How to become an innovator

I’m following a training programme at the moment called ‘Researcher to Innovator’ (R2I). It’s run by the SETsquared partnership, which is none other than the global number one university business incubator!

There are forty PhDs and ECRs from five UK universities doing R2I. It’s shaping up to be a really enriching, awesome experience, which I would recommend to any junior researcher.

SETsquared have kindly given me permission to share some of the things I learn on the programme, so I’m going to kick off with tips I gathered at our first bootcamp on how to become an innovator.

Time is precious, so rather than share paaaaragraphs, I’ve put everything we need in infographic form.

Slide1

pdf here

An A-Z of reasons to do a POST fellowship

Last year I did a POST fellowship. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Applications are now open for the next round of fellowships and I cannot recommend it highly enough; here is an A – Z of reasons why.

Assertiveness
You engage with all sorts of people during your fellowship; there’s no hiding in the corner. You find your voice and your assertiveness develops.

Balance
You see academic research from beyond the academy and that is really useful. Inside the academy, you only see half of the story. Engaging with research outside the institution balances your view of its place and function in our world.

Collaboration
A PhD can be quite a lonely experience. However, during your fellowship you (learn to) work collaboratively; with colleagues, fellows and others that you engage with.

Drive
You have a clearly defined task on your placement and a clearly defined goal. You also have a relatively short time to do it in. You need to work to a plan and you need to go for it. In so doing, you develop – and work with – a drive to achieve.

Expertise
You’ve been developing expertise in a particular field for some years now. Your placement puts you in contexts where you get to call upon the expertise you’ve worked so hard to develop.

Friends
You meet really nice, interesting, dynamic people, some of whom will become friends.

Giving
It’s not just about what you can get by doing a fellowship, but also what you can give. As a funded PhD student, several funding bodies have probably invested in your development over the years. By doing a fellowship and using those skills, you get to give back.

Helping
You will have developed a lot of skills and knowledge over the years. These may be unique to you. On your placement you can use your knowledge and skills to help colleagues and fellows.

Inspiration
In a completely different environment, meeting new people, going new places, doing new things, making new connections, inspiration strikes.

Job prospects
A fellowship looks great on your CV and provides you with fantastic experiences to recall in cover letters and interviews.

Knowledge
On your fellowship you research a topic in depth. In so doing, you gain a lot of knowledge in that area.

Learning
PhD students love to learn, but PhDs have us focusing our learning. Doing a fellowship, you learn lots of different things through the things you do and the people you meet. Some of the things you learn are really valuable and worth sharing.

Momentum
If a PhD is a marathon, then a fellowship is a 10k race. The pace is faster. You’ve only got three months to turn it around, and that means you’ve got to keep moving, which is really welcome when you’ve been creeping along at a snail’s pace with the PhD.

Network
During your fellowship, you engage with all sorts of different people; some you meet just once, others you liaise with repeatedly. They introduce you to others. Connecting with them on social media, you connect to others who are connected to them. You grow a fantastic network.

Opportunities
Opportunities come at you from left, right and centre. You will also be in a position to make your own opportunities. You must take hold of those opportunities and go for it.

Purpose
Sometimes we are disheartened by the thought that our esoteric thesis will be read by just a handful of people and is unlikely to change the world. The work you produce on your fellowship has purpose. It is widely read. It is useful. It feeds into parliamentary and policy debate. It is impactful.

Questioning
On your fellowship you scrutinise all kinds of documents and evidence. You become much more discerning and your default becomes to question things.

Reflection
When you’re in a different context, you see yourself from a different perspective. Your fellowship opens up a space for you to reflect on where you’re at and where you want to go next.

Space
Your fellowship gives you space and distance from your own research. It allows you to think about it differently and see it from a different perspective. When you return to it you are refreshed with new ideas of how to approach it.

Tales
Based in Westminster, interacting with all sorts of fascinating people, carrying out research of contemporary societal importance, you come away with great stories woven into your life tapestry.

Understanding
Working in Westminster, you gain a lot of understanding into how Parliament and Government work and how they interact with wider society.

Vision
Your fellowship allows you to see how academic research is made meaningful in the wider world. You see it through the eyes of parliamentarians, policy makers, charities, industry, journalists and others. You see it in a whole new light and that changes the way you do research.

Writing
During your fellowship, you write in a way you probably haven’t written before; you write about complicated things in a concise and accessible way. You learn a whole new useful way of writing.

eXpectation
The calibre of people you mix with on your fellowship is pretty high. People work hard, have high expectations and get things done. Being in that environment, those things rub off. You grow into that kind of a professional, and come away with those kinds of expectations.

Yolo
The idea of doing a fellowship might feel overwhelming: ‘I could never do that,’ you think. Well, you can. Your colleagues are supportive and helpful, and you will get there. Be brave, go for it, YOLO.

Zeal
The POST team and fellows are dynamic, motivated, quick, engaged, and on the ball. It’s an energetic and inspiring environment and it’s contagious.

AZ

pdf here.

