Former Professor Shares his Experience on the Gig Economy

Evolutionary biologist and former Rutgers professor, Karl M. Kjer, has some advice on the new gig economy. Retirement can be an adjustment. Especially for academics who spend years working long hours on diverse and stimulating projects. With 5000 citations on Google Scholar, Karl Kjer fits the stereotype of a work-obsessed professor. In 2016, he retired from academia during a period of ill health. His marriage had collapsed, and he found himself struggling to find work that would use the skills he had been developing for all those years. It seemed hopeless. Then a dear friend and colleague mentioned freelance editing as a possibility. An internet search of “Freelance” revealed a couple of major platforms, including Upwork and Freelancer. Both offer an easy to use interface where clients and freelancers can find one another. Karl signed up for both, and began spending a couple hours a day searching through thousands of online jobs open for bids.

Tips for success

It is important to have the background that clients are seeking. This is the bad news, because it is difficult to create this background without significant experience outside the gig economy. People tend not to hand out free money for nothing. Editing is more than just plugging a document into a computer program such as Grammarly. Kjer was a professor at an R1 research university for 20 years, and edited countless written works over this career. He was an editor for “Systematic Biology” for 15 years. With 70 peer-reviewed papers, Kjer’s work is recognized, and of high quality. These are things that can be checked, and clients do. Thus, before you quit your day-job, make sure that you have something unique to offer besides a few years of unemployment after your master’s degree in 17th century English literature. Competition is fierce, and many freelancers have a difficult time finding their first jobs.

Once you have found landed your first drop, treat it like your baby. Nurse it, nurture it, and go over the top with quality. Your reputation is everything, and you must build it at the start from scratch. The client is always right. Communicate with them about what they need. When it comes time to offer feedback, be generous. If you have a reputation for hammering clients after the job, you will be blackballed yoursel,” said Kjer.

Upwork has a “top-rated” stamp that freelancers can earn for outstanding client satisfaction. Kjer earned this status after about six months on the platform. Be careful though: The is a metric that Upwork calculates called “job success,” which is a combination of completed work, and client ratings. If the job satisfaction rating goes below 90%, it becomes very difficult on Upwork to find any work at all. This happened to Kjer early on, when a few unreasonable clients gave unfavorable ratings. It only takes a couple bad ratings early on to send your job success score below 90%. To make matters worse, 90% is the default cutoff for clients posting jobs. They must actively lower it just to consider freelancers who may be great, but are at 89% success. This seems like a drawback for Upwork, but it is what it is. Person can feel like a galley slave, whipped by unreasonable and demanding clients. So another piece of advice is to choose clients wisely. They are rated by freelancers just as you are rated by them. Look at their feedback, and avoid contracts with clients who have had multiple problems with freelancers. Freelancers reputation is something freelancers themselves build, not only with excellent work, but also by choosing good clients to work with.

So if a person has a CV that could impress clients, and are looking for a flexible and stimulating career in the gig economy, consider freelance editing. Kjer finds that in continually editing new material, his learning curve is as steep as it was in graduate school, and this is a great perk for those who love to learn. Besides his obvious expertise in the biological sciences, Kjer has been editing papers on cryptocurrency, medicinal mushrooms, psychology, cyber-security, and the job satisfaction of women police officers, just to name a few.

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