Exploring Challenging Topics

We’re really pleased that the excellent work of our third and fourth year Independent Project students has been recognised in a recent Imperial College news article. The article could only include details of a couple of the student projects, but we have had a fantastic year with a number of outstanding projects.

The Global Challenges Independent Project, currently lead by Dr Mark Pope, allows students who have previously taken a Global Challenges course to design their own 20 week project. The project can focus on any issue that the student is interested in, and can take any form. Most commonly the students develop either a design project or a critical review. In addition to defining their topic and research question, the students must also decide how they wish to be assessed. The requirements are that the students complete an assessment that is the equivalent to a 7000-10,000 word essay, but must not be a 7000-10,000 word essay. The students must include at least two different modes of assessment, and at least one piece of assessed material must be in a non-written form. In the past students have:

  • Written reports
  • Given presentations
  • Organised and led focus groups
  • Organised debates
  • Produced multimedia including recorded interviews
  • Designed and delivered classes for their peers
  • Produced artwork
  • Produced infographics or posters
  • Produced prototypes
  • Carried out and reflected on field trips

The students spend the early part of the course mapping out their project and agreeing all the parameters, deadlines and a meeting schedule with their supervisor. We offer the students a mixture of 1-1 meetings with their supervisor and peer-led review meetings to discuss their progress with other students completing their own projects. The peer-led meetings have worked particularly well this year, and led to many fruitful discussions and provided helpful moderation of ambition and scope.

The inspiring thing about these projects and the students who undertake them is not so much about the work that we complete with the students. It is about the integration of students’ passions, experiences and abilities with both an academic project and a real-world issue. The most exciting developments happen outside the classroom, and sometimes outside the duration of the course. Many students bring prior experiences into their work, and some go on to self-organise further experiences that develop their own expertise and interests. I’m not sure that we can really take credit for this amazing display of motivation, enterprise and ingenuity, but it is most definitely a pleasure to see, advise on and hear about.

Here are some of the topics that students have tackled:

  • An investigation into the UK Government’s evaluation of the education foreign aid budget: a case study in Nigeria
  • The Role of the Empowerment of Women in Environmental Sustainability and Development
  • Feasibility of Two-State Solution for Israel-Palestine Conflict
  • Littering in Trinidad and Tobago
  • The Evaluation of Failure in Development Projects

And finally, here is some of the student feedback after completing these projects:

Thank you for all what you have done in my two-year Global Challenges program. You inspired me in applying my research to solving real-life issues and I will never forget it throughout my future. It is a great pleasure to be your student.


Thank you for all of your help throughout this project, it’s been a pleasure working with you this year. I’ve really learnt a lot and developed my independent research skills. I’m actually staying on […] to do a PhD which is quite interdisciplinary as the subject is at the interface of Chemical Engineering and policy, particularly resource management policy and energy and food provisioning. I wouldn’t have known that I was interested in incorporating social elements into my future work if it wasn’t for the Global Challenges project – so, thank you!


Really insightful going through a journey.  No other course […] encourages you to do this on any subject you choose.  As this very investigative task was taken upon myself, it has taught me a lot about efficient research, information filtering, viewpoint bias.  Also, because you never know what data, information, viewpoint or idea that you might come across, your mind always remains open.


It has been a great learning experience. I love that we had so much scope to choose our topic.  I have learnt so much about littering which has interested me for a long time. Also, seeing the responses of my questionnaire was very eye-opening on what people in my country think about this matter.  Analysing these newspaper responses and the interview responses was challenging at times because they sometimes contradicted and varied.  I learnt much about my country using academic sources which I knew was reliable.  I liked the flexibility of the course and the openness.

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