Notes from the top: Women as Leaders – Making an Impact


Ten days ago, I had the great privilege of being given the opportunity by Edwina Dunn, founder of The Female Lead, to attend the Institute of Directors’ conference ‘Women as Leaders 2016: Making an Impact.’

It was one of the most inspiring of days. With seriously inspiring speakers.

In this blog post I’m going to share what I heard. It was hard to make notes fast enough during the day, so things aren’t verbatim, however, I have done the best I can to replicate the words of the speakers. My notes are restructured into a narrative that will, I hope, be maximally helpful for you.

I’m going to share what the speakers had to say about:

Where are we at?

We’ve got a problem
We have rising indebtedness and there’s nothing we can seem to do about it – it’s a structural not a political issue. There’s increased devolution, shrinking of the public sector, and lowering of taxes – the UK has the lowest corporation tax in Europe. We have non ring-fenced government departments like the Department for Business Innovation and Skills and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. We’ve got a problem and we’ve got to think of a better solution to this long term. – Yasmina Siadatan

We are far from having parity in the workforce, and it’s costing us
How much economic gain do we lose by not having equal numbers of women and men at the same levels in the workforce? Globally, 28 trillion dollars in additional GDP. Globally,  workforce parity is worth the entire economy of the USA and China; it’s a commercial imperative. In Europe alone it’s 200 billion dollars. If we don’t start to change things, on our current trajectory it’s calculated that it will take over 100 years to reach parity. We need intervention and a step change. Edwina Dunn

There’s an imbalance in business too
Only 18% of firms are majority run by women in the UK.- Yasmina Siadatan

Women aren’t progressing
What’s holding women back in financial services?
Women identify three main areas: 1) the company’s culture; 2) their own line manager; and 3) inflexibility. – Jayne-Anne Gadhia

BUT

Women-owned firms excel
Women-owned firms outperform those owned by male counterparts, with 13% higher revenue.- Yasmina Siadatan

And diversity is good for business
Companies prioritising diversity see a significant lift in profits. A 10% increase in gender diversity leads to a 3.5% increase in pre-tax profits. Greater diversity leads to richer discussions, more conversations and less hierarchy in companies. – Juliet Morris

We need balance, representativity of everyone, full vibrancy of diversity, views and cultures. The more we encourage diversity of thought and expression, the better. – Jayne-Anne Gadhia

There’s a new kind of capitalism emerging
Traditionally the worth of a business was measured by its revenue, but this traditional capitalism no longer serves people’s needs. 80% of millennials want to work for companies that care about having an impact. There’s a new way to measure a business’s worth and its impact: the triple bottom line. This measurement takes into account: 1) social, 2) environmental and 3) financial factors. There’s a new kind of business organisation framework: the B corporation. It’s a business that creates its value in these three dimensions. – Yasmina Siadatan.

So what does all this mean?

It means we need to get out there, be leaders with a capital L and change things. Here’s how…

How to be a leader with a capital L

Sacha Romanovitch on changing the leadership paradigm

Think about the next and the new
So much of life is focused in the now, but if we want to create a future for our children, we also need to think about the next and the new. Look around. The world is reaching its limits in resources. Things that once seemed esoteric are now really important.

Change the leadership paradigm
The prevailing paradigm of leadership in the world has been that leaders are heroes who save the world. The old view was: I’m perfect; I have all the answers. In the old days we held our hands tightly. If we open our hands to others, we can do something together, something better. Let’s have leaders where it’s okay for them to ask questions, it’s okay for them to think about how to bring things together in different ways. We need it to be okay for leaders to say I got it wrong, and yet for those leaders not to then be mullered. We will get the leaders we deserve.

Create meaning for people, build community
For me it’s all about creating the environment for others to do their best thinking. It’s brave leadership, trying to do something different. Creating a community to do something different, possibilities emerge; strength emerges. How do you create meaning for people? By enabling people to bring their best, whole selves into the office. You have to create space for people to ask at work: why am I on this earth? What is important to me? How does that connect to what I do every day? When you go into the world of possibilities, people won’t step forward straight away. It takes time. You’ve got to create a space for them to shine. You have to believe that people are good.

On instigating change
How do you carry people with you when instigating change? By creating time and space for them to express what they are uncomfortable with. By not necessarily waiting until you’ve got everyone onboard. Sometimes you’ve got to get on and do stuff and show people it works rather than wait for them to approve the theory.

Love and encourage
We need to bring love, kindness, thoughtfulness, mindfulness. With leaders like that we can change the system. I want to be a leader who is progressive and changes things. I know I won’t always get it right. Through community we can encourage each other, pick each other up and create the world we deserve.

On the language of leadership
So much of our language in business and leadership is to do with fear and destruction. What does that do to your brain? In that place of fear you aren’t set up to think, to be creative and constructive. When our toddler falls over we don’t tell them they did a rubbish job, we support and encourage because that’s what we do. We need to bring that language into leadership.

Challenge assumptions
The world puts assumptions on you and you have a lot of assumptions in your head. The assumptions we make? We create them in our head; we write that narrative. We can rewrite them. You’ve got to start with yourself. Once you can challenge your own assumptions, it equips you to work with others.

