#CareerChat – Finding Your Creative and Innovative Spark

 

make_innovation_happen
Image source – http://www.wethinq.com

To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.

 Albert Einstein

Creativity and innovation are key tools integral in growth of any business which has a long term strategy. In my consultancy roles for small, medium enterprises (SMEs) I quickly learned how cut-throat the business world is and how much creativity and innovation is needed for the businesses to thrive or even survive. The ability to create and innovate whilst integral to business is at the core of science and informs the everyday research and scientific developments we have observed through time.

In the UK, the government has identified innovation as an important factor in growth and sustainability and as a result has created several schemes to encourage creativity and innovation. These schemes are meant to link businesses with each other or with academic institutions to harness ideas and turn them into marketable products. Examples include the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP), Invention for Innovation (i4i) and from a global perspective, the Global Innovation Fund aimed at providing grants to transform the lives of people living in poverty. For anyone looking for innovative projects, I often recommend the KTP as it is a superb route to innovative funded postgraduate degrees which also gives experience working with an industrial partner.

What I find particularly odd and often worrying however, is that in the sciences we are always expected to create or innovate (in the eyes of the external “real” world) but more often than not, innovation or enterprise is not a core part of the curriculum. Even more mind boggling is the expectation that PhD candidates are expected to create something novel from their research or add something new to the body of existing knowledge. Going with the quote from ol’boy Einstein above, they are expected to be innovative without giving them the tools to be able to enrich or harness that creativity.

#MyPhDStory – ‘It takes resilience.’

StrengthWhy do we love stories so much? Could it be because of that powerful space it creates where our personal experiences  connects with someone else? We love stories in The Hub and in today’s article, Dr Yewande Pearse shares her triumps and challenges enroute to the qualification called a PhD! Amara got to learn about Yewande through her campaign and was (and remains) inspired by her journey. Enjoy!

APH: Please can you share your academic and professional background?

YP: I completed my BSc in Human Sciences at King’s College London in 2006. I then returned to King’s in 2009 to complete a Masters in Neuroscience with a Distinction. After my Masters, I worked as a Research Assistant for two years before taking up a PhD studentship at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience. I have just completed my PhD in Neuroscience, which aimed to explore the potential for gene therapy in multiple forms of Batten Disease, a childhood brain disorder.

In layman’s terms, can you share what your research study/area is about?

Batten Disease is a group of inherited disorders that cause profound neurodegeneration and predominantly affect children. The symptoms are progressively debilitating and include blindness, seizures, intellectual decline and disability, dementia, loss of speech and motor impairment, with many children eventually becoming wheelchair-bound. Currently, there are no effective treatments available for any form of Batten Disease. My research is about finding innovative ways to treat this group of diseases with a focus on gene therapy.

So what is your PhD story? When did you realise that you wanted to undertake a PhD and how did you get into one? Why did you choose your topic?

Blogging Q and A – A Writing workshop for Early Career Scientists

EDI.jpgLast week, Amara and I had the pleasure of sharing a platform with other blogging “experts” at the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) summer conference at Edinburgh to chat all things blogging with a group of early career scientists… Edinburgh itself is a really good welcoming city, with great sights to see and lots to do and if you are a big fan of shopping, well, you might quite like it..oh and the scottish shortbread biscuits..enough said there!!..

The conversation about blogging was varied and went from the simple to quite complex. I’d like to share some of the questions which were asked and responses from the session and for the benefit of our readers, some extra useful information Enjoy reading!

Starting from the basics, what is a blog?

There are different definitions of what a blog is – according to the Oxford dictionaries, a blog is “A regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group that is written in an informal or conversational style.” Blogging can be formal or informal –  blogging can be as simple as having an online diary where you share your thoughts or experiences on a regular or irregular basis (whatever is convenient for you) or it could be something much bigger e.g. blogs run by University departments, biopharma companies sharing information with shareholders and consumers or simple trivia blogs with lots of fun things. In effect, a blog could be whatever you want it to be and that is what makes blogging an exciting and often rewarding activity.

I have a personal blog, is there a space for it out there and how do I grow it?

#CareerAdvice – Developing your resilience gap!

In our journey as aspiring professionals, we will face a lot of challenging situations. How do you deal with the pressure that comes with achieving your personal as well as professional goals?  Do you react impulsively or respond resiliently. We stumbled across this article by Uche Ezichi and he has graciously given us permission to share it here. I believe this is an important lesson to us all.

