I spent Friday and Saturday of last week at a conference called Doctoral Directions: Innovating Your Biomedical Career. It was a regional conference hosted by the Women in Science and Medicine Association at the University of Pittsburgh and it featured speakers focused on many different aspects of scientific training, including creativity, innovation, communication, and mentoring. I found most of the talks to be extremely thought-provoking and helpful as I think about how I want to move forward in my career.
I’m planning to publish a few posts on the highlights of this conference, starting today with innovation and creativity.
Innovation was the buzzword of the conference. But what is innovation, exactly, besides that? A lot of definitions were posed, but I’ve included a summary here. Innovations are surprising discoveries that move the field forward by leaps and bounds and shatter conventional wisdom. People who are innovators are keen observers that notice details about their environments that most would miss. They think about things in different ways and flip the usual questions on their heads while coming up with new ways to answer them. They take risks and push on even when others tell them to stop or that their ideas are crazy and wrong.
As scientists, aren’t those ideals we all strive for? I know I would like to achieve many of these things in my career- but how?
One of the keynote speakers on Saturday spoke about a stepwise thought process that can lead to innovative thinking and output. The steps include overcoming habitual ways of thinking, asking the right questions and reversing questions that you already are asking, observing, changing your point of view, and broadening your perspective.
I found it extremely interesting that people have identified discrete steps that pave the way towards creative thinking and innovation. I’d never before figured that innovation could be taught. I figured- like I’m sure many of you do- that some people are naturally better innovators than others, and maybe smarter people are better than others because they know more and think differently. In fact, it’s been shown that there is no correlation between IQ and creative thinking, and furthermore, that innovation can be taught at any level, from elementary school through higher education. I think this holds a lot of potential towards training future scientists if curricula begin to incorporate this type of lesson into science education.
Up next in this series of posts: Why don’t we see more innovation in science?