Chose what to fail at
You can’t do everything. I never buy clothes that need ironing. I outsource things I don’t have to do.

Make choices, pause and be clear
For you to make wise choices, you need to create those pauses so you are making a choice, rather than life happening to you. A minute sitting, breathing, thinking ‘what’s happening to me right now?’; in the world where it’s so relentless it’s a lost skill. It’s hard to pause. When you’re clear you can make things happen, you can change the world.

What else?

Make your company better through its personality
If you get a company, institution or business to think a bit differently by coming up with something innovative and creative, not just talking about it, but delivering and getting everyone to come with you, you’re adding brand worth. If you’re making your company better through its personality, then you’re improving it.Kim Winser

Be a leader with a capital L
Sometimes people say “it should be that women are leaders because we are softer, nice touch, collaborative” Ehhh? We are competitive, dammit! It’s perfectly respectable to compete. I don’t accept the softer thing. It’s incorrectly placed to suggest that women as leaders are softer. It’s really important that when we are leaders, we are leaders with a capital L.Kate Roberston

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How to achieve

Kim Winser’s five tips for achieving

1) Knowledge
When Marie Curie started in the world of physics, she wouldn’t have been saying I want to change the world and break records. She would have been passionate about what she believed in – physics. It was more about her knowledge and expertise and talent. Whatever field you’re in, make sure you’re really good at it, because that’s how you’ll get to the top. Learn from others. Watch different people doing different things and learn from them. Look at people that are so good in their space. It’s knowledge and expertise that will get you to the top.

2) Energy and determination
If you’re going to do anything, really do it. If you’re really do it. If you’re really determined, that will drive you.

3) Delivery
If you’re going to have thoughts and you’ve got energy and talent, then deliver it.

4) Gut
If you’ve got knowledge, experience, and a team, if you have a feeling for something, you have to follow it. Sometimes people are nervous of that. The chances are if you’re knowledgeable and up to date and are really thinking, listening, watching, reading, your gut is going to be pretty good.

5) Confidence
Dressing is so important because of what it does for you. It does say something about you, but that’s secondary to what it does for you. If you’re well dressed and confident in a meeting, the rest of the day you’ll focus on business, your talent and your gift to the meeting. If you feel confident, everything flows from there. 

What else?

Take opportunities
It’s not a question of nature or nurture; it’s being brave enough to take the opportunities that you are faced with. Never run away from an opportunity. Grasp it and make it yours.– Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Be yourself
You have to be genuine, truthful, authentic and honest. You shouldn’t change personality just because you are leading a business. Every personality can fit. Be honest to who you are. It’s about being giving. Be generous; give more than you take and then you’ll stand out. Don’t worry if someone else takes the credit for something, just give, because you will stand out and more and more people will see that.– Kim Winser

Be yourself
The most important thing is to be yourself; be proud of who you are. If it can happen to me it can happen to anyone. In this difficult world, be yourself; be brilliant take your opportunities and make a difference because we can definitely do that. It’s important to know what you believe in and stick to that and not change your principles. – Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Learn to let go
Figure out how to let go. When you ask someone how to do something and then they don’t do what you want, ask yourself ‘is this going to crush my business?’ No. You’ve got to learn how to pick your battles – so that you can make your business run without you. If you want to go on holiday you have every right to.  – Tara Mei

Learn to love guys
I’ve learned to love men because I spend all my time with lovely, lovely men. If you’re going to be a CEO, you’re going to end up with lots of guy friends, so just get used to loving them. – Celia Francis

Plan to scale up
Put scaling up into your strategy right from the start, so that where you are now is just part of a bigger picture.– Tara Mei

Talk to the market
It’s about education, talking to the market. Get out there and talk to people: show them the value of something, show them the problem, then show them the solution.Emma Clarke

And finally

Be a girly girl full of swagger
Why do we get lots of women managers, but fewer CEOs? Because girls don’t have quite the same swagger. You have to be able to feel and be confident if you are going to attract great people to work for you. The winning combination for the future leader? A girly girl full of swagger. – Celia Francis

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And when adversity, insecurity or fear strikes?

Starting and picking yourself up
I didn’t know what a business plan was when I started. I had YouTube videos on, working out my finances. I wanted to raise money, went to meetings to get money, they listened to me, then said no. I felt stupid. Today the business is a success. My business thrives because of me. I have a strategy, a plan. My Sat Nav is set to go where it’s going to go and everyone is going that way. I had no self-belief. I didn’t understand that I could do it and had no one telling me that I could do it. I’m bloody-minded and bright as hell, but there were places where I was scraping myself off the floor.Geeta Sidhu-Robb

