What Do Scientists Produce: Knowledge

Interview with IdeaConnection Problem Solver Elizabeth Bent
Dr. Elizabeth Bent’s work focuses on terrestrial microbial ecology, which she hopes to use to help boost the productivity and health of agricultural, forest, or polluted soils.

Her work also has parallels in studies of microbial ecology in veterinary sciences and medicine (for example, studies of intestinal microbiota, which she has also been involved in). She talks about her scientific background and research and her experience as a problem solver with IdeaConnection.

photo of Elizabeth BentWhat motivates your research?
Like many academic scientists, I would like to know more about how the world works, and leave it a better place than I found it.

What have been your most significant achievements?
My publication record is quite strong   I have edited books and written many book chapters and journal articles. People often are confused about what scientists produce: we produce knowledge. The advances in knowledge I have provided in these books and articles, while small, are still significant and every advance helps the field move along.

What attracted you to working with IdeaConnection?
I’m a postdoctoral scientist, and I have been for some time (over ten years now). These positions do not come with a large salary, and I have been supporting my family, as my husband is an artist and makes even less money than I do. I was drawn to IdeaConnection because it offered a way for me to make extra spending money on a part-time basis, working on projects I considered interesting.

How did you find the experience of working with mix of different cultures and disciplines?
I did not really experience much of a culture or cross-discipline shock, since I work in academia as a molecular microbial ecologist. In my line of work, I typically deal with people from many different countries and disciplines. The range of cultures and disciplines represented in the teams I’ve been a part of was actually quite small compared to what I experience on a typical work day.

As well as imparting knowledge did you learn something from the experience?
I have been involved in two challenges. One of them allowed me to contact old colleagues I met while editing a book on induced systemic resistance in plants, and the other allowed me to investigate the diagnostic characteristics of tRNA gene sequences. No knowledge is useless knowledge, and so in the course of teaching myself about these areas so that I could help write the final reports, I gained knowledge that may someday help me in my work.

What do you feel about contingency, the idea that you will only be paid if a seeker selects your solution?
I would prefer to be kept on a retainer or paid an hourly fee, of course, but I take these challenges for what they are   interesting side projects that should be rewarding in terms of the new knowledge gained from it, with a possibility of payment.

How successful have you been with IC? What did winning a financial award mean to you?
I have been involved in two challenges, and one was accepted for a partial (70%) payment. The award will be useful, and if I hadn’t won something I probably would be considerably less inclined to work on another challenge.

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