An account of the state of ID/TD in Paris

July 9, 2013

Today I learned something about the state of ID/TD in Paris! (short answer: it’s really complicated.) I visited CRI (Centre de Recherches Interdisciplinaires) close by the Sorbonne, to meet with Tamara Milosevic, the curriculum designer of CRI. I also was able to meet Ariel Lindner, one of the founders of CRI, and Alice Demarez, the study abroad coordinator.

It turns out that to this point CRI has been as much an underground movement as an actual institution. This is in part due to the intricacies of French bureaucracy, in that it can take years to have a new institution recognized by the ministry of education. (I think it’s also part of the nature of interdisciplinarity, in that disciplines have natural protections that interdisciplinary units do not.) Anyway, it is a long complicated process, but it looks like CRI (founded in 2005, and part of INSERM, the French NIH) will soon become more visible. CRI is likely to become an officially recognized educational and research institution in Paris with a large building and research center of their own.

So that answers one question, in that I have found a prominent ID unit within French science. But how many interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary educational and research institutions are there in Paris? I’m still investigating. There are institutions that are designed to place scientists from different disciplines together, but so far I have only found this program of interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity established among the Universities in Paris or the research centers. (I should mention IdA, a foundation founded by CNRS and the Sorbonne that designed four interdisciplinary research centers, Bianca’s team at LBPA is one of these institutions, but these teams are purely scientific. There are no humanists in these labs.)

Since 2005 CRI has also received private funding to start their organization. They set up their headquarters in a hallway of the Rene Descartes University, and they hold meetings, classes, and even conduct research in the labs in this hallway. It seems to be a vibrant community. The walls are covered with posters that describe the different interdisciplinary projects that the students of CRI have worked on.

CRI has interdisciplinary undergraduate, masters, and PhD degrees, but most of the posters you see are from graduate students. The graduate program at CRI offers interdisciplinary courses directly taught at CRI, but students can also take classes at Paris IV or Paris VII (the University of Paris is divided into 13 different universities, classified as Paris I- XIII). CRI’s objective is for a student to suggest an interdisciplinary project, and CRI will help the student construct both the research and education necessary to pursue the project.

Here is an example: A design student came to CRI because she wanted to make structures out of bacteria. At CRI she learned some microbiology and also found other students with similar interests but different backgrounds of education. A biologist was interested in her project and so he started to learn about design. The two of them designed bacteria kits for your home using their interdisciplinary education to work with one another.

This is a neat program that deserves support. It is a shame that advances institutionalizing interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity seems so difficult. Although it seems obvious — at least to some of us! — that ID and TD are the future of education, it is difficult to convince bureaucracies and administrations to support this upcoming revolution in knowledge. CRI could easily be one of the top educational programs in Paris due to their pursuit of both interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary education and research, but their ideas become really powerful when they are recognized by the other institutions.

This meeting at CRI was a great introduction to the interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity scene in Paris. I am beginning to get a feel for how complicated the educational system is here in France, and how difficult it is for interdisciplinary programs emerge in the midst of the conventional French procedure. I hope to return to CRI next week to learn more about their educational program and to discuss the potential ways that I could become involved with their work this fall while I study at the Sorbonne.

After the meeting I went back to work. I am trying to write a description of the biological part of my internship. It is hard, but I hope to have a post out soon explaining where I am at in my research!


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