Asking the stupid question and feeling things
When I was young, asking the stupid question, I realised that half the room didn’t understand either. I learned that lesson, and I realised that asking that stupid question was how I was going to learn most. Sometimes I think we have a desire to find the answer that’s intellectually right. Sometimes when I get stuck I think about how I feel about something. Rather than intellectualise, I feel things. I’m instinct first and analysis second. If you can work out what you’re feeling it’s sometimes much more powerful.– Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Staying calm
Advice I would give to my younger self? Try to find a way to stay calm. There are a lot of times in my career where something seemed like a total disaster. Things that seemed terrible, but ultimately turned out to be good. I think you have to go through it a few times before you realise that if you get through it it’s fine; as long as no one’s dead, you’re fine.– Celia Francis

Being in the right environment
As women we set our sights and boundaries at a particular level, whereas men do it differently. It’s about surrounding ourselves with the right environment so that we are enthused and inspired to do more. – Yasmina Siadatan

Taking risks
You have to be a bit more confident with taking risks than a girl might be. Boys are better than this. You’ve got to be able to say: it’s a high risk, but we are going to jump. You have to be able to do that and be okay with it.
Every week I secretly do something that scares me. It’s about getting used to the idea of risk and ‘the fear factor’. If you can think of something to do that’s low risk but that will give you the experience of getting over your fear, something you normally wouldn’t do, then you do it and it works out okay and you realise you’re fine, if you can do that you can do anything.– Celia Francis

You will shine
The thing about developing your own business: everything that’s weak about you will emerge, but everything that’s strong about you will shine. Geeta Sidhu-Robb

This too will pass
In moments full of doubt I’ve remembered: this too will pass.– Sacha Romanovitch

You will make it work
If you’re desperate enough and hungry enough you will make it work against adversity. – Emma Clarke

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How we can change things?

Firstly…

We aren’t fighting hard enough. – Kate Robertson

Things haven’t fully changed. It is our responsibility to make the change; for ourselves and our daughters.  -Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Edwina Dunn on changing perceptions and surfacing new role models

What can we do to achieve parity in the workforce? Two things:

1) we can change the perception of STEM subjects for girls; and

2) we can change girls’ perceptions of who they can be.

If you talk to people in the UK, you hear comments like “I’m not very good at maths.” People wouldn’t say that about English. It’s not like that elsewhere. The government says we are going to be the number 1 economy in the world in a digital future, but we are currently number 21.

We need to change perceptions and we need role models. Girls need to aim at somewhere and know that they can be successful. Having role models is imperative in helping us drive future success. Looking at social media, we see that boys follow a diverse collection of people, individuals, groups and organisations, whilst girls follow singers, actresses, models and celebrities. If we keep gazing in the same direction, at the same people, we aren’t going to change anything.

How can we celebrate, enjoy and learn from people who have amazing skills? By surfacing them and creating new role models.

ACTION points:
1)
Get involved with The Female Lead – a non-profit project that celebrates women’s achievement, endeavour and diversity, it aims to make women’s stories more visible.
2) Get involved with  Your Life – a campaign inspiring and informing young people about the transformative power of studying maths and physics.
3) Offer yourself up as a role model – this is awkward for women, but we have a responsibility to tell our story, to share it.

What else?

We need to teach girls to be comfortable as leaders
We need ways to teach girls to be comfortable being confident and having swagger whilst being able to retain their core femininity. – Celia Francis

We need to encourage young women
It’s really important we go out of our way in our own communities and networks to encourage young women to be the best we can be. – Yasmina Siadatan

We need to pay attention to young leaders. – Kate Robertson

ACTION point: get involved with One Young World  a UK-based charity that gathers together the brightest young leaders from around the world, empowering them to make lasting connections to create positive change.

We need to get the media using different words
If we can get the media to start using different words, replacing ‘pretty, kind and likeable’ with ‘ambitious’ ‘clever’ and ‘strong’, then we have a chance.– Edwina Dunn 

Ambition shouldn’t be a dirty word
We need to get over this issue where girls think ambition is a dirty word. – Edwina Dunn

Send your daughter to coding classes. – Celia Francis

We can’t sit within our own boundaries
We are starting to see a global movement; there is an erosion of physical boundaries. No longer can we conform to a particular idea in one nation. People are so interconnected; ideas are shared from one to the next. We can’t sit within our own boundaries. In emerging economies there is a rise in the middle classes. We have connected cities and educated, informed, moving populations.  –Yasmina Siadatan

We need to invest in training line managers in building relationships
If we do nothing else we should invest in the training of line managers to understand the people they are managing, not just the businesses they are managing. The most important thing in any business is the relationships you build. With strength of purpose, together we can help each other to succeed. People want to be more flexible in the way they work. Richard Branson said the most important thing is for people to work where they are happy. Do we do that enough for our people? It’s a hugely empowering thing enabling this. – Jayne-Anne Gadhia

Hire both men and women
This is the most powerful outcome for your company. Celia Francis

Sometimes you need the help of people already there
All barriers that have been broken down for me have been helped by the support of a more powerful man. In our lives there continue to be men who are very powerful. In my experience the support now for women exceeding in business is better than before. In particular it’s men who have daughters. Sometimes you need the help of people already there. But none of that would have happened if I hadn’t taken the opportunities with both arms open.– Jayne-Anne Gadhia

We need leaders with a capital L across sectors
In business you will find more leaders with a capital L than you find in government and elsewhere. I wish that the leaders in government were of the calibre of the ones in business. In the global business we change things; 12 months later? Oh my god it’s changed!– Kate Robertson

So, ladies and gents, are you up for it?

