By Research Scholars Emily Monosson, Arika Virapongse  and Judy Daniels 

At the Ronin Institute, we’ve been working on a Big Brain project that intends to collect and share experiences and insights by scholars operating outside of traditional academic institutions. Our Big Brain project got off to a great start in early March 2021 with two MeetUp sessions.

For the first session, we used a Google Jamboard to brain-storm on different questions–it was a white-board post-it note combination where anyone could add a note to the board. We began with four questions based loosely around: Turning Points; Roadblocks; and Lessons/Solutions as an independent scholar. The last board was centered around Helpful thoughts and tips. For the second session, we spent time organizing the boards by grouping post-it notes together and making sense of them.

The boards are fascinating. Take a look. 

Turning points_Big Brain
Road Blocks_Big Brain Ronin
Lessons and Solutions_Big Brain_Ronin
Helpful thoughts_Big Brain Ronin

From this first MeetUp for the Big Brain, we realized that the questions we posed inadvertently suggested that independent scholars have problems that need solving, and that is why we are all here at the Ronin Institute. However, we learned that some of us are here as a sort of second or third phase of our career, for example, after leaving a full career in academia and elsewhere but still wanting to carry on with scholarship within a community.

One thing that became clear is that Ronin Research Scholars are a diverse group who value community. So, another task going forward from this session will be how to better facilitate community building, networking, and cohesion. In other words, how scholars might find others with the community with similar interests. Importantly, the MeetUp stimulated some great conversation that continued well after the event.

To continue with the Big Brain initiative, we’re planning to have monthly Big Brain sessions that will each focus on a theme that emerged from the boards and conversations. These themes will range from how to find logistical support to time-life management and grant writing.

This is all exciting! Stay tuned for more updates from the Big Brain.

I am a toxicologist turned writer. Most of what I write is about how we impact the world; and how we can reduce our human footprint. My most recent book Blight: Fungus and the Coming Pandemic (W.W. Norton Press) will be in print Summer 2023. It is about fungal pandemics across species.

Arika is a Research Scholar and Community Director of the Ronin Institute. She is a social-ecologist who works with human-environmental issues including, community resilience, natural resource management, and the application of science. In addition, she is the Founder of Middle Path EcoSolutions, a consulting firm that helps organizations with community building.

This post is a perspective of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Ronin Institute.


  1. Maria Jakubik

    Dear Emily, Arika, Judy, and Ronin Colleagues,
    I’m working on a paper about higher education and need for change in academia.
    Topic: How could university education facilitate the progress to a wiser and better world?
    What is a university? Why do universities as institutions need to change? How do universities as institutions need to change?
    What is the goal of the university education? Why does university education need to change? How does university education need to change?
    Feel free to answer these questions. Here is the link:
    BR, Maria

  2. Pingback:A Year in Review for the Ronin Institute: 2021 – Ronin Institute

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