Challenges Keep Me in the Game

Interview with IdeaConnection Problem Solver Mark Schell
Emeritus professor Mark Schell has two patents to his name and a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology. Here he talks about being involved in an R&D problem solving challenge, working on contingency, and why he is recommending the experience to others.

photo of Mark SchellPost-Retirement

People often say, "What are you going to you when you retire?" I had lots of plans of things to do, and among those plans were to spend a half to a third of my time still using my expertise, still exercising my brain and experience in what I'd learned over 30 years.

What IdeaConnection does is it's making everyone that's interested a potential consultant. So you don't have to have your own contacts, you don't have to be out there writing to people saying, "I can do this or I can do that." They're sort of putting together or finding clients who want consultants to help them with certain types of activities. And I think it's pretty good because the companies don't want to hire consultants on a sort of retainer or permanent basis. I think that's very attractive to companies and it's attractive to me. It's like having a broker who says, "Here are these possibilities, if you think you're competent or interested in this is, here latch onto it."

Working on Contingency

I think my position working on a contingency basis is a little more tolerable, because I was looking for something to do as an activity. And so in this case, if the activity pays, well yes that's great, but if it doesn't it's still not a complete loss because I’m using my brain, still doing things that I've done for years. I think that's important when you're in retirement.

So it kind of keeps me in the game so to speak, and I'm not sure that if I didn't have this that I wouldn't be doing some other esoteric research; research, which might be even less likely to produce a return.

I know when people retire they like to make furniture or something and then try and sell it, or they do landscaping, they fix up their yard or whatever. This is something I'd rather do, than either of those.

Working on a Challenge

When we started this recent challenge we asked to have a conference with the client. We asked very pointed, detailed and technical questions, so that we could understand exactly what it was that they were after, because the challenge was not written in great detail.

They were sort of vague and you're like saying, "Well if you don't want to answer this question that's fine, but if you tell us what's your bottom line, what is it that you want to get out of this, what is your product, or what is your goal, it's going to be a lot better, because if we understand that then we will be able to provide you with that solution."

So in terms of this one, once we met and spoke with the client, it became pretty clear to me. I was like, well, I didn't know what the solution is but I was pretty sure I could figure it out.

I think we were confident in our solution, and it was selected. I think that the facilitator told us there were eight proposals, and ours was selected to be the one that they wanted.

Spreading the Word

I saw just recently something to do with bioethanol, and I know someone or several people that are really into that and I immediately called them and said, "I want to talk with you about this," and I did.

I feel prompted to try and connect other people with this and say, "Look this is an opportunity, decide if you want to do this because you can make the money on the side."

People that I know who are still at the university haven’t hadn't had raises in five years, and so people are always looking for stuff on the side. We also only get these nine month salaries, and then you're supposed to get a research grant or something to pay you for your three months in the summer. So there are people at universities who are interested in making money outside of the regular channels.

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