To help us begin, I’ve made a wordcloud of some of the verbs the conference speakers used. We can use them to be inspired, and to drive our actions.

I’ve also made an inspirographic with some of the conference highlights – do feel free to refer to it and share.

WaL wordcloudIoDwal3

pdf here.

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How and why we can and should be more creative in academia

I spent the best part of a decade thinking there was no place in academia for paint, scissors and glitter glue. It turns out I was wrong.

Feeling my off the wall ideas were unwelcome, I’d been all set to walk away from academia after my PhD. That was until a couple of weeks ago, when I went to a university workshop on ‘creative journaling as a research method.’ Now I want to stay.

That day, enlightenment and salvation finally came, delivered by Dr Ian Cook, a tall man with thick-rimmed black glasses and stories of Lego and Guantanamo Bay. Ian talked about how he and colleagues in his department had used Lego to explore different news stories. The material nature of the activity had shaped both the process and the thinking. The team posted images of their creations on social media, and contacted some of those involved in the stories, many of whom responded; the use of Lego as a research tool sparked conversations that would otherwise not have taken place.

Not only did he illustrate that creative approaches do have a place in academia and are welcome, he also demonstrated why we should be more creative. And, unlike junior PhD student me, he’s a senior and respected academic. So, if he says it’s okay, then it’s okay! To pick out and paraphrase some of Ian’s points:

Why we should be more creative in academia

  • Processes of making and creating provide us with a different way of exploring the world
  • ‘Materiality and remembered physical experiences stimulate the imagination’ (Treadaway 2009: 236)
  • We need to make our research interesting for the people who are going to be reading it
  • What we are trying to convey might be better understood in different formats

In other words, creative approaches may give us greater insight, enable us to do better research and be better at communicating it.

Looking back over the past two and a half years of my PhD, I see my project has been peppered with creative moments which have been invaluable. These have helped me understand my research questions and talk about what I’m trying to find out with others. I’ve picked out six ideas that will hopefully inspire you.

 

1) Making sense of the literature

Reviewing the literature in the early stages of my research, I had information overload. I was trying to get my head around all of the factors that might have an impact on (Franco-)Belgian borderlanders’ speech and their beliefs about and attitudes towards language. I had compiled a long list, but it just wasn’t user friendly; I needed to see how they interacted. So I made them into a collage.

DSCN1215

(info here)

Not only did the collage help me to make sense of the literature, I have since gone back to it and used it to stimulate my own questions. Sharing it with non-experts, it has been a way for me to start conversations about my research.

 

2) Sharing a research experience with peers

I was asked to lead part of a discussion group at Cardiff University about my first experiences of fieldwork. I wanted my colleagues to feel what I had felt. So I drew a cartoon! Little bit risky!

FOXENLEDS12.11.2014 jpeg

(info here)

The storyboard format enabled my colleagues to relive my experience with me, but it was abstract enough to stimulate their own memories of fieldwork. What is more, it was so distinct from forms of presentation we are used to, it engaged and held their attention.

 

 

3) Developing a methodology

How do you get the measure of a person’s complex, composite, fluid identity? Thinking about this whilst planning my methodology, I felt a visual translation of identity might be more insightful that something gleaned from responses to a written questionnaire. I considered the dimensions of identity then thought how I could translate them into physical dimensions, for example:

Identity Cloud

  • Different traits become different colours
  • Importance becomes size
  • Interaction becomes spatial configuration
  • Fluidity becomes movement

What emerged from my reflections and discussions with peers was the idea of visualising identity through creating an Identity Cloud; a visual interpretation of the arguably intangible. Peers had a go at making their own identity clouds at a conference workshop. They described how the process of making and doing had stimulated thought and discussion.

(The image is of a made up Identity Cloud.)

(Check back for details of a forthcoming journal article about this.)

 

4) Processing and documenting the emotions tied to my own research experience

When I first moved to France for my year abroad, I started making postcards with chopped up free magazines and pens. I made them for no one but myself. When I looked back over them, I realised they were an articulation of my emotions – living abroad for the first time is pretty scary and challenging.

DSCN1212

I still make postcards whenever I’m abroad. I don’t really think about what I want to create; I just start chopping up magazines. Nevertheless, when I look back on my creations, I see that they are (sometimes cathartic) translations of emotions and experience. Looking at the postcards I created on my first trip to the field site reminds me how overwhelmed I was. I’m not sure I’d remember those emotions as clearly without the postcards, yet I think an awareness of the emotions we experience on our research journey is important in our understanding of our research and ourselves as researchers.

(info here)

 

5) Preparing to interpret my data

At the creative journaling workshop two weeks ago we were encouraged to explore part of our research. I’d brought along the questionnaire I gave my participants. One question asked participants the top five places they spend their time (it will contribute to an index for mobility). In the workshop I decided to try responding to this question visually.

