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“PSL is the ideal size for research and creativity”
PSL’s radically multidisciplinary ethos is producing a bold and fruitful research ecosystem. Anne-Marie Turcan-Verkerk (Academic Director of the EPHE-PSL) and Stéphane Mazevet (Director of the Univers et Théories laboratory at the Observatoire de Paris - PSL), both Vice Deans of Research at PSL, tell us about this research model.
Sitting at the crossroads of major areas of research and design, drawing on its prestigious institutions, its 181 laboratories and its training grounded in innovative research, PSL encourages inquiry of a kind never seen before. February’s record of research is a testament to that diversity and energy, including an investigation into a new approach to water filtration inspired by biomimicry, a collection of data on the Beta Pictoris B exoplanet made possible by a satellite the size of a shoe box, innovative technology for detecting and profiling nanoparticles, a new program for rethinking how law is taught as a profession, a student blog on eating properly in the digital era and an upcoming conference on the emerging properties of various physical systems. As it has with so many other areas of disciplinary and interdisciplinary research, PSL is providing new impetus to all of our institutions by combining basic research in the sciences, engineering and the arts with the economies of scale made possible when research teams and institutions come together behind a shared vision.
PSL is providing new impetus to research at all of our institutions that draws on the economies of scale made possible when research teams and institutions come together behind a shared vision.
That vision aims to pair trends in research and research-based education. It’s reflected in 13 Laboratories of Excellence (Labex) on topics ranging from planetary exploration from space to the transfer of ideas among cultures and through time, as well as the cognitive sciences, biology from the standpoint of genetics and epigenetics, the workings of memory and the microbiology of coral reefs. This Labex network is supplemented by an institute for scientific convergence, known as Q-Life, that’s opening up new frontiers in biology and its relationship to chemistry, data science, mathematics and physics so as to enhance our understanding of interfaces in the life sciences. That’s not to mention the six Interdisciplinary and Strategic Research Initiatives (IRISs): they’re investigating the origins and conditions for the emergence of life; the history of writing, from Mesopotamian tablets to digital tablets; the use of data science for health care; the study of texts and decision-making; and new multi-faceted approaches to history. Meanwhile, the Excellence Chairs and Junior Teams programs have been instrumental in identifying new topics for research or consolidating existing topics – always with a transforming effect on the laboratory, the host institution and PSL as a whole.
PSL encourages the emergence of new projects and offers them the resources to grow and develop so as to transform the future of research and education over the coming decade.
The first call for proposals in France’s EUR program (Ecoles Universitaires de Recherche), launched by the CGI in the spring of 2017, provided an initial opportunity for a university-wide reflection on how PSL might organize its research and education offerings into disciplinary and multidisciplinary graduate programs that take an innovative approach to the knowledge challenges we face. More than a dozen scientific communities took part, with the aim of restructuring their operations around the most prominent areas of research at PSL. One example was in the cognitive sciences, where a project on the phenomena of cultural transfers was selected by the EUR jury in the fall of 2017. Other examples include fundamental physics, which is seeking to eliminate an artificial barrier through applications and innovation; biology, which aims to improve its interactions with the fields of mathematics, chemistry, physics and health care; and environmental studies, which hopes to gain a better understanding of ecosystems and the challenges posed by the energy transition. In the humanities and social sciences, a community of researchers unmatched anywhere in the world is studying and teaching the science of the written word. They’re also redefining the archaeological profession by drawing on the hard sciences and the business world, and they’re using a unique doctoral program (SACRe) to promote research through artistic creation. Political scientists, economists, sociologists, historians and philologists are coming together to discuss up-to-the-minute topics like risk, finance and religious practices around the world and over time, all as a means of building our knowledge. That spirit is also reflected in the new graduate programs now under development, backed by the recently revamped Master’s degree offerings.
By bringing together its strengths in research and education to tackle productive, multidisciplinary topics, PSL is encouraging the emergence of new projects and offering them the resources to grow and develop in a way that will transform the future of research and education over the coming decade. In that way the university is fostering stability and long-term success but also providing for its own evolution, since its graduate programs are not designed to become fixed departments.
PSL offers the right format for researchers, who can find the porosity, fertilization and freedom they need in order to identify and tackle the major challenges of the 21st century.
The influence of PSL’s dynamic research networks is widely recognized, as is reflected in the numerous hires by the major research organizations each year, the exceptionally high success rate for its ERC proposals (evident once again in the 2017 results) and the numerous French and international prizes awarded, consistent with the lengthy tradition of the institutions that comprise PSL. PSL offers the right format for researchers, who can find the porosity, fertilization and freedom they need in order to identify and tackle the major challenges of the 21st century.