study the challenges that independent scientists face, and the factors (socioeconomic, job characteristics, individual characteristics) that impact their experience, and their responses to these challenges. Subsequent results will also explore the impact of the pandemic on remote/independent working for scientists and researchers. Of this research, Brianna says the team’s interest is in “identifying the psychological, behavioral, and social factors that help independent scientists to bounce back from setbacks and thrive amidst the challenges of independent work.”

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