Frédéric Loiret: a European researcher and citizen
Based in Sweden but working part-time in Germany, Frédéric Loiret is heavily involved in European projects on the standardization of industrial IT tools: a fascinating challenge that means he has to be more than a researcher.
What is your current field of research?
Right now I’m working on the integration of software engineering tools, particularly in the automotive sector. Basically, when manufacturers design on-board software programs they have to follow a precise industrial process: first the requirements have to be defined, then the software is developed and finally the software is tested to make sure it’s operating properly. All these phases need engineering tools that are very different so getting them to communicate with each other is complicated. This is the problem I’m trying to solve.
What has your career path been?
I started getting interested in science in high school but back then I was far more excited about astronomy. When I got to college I realized that astrophysical research was too mathematical and abstract for me so I went into IT. After my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I did a postgraduate diploma on distributed computing, which aims to ensure and optimize the operation of networked computers. I then wrote a thesis at the CEA and Lille university on software engineering problems, e.g. maximizing the reuse of code from one application to another. Once I completed my thesis in 2008, Lionel Seinturier, one of my thesis supervisors, suggested I join the Adam project team at Inria Lille Nord – Europe as a post-doctoral researcher. After spending four years at Inria, I left France for a researcher post at KTH, the oldest technology university in Sweden, where I’ve been tenured since February. I was also invited to be a guest researcher by Scania, a Swedish truck manufacturer, and for the last year and a half I’ve been working part-time for Offis, a research organization based near Bremen, Germany.
Why did you want to go to Sweden?
I always regretted that I wasn’t able to do an internship abroad when I was a student and I was also attracted by northern Europe: I really like the way they relate to nature and live somewhat isolated, surrounded by lakes and pine trees. I also knew that IT was a really dynamic field in Sweden so this all encouraged me to join KTH. My team is very active in major European projects. This was new for me and right from the start I loved the international dimension of the job. I felt cut off from that when I was in France.
The scope of your work has changed a lot in the last few years
It has. I’m working more and more on topics outside my initial field of expertise and doing much more management and coordination in the context of European partnerships. After working for the European iFest and MBat projects on engineering tool interoperability, I am now taking part in the Crystal project on the same subjects, applied to the fields of aerospace, railways, health and so on. Among other things, I’m in charge of a CP-Setis European coordination operation involving pre-standardization activities. I am very committed to this exciting work where new issues are emerging, involving major interests in terms of business and even politics!
What are the main differences between France and Sweden?
At KTH, there is a lot of flexibility with our contracts and I really appreciate that. I’m working part-time in Germany and also for a manufacturer but this is not a problem. The freedom this gives creates a dynamic that is absent in France. Another difference is that in France when you’re under contract with a university the intellectual property of a discovery belongs to the employer, whereas it’s the other way around here. In some cases this can change the way certain research is exploited commercially. Things are quite different from the cultural viewpoint too. In Swedish culture, there is a real determination to try to reach a consensus at all times: the Swedes are much less confrontational than in France, so much so that sometimes I feel they’re a bit obsessed with equality. At meetings, the aim is for all the participants to express their opinions and this sometimes slows down decision-making. Whereas in the United States a leader has to assert him or herself, here it’s not the done thing; it’s better not to put yourself forward too much. I tend to be a bit more assertive, though this has never created any problems for me.
What memories do you have of your experience at Inria Lille Nord – Europe?
I really enjoyed the years I spent in Lille. The team dynamic was strong and everyone was very friendly. We were able to recruit engineers and this was convenient and important because we need to validate our ideas so we can design software programs that are almost ready to be commercialized, though I still feel that we are a bit too removed from the issues facing industry. In Sweden and Germany, at least in the organizations I work for, we try to stick as closely as possible to their needs and adapt our research to their requirements.
Finally, would you say that you’ve found what you were looking for in Sweden?
There’s no doubt that this country provides a really enjoyable environment to work in. We have the time to do sports and the university refunds our expenses. We are also given motorized desks so we can work standing up if we like! The Swedes are very conscious of the work-life balance and are not so stressed as in France. Colleagues can take six to eight months’ parental leave and it’s quite common to see men with strollers sitting outside having a few beers in summer. You have to say that Stockholm, with all its islands and its nature reserve in the city center, is an amazing, relaxing setting.
Frédéric Loiret, 36, is a tenured researcher at the royal institute of technology (KTH) in Stockholm. Based in Sweden since 2011, after spending four years with the Adam project team at Inria Lille Nord – Europe, he has discovered a liking for the long Swedish winters but sometimes misses the warmth and the very French ritual of standing in a café having a morning coffee.
2001: Discovers the fascination of IT at college.
2008: Completion of his thesis.
2011: Arrives in Sweden.