Who am I?
Updated: Feb 14, 2019
“About me” sections are never very interesting or personal. I have however, connected this blog post to the “about me” page on this website. Here is a little more detail about my journey to becoming a freelance researcher. While I can’t have a conversation with everyone who reads this, I hope this will be a useful supplement to understand where I’m coming from in lieu of a private one-on-one.
I did not start out wanting to be a freelance researcher. Honestly, I didn’t even set out to be a researcher at all. But I always wanted to have a life of learning, reading and contemplation. The epitome of a perfect life for me was somewhere between Gandalf the Grey and Thomas Jefferson. I wanted from an early age to be a country gentleman that had great wisdom on a variety of areas and to be someone who others came to for knowledge. I have also always had a passion to understand people, their motivations, and why they organized themselves in so many differing ways.
This led me to first study political science in college. I found the subject endlessly fascinating but lacking in the juicy details that I wanted from better understanding the underlying context that brought people to one piece of legislation or one ruling in a court. I had initially wanted to study the law. I was shocked (although I shouldn't have been) that most of my peers in my undergraduate shared this goal. It was at Oregon State University that I heard a few sentences that would change my direction. An emeritus professor was teaching a class about American politics and said, almost as an aside, “most of you in this room want to be lawyers. I’m here to tell you most of you will instead become lobbyists.” This was not something I ever wanted to become. I had learned enough about government to know that lobbyists are important to the process and at least half of them are not blood sucking monsters.
Still, this was not a life I wanted. To me, they were the political equivalent of appliance salesmen: selling small improvements that are quickly taken for granted. But what was the alternative? Governments adapt to the times and incrementally, but can they change in major ways with enough considerations? I was determined to find out and in so doing, learn the underlying reasons for public policy and administrative behavior.
I turned away from the goal of law school to a Masters of Public Policy; also at OSU. Here I discovered my own love for data and research. I studied causation in problems that required policy action, research methods (many of which I still use), and linear data analysis techniques. Now, if you are not a data person, this may not seem exciting. This of it this way: If you knew a person for years and had an intimate understanding of them as a person. This is a friend you would ask to help you move. Then you discover that they have always been into some unusual hobby; let’s say water polo. Now you see an aspect of their personality newly discovered. You are elated to discuss something new with them and learn more. They become a richer and more complex person in your mind. This is what it is like to be a researcher every day. Issues become more detailed, multidimensional, and nuanced. And its addicting.
I was hooked on research from here on. I studied in many policy subjects that interested me, settling on energy policy as my focus and subject of my thesis. The subject couldn’t keep my interest for long as I had to know a little about every aspect of public affairs and government. This led me to apply for a PhD at The Ohio State University’s John Glenn School of Public Affairs. Ohio State was a very informative experience. While I cherish the learning, I received for the year I was there, something didn’t feel right. I was not interested in the subjects at a deep level. The education was misaligned with what I needed. As the program is designed, after a year in the program you are expected to begin your research. This mean the education was nearly completed and the subject matter was all but finished. I thought, “that’s it!” This is all was known about the subject? I was discouraged, homesick, and perhaps exhausted with classroom education. I decided to resign in the summer of 2011.
From here I returned to Oregon to find work and begin planning my next direction in life. I wanted a more practical application to the lessons I had learned and connect them to new lessons from the real world. I decided to begin to offer my services as a research consultant as I looked for more steady employment. It was in this time that I wrote and self-published my first (and hopefully not last) book on practical research for small business. This project took up much of 9 months of my free time and turned out to be a major boost to my fledgling career. In this time, I also took on several volunteer research opportunities to keep my research skills sharp.
It was here I began volunteer research for the Seasteading Institute. This organization based out of San Francisco has the dream of cities that float on the open ocean. While I initially sent an offer to research with little hope it would lead to anything, SI was glad to have the help. Research I’ve provided over the years included finding potential host nations for the proof of concept city, study of international maritime policy and agreements, and consulting on the book, Seasteading by Joe Quirk. I was invited to witness the signing of an agreement with the government of French Polynesia to host the first seastead in January 2017.
While I took on a few small clients, my big break was working for Mass Ingenuity of Portland, Oregon. Mass Ingenuity is a management consulting firm that also now specializes in change and data-driven software applications. I was hired to help research topics for a book the Chairman of the organization was writing. The book turned out to be a success as it led the company to have conversations with executives in several states. Using my knowledge of book creation and research, I was able to provide support that created a strong end-product. I was elated to see my knowledge and skills be used for a practical purpose.
There was no full-time research needs after the book was sent to the printers and as such, I left Mass Ingenuity. However, I still consult for them. This has been sporadic and unpredictable work and as such is a constant joy not to be taken for granted. While other clients ask for much of the same work for every project, MI has asked me for work I didn’t know I could offer. When the company began to shift to a more software focused program, I found myself taking on data entry, user experience, user interface, and business intelligence work. I also have provided analysis of internal financial and market research data. MI is always stretching me in new ways, which is why I love working with them.
But Mass Ingenuity’s projects would not pay the bills. And so, from here I took on a job with the League of Oregon Cities. It was here I found a new passion. In all my education, I had had only one class on local government; odd given the fact that most governments in the United States are in fact local. Working at LOC would mean I would learn about an aspect of government not yet explored, conduct research with practical application, and serve my state and its communities. Within a year, I was promoted from a research assistant to the Research Coordinator.
As Coordinator, I became a research project manager. I could coordinate the process of generating knowledge for all the cities in Oregon as well as set my own timeframe and schedule for this work. I short, I became a salaried research consultant. For the 3 years I was with the League, I distributed over 30 surveys, wrote as many research reports, and conducted internal analysis for LOC in many of the same ways as I do for MI. I learned much about cities, their problems, and the people that manage to lead them. It also provided me with a base of operations to explore other research interests. I took the processes at LOC and made them more efficient and time effective. As a result, I used the surplus time to study complexity and systems thinking.
Systems thinking was the missing element I had searched for for so long; since my masters. I found the subject endlessly fascinating, widely applicable, and abstract enough to be useful to any subject. I was ready to take the last few years of practical work experience and apply it with confidence to a new education. I applied to the PhD in Systems Science at Portland State University. While I am still in this program (at time of writing in my second year) I have learned new research techniques as well as modeling and simulation methods previous untaught to me. What was most exciting was that many of these techniques can be applied to any research issue in any subject or field. For a research, I was like a carpenter discovering power tools.
While staying very busy in my studies, I noticed that the research I was providing LOC had stagnated. I had no desire to stop this research and leave cities without LOC insight. However, the work was made so efficient that I would spend half the day on private interest projects. In my mind, this was misappropriating the money cities gave the LOC. In December 2019, I asked for the position of Research Coordinator to be dissolved and to be brought on immediately afterward as a research consultant on contract. This was the best of both worlds as I would continue to do the work at a fair market rate and could take on other interesting tasks for new clients.
Gandalf and Thomas Jefferson indeed… I am now doing what I’ve wanted to do for many years, a freelance research consultant full-time, and with several clients that I know and love. Of course, I have little desire to settle into the same work for the same clients, and would love to take on more clients, large and small. The last think I want to do is to stop learning or to stop sharing what I have learned with others.