Space for Creativity

Grasping for low-hanging fruits in clear disciplinary boundaries facilitates scientific careers, because well established scientists and scientific bodies encourage mainstream research. How can we increase the prospects to achieve real new insights? How can we foster young scientists who pursue risky research ideas?

Conclusions at the congress «We Scientists Shape Science»

What can we do to preserve our own «creative islands»? What do we need in terms of spaces and framing conditions such as supportive environments? The input by Marc Creus, professor at the University of Basel, pointed out that scientists may not necessarily be used to deal with something like creativity, because it is not systematic, not measurable and not reproducible. Useful actions to take refer to the concept of «spaces»; changes in scientific culture; research grants and publishing; as well as thinking out of the box:

Spaces supporting diversity and openness

  • Spaces in form of time: Offer «freedom grants» that allow to take Fridays off, for example, or to set up a creative learning group etc.; money for thinking time, like e.g. additional six months «extra» research time; a small budget for PhD students who want to make use of it to pursue «crazy» ideas of their own, with total freedom, etc.
  • Mentorship in a new way! Creativity might be boosted with an ambitious mentor who helps to make sense of creative ideas.
  • Provide platforms for exchange across disciplines at the Swiss Academy of Sciences, where listening, learning, and exchange are deeply valued by scholars from all disciplines.
  • Increase the freedom and responsibility of PhD students in their research.
  • Consider changing research group compositions and sizes

Changes in scientific culture

  • Use substantially extended hiring criteria that go beyond measurable parameters, don’t limit criteria to publication record and funding grants
  • Teach students in different kinds of science (e.g. philosophy, sociology and history of science)

Research grants and publishing

  • In writing proposals: Allow for more openness for surprise and for more openness to formulate multiple hypotheses
  • Foster and experiment with interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches
  • Decrease pressure to do over-selling; decrease pressure to predict results
  • Decrease publication pressure
  • Don’t use business criteria like milestones and deliverables in scientific research
  • Give each other more creative instead of hypercritical feedback

Thinking out of the box

  • Expand your interests, cultivate your curiosity, also beyond science
  • Play Serious Games
  • Take risks and embrace failures
  • Attitude to gain knowledge in science out of risk and failure
  • Preserve the child in yourself, spend time with 4-year olds, include undergraduates in your research

Workshop held at the congress «We Scientists Shape Science», January 2017, Bern. Conclusions are based on the debate in the workshop and on online comments by the participants.

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