London Interdisciplinary School ©2019

Our first LIS Discovery Day

11th April

Posted by Carl Gombrich

Carl Gombrich & Plum Turner

On Wednesday 17th April we welcomed 38 students to our first ever Discovery Day at LIS. This pioneering group came from across the UK – from Cornwall to Newark – and one student even travelled from Italy to hear about LIS! They were invited to our new workspace at X + Why in Whitechapel, London. We were also delighted to host several parents whose mixture of enthusiasm for the project and keen questioning was much appreciated. Of course, we would be delighted to consider any interested parents or other mature students to be part of our first LIS cohort in 2020 – please do put in an application!

For this first Discovery Day, we decided to base several of the activities around the complex problem of plastics usage – especially the use of plastic bags – and the students worked brilliantly on a range of quantitative and qualitatively approaches to this issue. Can we make reasonable estimations of our individual plastic bag usage over a lifetime? What is the carbon footprint of one disposable plastic bag? And how does this compare to a tote or paper bag? Is it reasonable to ban plastic bags in countries with much higher rainfall where bags made of natural fibres may degrade quickly or become unusable? On the wider issue of plastic use in general, did the introduction of plastics in kitchens and for domestic use in the 1950s greatly improve the lives of women working in the domestic economy?

It was a dynamic group of students who were well-informed and raised many perspectives and offered several ideas we had not previously considered. Throughout the day we asked students to consider which different disciplines may be involved in such an analysis, and there was great creativity and breadth of thinking from students who mentioned, for example: psychology (to understand human behaviour), material science (used in the manufacturing of the bags), economics (to understand the cost implications to individuals and businesses), politics (to understand the decision-making structures at more national and global levels) and even ecology (to understand the impact on water-based environments) and design (to consider how alternatives could be made more attractive).

We were fortunate, also, to have inspiring talks from Richard Reed, one of our investors and one of the three founders of Innocent Smoothies, and Lena Fuldauer, an interdisciplinary engineer doing a PhD at Oxford University, who also works as a consultant for the UN. Richard emphasised the importance of problem-solving in almost every aspect of life and the roles that open-mindedness, creativity and a broad outlook play in doing this successfully. Richard was also passionate that skills and methods to learn better problem-solving could be taught and that he was excited to see such an approach being fostered at LIS. Lena introduced more rigorously an idea that had emerged earlier in the day – that of systems thinking (often a key tool in interdisciplinary work) – and gave a fascinating overview of her work on climate change resilience in small island-states – especially in the Caribbean.

The day was rounded off by Carl Gombrich, LIS’ Academic Lead, who gave a short introduction to the curriculum, and a Q&A panel of Ed Fidoe, LIS Director, Hannah Kohler, Head of Student Experience and Plum Turner, Head of Marketing.

Special thanks are due to the wonderful interdisciplinary graduates Isaiah Wellington-Lynn and Oliver Rutherford, who facilitated with great expertise throughout the day, to Jasper Joyce who led the organisation of the entire event and Kristen Stockdale for all-round brilliant assistance.

The group of students who joined us for this day are, by definition, curious and full of initiative. We greatly enjoyed meeting them and we look forward to keeping in touch. We are confident they will be successful in whatever they choose to dedicate themselves to in life.

If you are interested in joining the growing group of people who are interested in what we are doing at LIS, keep a lookout for our several up-coming Discovery Days.