The Frontiers in Life Sciences Bachelor program. Paris Descartes University / CRI

The Science Académie program, which invites youth to experience scientific research, was highly successful among high school students from disadvantaged areas. When these students engaged in post-baccalaureate studies, we quickly realized that there was a lack of focus on research in the Bachelor curriculum. We also realized that the absence of curriculums matching the motivation of students from low social backgrounds was a strong deterrent for the pursuit of higher education.

Acknowledging these issues, we conceived a Bachelor program (Frontiers in Life Sciences) with a strong focus on life sciences research, addressed to students motivated for science and learning. With the help of eminent university professors, our project quickly received approval and funding. We implemented it within a year. We recruited, trained and mentored the whole teaching team (40 people, mostly young researchers).

This program provides an equally sound basis in biology, mathematics, chemistry, physics and computer science, as well as an initiation to history, philosophy and sociology of science, and lab internships. Furthermore, during a few intensive weeks, the students develop a full range of skills for learning and research, including social skills and self-evaluation skills for instance, through activities we developed. For instance, students experience the investigative approach by building their first research projects within a few days. In other activities, students consolidate their own learning community, by developing skills to work collectively and to engage with the teachers in a mutually agreed-upon relationship.

The first year (2011-12), a group of motivated and socially diverse students got involved. After nearly a year of courses we saw huge improvements in skills and knowledge, and the drop-out rate was three times lower than in normal French Bachelor programs.

Conflict management via research values: workshop with children, Vukovar, Croatia.

In 2009, Bojan Markicevic gathered a group of students to organize science-related activities for kids living in Vukovar, Croatia. At the time, 19 years after the war had ended, schools were still separate for Croats and Serbs. Moreover, there were still recurrent clashes between the youth of both communities.

Joining Bojan and his team at the beginning of the project, we offered our expertise in designing scientific workshop activities that could enhance the social skills of participants, and in particular by building cooperation among participants from divided communities. These activities involved kids from both Croat and Serb communities that were usually unable to get along. In addition, training was provided in 2010 to Croatian students, school teachers and local NGOs.

Later on, in 2011 the NGO ConSol was created in Croatia to support such activities in the long run. The Roma population, which are highly segregated, are currently being targeted. We are still involved in advising on project development and we plan to facilitate the training of school teachers working with these segregated populations.

Feedback from the kids : I liked that we were in groups. I learned something about geography. For me you don't have to change anything, everything is super. Cooperation with colleagues was good because I met new and very good friends. For me science is knowledge and when you are curious.

Science communication projects to address social issues: training for journalists, students and academics, Cairo, Egypt.

In autumn 2010, the Egyptian Education & Research Ministry asked us to provide a project development session for journalists, students and academics. We held a training in November 2011, during the second Egyptian uprising. Despite the ongoing political turmoil, participants came to the training and we advised participants to set up 4 projects, 3 of which have had concrete development since then. The first project consisted of setting up training for elementary school teachers to empower them with innovative science teaching methodologies. The second project developed an exchange program for scientists and journalists to learn about each other's jobs, and eventually to allow for a better coverage of Egyptian scientific research in local media and to strengthen the critical thinking skills of the journalists. The 3rd project is currently organizing science workshops in shopping malls, one of the few public spaces where it is possible to address people with no special interest in science.

Other activities we performed in 2012 include

    • Community building & strengthening basic skills for students in a research-based curriculum (pdf)
    • one week workshop for 1st year Bachelor students, Frontières du Vivant, Paris 5 University & Centre for Interdisciplinary Research.
    • Social interactions in interdisciplinary scientific research (pdf)
    • 2-day workshop for 1st year Master students, Approches Interdiscipinaires du Vivant, Paris 5 University & Centre for Interdisciplinary Research.
  • Project development in scientific research or science communication
    • 1 semester teaching unit for 1st year Bachelor students, Frontières du Vivant, Paris 5 University & Centre for Interdisciplinary Research.
    • Engaging youth in questioning science & society through an exhibition on energy issues (pdf)
    • 2 days of school visits, Alliance Française Glasgow, Glasgow Science Festival.
    • Investigation on the practice of interdisciplinary research (pdf)
    • one week workshop for 1st year Bachelor students, Frontières du Vivant, Paris 5 University & Centre for Interdisciplinary Research.
  • Capacity building for project leaders
    • one week workshop, in collaboration with the Egyptian Ministry of Science & Research