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Guess what too, I made this logo myself, so it’s not perfect - but it works for now and it’s growing on me.

Frustrations

If you work in the culture sector, you know the word frustrations very well. If you don’t, I bet you still know the word very well in your field too. Let’s go over some bullet points about what it can mean to go into a field like conservation - or, let’s face it, almost any field in the liberal arts that doesn’t imply the possibility of also going into tech.

Pondering student phase

  • I love this field. I want to study it. I’ve been told it will be awful, but I love it. I love it. I’m in love. I want to do this. I want to get paid to do this.
  • Oh… okay… it’s… kind of expensive to study at a higher level… I hope my parents/grandparents/partner are okay with this…
  • Oh… okay… there are three million applicants for 10 spots at this expensive place to study…
  • Oh…. okay… the other applicants already have 10 years of experience even though I’m pretty sure we’re all in our 20s…

Graduate phase

  • I made it. That was painful, but I made it. Yes. Win.
  • Wow, it was so expensive for me to get to this point and have this particular career and nobody wants to pay me to do this properly. Okay, okay, I knew this might be the case… it’s on me…
  • Okay, yes, fine. I always knew it wouldn’t be a Wolf of Wallstreet life, but… really? I can barely afford the transport to get to my job?
  • A job posting!!! YES! Oh… it’s across the country… for a maaaaybe renewable 3-month contract… for a non-living wage… right then.
  • Dear colleague/old aunt, just because you have no idea what I really do doesn’t mean you can imply that my job is a hobby or that someone else could do it as a side gig.

Professor phase

  • I can’t believe I made it past that graduate phase, but look at me. I’m teaching this. I publish things. Not raking in the proverbial dough, but I love my topic and I love being there for my students, and not to blow my own horn here, but my research is FASCINATING, yes you better believe it is.
  • Oh look… my successful students all seem to have one thing in common - they all have a support network to help them pay for this.
  • Oh look, my institution wants to get rid of me again because we don’t make millions for the department even though we do amazing research and publish tons and even win awards sometimes. Do we really need to go over this every other year even though a bunch of us show up on big TV shows talking about our work?
  • Yeah, okay, I don’t know anymore if I can put a brave face on and tell my students they’ll be able to find a job after we finish this.
  • Did I mention I have 30 years of experience and I’m probably making the equivalent of a recent graduate in some other fields?
  • Aaaaaand there go half my colleagues and our department got merged with -.
  • No, I’m not curled up in a ball today.

Academia

I know it sure sounds like it, but this post is not supposed to be a Debbie Downer or a complaintathon. It’s just a reflection of what many of us may have felt at one point or another in our non Doctor/Engineer/Lawyer/Investor/Developer lives. I was trying to be darkly humorous. Think of it as a deadpan delivery in a Scandinavian tragicomedy.

Naturally, some of us have risen over all this crazy and done well and are happy. (Please reach out and tell me if you are one of these people. Would love to hear your thoughts.) However, if what I see on social media is any barometer for reality, then there is definitely a lot of disenchantment floating around with the world of academia - and not just in conservation.

Opportunities

Like I said, this is not a post about pointless (though legitimate) complaints. This is a post about making opportunity. If we can’t find what we are looking for in the traditional spaces, maybe we can find it elsewhere.

Let me make the point with the following numbers:

  • Save Ancient Studies Alliance (SASA) is a non profit that has, according to their own website, attracted over 30,000 post engagements on social media, recruited +35 volunteers, attracted +17,000 visitors to their site and received at least 2 grants and over $5,000 in donations. You can check our their Twitter here.
  • Interintellect is an online community that meets for discussions on various topics that could very well be electives in a liberal arts college. They have over 10,000 followers on Twitter here.
  • Republic of Mathematics is “a group of mathematicians and mathematics educators focused on the neuroscience of mathematics and developmental implications for learning and teaching mathematics.” Does that sound niche to you? Because they have over 111,000 followers on Twitter here.
  • If we go into Folkloristics, which is just about one of my favourite topics ever, you will find the Myths and Legends podcast guy, who is effectively making a living out of his (super fun) podcast and has over 18,000 followers on Twitter here.

I could go on, but I think the point is clear that there is a hunger for knowledge out there, and in many cases, it’s not a hunger for basic knowledge, but for advanced studies.

There are a lot of people who can’t afford to go to university, but would love to learn.

There are others who are already past university, but are still looking for high level courses to learn more on topics they were never able to study.

Altminster: My grain of sand

Accessing university-level education is not that straightforward, while at the same time, teaching university-level topics may not make many academics happy at all given the current structures.

If you are reading this post, you may have read a previous post I wrote a few months back on why I want to try to make conservation public. If you haven’t read it and feel like having a look, you can do so here.

The point is, since that first post, I have decided to take steps - and I will take steps not just for conservation, but also for other fields who share our experiences. This is part of how Altminster was born.

What is Altminster?

I’m glad you asked! Altminster is a lot of things, so let’s start with the simple. It’s a website - a platform. What does it do?

In a nutshell, Altminster has been born to do the following:

  • Give interested students a curated source of resources on liberal arts topics. The internet can be hard to parse, so we’ll do it for you. All our listed resources have been recommended by someone who knows what they’re talking about - like they literally have a degree in it.
  • Give academics a place where they can offer the courses they wish they could teach - at fair prices. They can also offer private instruction at prices which can be negotiated with students (should the instructor be amenable to it). This includes any possibility for price adjustment based on student possibilities and the instructor’s own decisions (which can include anything from geographical location to philanthropy). We won’t interfere with this at all.

So, Altminster is there for teaching and for learning at a higher level, for fair prices and flexible times. It will let students vote for courses they’d like to see. It will allow instructors to post course ideas they’d like to try and let students vote to see if it’s worth making the course before investing a lot of time. More things will come as we grow.

What’s in it for Altminster?

Yes, yes. I’m the same. No shame in wanting to know what’s going on behind the scenes. You want to know what I get from this. For now, the answer is literally nothing. All listings are being offered for free. My co-founder and I are doing this in our free time, with our own resources. We want to get as many instructors with courses and students on Altminster as we can to make it a viable project in the long run.

Cool, you say. This is not sustainable without future payments. You are a smart cookie. In the future, Altminster will charge a flat annual fee to list courses or instructors. This will have to happen at some point because we will need to maintain the site somehow, but don’t worry. We will let you know first, and we won’t charge you retrospectively if you’re already there. We will also not charge an amount which we do not believe you can reasonably make back with a couple courses a year. While Altminster will be a for-profit place, it will not be an extortionate-profit place because its mission will always remain the same, to make the best education in the world within reach to anyone who wants to receive it. Most of the funds will be re-invested into improving the platform. Oh, and did I mention that we will not take fees or commissions from your courses or lessons ? It’s true. We mean that. Your effort = Your wages.

Do you want to be involved?

If Altminster is the kind of project you’d like to be involved with, there are a number of ways you can do this:

  • Send us your curated resources. We will happily add them to our growing list.
  • Sign up for free here as a private instructor.
  • List a course for free here. It can be on any other platform. It can be a free course too. We will only list the course and the link.
  • Sign up for our newsletter so you can find out how we are getting along! The link is available at the bottom of all our website pages.
  • Just follow us on Twitter to keep up with news and send us messages. We love constructive criticism, collaborations and any other ideas you’d like to send our way.





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