EDITOR’S NOTE: I was delighted to commission this review of Kolabtree, an interesting freelance platform for scientists, researchers and other academics. I get plenty of emails from people like this asking for home working options, so I hope this provides an interesting new avenue.
It sometimes seems as though the growing gig economy is mainly tailored to people who specialise as writers, virtual assistants, microtaskers and so forth. There are plenty of platforms for them such as Upwork, TaskRabbit and PeoplePerHour.
However, technical specialists are also turning more and more to freelancing as a career option—or as in my case, a lifestyle option.
In February this year, I finally made the jump from being a full-time senior scientist to being a full-time freelance scientific consultant. I had often thought of doing this, but the birth of my son and the need for improved life/work balance gave me the final push I needed. One of the many surprising ways scientists can earn a living freelancing is the relatively new Kolabtree platform.
What is Kolabtree?
Anyone anywhere in the world can post a project on Kolabtree. The subjects there require experts in fields including data analysis, machine learning, IT, agriculture, food science, statistics, engineering, medical science, social science, economics and so many more.
The Kolabtree platform is therefore not strictly for bench scientists such as myself, but for a broad range of technical experts, typically with a postgraduate degree in their discipline.
Kolabtree was only founded in 2015 but is reported to already have over 4,000 experts on its database. It is free to submit your profile online to Kolabtree to register as an expert, and the process is pretty painless if your CV is up to date.
Since uploading my portfolio onto Kolabtree in February this year, I’ve pitched many times on a variety of projects and been fortunate to be awarded 8 projects totalling US$3220. I’ve worked on projects involving scientific writing, editing, statistical analysis, research project scoping and in-depth literature review. My clients have included other independent contractors, government organisations, academics and contract research organisations. The two Kolabtree projects I am working on currently are 1000-word articles commissioned by a science and technology website.
How does Kolabtree work?
Clients post projects with associated information and a bidding price range. You can then bid based on your level of experience, your fit to the project and the amount of time you think it will take. You can describe why you think the client should hire you as well as your approach to the project.
Here, it’s best to specifically outline your approach step-by-step in a project-tailored fashion, rather than copying and pasting a universal response. Clients then choose their preferred bidder/s and contact them for further negotiation or information.
Once the project is awarded, the client pays the funds into a holding account with Kolabtree, so you have peace of mind that you will get paid once the project is complete. You can then share files and discuss the project online via the platform or Skype.
As soon as both parties are happy with the end product, the funds are released (minus the 20% commission to Kolabtree). I have never had any problems receiving money from Kolabtree, and all payments have been within five business days. Whenever there have been technical issues on the platform, the Kolabtree team have been very quick to assist.
The one downside (although to be fair I have not yet broached this topic with the platform managers), is the absence of an option to withhold release of payment until you have a target amount of your choosing in your Kolabtree ‘wallet’. Where I live, the same flat fee is charged for incoming foreign currency transfers irrespective of the amount. This charge can really eat into smaller project income.
As with any kind of independent contracting, you get great projects and ones that give you a bit of a headache. Overall though, my experience has been very positive. I have enjoyed the variety of subject areas and types of work required. Kolabtree is the only global platform of its kind that I am aware of, and it truly bridges geographic and political boundaries in bringing people from across the world to collaborate on complex projects.
Kolabtree: The Pros and Cons
We conclude this Kolabtree review with some pros and cons of the service.
- Free and easy to register.
- Broad variety of projects and clients.
- Peace of mind that you will get paid promptly when the project is complete.
- Easy-to-use online platform for viewing projects, bidding, communicating with clients and sharing files.
- New projects regularly posted.
- Any issues are quickly resolved by the Kolabtree team.
- You must budget for the 20% Kolabtree fee when you bid, which may push your fee out of bidding range for some projects. In fairness, this is true for most platforms.
- There is currently no option to withhold payments until a target amount is reached, which can result in foreign transfer charges eating into your income.
Natasha worked as an ‘employed’ scientist for 12 years before the birth of her son gave her the kick she needed to dive into the gig economy (she had long yearned to become a digital nomad). She now freelances full-time as a scientific editor, writer and consultant.