time out to foster your research inspiration

As I am just back from holiday after several weeks away, I realise that I have been thinking a lot about how researchers get inspired for their work. When you ask young researchers what they do to foster their research inspiration and creativity, they usually start by responding that before being able to be creative, they need to know enough, need to have read enough. They may say that they get inspired by attending conferences or by meeting other researchers.


How do we get our research inspiration? How can we be creative as researchers? These are vast questions. What strikes me is that rarely will people start by saying that for them to be inspired or creative in their research, they just need time to think. In some ways, ‘time to think’ may seem an oxymoron in the academic context. Isn’t it what researchers do all day, isn’t it their job to think? Of course you do think all day when you are doing research, but the question remains of how you can sustain inspiration and creativity in the manner you pursue your research. I have just started reading a very interesting book called Bite: Recipes for remarkable research (Eds. A. Williams, D. Jones & J. Robertson from Sense Publishers), which presents lots of examples or as they are called in the book recipes about fostering and sustaining our inspiration and creativity as we work alone or collaboratively. It would be interesting to hear from you which of these recipes work for you.

I think that for me the idea of taking time out, taking time to think is key. Holidays are so important for this very simple reason that they allow us time to pause and think, time to stop the whirlpool of our lives, time to go back to basics and provide us time to think more broadly and in more depth. Securing bubbles of ‘time to think’ during the busy academic year can be a real challenge for many researchers.

Over the last few years, we have run a programme called The Sheffield Crucible. This programme brought together a group of early career researchers from across the five faculties. The overall aim of the Crucible was to “create outward facing researchers”. What it really allowed was to foster an environment where researchers could take time out, time to think about their research and the research of others, time to look at broad questions, time to open up to interdisciplinary working, time to be in the company of other young researchers, away from the university and its many deadlines, time to play and think about research in a different way.

Crucible graphic small

The 2014 Crucible participants first met in March and spent over several months three 2-days residentials in an hotel in Chesterfield. They took part in many activities, had talks from various people such as academics, artists or policy-makers. But what they really did, was they took ‘time to think’ about research in a broader manner in the company of others. They have come up with over 20 new projects ideas to ask research questions in an interdisciplinary manner. They will soon be applying for seed funding for these projects via the Crucible funding. They are presenting their potential projects to members of the public during an event called Mind Investors at the Festival of the Mind on the Sunday 28th September in the Spiegeltent between 2-4pm. Come and meet them, and see how taking time out by taking part in the Crucible programme has enabled them to developed creative and innovative new projects.

So what will you do during this academic year to foster your inspiration and creativity for your research?

Sandrine Soubes

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