post-doc wisdom

During the 2016 Researcher Away Day, I had set a stall with a Ketso kit, which is a fun mind-mapping tool developed to facilitate community engagement. Ketso was developed by researchers from the University of Manchester who have set up a social entreprise to produce this interesting interactive resource, showing that indeed researchers’ creativity and ingenuity lead to entrepreneurial activities.


During the coffee breaks of the away day, I used the Ketso kit to ask Postdocs participants some simple questions about their experiences of being and developing as researchers at Sheffield, about the type of research environment they would want to have, and aspirations about the role of their PIs (e.g. A super PI does… I would like my PI to…)

I have combined some of the ideas/suggestions proposed by researchers and included some additional comments or resources for the purpose of this blog. I will focus here on the theme ‘Postdoc wisdom’ and will leave you salivating (!) for three other themes captured on the day that I will address in following posts.

I asked researchers to share with their peers some of the wisdom they have gained from their own experience of being a Postdoc or some advice they would give others regarding which development opportunities to definitely take. I have just 4 small wisdom to share.

  1. A great idea starts with many small ones…

As a researcher, you are in the business of developing new ideas, of being innovative and creative. Research ideas do not just appear out of nowhere! It takes “work” and can be helped by tools and strategies. I have seen many postdoctoral researchers so focused on delivering the tasks and milestones of the project grant employing them that very little time is set aside in their timetable for the dedicated act of developing new research ideas. So how are you developing your own research ideas, how are you collated them, how are you putting them to the test? Are you discussing your small ideas to get them to grow and mature into potential research applications/ fellowships?

Images from from

Developing ideas is a critical act in becoming a researcher, research leader but also in being an innovative professional or intrapreneur.

  • Develop your tool set to have a “habit of idea development”.
  • Have a method to collect all these random thoughts and small ideas that could coalesce to become big ideas (e.g. A nice little notebook!)
  • Have a network and critical friends to batter your ideas, bring new ones and collaborate.

You can also have a look at my previous blog post on effectuation (adopt the thinking approach of effective entrepreneurs)

Here are some tools I like to share about developing creativity, what are your tools?

The eight pillars of innovation

A technique for getting ideas by James Wood Young (old document but excellent)

Creative problem solving– tools from Kevin Byron (very useful sets of questions that will guide your reflection on whether the ideas you are choosing have got potential)

Scamper technique: Series of questions to challenge your ideas

Creative thinking– how to get out of the box

de Bono 6 Thinking hats

Books I love about creativity:

Creativity Now by Jurgen Wolff

Whatever you think Think the opposite by Paul Arden

2. Just write

This is the hardest for me I must admit, but this is an “advice from Postdoc to Postdoc”. We will run our next Writing Programme for Postdocs in September. Get in touch with me if you are interested.

Believe that it matters…yes it does. Writing is currency in academia

Taking the first step with your writing from


3. Don’t let failed experiments get you down.

Develop your resilience by considering the big picture of what you are trying to achieve. That’s why having a broad overview of your professional development can help you keep going. It is broader than single experiments.

Identify strategies to enhance your resilience

  • Join networking events with researchers in your department and across the University who are in the same boat and can share their wisdom and experience
  • Contribute to aspiring others whether undergraduate students (eg. SURE scheme), 6th form pupils or young people in schools (eg. Brilliant Club, Outreach events). When we inspire others and change their lives, it can bring a great sense of purpose and offers boosts of energy that contribute to our resilience in the painstaking process of research.
Bending with the wind, staying grounded- the art of resilience From

Look after yourself

This June, we will be running a week of events #researcherwellbeing as part of Think Ahead. Make sure you join us for wellbeing walks, conversations on managing stress & conflict (using MBTI to understand interactions), Knitting blankets/hats for premature babies, Adult colouring, How to have assertive conversations, Planning and managing your final year, Introduction to mindfulness…

 4. Likelihood of outcome: Research = 2 others=8

Because academic positions are so competitive, keep all your options open so that transition to non- academic careers is a no-brainer…yes you do have the skills to be effective professionals in almost any field of activities. You just need to learn to talk about them. Networking at conferences is a good exercise that can play the dual purpose of expending your research network but which also gets you to practice talking about your research to broader audiences, articulating your competencies to others, showing your energy, motivation and leadership. While the context may be different than a job interview, it is good practice. It all ‘builds the castle”! This is again a context where pro-activity and strategies pay off. Don’t just turn up at a conference without having made appointment with people you would like to talk to, but make a point to see a certain number of specific individuals. Follow up discussions after the conference so that conference encounters lead to something meaningful.

“Don’t panic, you can do this. Don’t underestimate yourself”




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