When I left my investment banking career, I was thrilled to join the Goldman Sachs (GS) HR team. Considering their performance, what better place to start my new career of developing leaders. So what went wrong? Nothing really changed with GS. My team remained the same, 100% dedicated to their job and willing to give 120%. The issue was with me.

Isn’t it funny how when we are not happy about our situation, we sometimes complain and expect our organisation or team we joined to change for us?

#UniAdvice – Developing Self Awareness for professional success.

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Image – Geralt

‘What are your two greatest strengths? How do you think your greatest weakness will impact on your performance in this role?

I  was at a job interview. On the outside, I worked to project the confident, cool and collected interviewee. On the inside, I was on my knees begging ‘Please have mercy on this graduate in the wilderness of graduate employment for those of us without experience!’ I answered the technical questions with flair (at least I thought so). I talked about my dissertation, latest news in the sector…I could already see my staff ID card in the horizon. Then the question above was posed and I just went blank.

Thing is, up to that point, I had thought that interviews were only to test if an individual had the subject knowledge to do the job. ‘We are looking for an accountant, you are an accountant, you’re hired!’ However, prospective employers are also searching for an individual who is a good fit for their organisation. S/he has the knowledge and experience but…Is s/he a team player? Can s/he persevere through rejection? Is s/he inspirational? How does s/he manage conflict? Is s/he empathetic?

Reflections – My journey towards global relevance

Personal development? Professional development? – These are terms that we hear quite often but what do they really mean to you as an individual? Is it simply about developing your skills or does it entail something more? In this ‘Reflections’ piece, Blessing Obinaju expatiates on this topic by sharing her journey of personal and professional development.

Finding your feet in the murky waters of global relevance.’ I recently read this article again on The Aspiring Professionals’ Hub. I will refrain from rehashing the entire message of the article because I want to concentrate on these particular points;

Begin with the end in mind – This is our mantra on the Aspiring Professional’s hub. In your field of study, area of business interest or chosen career, is there anyone, business or role model in that position you aspire to be in worldwide? Knowing something about the journey to their attainment or achievement could be a starting guide for you to start a plan for your own global attainment. These days it is not so hard to learn about global figures when you have Google and in most cases these global stars are on social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter or have personal websites.

Have a plan – of your own for that career, design, business or idea BUT with a global audience in mind. For example, if you are choosing a course at University, think broadly about how relevant that course is another country or even worldwide before deciding. If creating a business plan, can that business service a need in another town, state, country, continent beyond your current location? So we suggest in whatever your goals or targets, THINK GLOBALLY.

Finally, personal development is catching fire within Africa. I do remember when I made the decision to pursue a career in academia; I was in my third year studying for an undergraduate degree. I remember the responses I received when I mentioned I was going into teaching. I also remember that to most of my peers at the time, it was the joke of the century.

What is my point?

I was perhaps fortunate to have found my first footing in the murky waters – deciding for myself what I wanted and who I wished to become. It would have been easy to have abandoned that footing simply because it was criticized. Why didn’t I? Well, I wasn’t looking at the immediate moment, I was looking at the end goal, as the article aptly stated, I was beginning with the end in mind.

So, how did I crack on?

I was privileged to have had close relatives who were already in the field. Thus, it was easy to research the steps required to attain the height I envisioned. I devised my plan (including options for any derailment or obstacles) and relentlessly followed it. Of course, nothing ever goes strictly according to a laid out plot – it wouldn’t be life if it did. However, what happens when you have a plan is, there is a calculated margin of what I love to call “happen-stance”: occurrences that take you by absolute surprise, frustrate and completely throw you off your path. I’ am sure that some of you are stomping your feet at this moment and screaming ‘Provide us with a detailed breakdown.’  I won’t tease you longer. For those of you who are Nigerians, you will be able to follow the path more closely. I wouldn’t be an academic if this piece had no schematics. So, here’s the plan and I am happy to say I am currently in the last phase.

Image courtesy of Blessing Obinaju.
Image courtesy of Blessing Obinaju.

