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Cross-disciplinary programmes to enrich educational courses

Education Article published on 07 October 2022 , Updated on 07 October 2022

(This article was originally published in L'Édition N.19)

Cross-disciplinary programmes were introduced in 2021 to meet the need for new skills and knowledge by students at Université Paris-Saclay. Short, scalable and potentially distributed over several of the University’s Graduate Schools, these programmes harness researchbased skills which are linked to key subjects and to addressing society’s challenges. 

Conceived at a time when the creation of the Graduate Schools was seen as an innovative format available to institutions wishing to offer complementary, interdisciplinary or crossdisciplinary training to address the challenges in society, these cross-disciplinary programmes are part of an experimental approach, both in terms of their design and their content. “They were created to be flexible and not permanent, and not limited to just following a few additional teaching units, but to in fact be driven by a desire for educational innovation. This commitment is reflected in the wide range of activities available – traditional EU courses, as well as summer schools, projects and work placements – leading to a certificate or a university diploma (UD) once they have been validated,” explains Claire Lartigue, Deputy Vice-President in Charge of Master’s at Université Paris-Saclay. As far as the training offer itself is concerned, different approaches are used to meet the needs identified. “The cross-disciplinary programmes may be based on a common educational area in order to respond to challenges in society, such as the ecological transition, or they offer a pathway on a cross-disciplinary or highly interdisciplinary subject not covered by a Master’s type programme, or they offer complementary skills in terms of soft skills such as entrepreneurship or interculturality. What these different approaches have in common is that they are always strongly linked to research,” points out Claire Lartigue.


Climate action: a UD focusing on climate transition

The first cross-disciplinary programme created last year as an extension to the interdisciplinary Alliance For Climate Action Now! (AllCAN), the Climate Action UD, which is managed by the Engineering and Systems Sciences Graduate School, aims to educate and familiarise a significant number of students with the challenges of climate transition. “The idea is to take advantage of the interdisciplinary initiatives already in place in the environmental field and to go further by structuring learning around a project with a climate action component,” explains Jeanne Gherardi, a lecturer at UVSQ and co-director of this programme. Open to students in their 1st or 2nd-year of Master’s degree, from engineering schools or those studying for a PhD either in parallel or as an extension to their training, this UD is obtained at the end of two consecutive semesters. The first semester is structured around nine theory-based teaching units on topics such as climate change, the circular economy, environmental law and governance. The second semester is devoted to the creation of a group project in response to a challenge related to the issues of transition and climate action. “Using this interdisciplinary approach, and thanks to the support of the researchers involved, we want to help our students build a common language, to make them capable of drawing on different disciplines in the professional projects they will have to carry out, and to provide them with a systemic vision which is essential for understanding the challenges of ecological and climate transition,” adds Jeanne Gherardi. 

BioProbe: a complementary programme for training through research 

The objective of the interdisciplinary initiative BioProbe, managed by the Chemistry, Physics, Life Sciences and Health, and Health and Drug Sciences Graduate Schools is to promote innovative projects in chemistry and physics related to the study of biological processes in complex environments for diagnostic and imaging applications. “To achieve this goal, we need our students to be able to work at the interface of disciplines, to understand how they work and the scientific issues involved. This is why we offer students, between the two years of their Master’s programme, the chance to consolidate their education through research by means of two five- to six-month work placements in BioProbe laboratories in order to acquire scientific knowledge in a discipline which complements their initial training, as well as some sixty hours of theory-based teaching, and, as a result, to have all the cards in their hands to build a strong professional project, to succeed in their Master’s programme and to integrate into a doctoral school in the best possible way,” explains Marie Erard, coordinator of the personalised complementary BioProbe programme. Every student is supported by an academic advisor who helps them to identify laboratories within the Université Paris-Saclay community which are likely to welcome them for a work placement and to choose the courses suitable for their study and professional project. “Because of the numerous exchanges it allows, this programme will also contribute greatly to boosting the research component of BioProbe,” adds Marie Erard.


The ENS Paris-Saclay Research/creation UD is now open to everyone 

Another cross-disciplinary programme which was created within the Graduate School Research and Higher Education is the Research/ creation UD (ARRC). This course, which is at the interface between the arts, sciences and technology, is initially being managed by ENS Paris-Saclay. It draws on the programming and resources of the Scène de Recherche in order to offer students an innovative educational approach. This results in a first semester of theory-based courses (in epistemology, history of art or science), practical courses (in programming, robotics, immersive sound, etc.) and field expeditions, which then concludes with the completion of a group project combining different skills and leading to the delivery of a final prototype. “Last year, we were particularly impressed by the range and quality of the prototypes presented to us,” remembers Volny Fages, who manages the DU ARRC. The second semester involves a work placement of four to six months. The DU ARRC team and its many partners (the Pompidou Centre, the 104, the Institute for Acoustic/Music Research and Coordination IRCAM, the Centre for Research and Restoration of Museums in France C2RMF and the Théâtre de la Ville) are very much looking forward to the year ahead. “Our aim more than ever before is to put in place a sweeping interdisciplinarity in order to turn our students into better researchers. We’re also committed to enabling everyone to develop a critical perspective on the role of science and technology in contemporary societies,” says Volny Fages in conclusion. 

Please note: The AVERROES programme aims to train a generation of leaders in research, biomedical innovation and health policy. This highly original cross-disciplinary programme is open to students from non-health science backgrounds, and to medical and pharmacy students who wish to complete their training in basic or human and social sciences.