Last semester, one of my professors encouraged us to be more creative after he randomly asked us what our individual superpower would be. Most of us stuttered at first out of shock, but were able to assemble an answer after a few minutes of thinking…except for me. I managed to piece together a terrible answer in the heat of the moment, but it dawned on me that I’m terribly uncreative. My professor pointed us to a LinkedIn article explaining the need for creativity in an increasingly innovative world. His overarching message was that as researchers, we should be inquisitive. After we finish an experiment, we shouldn’t publish the results and coast; we should be asking ourselves how we can improve the experiment or create another hypothesis that uses similar methods. I never thought of research that way; I thought that most people just shelved projects after completing them. But the truth is, finished projects may prompt other researchers who read your papers to carry on your work, so it’s important to also hold that “wanting to do more” mindset. This is something I struggle with; I just finished writing a paper and had the “what do I do now?” chat with my advisor, which went horribly since my advisor was under the impression that I had a host of ideas for another research paper. I’ve always wondered how graduate students formulate their research topics. Maybe that comes with experience, or maybe some students are just naturally more creative than others. Regardless, I know I need to change my attitude towards creativity, so I found two great documents (1,2) on how to boost research creativity. I’ll highlight three tips I found especially interesting:
- Do literally anything other than research. Work out at the gym. Go to an amusement park. Walk around the park. A sudden activity change can stimulate creative ideas. As someone who gets easily bored sitting in the lab all day, I will definitely adopt this. I pledge to take multiple short strolls around campus next year to clear my brain. Maybe this will help instill some research ideas!
- Develop strategies to combat perfectionism. This boosts productivity and minimizes perfectionism. Creativity requires you to deal with the ebb and flow of research, so preventing perfectionism helps manage creativity. This is sort of counterintuitive, and as a semi-perfectionist, I was surprised (and slightly disappointed) to learn of this.
- Mentally exhaust yourself. This is also incredibly counterintuitive, but research has proven that humans become more creative when the brain is tired. I’ll have to read more about this, because I think that this can quickly spiral off-track, which is definitely undesirable in graduate school.
Over the rest of the semester, I’ll read more articles about fostering creativity. I hope to share some tips I’ve gleaned with the rest of the class in a blog post near the end of the spring!