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Understanding, attitude and environment: The essentials for developing creativity in STEM researchers

Elaine Walsh (Graduate School, Imperial College London, London, UK)
Katie Anders (Postdoc Development Centre, Imperial College London, London, UK)
Sally Hancock (Graduate School, Imperial College London, London, UK)

International Journal for Researcher Development

ISSN: 2048-8696

Article publication date: 17 May 2013




This paper is written to add to current knowledge of the views of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) discipline early career researchers (ECRs) about creativity. It aims to explore their understandings of and attitudes towards creativity, as well as their perceptions of which environmental factors facilitate creative research. By discussing the findings in the context of earlier work, the paper seeks to challenge developers to re‐examine current practice in developing creativity by suggesting a broader and deeper approach than is currently often taken.


The paper reports on a qualitative study which collected data from semi‐structured in‐depth interviews with STEM researchers. A thematic analysis was performed on the data.


This research demonstrates that young researchers have a complex range of perceptions of creativity, and that negative attitudes towards it are common in the STEM environment. Three key environmental facilitators of creativity were also uncovered which are: a positive research environment; sufficient constructive communication; and time and space to be creative. It is argued that more emphasis should be placed upon optimising the environment for creative work to occur.


Whereas most previous work has focussed on experienced scientists, this paper outlines the complex and important issue of creativity in the context of STEM ECRs. It offers those who wish to support such researchers an accessible summary and recommendations of how to improve practice in the development of creativity. In particular, the paper argues that placing a greater emphasis upon optimising the environment will enhance the impact of creativity development efforts.



Walsh, E., Anders, K. and Hancock, S. (2013), "Understanding, attitude and environment: The essentials for developing creativity in STEM researchers", International Journal for Researcher Development, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 19-38.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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