DSCN1227

(info here)

Through creating this piece, I realised I couldn’t think about the places I spend my time without thinking about how I feel about them. The activity flagged up to me the fact that when I interpret my questionnaire data, I must remember that behind the quantitative responses are emotions and feelings and these may explain things better than numbers.

 

6) Sharing aspects of my research with non-specialists

Recently, I created a poster illustrating my research journey. Knowing the audience were not specialists, and that attention is precious, I wanted to do something engaging. Having decided to collect a ball of wool every place I stayed during my PhD, I made a poster telling the story of my research through swatches of wool.

DSCN1230

(info here)

The novelty, and the fact that viewers were encouraged to engage physically through touching the wool, appeared to engage viewers and passers by.

 

 

 

 

So why are creative approaches so marginal in academia?

The benefits of being creative are evident, and clearly people are being creative in the academy, but it’s definitely not the norm. I’ve been thinking about why this might be, and so far I’ve come up with five reasons (which I went into more detail about in a recent post):

  • The system has not been built for us to do it
  • We aren’t used to doing it
  • We don’t know what to do
  • We think we can’t do it
  • No one likes to fail

Nevertheless, there’s never been a better time to try something different!

Now is the time to go for it!

As I said in my previous post, ‘interdisciplinarity and impact might be unpleasant buzzwords in the minds of many, but, buzzwordiness aside, the do open up spaces in which creative approaches are more esteemed, if not encouraged. Technological advances, the move towards more collaborative work, and the rise of social media are also developments which work in creativity’s favour.’

What is more, beyond the academy others are getting on the bandwagon: in their document on ‘Digital Investigation and Intelligence: Policing capabilities for a digital age’ (April 2015), the College of Policing and partner agencies state ‘we need to engage with artists and innovators to help us think creatively and see things differently.’

If we don’t dare to try new things, how far will we get? Einstein was of the opinion that ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’ was tantamount to insanity. And Ed Catmull, the founder of Pixar, wrote a book about how creating an environment where people aren’t scared of failure is key for enabling creativity. 

Now, whilst I’m a fan of glitter glue and have A-level art to my name, I realise not everyone is in this position. But creativity is not limited to the art room – Lego, for example, requires no drawing implement. Everyone has the potential to be creative, and it’s something that must be practised and developed.

To finish I’m going to give you some ideas for ways to kick-start your academic creativity.

I’d also love to hear what you do to help you feel and be creative – do feel free to comment or tweet me. I’ll get our collected ideas together in another post!

20 ideas for kick-starting your academic creativity

Take little steps

1) If you’ve never done it before, submit a poster to a conference. It’s a well established format, so it’s not going to upset the academy; it’s just going to help you practise taking risks.

2) Physically chop up something you’re working on into sections and re-arrange it in different configurations; not just linearly. Keep rearranging and see what emerges when you change the connections in your research.

3) How much colour do you have in your work? Invest in a pack of felt tips or crayons and use them freely. Maybe get some stickers too.

4) Take a draft of a piece of your writing and illustrate it with stick people and images in the margins. Reflect on what emerges.

5) 1) Raid the recycling bag for magazines, then 2) think about any aspect of your research, then 3) start cutting and sticking without worrying about the outcome.

Seek out creative spaces

6) Find the space where your mind wanders and go there.

7) Seek out ‘interdisciplinary’ events or projects: discipline boundaries have already come down and there’s a sense of openness and exploration; an ideal space in which to take a risk.

8) Want to try delivering something in a new way? How about in a seminar in your institution? It’s not too formal, and you’re amongst familiar faces.

9) Want to try delivering something in a new way? How about in a seminar somewhere else? People have (maybe) got less of an idea of who you are. There are no preconceptions. What a way to make a splash!

10) Find public engagement opportunities. Engaging the public with our research requires us to bring them into the mix and that means we have to think differently.

Think differently

11) Play helps with innovation (Gross & Do 2009). Get out the Lego, plan a treasure hunt, turn your research into a Monopoly-esque game, make a costume and act out an aspect of your research.

12) Question why you’re not doing something differently. Is there a good reason why not? Would there be a good reason to do it differently?

13) Do you do any crafts (knitting, candlemaking…) or have any hobbies (baking, orienteering…)? Have you ever tried doing an aspect of your research with or through them? Try it.

14) Think about your research journey. Think about what’s happening and what you’re doing and feeling. How could this awareness shape what you’re doing and where you’re going?

15) Got a totally radical idea you love, but scared to go for it? Is what’s stopping you really a valid reason not to?

Learn from others

16) Seek wisdom and inspiration from people writing and speaking about creativity. Rod Judkins’ ‘The art of creative thinking’ is packed with ideas, and there’s a wealth of inspiration to be found in TED talks.

17) Go out and seek inspiration: visit a gallery, listen to a piece of music, go to a museum, go for a walk.

18) Have a conversation with someone about part of your research you’d never imagine having that conversation with. What comes out of it?

