Saturday, June 8, 2013

Game-Changer for Autistic Scientists

This post is designed to describe two potential game-changing career options for autistic scientists.  I have found at least two web sites that allow scientists to participate in solving problems for pay.  In this way you can be paid for your knowledge and not your social skills.  Your background in biology, chemistry, physics, and computer science can come in handy and help you.  Large companies post these challenges, and they pay significant sums to solve them.  Your inability to function socially with colleagues and bosses in the workplace does not matter.  Your ability to think outside the box and solve scientific problems can earn you a good income.

One of them is called IdeaConnection, and I have belonged to the site for quite a while.  The payment for solving an idea challenge varies from $500 to $10,000 depending upon the challenge.  They also offer payments of $2,000 for technology sourcing leads, that is finding companies with particular technologies or products.  Some of the projects involve working in virtual teams, whereas others involve working alone.  The online environment makes working in a virtual team easier for an autistic scientist than working in an office setting where social miscues can cause tremendous heartache.

I found the other site, Innocentive, by reading the outstanding book Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business by Jeff Howe.  This site offers even higher payments for solving scientific problems, usually between $5,000 and $100,000 per challenge.  And the profiles of the successful solvers in the book indicate that autistic scientists can succeed in solving problems.  One problem-solver, Giorgia Sgargetta, has a PhD in chemistry but works as a quality manager in a pesticides plant (pp. 41-42).  Ed Melcarek has a masters in physics and now earns a significant income by solving scientific problems.

TopCoder is another web site mentioned in Howe's book on page 122.  The site offers short-term computer science problem-solving challenges that usually take place over 2-3 days and generally offer smaller prizes of $1,200 to $2,000 per challenge solved.

These sites are potential game-changers for unemployed and underemployed autistic scientists who are looking to either expand their income or break out of poverty and support themselves.  Removing the social pressures of working with colleagues and bosses can allow autistic scientific creativity to flourish more fully, thus allowing autistic scientists to maximize their potential and obtain fair compensation for their efforts.

One key point to keep in mind is that scientists should not limit themselves to only solving challenges in their fields.  For instance, Melcarek usually solves chemistry and biology problems using his physics and electrical engineering background (pg. 151).  Karim Lakhani, a PhD candidate in MIT's business school who studied InnoCentive, said,"We actually found the odds of a successful solver's success increased in fields where they had no formal expertise"(p. 151).  For this reason, scientists should try to tackle challenges outside their fields in addition to ones in their areas of expertise.

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