Academic vision | University of Oxford
Radcliffe Science Library, Parks Road, Oxford
Radcliffe Science Library, Parks Road, Oxford
Credit: Bodleian Libraries

Academic vision

Parks College will provide an environment that stimulates and facilitates interdisciplinary research with a strong focus on addressing big questions of the 21st century. Our aim is to create a community of scholars who embrace opportunities to interact with researchers beyond the boundaries of their own disciplines and to engage with people beyond the realm of academia. 

Much of 21st-century research is interdisciplinary, and some of the most exciting research takes place at the boundary between two or more disciplines. In most cases, this occurs as a result of experts from each discipline coming together and working collaboratively on topics of joint interest. Parks College will provide a space for interactions between researchers from the four academic divisions, with the highest proportion of researchers likely to come from the MPLS Division, and also a strong presence from the Social Sciences and Medical Sciences Divisions, on account of the initial research clusters. 

The vision for Parks College draws on the oldest Oxford tradition of a place where teachers and their students share together in college life. While cross-disciplinary conversations are a common shared experience in every Oxford college, they will have a special focus at Parks College, where workshops, seminars, guest lectures, public engagement initiatives, and informal events are developed to promote the ethos and practice of interdisciplinary exchange. Official and Research Fellows will design and support the core academic programme around which college life will be centred. Associate and Visiting Fellows will bring fresh perspectives from other parts of the University and beyond, and help connect and engage with wider networks of experience and expertise. 

The students will be postgraduate research students working on the major themes addressed by Parks College, for whom interaction with other researchers in the new graduate society will be mutually beneficial. Over time there will also be a significant number of postgraduate taught students, whose courses address topics directly or indirectly related to Parks College’s interdisciplinary themes. 

There will be an emphasis on entrepreneurship, leadership and innovation through the appointment of entrepreneurs and innovators in residence. Public engagement with research and external impact will also be part of Parks College’s core mission. 

Research clusters

There will be an initial focus on three research clusters, whose themes have been chosen for their wide reach across the four divisions of the University, their strongly interdisciplinary nature, Oxford's existing and potential strengths in these areas, and their innovation and entrepreneurship potential. The initial clusters will focus on the topics of (a) Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, (b) Environmental Change, and c) Cellular Life - each of them broadly defined. These clusters have natural synergies, enabling cross-cutting insights and research collaborations to emerge.

Once there is a full complement of graduate students, it is anticipated that Parks College will have 6 to 8 interdisciplinary clusters. Official Fellows will be appointed as champions for each of these clusters.

The University already has many existing interdisciplinary programmes and lecture series, together with research centres such as TORCH and the Oxford Martin School. The intention is that Parks College will find synergies with existing activities, not compete with them, and will look for opportunities to add value to Oxford's rich portfolio of interdisciplinary activities.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning

Oxford is one of the world’s leading centres for AI and Machine Learning, addressing problems of global significance from billions of data streams, people and sensors. In particular, there is pioneering work taking place in robotics, driverless cars, healthcare, finance, privacy and ethical issues in the Departments of Engineering Science, Computer Science, Statistics and the Oxford Internet Institute. Parks College will help harness knowledge from across the University by building a multi-disciplinary community of computer scientists, engineers, statisticians, mathematicians, biologists, social scientists, neuroscientists and many others involved in the study of learning systems, both human and artificial.

Environmental Change

Parks College will bring together researchers working on many aspects of the drivers and impacts of, and responses to, environmental change. The breadth of this theme covers research ranging from the institutional, social and behavioural drivers of biodiversity loss and climate change; earth system changes (physical and biological, social);  and responses to these changes, including human relationships to their environment, international policy processes, behavioural and technological innovations (including energy systems).

Cellular Life

This cluster will bring together researchers seeking to understand the underlying mechanisms of living organisms, with an emphasis on the cell - the fundamental building block of life. From the nerve cells that wire our brain to the specialised cells of the pancreas and liver that control how our body deals with food, understanding how cells work will transform our knowledge of ourselves, as well as our ability to cure disease. Ageing - a topic of research across the University - is ultimately caused by the accumulation of cellular defects.