19) Talk to the people in your office, your institution, your network. And people who’ve got nothing to do with your area. What different things are they doing?

20) Look at how your or your friends’ children tackle a task. Try emulating their approach.

Kick-starting your academic creativity

(pdf here)

Don’t forget: I’d  love to hear what you do to help you feel and be creative – so feel free to comment or tweet me and I’ll get together a blogpost on our collected ideas.

References

Gross, M. & Do, E.Y-L. (2009) Educating the new makers: cross-disciplinary creativity. Leonardo 42(3), 210-215.

Judkins, R. (2015) The art of creative thinking. London: Sceptre.

Treadaway, C. (2009) Materiality, memory and imagination: using empathy to research creativity. Leonardo 42(3) 231-237.

 

What a five-year-old, seashells and formal semantics taught me about learning

Learning 2

What seashells taught me about learning

As a 17-year-old planning to pursue languages, my A-level biology coursework seemed interesting, but irrelevant. It involved comparing the apertures of seashells from two beach locations to see if there was a difference between the two datasets. To compare the datasets, we learned to use a statistical test called a t-test. Pointless, when you’re planning a career in languages.

I got my A-level, left school, pursued languages and then became a teacher. A decade later, I returned to uni and started a Masters in Linguistics.

There I took a module in accent variation. One of my assessments required analysing a person’s speech and comparing their vowel sounds. To do this, I was required to perform… you’ve guessed it…a t-test.

All this has taught me…

Sometimes things which seem irrelevant or pointless may turn out to be just the opposite. Since we can’t see into the future, we should never discount something on the grounds that it appears irrelevant.

What a five-year-old taught me about learning

A couple of weekends ago I had the total joy of helping my two small nieces with a craft activity. Earlier in the day their mum and I had discussed just how many arty things they produce, and how it was impossible to keep everything. I was thinking about that as I watched them decorating their boxes. I felt a tiny bit sad wondering whether these boxes were destined for ‘the great art gallery in the sky’.

But then I thought about what was actually happening.

There was an abundance of glitter glue and my five-year-old niece was, unsurprisingly, keen on using it. But rather than abstractly blobbing it on like her little sister, she wanted to use it like a pen to trace her drawings. As she started, it was pretty blobby and things were not going well. At that point her mum stepped in and guided her through it, showing her how to move the pen and get the glitter flowing at a better rate, then leaving her to try.

I watched my five year-old-niece go from a novice to competent glitter-gluer. The slight sadness was replaced with delight as I realised that it didn’t matter what happened to the boxes, because even if they didn’t make it, through doing the activity my niece had learned a new skill.

All this has taught me…

Often we focus on objects and outcomes, yet sometimes what is of greatest value is not the outcome, but the learning that happens in the process of creating it.

What formal semantics taught me about learning

I have never come closer to failing a module than when I took a compulsory Masters module in formal semantics. The utter agony and frustration of just not getting it. It’s all about using logic to represent language, and I just could not get my head around it. It is a small miracle that I passed that module and I was very happy to put it behind me in the spring of 2013.

A few weeks ago, I began developing a spreadsheet in which to analyse my doctoral data. Looking at my data, I knew I needed to reduce values to 1s and 0s. To do this, I worked out what I needed to do, then discovered on Google that the formulae I needed were logic formulae. As I wrote the formulae for my spreadsheet, I realised that not only did they make sense, but things I had been trying to grasp for months during my semantics course were finally making sense!

All this has taught me…

When things seem incomprehensible, sometimes it takes seeing them in a different context or a different application for them to make sense. And sometimes a bit of time and distance helps too.

Public speaking: how to go from abysmal to goodish

We all know how learning happens: you have to walk before you can run. You’ve got to be good before you can be great.

I’ve been to quite a few public speaking training sessions. All of them full of tips on how to be a great public speaker. Which is brilliant. But it’s also not. Because before you can be great you have to be good.

What about tips for those of us who aren’t even good?

speaking 2

I’ve also got a fair amount of less than good public speaking experiences to my name. But last week I finally gave my first goodish talk!

So today I’m going to share what I did to go from being an abysmal public speaker to giving an okay talk. None of the fancy stuff (“move your eyes around the room as if tracing a dodecahedron”) or the weird stuff (“imagine your audience naked”). Just stuff anyone can implement.

1) I Selected my audience

We can’t always choose our audiences. But to improve I’m looking for opportunities to practise. So I offered to give the recent talk, knowing the audience would be supportive.

2) I prepped my talk with bullet-debullet-rebullet treatment

For me, bullet pointing alone isn’t enough because I can’t turn them into full sentences on the spot when giving a talk. So instead I prepare like this:

  • BULLET: Bullet point my ideas
  • DEBULLET: Write out my full thoughts, which means I’ve had to turn the bullet points into fully articulated sentences
  • REBULLET: Rewrite my full thoughts as bullet points, knowing that I know the fully formed thoughts behind the bullets

3) I practised with the technology

Having a practice meant I knew how to set up, how long it would take, and I was confident about it.

