Professor Juliet Osborne

Grand Challenges Academic Lead

Multi-disciplinary learning

Name Professor Juliet Osborne
Position Chair in Applied Ecology
College College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Promoting multi-disciplinarity through Grand Challenges

In 2014, Juliet was involved with Grand Challenges; a week-long summer programme where University of Exeter undergraduates work together in interdisciplinary research groups, alongside top academics in order to address some of the greatest challenges of the 21st Century.

As Chair in Applied Ecology, Juliet decided to run the 'Food for Thought' Grand Challenge, which required students to explore and examine the complex issues of food consumption, waste and sustainability. As with all Grand Challenges projects, students from any discipline were invited to take part in the Challenge. Importantly, by adopting a multi-disciplinary approach, students were able to bring their different perspectives and skillsets to their teams, to aid with researching potential solutions.

"We set up lots of different themes, some of them were looking at the agricultural end of things, and some of them were looking at food choice and then food waste. I think [Grand Challenges] needs to be open to as many students as possible and actually as long as the subject of those Grand Challenges are inspiring and engage students to come in, then actually what they do during that week should be driven by their own curiosity… they start to use technology and creativity in different ways, and it makes them aware of problems that are not specifically in discipline-led modules."

By tasking the students to create videos to explore the issue, the Challenge provided students with an opportunity to use technology in creative ways to present their ideas. As Juliet explains: "I asked them to be researchers rather than campaigners, so that the videos they came out with…addressed the issue in a rounded and complex way." 

Aim 6: Multi-disciplinary learning for global challenges 

To provide all students with the opportunity to explore the relevance of different disciplines to contemporary challenges facing the world

Merit of multi-disciplinary learning though Grand Challenges

"Global issues are...multidisciplinary…so if we only study those with the lens of one discipline, then we’re always going to be missing some of the integration and some of the ways we can it has to be multidisciplinary".

Encouraging creativity with technology though Grand Challenges

"[Students] were looking at ways to use different video technology, and some of them put animation into their videos, which was really creative and made it really fun...and I don't think many of them had done that before".