Tackling interdisciplinarity early: transforming scientific expertise into global citizenship

Hauke, E. (2014) Tackling interdisciplinarity early: transforming scientific expertise into global citizenship. In: Interdisciplinary Public Problems, the Global Community, and Diversity. 36th Annual Meeting of the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies, Michigan State University. Lancing, USA.

Imperial College, the UK’s leading science and technical university, has recently launched the ‘Imperial Horizons Global Challenges’ programme for undergraduate students to study alongside their specialist disciplines. The students are challenged to bring together methodologies and stances from a range of technical, social science and humanities fields to develop novel problem solving approaches for the grand challenges of our generation. Our innovative initiative develops both independence of thought and confidence in interdisciplinary team working.

Throughout their university career, students can study with us to develop their intellectual approach to difficult problems such as poverty, the energy crisis, overpopulation and food security. Our programme allows students to move from a strongly scaffolded group working environment, through project work, to independent team working and problem solving.

This paper will include a presentation of our first and final year courses, demonstrating that an interdisciplinary approach is relevant and necessary for our students. They attend Imperial College to study science and engineering because they are interested in the fate of the world and want to be able to help solve the grand challenges. However, as they learn about these issues, the complexity of the real world becomes a barrier to a purely disciplinary approach to defining solutions. Our students are challenged to think and work in new ways, developing a curiosity about the potential benefits of combining diverse methodologies and epistemological perspectives.

Most importantly of all, we challenge and support the students in asking difficult questions of themselves, each other and the world we live in.

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