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Visual Thinking for Doctoral Researchers (424)


8 December 2020

Lang EN Workshop language is English

Dr Sebastian Kernbach


The overall aim of this workshop is to help participants enhance their thinking and communication skills through the use of visual thinking such as diagrams, knowledge maps or visual metaphors. Working on the dissertation or research papers can be frustrating at times. Sometimes it may be because we feel overloaded with ideas and thoughts (cognitively), or we may feel overwhelmed and not motivated (emotionally), or we feel disconnected from our supervisor or peers (socially). Visual thinking is a tool to help overcome those challenges and work more productively and enjoyable. This workshop will provide participants with the foundation of what visual thinking is and why it is beneficial for thinking and communication for individuals and groups. Based on these foundations participants will learn more about the benefits and risks of visual thinking. Participants will see different visual formats through examples (tree diagrams, empathy maps and many more) and acquire basic sketching skills to express themselves visually. (You don't have to be creative or good in the arts to be able to sketch!) Participants will apply what they have learned to visualize their literature review, research design, research proposal, story of their PhD or any other research project.


Workshop content: The following knowledge structure gives participants an overview of the content of the workshop. Based on foundations of visual thinking, participants will soon apply it to their own projects.



Learning outcomes: Workshop participants should have improved their skills and be capable of doing things in the following areas. Participants should...


  • what visual thinking is and why it is relevant for researchers
  • the benefits and risks of visual thinking
  • what to visualize (visual templates, basic shapes, symbols)
  • when to visualize (triggers)

be able

  • to sketch visual templates (diagrams, metaphors, knowledge maps), basic shapes, symbols
  • to apply visual thinking for their own research projects (e.g. the story of your PhD)


  • value the (visual) process (concept of rapid prototyping from Design Thinking)
  • value failure/mistakes as a healthy part of that process
  • think visually (automatically) when approaching future problems and challenges.


Method: The workshop is highly interactive as it is organized in input-sessions and break-out-sessions. The trainer will give short inputs, 30-45 minutes, and participants will work in multiple break-out-sessions on their current projects applying visual thinking techniques. These break-out-sessions are between 30-45 minutes and are either individual or in teams of two (visual sparring).


Preparatory Work: Participants will be asked to bring any relevant material of their current research project so that they can work with it during the workshop. This will enable participants to enhance their own projects during the workshop and is an important prerequisite for them to continue using visual thinking after the workshop.


Intended Audience: The workshop works well for all kinds of PhD candidates, beginners as well as those close to completion, and also from any discipline. In fact, a multidisciplinary participant group is very welcome since this gives great value to the visual sparring sessions.





Date: Tuesday 8th December 2020

Schedule: 9:15 to 17:15

Location: Online !



Dr Sebastian Kernbach is a lecturer, consultant, and visual coach in the area of Knowledge Visualization and Visual Thinking. He gives workshops at the University of St. Gallen, at the Swiss Summer School and various other universities and organizations. He works at the University of St. Gallen at the Institute of Media and Communication Management as project manager, research associate, and instructor. He is a member of the Organizing Committee of the International Symposium on Knowledge Visualization and Visual Thinking and founder of the Visual Collaboration Lab (

Dr Kernbach holds a PhD in Communication Science and focuses his research on the role of visual thinking in interpersonal interactions in the context of Professional Services Firms and Design Thinking. Prior to his research he worked as consultant for Interbrand, as Head of Branding and Communication of a Swiss start up and as Manager for Marketing and Communication for a large multinational organization. He has studied in Breda, Düsseldorf, Lugano, Copenhagen and St. Gallen.



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