Could you join a student team and tackle a real challenge facing a client or organisation? Hear from the students that did!
Students gained a different type of work experience by providing a consultancy service to real clients and working on a real challenge that those clients face.
They worked in a project team with other students from different disciplines and were facilitated through a Design Thinking process to resolve the client’s problem.
This programme provided students with practical experience for developing these Future-Ready Skills: Interpersonal Skills, Commercial Awareness, Initiative, Innovation and Creativity.
Brian Conway – Mechanical Engineering
“My favourite part of the experience was the multidisciplinary aspect. From an engineering background, I think it was interesting to learn about Finance, Marketing, other people’s courses and how they can bring their knowledge to the course as well”
Xinxin Wang – International, Commercial and Business Law
“I learned creative thinking skills to use my imagination in consulting projects and cooperation skills to persuade people to accept my ideas and I will accept the others also”
Hannah McConville – Planning, Environment and Development
“The best part of this week has definitely been meeting new people and putting everybody’s ideas together. I’ve also found it very refreshing taking a break from revising and placement and things like that. So yeah, I’ve definitely enjoyed it
Mary McCormick – Biological Sciences
A big one has definitely been able to collaborate with new people to create new, innovative ideas.
Missed this event? Check out other QUB Careers Events here
How to overcome environmental and personal barriers to let your creativity flow.
What is creativity? “It’s new and useful ideas in any domain,” says Roisin Macartney, Queen’s Careers Consultant, who adds that there are barriers that limit our own creativity.
“These barriers can be from your own thinking, and from environmental [factors] and the environment that you are in. If you do what you’ve always done, don’t make changes and just accept the status quo, creativity will suffer. Challenge, ask questions, take risks to keep expanding your creative thinking.
So how do we start to open ourselves up to being creative and thinking creatively? Roisin has these top tips:
Give yourself space
“One of the things I would suggest is starting with a blank page. I think you have to give yourself time to be creative,” says Roisin, who add that this doesn’t necessarily mean scrolling through Instagram or Pinterest. “I don’t mean that you can’t be inspired by other people’s creativity, because you certainly can, but you do have to give your brain a time out, basically.”
She adds: “To be able to generate your own creative ideas, it might be that you take a walk, or you lie in a bath, or you basically stare at a blank page and give yourself the room and the time to be creative.”
2. Challenge the norm Another way to channel your creativity is to challenge your assumptions. “Always ask yourself if something must be done this way. If it must be this way, how could it be different? So that could be, you know, an assignment that you’ve been given. It could be a work assignment, it could be just something in your everyday life. Does it always have to be done this way? How could you be creative and think differently about it?”
3. Stay curious. Remember that child that you once were always asking why and driving your parents crazy? It’s time to channel that child and ask why why why! “Try to keep that curiosity alive because it’s not only good for your creativity, it’s also good for your wellbeing. “Don’t lose the art and the joy of playing: rediscover the joy of getting out the Lego, the colouring pencils, or anything else to start playing and getting creative. It’s not about what you create while playing,” says Roisin. Adding, “It’s about letting the mind be creative, so allowing yourself to be open.”
4. Try something new. “It might be trying a new recipe every week. It might be learning how to use a new function on your software package…. Just keep trying new ways of doing things and that’s you being creative as well,” says Roisin.
5. Get inspired. While it can be good to have time out on your own to generate new ideas, it can also be good to work with other people, who also want to create, especially if there are particularly creative people that you can work with. “ You can bounce and generate new ideas from each other,” adds Roisin.
6. Flex your creative muscles. “There are some techniques that can help you to keep stretching that creative muscle. It can be doing something to keep your brain active, like Sudoku or crosswords. Learning a new word every day, perhaps in your own language or in a different language, and what you really want to be doing is helping your brain to make new associations and build those new connections. So, you can encourage your brain to be the sort of brain that makes connections and sees patterns and therefore becomes more creative,” says Roisin.