So, how has this impacted me, re: global relevance? First, one of my most cited papers as an academic is the very first article I published shortly after my M.Sc. This and the various presentations at conferences during the Ph.D., have been quite relevant to placing my feet firmly on the cobbled stones that help us cross the waters which divide relevance and insignificance. As an academic or an aspiring academic, you can never attend enough conference, workshops or seminars in your field. More importantly, my academic experience and my ability to continuously adapt my plans to fit my goals – despite challenges that the world would always throw my way –  resulted in a book – The DANCE of Life: A guide to living your best life every day. It has also opened opportunities to share my experience as a STEM ambassador for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network as well as in several other forums.

There were some critical control steps in my plan;

Location, location, location – Even though I gained my Master’s degree from a country other than that where I currently hold lectureship position, there was no debate over whether or not I should return to my home country upon completion of the degree. It was more of a forgone conclusion because I knew I was aiming for a lectureship position in my home country and that position would pay for the Ph.D.

Think long term – Notice that my very first job was a volunteer opportunity (yes, it was in Nigeria!). The point of this was, while I was job hunting for academic positions, the volunteer position which was still an education role, ensured that there was no gap period on my CV and I gained additional work experience.

My candid recommendation

Never underestimate the value of internships and do not overlook volunteer opportunities either. Just be certain that they are related to or somewhat impact on your end goal. It is also important to state that the most invaluable tool to really finding one’s feet within those waters is, an ability to constantly increase your bank of knowledge and not just in your area of certification. Being well-versed and well-read isn’t just an attribute of the rich and affluent – thanks to technology – everyone can be. It only takes being proactive and of course, actually desiring to reach your envisioned peak, whatever that is.

Blessing Obinaju is an Academic Researcher, Career Counselor, Life Coach and Image consultant. She works in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Uyo, Nigeria. She is also the Principal consultant at La Belle Vie, providing life coaching services to individuals. You can find her on Twitter @ObinajuBE.

Your Job Search – Who you know matters but who knows you matters even more!

Looking for a job can be challenging and an arduous process. It is easy to feel discouraged when things are not working out but please hang in there! In today’s post,  Dr Genevieve Regan, Laboratory Coordinator at the University of the Sciences, Philadelphia,USA shares some strategies for job seekers focusing on the importance of networking.

I should start this with the disclaimer that ‘I am no expert in job searching, career planning, or ladder climbing.’ I am just a person who, after a year of serious searching, has successfully gotten a new position that is better than my previous position and will hopefully lead to better and better things. I can also say that prior to getting my new job,  those qualifications would be all I needed in an author because job searching is gruelling and having gotten a job means something went right for the writer so I would love to hear what they had to say.

In the last 4 months, I applied to 26 jobs, followed up on my application when I could, went to 4 interviews, and got 0 of the jobs I had applied for. My current job came from being in the right person’s mind when a good opportunity became available. Hence my title, “Who you know matters, and who knows you matters even more”.

There are three main points to my networking strategy that I think worked to my advantage. The first is to have a network. You have to think about who you know. I know I lamented, “But I don’t know anyone” but it wasn’t true. I had former classmates and professors, co-workers, and family.

The second point is to have real relationships with these people. I needed to know them but they also needed to know me. Don’t just cold call people and announce you need a job, connect with them. If they are doing the kind of work you are interested in, find out how they got there, find out what interests them about the work, and find out what you can do to help them. Let them know you are looking for work but don’t be demanding about it, give a good picture of your interests and what is going on with yourself. A good relationship needs sharing between both parties.

This leads to the last point; be memorable. People remember people who help them. It doesn’t have to be helping them out with big things, just be a friend or good colleague. Things like sharing an article you think they would like, volunteering to help out on a project or event, or being a sounding board when they need one all can help your relationships.The overriding theme to the strategy would be not to treat it like strategy.  Be the kind of person you would legitimately help to find a job and people will want to help you find a job. They will think of you when they hear of an opportunity the same way you might think of someone else you know when you hear of one. There is an added benefit to my non-strategy strategy. You are connecting with people, and that should be fun. Going for coffee, meeting up at a happy hour, having discussions about topics you both are interested in, these should be fun. In all the job search stress you need fun, so consider it to be part of the process.

If you find networking challenging, you are not alone. Please check out our articles on Networking here and here. If you would like to share an article in The Hub, feel free to contact us @ aspiringprofessionalshub@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter @AspProfHub.

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