Creative Thinking in Epidemiology (Day 1 of Learning Road Trip)

Today is the first of 20 days of what I am calling a “Learning Road Trip.”  Each day’s post will present the planned activity and be revised later to indicate how it went.

Creative Thinking in Epidemiology is a 4.5 hour workshop on 19 Sept hosted by ENVIRON in Amherst, MA, with participation from UMass Amherst.

This workshop explores ways to open up new directions in epidemiological thinking and research. Participants will be introduced to tools and processes for individual reflection and group interaction designed to produce the insights and to deepen the people-connections valuable for seeing new paths and generating new opportunities. The workshop facilitator, Peter Taylor, directs the graduate programs in Critical and Creative Thinking and Science in a Changing World at the University of Massachusetts Boston and teaches a doctoral course on epidemiological thinking for non-specialists. His personal goals in leading this workshop are to learn more from epidemiologists about what shapes their practice in research and public health while developing his approaches to stimulating creativity and reflective practice among scientists.

What happened?

The program, with links to pre-circulated materials and to some records from the workshop are given here.

Some senior researchers at ENVIRON signed up and some at UMass Amherst.  The majority of the participants were ENVIRON staff and UMass graduate students, with areas of focus ranging widely.  Indeed, the younger participants, many of whom had already made changes in their career direction (and geographical location) were intrigued to learn that the senior participants had not come directly to epidemiology, but learned about the field after their initial studies or jobs.

Given the size of the group (about 20), the autobiographical introductions were done in smaller groups (so not everyone heard everyone else’s).

The third activity asked participants to relate how a precirculated discussion “paper intersects with or stimulates your own thinking (while author stays quiet, listening). After that author joins in…. The emphasis is on participants teasing out their own thinking more than on digging into what the author thinks.”  As it turned out participants referred less to the paper and more to what others had said before them.  In particular, the first two respondents picked up on the idea of being “uncomfortable” in a phrase in the paper (“we seek perspectives, problems, tools, connections, and audiences that might trouble us—make us feel not so comfortable—when we do continue along previous lines”).   The second person spoke of being uncomfortable with epidemiology—it is very squishy. Many others then picked up on the theme of being uncomfortable with epidemiology.

The fourth activity was a short survey done during a meal break after two hours of the workshop.  The main themes in the survey responses are:

struck by hearing from epidemiologists about discomfort with the profession

excited by learning tools/processes for finding creativity—It’s been a while since I’ve done anything like this

frustrated by not learning more epidemiology knowledge

chewing on the idea of Epidemiology as a driver for a big change; on How to put some of this into action; on graduate students choose to come to workshops like this; established researchers tend not to

patterns in the process: whoever speaks first drives the conversation for a while; I see respectful listening and building upon others’ ideas.


After two more activities, we had a closing circle: Closing circle comments

In the category of “One thing we’re taking away to chew on or to put into practice,” many comments were about creating more opportunities like the workshop, given that (to pick one example) “thinking together allows people to come up with new ideas.”  “One thing to be developed further” included “more time” and “Use of tools on a task in creative epidemiology.”

(Road trip continues, day 2)

5 thoughts on “Creative Thinking in Epidemiology (Day 1 of Learning Road Trip)

  1. Pingback: Creative Thinking in Epidemiology (Day 3 of Learning Road Trip) « Intersecting Processes

  2. Pingback: Supporting interdisciplinary faculty members (Day 5 of Learning Road Trip) « Probe—Create Change—Reflect

  3. Pingback: What to do if think researchers have overlooked a significant issue? (Day 5 of Learning Road Trip) « Intersecting Processes

  4. Pingback: Home after 20 days of a learning road trip « Intersecting Processes

  5. Pingback: Home after 20 days of a learning road trip « Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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