7. Try mind mapping. “Start with a central focus, whatever your theme is going to be, you start with that focus. You then put down main themes and coming off that central focus as branches from the center. You might sort of get creative using colour and using pictures and things like that, especially if you’re good at artwork and it can be really nice to do it that way. And you keep adding to it. And in terms of creativity, it’s likely to be the things around the outer edges where the creative thinking comes into it.”
8. Get brainstorming. You’ll certainly have used brainstorming in the past and the key thing about brainstorming is that all ideas are equal and valid, and they’re not challenged, explains Roisin. “Brainwriting is when people individually write out their ideas first. So, whatever the question or the problem, rather than everybody shouting it out for somebody to write, you all write it out. And then you share those, so everybody’s ideas all go up, and that can spark other ideas. And that can mean that people are not limited by other people’s ideas or louder characters or challenges.”
9. Scamper. “Scamper is based on the reasoning that everything new is just an addition or a modification of something that already exists. So, this technique gets you thinking about ways that you can build on that idea of change and changing something to create something else,” explains Roisin. “For example, I was writing this last year, but at the time there were some coffee bags being advertised on the TV. And clearly that’s just coffee and tea bags, you know, combined together. And they often sort of do that with things like chocolate bars, you know, Cadbury’s will come out with some new addition to the chocolate, just to make it a little bit more of a novelty to us so that we might want to go and get that and try it out. So, what can we add? Somebody decided to add balm to tissues, for example.” Linked to the Scamper technique is reversal. “Problem reversal is about reversing the problem that you might have. It’s a different way of looking at the challenge. So instead of looking at the challenge in terms of what do you want to do, you reverse it and say what you don’t want to do. For example, say you want your company to sell more pencils. Instead of saying how can we make our pencils better, the reverse thinking might be along the lines of: we want pencils that don’t break as soon as you begin to use them. And of course, that leads you to what you actually want to do to make the pencils better. “
10. The lawbreaker technique. The lawbreaker rule asks: What do we assume or believe to be true? And what if that were not so? “Lawbreakers are all about challenging those assumptions that we all make, says Roisin. “For example, the burger has to be inside the burger roll. What happens if it isn’t? If we can forget about those assumptions, then what changes would we make? Things like putting the cheese into the crust of our pizza, you know that’s challenging the law of pizza; it’s challenging our idea of what we thought pizza was.
11. The great minds technique. This involves: what would [insert person] do? “Generally, it should be somebody that you respect and in this regard someone who is creative. So, what would that creative person do with this problem or issue? It can be an actual person, maybe somebody like Greta Thunberg or Marcus Rashford. You know, it doesn’t even have to be a specific person. For example, you might say, well, what would a 7-year-old boy think about this because again, as we know, the younger people are often very creative. So, what would a child think about this? What would you know, a character or like? What would Superman do?
Leona McGirr, a former KTP associate at Queen’s and a Team Leader at Fusion Antibodies on how to hone your lateral thinking skills to land that graduate role.
Why are problem solving abilities essential in virtually in any graduate rule?
Yeah, in any job, you’ll always have to solve problems…There’s always an opportunity to solve a problem. Anything from small like fixing the printer to something bigger, like what we’re working on and trying to find a treatment for COVID. And so there’s always an opportunity to learn and develop these problem solving skills.
How can you develop this problem solving skills and demonstrate them to the employers to the recruiters?
Look at the root cause of the problem and ask the question, why. Start tweaking things, and see, we’ll see what you get, essentially, instead of just spending and buying a new something, and so can always ask the question, why and if you give these examples to the employer, that they will say that these skills are transferable.
How will interviewers assess how you approach the problems? And how can you demonstrate your logic and implementation to the recruiters?
Give loads of examples and those different examples both in your personal life and in work because as I said, all these skills are transferable. And it kind of gives the people who are interviewing you an opportunity to see what type of person you are and how you solve the problems and how you go about doing this.
How can you answer a problem solving competency based question? How can you answer them?
We would always use the STAR method, which is you say the situation, the task, the action and the result. And so just make sure to include each one of them within any example that you give, that’s usually the most common way of doing it.
To what extent can games such as Sudoku, or Chess, can help strengthen your ability to swing strategy early and creativity?
