Embedding a culture of innovation: Cait’s story

Case Study

Embedding a culture of innovation: Cait’s story

Date: May 11, 2013

2013 saw the first cohort of 12 postdoctoral researchers awarded the Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Innovation, a formal qualification designed to foster a continuous critical awareness of the challenges and opportunities on innovation management.

The Certificate was developed with support from colleagues Innovation and Impact Group (IIG) at Leeds University Business School.

Dr Cait Dennis, 42, has always been keen to work at the cutting edge of medical research. In the 1990s she chose to work in HIV research and more recently, she turned her attention to stem cell therapy.

She secured a postdoctoral position in Oral Biology, where Professor Jennifer Kirkham welcomed her highly transferrable skills in life sciences and spectroscopy to analyse the health of harvested stem cells after they’re sorted and separated before clinical use.

“Previously the only way to do this was to kill and stain them, but if stem cell therapies are to become a reality, we need to find ways of keeping them alive and healthy for several hours while I’m analysing them,” says Cait.

Professor Kirkham mentioned the Certificate to me, and I thought it looked interesting. As scientists we work in a regimented, logical way and although we constantly critically appraise what we do, to use this process for generating innovation was an exciting idea. It took a lot of practise to get used to freeing up our thinking and adding our instincts and emotion into the mix, but it’s changed the way I work for the better.

“I had the idea to create a small bioreactor to sit within the NMR magnet that would provide the right chemicals and nutrients to keep the cells healthy during my part of the process. This became my portfolio research project. I’ve always been able to solve problems to make experiments work smoothly, but before the course, I would have produced a quick fix and moved on. But I realised that such a device, if properly developed, could be useful to other researchers and other fields if approached in a different way.”

“I’ve learnt that innovation management is about critical thinking around ideas, open communication and collaboration with others, and not just about developing commercial awareness. I’m already talking to a company about building a prototype bioreactor and researchers from other fields I met at an international conference are interested in its progress.

“This course has definitely broadened my future career choices – I’m no longer restricted to research. I’m more confident that I could take on strategic programme manager roles as I can recognise potential impact of ideas and have the skills and confidence to develop them to drive progress in research.

Since completing the Postgraudate Certificate, Cait has accepted a role as Staff Development Manager in Medical Education. Cait said “I am sure having the PG Cert was a main reason they chose me”.

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