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Benjamin Guedj: “Denmark and Inria, shared values”

Friendliness, ties with the business world, international dimension…stand out in Benjamin Guedj's memories of a year-long stay in Denmark. Currently a researcher on the Modal project-team at the Inria Lille – Nord-Europe Center, he is happy to find these same values here.

What is your current research project?

I'm interested in statistical learning from the point of view of mathematics as well as computer science. This scientific discipline, which is fairly young compared with other branches of mathematics, touches on very current issues, including those related to big data. As part of the Modal project-team, which I joined as a researcher in November 2014, I studied statistical modeling and large-scale phenomena. One example: anti-spam systems that rely for the most part on learning results. The problem appears simple but actually turns out to be complex since “intelligent” algorithms must be created to automate message sorting with the smallest possible margin of error.


How did you become interested in the issue?

I discovered statistical learning in 2008 while taking a course with Professor Gérard Biau as part of work on a master's degree at Pierre and Marie Curie University (UPMC). He quickly removed the preconceived ideas I had about the field and helped me discover how rich it is. It was an encounter that would profoundly impact the direction of my work: he served as co-advisor for my dissertation, and I am proud to count him as a colleague and friend.


Why did you decide to spend a year in Denmark?

After completing my master's degree at UPMC, I preferred to intern in a research laboratory abroad rather than stay in France, although I already wanted to return to UPMC to write my dissertation with Gérard Biau. He recommended me to one of his colleagues, Gilles Guillot, who made it possible for me to join a research laboratory at Danmarks Tekniske Universitet (DTU) in Lyngby, near Copenhagen.

There were two other factors that influenced my decision. First, the research subject: it concerns the development of software strategies for using mathematical tools. It gave me a chance to balance my CV. At that point, my work was mostly theoretical. Lastly, I simply wanted to live in Denmark, a country that I knew somewhat and for which I felt a real attachment. This proved true to such an extent, that after six months of interning, I extended my stay by six months and served as a research assistant.

What memories do you take away from this initial experience abroad?

During the year, I developed close relationships with people from around the world: they embody the international dimension of this fairly young research field. I return regularly to Denmark, both for joint projects and to see friends.

What are the joint projects that tie you to the country?

I regularly work with Olivier Wintenberger, head of my dissertation committee, who now lives in Copenhagen. More broadly, our two countries have shared a long history of working together in the field of statistics, seen for example in the SSIAB conferences held every two years since 1996. It was at one of these conferences that I presented my initial research, in May 2010.


What are the differences between France and Denmark that have left the biggest impression on you?

In France, we have high-quality public research with positions for researchers and research lecturers, which are always considered as first jobs for new PhDs. By contrast, in Denmark, it is more common to defend a dissertation and go into the private sector. Consequently, there are many partnerships between universities and the business world, especially in the field of wind energy. This experience let me overcome certain biases that we have in France, where it is sometimes poorly viewed to stray from the purely academic world. I was happy to find this link with the business world in joining Inria.

The other big difference was the easy rapport between students and professors. In France, the teacher has almost sacred status, as opposed to Denmark, where the barrier is less important and makes for a friendlier team environment. A value that Inria also shares.

One final point: as for the male-female balance on research teams, Denmark is clearly ahead of us!


Brief biography

Benjamin Guedj, 28, is a researcher on the Modal project-team at the Inria Lille – Nord-Europe Center since November 2014. In addition to his research activities, he participates in outside partnerships for his project-team, and occasional teaching assignments. 


His experience in Denmark has played an significant role in his education, even finding a place in his lunches (pumpernickel, fruit and shrimp)!

2010: Intern in the Applied Mathematics and Computer Sciences Department at Danmarks Tekniske Universitet.

2013: PhD, UPMC.

2014: Researcher, Modal project-team at the Inria Lille-Nord Europe Center.


Keywords: Optimization Russia Dolphin project-team