Latino academics can apply their expertise directly in the community as highly paid independent research consultants while local businesses, non-profit organizations and initiatives for traditionally underserved populations benefit from their services.
I myself spent the spring of 2002 reading and taking notes for my master’s thesis while I was parked in my truck under the cool shade of a Texas oak tree at the National Hispanic Institute in Maxwell, Texas. After hanging around this bustling non-profit organization throughout that entire semester, it was not surprising to me when I was asked to advise the development of an internal research report. What was shocking to discover, however, was that my academic training had not prepared me to operate as a professional research consultant despite my years of training.
What was my fee, they asked, and I really had no idea. Even though I was one of a small number of Latino doctoral students by this point, the most I had ever received for a lengthy research paper was an A+, and now here was my chance to make several thousand dollars applying my academic skills and expertise, and I had no idea how to go about it. During those days, even though I was excited to be working on a range of U.S. Latino phenomena professionally, I did not even know how to draft a project proposal — let alone an invoice for services rendered.
I simply provided a date when the report could be ready, confirmed the parameters of the project and finalized compensation with a handshake. I was 24, and suddenly I was both a scholar and a professional research consultant. In so doing, I learned that my research experience, my focus on U.S. Latino dynamics and my ability to write for a range of audiences could help me to generate an income beyond what I could earn as a professor.
Nearly 10 years have transpired since, and I have consulted projects with many non-profit groups, school districts, institutions of higher education, state agencies, elected officials, military bases, political campaigns, public events, media productions, communication companies and even online news portals like News Taco. The tools of my trade are my lucky pen, boot book (literally a notebook I carry around in my boot), laptop, cell phone and pick-up truck. Each project has been unique, and every single collaboration has drawn on my academic training and multidimensional professional experiences.
Across these last several years, being one of our country’s very few Latinos with a Ph.D. after his Spanish surname has facilitated more business opportunities, community partnerships, political connections and occasions to serve a broad spectrum of students than what even my reputable B.A. and M.A. ever would have helped me achieve. I just do not understand why more Latino academics are not venturing outside of the classroom and launching new community-oriented initiatives and enterprises.
From the days of my thesis to my most recent contracts, I see myself as simply selling new ideas and providing the skills to make them into reality. And from my perspective, there are hundreds of Latino academics across America who could be mutually benefiting their research endeavors as well as their regional communities by doing the same.
[Photo By World Travel]