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Female researchers: Joint portrait

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Hélène Touzet and Nathalie Mitton run the Bonsai (in partnership with the CNRS and the University Lille 1*) and Inria Fun project teams, respectively. Their work is both demanding and inspiring. On the occasion of the Women's Day, we wanted to interview them about their backgrounds and their job as women researchers.

What does your research and team leader work entail?

N.M.: It is important to ensure cohesion in the scientific team and give directions to everybody involved. We also play host to many young people who must be trained in and introduced to their new working tools. My studies focus on RFID wireless sensor networks and fleets of mobile robots. The aim is to achieve coordinated machine movement and low energy expenditure through communication between sensors.  The sensors will be able to function on a volcano and measure its seismic activity, for instance.

H.T.: It is multi-faceted work. I conduct bioinformatics research on genome sequencing, with environmental and health applications. My team and I are developing software which will enable analysis of patient data in order to better tailor treatment in the event of relapse in cancer patients, analysis of plant behaviour in order to improve their yield, etc. My role also consists of encouraging scientific departments, optimising the available resources for the team and helping to ensure well-being in team members.

Why did you choose research and digital science?

N.M.:  Science has always been my favourite subject. I like physics and the working spirit in laboratories. The telecoms program at Insa, the engineering school that I attended, combined physical sciences and networks: a field that inspired me from the outset.

H.T.:  I like reasoning and intellectual arguments. Research has ultimately extended my mathematical studies. It was part reflection and part chance that led me to study bioinformatics.

What interests you most in this field?

N.M.:  The freedom and autonomy most of all. My work allows my imagination to run a little wild, while maintaining the necessary framework to ensure my focus. I also meet a lot of people from different countries and walks of life. This broadens my mind.

H.T.:  At the beginning, it was the intellectual stimulation that attracted me: reflecting on a problem and finding a solution. But I also like the specific way in which Inria makes a link between theory and practical application.

Do you have female role models? Have they helped you to progress?

H.T.:  I have formed female and male role models for myself based on the people around me. When I was appointed, there were already women in the centre and that was important. Variety is a good thing. When there are 25 to 30% women in a team, it works better. My team has 33% women!

N.M.:  I have been assisted as much by men as by women. My thesis supervisor and former team leader, in particular, have supported me in my projects.

How do you perceive women in research?

N.M.: Every researcher has a vision but I personally think it's the individual that counts and not whether they're male or female.

H.T.:  Women are researchers like everybody else; they simply bring more diversity which is always positive. But this is also true in terms of generations and nationalities. Diversity is extremely valuable!

 * within UMR 8022 CNRS-Lille1-Lille 3-Inria, LIFL.

Hélène Touzet

1993 Postgraduate diploma in mathematics (University Paris 7)
1997 IT thesis at the Nancy Inria centre
1998 IT lecturer at LIFL (Lille)
2005  Class 1 research scientist at CNRS
2009 Director of research at CNRS
She runs the Bonsai team, made up of 20 people, including 5 women: an Inria research scientist, a lecturer, a PhD student and an engineer.


Nathalie Mitton

2003 Engineering degree from Insa Lyon, telecoms option
2006 Thesis at Insa Lyon, CITI department
2006 Passed a competitive examination in research at Inria Lille.
She joined the Pops team working on ‘small, portable, secure objects’.
January 2012 The Fun (Future ubiquitous network) team was created, which she runs
July 2013 The Fun team became an Inria project team. It currently has twenty members, including five women: two research scientists, a post-doctoral researcher and two engineers.

Keywords: Interview Women in Research Portrait