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Creative thinking Creativity Employer Engagement Employer events Employer Insight Employer Panels Employer Q&A Employers Fusion Antibodies Gradfest2021 KTP Lateral Thinking

Problem solving and creativity in a graduate role

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.

Leona McGirr, former KTP Associate at Queen’s

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.

Interested in KTP at Queen’s. Find out more here.

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Alumni Business Analytics Gradfest2021 KTP Student experience

“Never hesitate to apply even if you think you won’t make it – I ended up getting the job I always wanted.”

MSc. Business Analytics graduate Sneha Parajuli is now a Strategic Management Analyst at KTP. Here is how she got there…

Sneha Parajuli, QUB alumni

Describe your career path to date.

After finishing my Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from my home country Nepal, I was working as a Data Quality Analyst over there. My original plan was to complete my Masters and then go back to Nepal to apply my learnings. I had multiple job offers there, but right after I submitted my dissertation, the KTP role caught my       attention. The role was somewhat related to my dissertation, so I decided to give it a shot. Through a series of virtual interviews during the pandemic, I was able to get more info about the goals of KTP partner company SDG and how my analytical, marketing and data-science skills align to drive that goal. Soon after the interview, I was told I had been successful, and I would be starting in January next year. The job began with few weeks of university and company inductions and product trainings. With plenty of support from both my company and university supervisors, I feel like I have adjusted well to the role now and I love my new job!

Why KTP?

The idea that I will be able to solve the business goal of the company all while being supervised by expert faculties is what intrigued me. On one hand, I had the fresh ideas from my graduate program that I was hungry to apply in the real world, and on the other hand, the fact that I would be under the supervision of the faculty with the proven records; and that is exactly what I need at this point. Owning and managing a challenging project which is central to the strategic development and long-term growth of the business all while receiving full support from brilliant supervisors at Queen’s? COUNT ME IN! 

What is your current role like? What about it makes you want to get up in the morning?

Currently I have been working mostly on capturing the overall view of how things currently work within the business, analysing it, developing, and recommending new models/strategies which requires a lot of interaction with the team. The amount of support I have received from the team here at SDG and my supervisors is incredible and I am always motivated to do more.

What does an average week look like for you?

My main goal has been about providing strategic analysis on different areas of SDG. That goal has wider scope, and my week is all about solving a subproblem from that big scope of work. This means I take part in the thoughtful discussions and meetings with the respective stakeholders, and design data-driven models as needed. Moreover, KTP has this amazing program for personal development, which I constantly use to improve my leadership, management, personal effectiveness and more through online courses throughout the week as a part of my mandatory KTP module.

What is the most challenging part of the job?

Because I “own” my own project, sometimes this can be stressful as I have to work under tight deadlines and get the work done on time. The project I am working on is something entirely new to the business and the business is changing rapidly which means it doesn’t always work out as we want it to. But with the support of my supervisors both in SDG and Queen’s as well as the team at work, we manage to get the work done.

What is the most rewarding?

Even though it has only been about four months into this role, I feel like being able to take charge and manage my own project ultimately working towards bringing a transformative, long lasting change within the organisation all while implementing what I have learned throughout my academic journey has been the best experience of my KTP journey so far. Not only this, I have also met so many talented individuals through KTP network where associates working in different companies across the UK share their experiences which is really exciting.

What are your career aspirations? What are your goals?

I believe I have a long way to go and want to keep learning more and keep developing my skills. I hope to continue working as a Strategic Analyst at least for a few years as I really love what I do. I would also love to learn more project management skills and work in a higher-level position someday.

In what way do you feel like you’re making a difference in your job?

I have received a lot of feedback about how my project, with new and innovative ideas, has brought a positive change in the business. I can also see how the business has started to incorporate a lot of my recommendations and is slowly changing to smarter ways of working and I feel like getting to be a part of this is very rewarding.

What expectations did you have about this career path that you have found differed from reality – either good or bad?

I have some experience of working a corporate job for a big company in Nepal and I felt like working for KTP is going to be somewhat similar. But I was so wrong in this regard as KTP offers so much more. KTP encourages the associates to spend approximately 10% of their time on training and development activities to help them gain valuable skills for their personal development and prepare for the future. In fact, we are also given a separate training and development budget which I think is huge.

What skills did you learn at Queen’s that have helped you in your career?

During my time at Queen’s, both as a student and working as an international ambassador, I learned a lot about time management, working under strict deadlines, teamwork, and most of my analytical skills from my course.

What advice do you have for students and graduates wanting to apply for a KTP?

Always keep being updated with the KTP openings and keep an eye out to something that interests you. Never hesitate to apply even if you think you won’t make it as there’s always a possibility that you will. Coming from someone who didn’t even think of working in the UK, I ended up getting the job I always wanted, and I am so happy I applied. KTP is much more than just a regular job, you will learn so much throughout your journey, hone your skills in so many areas and it will definitely be worth it.

How did your Queen’s experience help your personal and professional development?

Getting a master’s degree from Queen’s has been an added bonus for me in so many ways. Not just the technical knowledge from the course, I also undertook multiple leadership courses like Master your Leadership, Inspiring leaders, and Leadership in Practice which definitely helped me develop my personal skills, improve my communication and also enhance my leadership capabilities which I think instilled so much confidence in me.

What’s the one thing you’ll never forget about your time at Queen’s?

Actually, there are two – Sleepless nights during dissertation (which became so much rewarding to me later) and Graduation day as it was the day I finished my degree and was so happy!

Interested in KTP at Queen’s? KTP will feature on our @QUBCareers Instagram during the week commencing 19 July talking about creativity and lateral thinking. Visit the Gradfest2021 site to find out more.

KTP are proud sponsors of Gradfest2021

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employability Knowledge Transfer Partnership KTP rese Research

5 Reasons to Apply for a KTP

A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) could be the perfect launch pad, helping enhance your career prospects by providing you with an opportunity to manage a challenging project central to a business’s strategic development and long term growth.

You’ll ‘own’ your own project, linked to both our university and a business whose experienced teams will provide you with full support.

Here, Carolyn McFall from KTP lists five reasons to apply.

5 REASONS TO APPLY FOR A KTP?

  1. Fast track your career

KTP is a real opportunity to deliver impact and shape your future career development. 90% of our KTP Associates at Queen’s are offered permanent positions at their host company at the end of the KTP project and go on to progress within the business. 

2. Competitive salaries

All KTP salaries are extremely competitive. As a KTP Associate, your salary will be decided by the company in line with industry standards and with any other company employees at a similar level. 

3. Support from leading QUB Academics and company supervisors

During your KTP project you will have an Academic Supervisor from Queen’s who will have specialist expertise in the relevant discipline and provide ongoing support throughout your time as an Associate, as well as a day to day company supervisor to support all aspects of daily work in progress.

4. Training and Development budget 

You will receive dedicated coaching and mentoring and in addition to salary, an Associate on a standard two-year KTP project will have access to over £8,000 for training and travel.

5. Great perks

As a member of University staff, you will also have access to staff training courses, library and sports facilities as well as the option to join the University Pension Scheme.

To find out more, visit Queen’s KTP site