Dr Yige Sun is a Faraday Institution Research Fellow in the Nextrode project with Prof. Patrick Grant, based in the Department of Materials at the University of Oxford, and a Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences (MPLS) Divisional Enterprise and Innovation Fellow. She also serves as a project leader in the Oxford Robotic and Additive Manufacturing Society (OxRAM), and a career mentor under People and Organisational Development unit (POD), University of Oxford. Her academic research involves microstructural manipulation and analysis of lithium-ion battery electrode microstructure, working with multiple university and business partners.
How did you come to be at Oxford, and what led you to apply for the MPLS Enterprise and Innovation Fellowship?
I did my Masters degree in Materials Science and Engineering in China, and then went to Japan to do a PhD. After the PhD, I began to realise that I was becoming too comfortable with my environment, and I am a person who gets energy from challenges. So, I thought it was time to leave the safe area, move to a new place, and get a little less comfortable for a while. Then there was the chance to move halfway around the world to become a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford’s Department of Materials!
I arrived in Oxford on the first day of 2019; New Year’s Day. I met new friends, started to build a life, and learnt new skills. Then I joined the MPLS RisingWISE programme in the autumn. This programme is for early career researchers and DPhils who identify as female and who want to explore innovative thinking and practice.
I only realised later on that I was quite slow in settling into a new environment mentally. After nine months, I was still finding my safe and solid spot, trying to make more sense of the environment, and getting the lay of the land - a really slow process. This programme actually made a big impression on me from the start. After that I joined the Empower Women programme which is coordinated by the Faraday Institution. Through these programmes, I met a lot of women researchers who were thinking very bravely and broadly, and it encouraged me to do the same and look beyond my studies.
Tell us about something you have achieved during your time as an Enterprise & Innovation Fellow?
Firstly, enterprise thinking helps me to lift my eyes, and take in the bigger picture, the wider context, and that helps me spot opportunities and move my research work forward.
Secondly, through daily communication with my peers, I realised that researchers often believe that enterprise and innovation is a distant, unrelatable concept, it feels somewhat inaccessible to them. As an EIF, I wanted to change this.
On the one hand, there are so many opportunities around us and I learnt many skills in 2021. I joined the BSF (Become a Science Founder) programme by Wilbe Group, and Ideas2Impact enterprise programme funded by the Said Business School. It is very exciting to see how we can approach a challenge from different angles and how all the smart ideas combine together. It is splendid.
On the other hand, I observed the gap between the opportunity and the individual who might benefit from it. I want to share the information and bridge the gap.
There is a start point for everything. With support from Lorraine Laird, our departmental communications manager, I was inspired to propose and create a monthly feature in the Materials Department’s monthly newsletter. It’s called ‘News for Enterprising Minds’, and in it I focus on how to unpack the concepts and apply enterprise thinking to all disciplines. The aim is to help students and researchers to improve their employability and success rate in enterprising and funding applications. I reached out and summarised enterprise training materials, programmes and opportunities from the Translational Research Office (TRO), MPLS, Oxford University Innovation (OUI) and beyond, from entry level understanding (fundamentals), to more complex learning and funding applications, then promoting this through internal communications channels to share with my colleagues.
The next step is to collaborate with our new EIFs across departments and build a pool for enterprising new/materials/opportunities. We hope to increase our EIF’s impact and make the framework useful and helpful.
What do you want your long-term impact or legacy to be?
Well, I’m a very curious person, always asking questions, wanting to connect with others and sharing what I have learnt. I want to be able to inspire people - both those around me and also those in wider academic spaces – so that they feel comfortable and courageous enough to try different things.
During my stay in Oxford, through the RisingWISE programme, and other University initiatives, I have met so many brilliant and smart brains and I was fascinated by the ideas which arose in day-to-day discussions with them. My mind gets sharper, as I remain a straightforward person. I receive a lot of encouragement and support from the environment around me, both in terms of work and in terms of life. I feel the energy that pushes me to continue and tells me ‘Do not stop’. I am grateful. I want to share the value of enterprise and innovation that I learnt from my friends, my mentors, my colleagues and the environment around me. I hope I can inspire more people to explore the world with an enterprising mindset and empower others to seize opportunities and shine.