I actually think all scientists love chess as well. It essentially lets you kind of plan ahead and see the bigger picture and see how one little thing that you do can impact and essentially either win the game or lose the game for you. Again, it’s very transferable into science trying to fix a wee problem on a stage every time.
Are there any problem solving techniques you can develop or refer to our students?
So for us in R&D, our standard way would be root cause analysis. So essentially, you ask the five why’s. So for example, an experiment didn’t work? Well, why it didn’t work? Because the two proteins didn’t bind? Well, why didn’t they bind? Because maybe one wasn’t stored correctly? Well, why wasn’t it stored correctly, and then bring it down to well, actually, there wasn’t enough space in the fridge. So even though you thought it might have been one thing, by the time that you break it down and ask why every stage, you realise that it’s actually something else, and it ensures that it won’t happen again.
What is creative thinking? And how can you demonstrate it?
It’s really having a different viewpoint and a different perspective on a problem. And I think that’s essentially key. For example, in my current company, I was the first chemist in an essentially biological company. So I was able to offer a different perspective on things. And it’s usually quite creative in comparison to what everybody else might think. And it’s just drawn on my existing skills and experience.
Why it is so important to show a recruiter that you come up with an innovative solutions to a problem, or an improved way of doing things? Why it is so important?
Because it shows that the candidate is willing to learn, and they’re innovative, and they’re creative. And essentially, in a workplace, everything can be improved. The worst thing, what we want to hear would be somebody who says, this is how it’s always done, instead of asking, why has it been done? And just don’t accept the first answer. Always keep asking why, and how can you improve? Both in your personal life and in work.
Why do recruiters like to see a creative thinking in a graduate hires?
Well, it really shows the potential and shows that somebody can take initiative to try and solve a problem where more sided escalating, and having that under control, and that there is a lot of potential that you can develop that particular skill. So we’re always keen to see that.
So how to demonstrate your creativity in graduate applications, or let’s say in interviews?
Yeah, give loads of different examples, and be it something you’ve done, maybe a hobby even. It’s really nice to hear all these different examples, instead of always referring to one example, maybe your degree, always ask or always talk about personal life, part time, jobs, everything, because it allows us to see what type of person you are, as well and a lot of times, the stories are actually really interesting.
Okay, how do you develop or improve this, so, you know, creativity skills, how to improve it?
I would say just take every opportunity and go take a few risks, and don’t be afraid to try and do something outside of your comfort zone. With every stage of my career, I have challenged myself, and have always had a very steep learning curve. And I think that is actually quite a lot of fun. And again, it allows me to be creative in different ways and drawn different strengths.
So can you give us some examples of lateral thinking to draw on in an application process?
Yes. So essentially, think outside the box, and don’t take the most obvious answer as being the root cause. And if you can disprove something, well, it then in theory can be a possible solution. Ideally, what we would do is we will get a post-it note and we’d all sit around and be like, well, what happens if this was the case? Or I wonder, could this be the case? And you just go crazy with this and don’t rule anything out.
What are the links between problem solving and entrepreneurism and a good leadership?
I think being an entrepreneur and a true leader, you need to be innovative. You need to challenge yourself and not be scared to take a few risks. And the most important thing is to learn – the road to being an entrepreneur and your own career is bumpy. You can go on a few circles, but as long as you learned, that’s the most important thing I think.
So how can you problem solve in a workplace?
Anything from something minor like fixing the Wi Fi, fixing a computer, fixing kettle, they are all problem solving. So initially asked me, well, what’s the problem? or how can I make this current situation better? You can always improve just incrementally try something, try different lead and maybe see what the result is and just document what that result is, and see, can you improve?
So how can you bring this creativity in your graduate roles?
I would learn around the subject and draw on your own past experiences. I don’t think there’s, no such thing as a stupid suggestion. All ideas are good ideas. A lot of the time, you need to ask other people for advice as well and see how they would approach something.
Don’t be afraid to take a challenge. Take all the opportunities you can. I still don’t have my own career figured out, I don’t know where I’ll be in 10 years, 20 years time, but I know it’s going to be loads of fun. I would advise anybody to take any opportunity and just have fun along the way.