Poster of the UNIL Mysteries 2013 © UNIL

Life course perspectives revealed to young visitors at the Mysteries of UNIL

NCCR LIVES welcomes children to the next open house at the University of Lausanne from May 30 to June 2, 2013. At three stands there, researchers will aim to entertain while explaining key concepts of their work on the general theme "The worst and best of all worlds".

Utopia / Dystopia: Two conflicting visions of society in the future that the organizers of the Mysteries of UNIL have chosen as the main theme of the 2013 event on Thursday and Friday, May 30 and 31, and Saturday and Sunday, June 1 and 2. During the University of Lausanne's annual open house, this theme will be illustrated by the vision of a modern Titanic, a symbol of technological ambition and greater material wellbeing that might just turn into the nightmare of a shipwreck.

The LIVES National Center of Competence in Research – Overcoming vulnerability: Life course perspectives (NCCR LIVES) has joined the crew to offer three presentations to visitors to Mysteries 2013.

"I am the king of the world!" (Stand No. 5)

At the first stand organized by NCCR LIVES, children will pass through a ship from its hold up to its prow in the style of a snakes and ladders game. On the way, they will run into life course events that will make them advance, retreat or stagnate, such as studying, unexpected health issues or family problems. The idea is to make them understand that we're all in the same boat: an economic crisis, for example, will affect all the players. Some key concepts of life course theory have been applied in a simplified manner to define the rules of the game: linked lives, agency, timing of lives, etc.

"A suitcase for capital goods" (Stand No. 6)

In the next stand, children will have to pack a suitcase to emigrate to a new world, from a pile of suggested items. In this role-play, they will be confronted by stern customs agents, who will check to see if what is in their luggage constitutes enough economic capital, social capital and cultural capital, sociological concepts that NCCR LIVES researchers know well.

"The tip of the iceberg" (Stand No. 7)

Finally, in the third game, human-sized icebergs rise up in front of the visitors, who will discover different shapes that age pyramids may take on depending on the country and period. Players learn about the demographic impact a war or famine has on a generation. They will get a look at the consequences that the falling birth rate and aging population has on modern societies, as well as the impact of high infant mortality in less advanced countries.

A substantial crew

Twenty-five members of NCCR LIVES will take turns over the four days at the three events to supervise the children, backed up by social and political science students. Among the volunteers will be many PhD students, senior researchers and even some professors, including the director and deputy director of the NCCR LIVES. This team represents half the staff of NCCR LIVES at the University of Lausanne. Three PhD students have been especially involved in designing the events, each in his own specialty.

Setting sail for popularization

For a national center of competence in research like LIVES, taking part in Mysteries of UNIL is a great opportunity to popularize the subjects we study, as requested by our financial backer, the Swiss National Science Foundation. This organization says that NCCRs are characterized by "research of outstanding, internationally recognised quality, (as well as) knowledge and technology transfer", especially to the general public.

Thus, young people are invited — with their classes or their families — to pass through the UNIL campus between May 30 and June 2, 2013. The idea is to let them know that social science research can be the best of all worst worlds....