L'Oréal - UNESCO Awards
Stéphanie Challita wins the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science award
Stéphanie Challita - © Fondation L'Oréal / Carl Diner
Each year, the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science program awards grants of €15,000 to female doctoral researchers and €20,000 to female post-doctoral researchers for their research work. This year, 30 female laureates were rewarded among 900 candidates and Stéphanie Challita is one of them. She completed her thesis in the Spirals* project team at the Inria Lille - Nord Europe research center.
What are you researching at the moment?
I'm working on cloud computing, which everyone will have heard about. Both the general public and private companies use messaging, file sharing and music streaming services as well as applications that all rely on these services. However, there are so many around today, mainly provided by the digital giants: Microsoft, Amazon, Google, etc. These services are rather similar, but there are important differences: for example, they all offer messaging tools, but these are not accessed in the same way. They do not all use the same vocabulary to talk about similar things... There is a standard, the Open Cloud Computing Interface (OCCI) standard, but none of these providers uses it because it is not in their interest to make themselves comparable to others. The result is that it is impossible to compare the different offers or simply switch from one to the other. This heterogeneity creates ambiguity and confusion for the user and I am trying to solve this problem. My method consists in using a formal language and mathematical notations based on set theory. This language allows me to state with precision the different offers in order to compare them and, ultimately, enable applications to migrate securely from one system to another.
What current issues is your work addressing?
The cloud has existed for around ten years now and offers elastic, almost unlimited possibilities, but which seem to be limited by the heterogeneity of services. My platform masks these differences for users. In particular, I am thinking of companies that would like to use two services simultaneously in order to avoid breakdowns. This is very complicated to do today. My platform could also be useful for developers who design applications on the cloud. For members of the general public, it could be useful for migrating your email address and all of your emails without losing any data – when you’ve reached your storage limit, for example. My work is not there yet, I am working on the theory. In the future, I will need to carry out implementations.
You have just won the L'Oréal-UNESCO award, what does this award mean to you?
D’abord, je suis très fière de remporter ce prix qui a une valeur symbolique particulièrement importante pour moi, car il promeut l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes. La place de la femme dans le monde scientifique n’est pas encore égale à celle des hommes, alors j’apprécie que de telles initiatives existent, pour aider les femmes à foncer et aller plus loin. Nous sommes capables, mais il existe encore des freins. Ensuite, cette bourse devrait être un tremplin à ma carrière, m’ouvrir des portes. Je compte l’utiliser pour participer à des événements, effectuer des déplacements dans des laboratoires de recherche internationaux, prendre part à des colloques et à des rencontres scientifiques.
Comment s’est construit votre parcours de femme scientifique jusqu’à aujourd’hui ?
First of all, I am very proud to win this award, which for me has a particularly important symbolic value because it promotes equality between women and men. Women's place in the scientific world is not yet equal to that of men, so I appreciate that such initiatives exist to help women move forward and go further. We are capable, but there are still barriers. This grant should also be a stepping stone in my career; it should open doors for me. I plan to use it to participate in events, travel to international research laboratories and take part in conferences and scientific meetings.
How has your career as a female scientist turned out until now?
I have always been interested in the sciences and, in particular, in new technologies. My parents always strongly encouraged me to continue on this path. I am Lebanese and I studied Telecommunications, Systems and Networks Engineering at Antonine University in Beirut. At 22, I had the opportunity to come to France to study at the University of Dijon, where I obtained my Master’s degree in research, as well as my Engineering degree. But I didn't want to stop there – that's why I began a thesis at the Inria Lille - Nord Europe research center in 2015. It was in this context that I applied for the L'Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science award. I have been very well supported throughout my studies and have not had to suffer for being a woman in a predominantly male sector, but it is important for me to encourage young girls to pursue scientific careers and to promote and value their work. Even today, my Inria project team, Spirals, continues to support me enormously.
In the coming months, you will be taking part in events to encourage young women to take up careers in science. How do you see this venture?
I am really glad to participate, to meet schoolgirls in order to share with them what scientific research is all about and inspire them. I really like teaching and I would like to be able to teach in the future alongside my research work.
What will be the next stage in your scientific career?
I am currently looking for a postdoc. I would like to continue working on cloud standardization, but the results of my research could be applied to other fields, such as edge computing, the Internet of Things or other distributed systems. As soon as a service is available in several versions, problems with heterogeneity arise. Another avenue to consider is interoperability on a real level – for the moment it is only semantic. I would like to propose a middleware solution one day to enable migration. Current solutions only increase heterogeneity.
*Spirals is a joint project team between Inria and the University of Lille within joint research unit UMR 9189 CNRS-Centrale Lille-University of Lille, CRIStAL.