Interdisciplinary Community Service Learning

Devote your master project to real-life challenges through collaboration across and beyond the VU Amsterdam

Issues such as sustainability, digitalization, globalization, and inequality are so multi-facetted and concern so many different parties that they can’t be addressed effectively from a single perspective. The Interdisciplinary Community Service Learning (i-CSL) module can be followed by master students from any program and gives you the opportunity to work on these 21st century challenges together with other students and partners outside the university. As such, you get the chance to experience real-life research.

In i-CSL you devote your master project to defining and addressing societal issues. You don’t do this by yourself: you’re part of an multidisciplinary student team, but also collaborate closely with companies, organizations, and governments. As a member of the team you address a sub-question in the context of your own thesis, graduation project, or internship. In doing so, you approach the issue from your own disciplinary background. After all, you’re at the end of your master’s education and want to deepen your understanding of the research topic. Moreover, this allows you to put to practice what you’ve learned during your education so far: knowledge, experience and research methods from your own discipline.

Within your team, you integrate all these different insights in team meetings. This enables you to put your own research into a bigger context, and allows for an interdisciplinary end result on the level of the large societal topic, incorporating insights from all these different perspectives. The project leads up to a Student Parliament, where you present your joint results to researchers, community partners, and anyone else interested. With all these actors you start a dialogue about their meaning and implications. By giving back to all the parties involved you pave the way for actual societal change.

Key themes of I-CSL
The i-CSL program focuses on topics that follow from the needs of partners and communities. Those focus on the four profile themes of the VU: Connected World, Science for Sustainability, Governance for Society, and Human Health and Life Sciences.

International I-CSL
Ultimately, i-CSL will also be scaled up to be an international program. Students from different universities in different countries will work on related topics and will collaborate with one another by sharing knowledge and exchanging insights. The first international i-CSL project is expected in the academic year 2020-2021.
By participating in i-CSL you serve the society as well as yourself. The effort that you invest in your graduation project will contribute to tackling a societal issue. And you give yourself a competitive edge, as you will start building a professional network, get work experience outside the university, and distinguish yourself from your peers. So why join i-CSL? To make a difference to societal challenge, to build a professional network, to stand out from the crowd, and to get out of your disciplinary and academic bubble.

To make a difference
Many student reports every year end up on dusty shelves never to be looked at again. That’s a waste of your effort. You have to put months of work into your thesis, so the result better counts. In i-CSL you work with real questions experienced by real actors such as governments, organizations, and companies. In answering those questions you work together with the partners to arrive at an end product that is of real value to them. And its impact expands beyond the commissioning partner only. Because you work on societal challenges that impact us all, so does your contribution to a solution.

To build a network
During the i-CSL project you collaborate within a team of five to ten students from across the university. Moreover, each student is supervised by at least two people, including researchers and external partners. Together, you make up a team of people who are all invested in the topic of the project, including companies, governmental representatives, and students and researchers from many different fields of expertise. Throughout the project you meet with your student team regularly and with the extended team a couple of times, allowing you to connect with people that you would else never have gotten in touch with. A great boost to your professional network and a great kick-start to finding a job!

To stand out
Each year thousands of students graduate from their master programs and all enter the job market. How are you going to distinguish yourself from the crowd? After all, you want to make sure yóu get that dream job, and not one of those other countless graduates. Participating in i-CSL can be a great addition to your CV, as it will show your future employer that you have experience with real-life complex issues, on top of the theoretical knowledge you acquired throughout your academic education. Every little thing that you have done extra compared to your peers, counts.

To get out of your bubble
During your education at the university, you typically acquire a lot of specialized knowledge. This is important and serves a clear purpose. But it remains important to also look beyond the boundaries of your own discipline, own institution, own organization, or own group of friends. In i-CSL you will work in a team of people that you didn’t know prior to the project, and that are diverse in terms of disciplinary background, work environment, context, expertise, and experience. As such, i-CSL stimulates you to get out of your usual bubble, look beyond the boundaries of your own domain, and enrich your own world view with the perspectives of others.

Any master student at the VU can sign up for i-CSL. Actually, it is even an explicit goal for the program to connect students from many different majors and many different faculties. The program is therefore organized in a way that does not interfere with the core curriculum of your program. The project will leave your research project untouched (e.g. in period, number of credits, and requirements), but will run in parallel with its own end product. Contact moments will scheduled to not interfere with other courses, for instance in the evening, and when possible, the program features self-study and online modules that you can do when it suits you best.

The module consists of a course and a project. In the i-CSL course (3EC) you define large societal challenges together with stakeholders and in the i-CSL project  (6EC) you address those challenges through the collaborative research project. Both the course and the project can be followed as an elective (if the structure and exam committee of your own program allow for that) or as an extracurricular activity besides the mandatory components of your program.
If you’re interested in joining the i-CSL module, reach out to the coordinator of i-CSL to discuss the possibilities.

When to take I-CSL?
The I-CSL course runs in the second period of the academic year: in November and December. The project runs for the entire second semester, period 4-6, so February till June. If you’re interested in joining the course in 2019, reach out to the coordinator of i-CSL to discuss the possibilities. See ‘contact’ for more details. Please do it as soon as possible, but no later than late September or early October. For joining the project only, time is less tight, but planning as early as possible will help you and us to streamline the process.

In order to identify the current issues that are urgent in the real world, the i-CSL program highly depends on collaborations at and beyond the VU. Among others, the program is shaped together with the city district Amsterdam Nieuw-West, with the VU Green Office and companies at the Zuidas.

For more information please contact Annemarie Horn, coordinator of i-CSL.