The CDH’s vision: POLY-perspective

The CDH has a compelling vision for encouraging and developing education, research and public engagement based on the concept of POLY-perspective. Our POLY-perspective vision is based on four interrelated pillars: interdisciplinarity, global awareness, active citizenship and creativity. Each and every of the CDH’s activities – be it in terms of teaching, research or public engagement – explicitly addresses at least two of these pillars.

Different disciplines enrich one another when scholars work together and bring converging perspectives to the same issues. Studying several scientific fields and being confronted with different approaches leads to increased creativity and serendipitous solutions. The CDH therefore promotes the acquisition of cross-disciplinary knowledge and the integration of interdisciplinarity into future engineers’ practice.

Although technical coursework is obviously intrinsic to the EPFL curriculum, social and human components are also considered crucial. We are convinced that engineers and scientists should be able to take a variety of elements into account during their studies and professional practice, including social, political, legal, economic, historical and ethical aspects.

By applying an interdisciplinary perspective in its teaching and research projects, the CDH is also contributing to the long-standing international debate on how we understand interdisciplinarity and how it should develop going forward.

In addition to being able to respond to issues in the here and now, engineers and scientists also need to have a global perspective. That is why the CDH works to instill sensitivity to historical and cultural issues: we believe that understanding where technologies and societies come from leads to the creation of fit-for-purpose products and to suitable and sustainable uses for existing and future technologies.

The CDH has a broad temporal perspective. Many courses focus on understanding the present situation, but also take into account the past and the future. Historical considerations constitute a main pillar of the CDH’s teaching. Being aware of the history of technology, society and knowledge gives EPFL students a solid background for their studies, research and future work.

Moreover, it is crucial that engineers and scientists should be sensitized to different cultural mindsets and to otherness in general, developing their capacity to take into account non-Western perspectives and think beyond their own cultural contexts. Indeed, the cultural components of technology and its uses are a fundamental issue for today’s and tomorrow’s engineers and scientists. The CDH considers such understanding to be essential, as the global context is becoming more and more significant in terms of technology development and transfer. Understanding the global context (in legal, artistic, social, economic and geopolitical terms) is prerequisite to the practice of engineering today.

Current upheavals in the world of technology have made ethics increasingly important in fields as diverse as artificial intelligence, big data, the life sciences, and more. Engineers and scientists must maintain high ethical standards and challenge unethical behavior. Moreover, EPFL students are more than just future engineers; they are also citizens. From this perspective, it is essential that they acquire a strong awareness of the social and ethical dimensions of their work, on the one hand, and their capacity for public engagement on the other.

The CDH aims to promote the capacity for self-reflection and critical skills that allow students to become aware of their potential roles and responsibilities as citizens within individual societies and in the world. The CDH also encourages students to be prepared to engage in public debate by forging connections that link their education and research to local and global audiences and a diverse range of stakeholders.

Creativity – in science and engineering – is generally understood as a novel way of thinking that allows people to redefine problems, generate and analyze ideas, and take reasonable risks in developing new ideas or products.Creativity – in science and engineering – is generally understood as a novel way of thinking that allows people to redefine problems, generate and analyze ideas, and take reasonable risks in developing new ideas or products. Even more fundamentally, being creative enables one to take new perspectives on the issues facing the world today.

The study of different social contexts and historical perspectives can also play a role in creating an awareness that how things are is not necessarily how they have to be. Likewise, an engagement with the arts and artistic production can provide greater understanding of the creative process. That is why the CDH promotes a creative perspective as a fundamental pillar of its teaching and research activities.

Full presentation of the CDH’s POLY-perspective vision  (PDF)