4) I calmed down

After a hectic day, about an hour before my talk I changed gear and slowed down. My friend suggested getting a cup of tea, some fresh air and stretching. I did, and it helped.

5) I psyched up

The day before giving my talk I listened to an extract of Amy Cuddy’s TED talk “Your body language shapes who you are.” She says that standing in power poses before an event, like with your arms in a V shape, helps you psyche up. I tried it and I reckon it did help!

6) I started like a pro

Cuddy and many others articulate the mantra ‘fake it ’til you make it’. So I did what I could. I know that when people give talks they begin by asking if the people at the back can hear. So I made a point of doing that. Because I know it’s what good speakers do.

7) I prepared a cheat sheet

I had a 45 minute slot and reading my talk wasn’t an option. In a dream world I would have done it without notes. One day. However, I prepared a cheat sheet with my bullet points on, clearly spaced out and in big enough font that I could read it from the table. I also didn’t staple it so that I could simply slide the sheets away as I went through them. Something I noticed George Osborne do in his 2015 budget speech.

8) I made it a team effort

I got my audience involved by asking them to discuss amongst themselves some of the concepts I was talking about, then feedback to me. This worked really well because 1) it gave me a minute to breathe; 2) it kept them engaged; and 3) it was empowering for them because they realised they knew more than they thought.

Voilà, eight things you can do to help you improve!

In addition to all of the above, there are three more significant things that helped my talk to be goodish:

9) I knew what I was talking about

10) I really wanted to share the information

11) I let my personality come through

Finally, the reflective practitioner in me knows what I need to work on, so to take my public speaking from goodish to definitely good, next time I’m going to:

  • try to look at every individual in the room rather than the same few
  • have a better idea of timing as I had to rush at the end
  • drink water throughout the talk as by the end I was husky voiced

10 reasons you should start a new hobby in the middle of your PhD

In the past few months I’ve taken up two new hobbies: making sourdough bread (at home) and dancing (in classes). I am so so glad I’ve done this.

If like me you’re right in the thick of your PhD, I would totally recommend starting a new hobby. Here are 10 reasons:

Hobby

  1. The anonymity

Ever get tired of the “how’s the PhD going?” question? Taking up a hobby where you meet new folk means you get to meet people who don’t know that you’re doing a PhD. And if they don’t know they can’t ask about it. Even if you do tell them, it’s still fine because you have something else to talk about: your hobby.

  1. The learning satisfaction

If you’re doing a PhD then you must love learning and getting better at things. When was the last time you started learning something new, then? What’s more, when you’re a beginner you see progress really, really quickly. How different to a PhD, eh? So satisfying.

  1. The liberation

Have you been told that when you do your viva you’re supposed to be the world expert in your topic? So, no pressure then. When you begin a new hobby, though, unlike with your PhD, you are a total novice. The people around you have no expectations. You are legitimately allowed to be totally rubbish, and that is so freeing and refreshing.

  1. It’s an Impostor’s Syndrome antidote

Following on from the previous point, seeing how rubbish you are at your new hobby and being okay with that (you’re a beginner – it’s expected!) does make you realise how much you know and can do in your own area of doctoral expertise, and realising this can help keep the Impostor’s Syndrome under control.

  1. It’s good for your sanity

A person could go insane thinking about the same thing all the time day in day out. But we PhDers often do, don’t we? It’s hard to stop thinking about the project sometimes. But if you’ve got something else to think about, like for example how to improve on the last loaf of bread you baked, it gives you a break from PhD thoughts, which can only be a good thing for your sanity.

  1. It gives you perspective

Further to the last point, there have been times when my entire world has been PhD shaped. And I usually don’t realise it at the time. However, when you incorporate your new hobby into your world, suddenly it can’t be PhD-shaped anymore. The perspective makes the PhD seem smaller. Always nice.

  1. It helps creativity

Having just suggested that a hobby will give you a break from thinking about your PhD, I’m going to do a 180. Sometimes when you’re sat at your desk trying to have intelligent, creative thoughts they just don’t come. Maybe because you’re trying too hard? A hobby will put you in a completely different space (in your mind as well as geographically, perhaps) and if the ideas won’t come at the desk, there’s a good chance that when your PhD brain is switched off is when you’ll get a breakthrough.

  1. It’s a productive distraction

Everyone needs downtime and distraction, and websites like Facebook or Buzzfeed are perfect because there’s usually something new, they are mindless, and quite simply they are there. However, I don’t know about you, but I do kick myself when I think about the time I waste on websites like those.

But if you’ve got a hobby things are different because you have a topic or activity or sport to research. So you can read about that. And since it’s going to help you get better at your hobby, it’s not wasted time at all.

  1. Life is short

PhDs are so naughty, aren’t they? They spread through your life an hour at a time, and before you know it Saturday is in the library, Sunday is just finishing a bit on this, oh and I’ll have to work late next week.

I could really do with working more on the weekends and in the evenings, but if I do that my whole life will become my PhD. Life is too short for it to equate to a PhD. It’s time to start living now, not when we’ve got our PhDs.

  1. It’s a back up career!