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Fatima Zahra Moataz: "It’s the challenge of solving complex problems that made mathematics appealing to me"

Fatima Zahra Moataz

"Mathematics as a cultural crossroad" is the theme chosen for this year’s Mathematics Week, to be held from the 17th to the 21st of March. It will be a perfect opportunity to highlight the career of a young Moroccan PhD student who has decided to complete her thesis at Inria as part of the COATI team.

What was your academic background before coming to INRIA, and why did you choose mathematics?

At the beginning, I had no particular interest in mathematics. I was a good student and my main interests were Arabic literature and poetry. During my 3rd year in secondary school, my mathematics professor noticed my inclination towards the subject and encouraged me to tackle more difficult exercises.

It’s the challenge of solving complex problems that made mathematics appealing to me

I therefore specialised in science and mathematics and subsequently pursued this course of study during the university preparation programme. In Morocco, the university prep programme is the same as in France. However, the entrance examination is common to all Moroccan engineering schools. My good grades allowed me to choose from a large number of schools. I chose the National Institute of Postal and Telecommunications Services (INPT), which offers a one-year exchange programme at the University of Nice - Sophia Antipolis (UNS). During my third year, I attended UNS and pursued the Ubinet international master’s programme organised in partnership with Inria and I3S. During the second semester of that year, I completed a research internship with the Mascotte project team, now called COATI, a joint research team organised by Inria and I3S (UMR CNRS/UNC) and devoted to discrete mathematics, combinational optimisation and telecommunications algorithms. After completing the six-month internship, I realised I still had a lot to learn. Therefore, when my research supervisor suggested that I pursue a thesis programme, I did not hesitate to apply. I am currently a second-year PhD student and my thesis work is funded by the PACA region (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur) via a regional excellence scholarship.

What does your research consist of ?

My work consists of optimising fibre optic network resource allocation and reliability. The conventional problem with fibre optic routing consists of assigning to each connection a pathway from source to destination and part of the transmission spectrum, with the limitation that two connections using the same fibre optic cable cannot use the same part of the transmission spectrum. My thesis aims to improve the reliability and efficiency of fibre optic cable routing processes using graph theory, operational and algorithmic research tools. As far as improving reliability is concerned, the goal is to protect a connection against potential network malfunctions by allocating to it one or more network protection pathways in addition to the main pathway.  These protection pathways are used to verify network characteristics depending on the level of protection required.  

As far as improving efficiency is concerned, the goal is to develop fibre optic routing algorithms using the new elastic optical fibre network technology. This emerging technology allows for improved bandwidth management using optimised algorithms, and will at least partly address issues associated with the increasing growth of internet traffic.

Is there a difference between the research methods used in France and Morocco? What do you most appreciate about working at Inria?

I cannot formulate an opinion since my coursework in Morocco did not include any research. On the other hand, I do know of research laboratories that recruit PhD students under the supervision of Moroccan university research professors. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to obtain the necessary funding for PhD studies. Nevertheless, the government is currently promising to increase investments in research, particularly so as to establish partnerships with countries such as France where research is more developed.

At Inria, I appreciate the availability of bibliographic research tools and the possibility to meet foreign researchers. Inria’s coverage of travel expenses for scientific conferences has enabled me to attend a conference in Budapest, as well as the AlgoTel conference in France. I also enjoy the multicultural environment. Working with people from different cultural backgrounds is both personally and professionally enriching.

What are your plans for future projects?

At this point, I try not to worry too much about post-thesis work.  I prefer to focus on my current thesis work so as to obtain the results needed to develop my professional career. As part of my current responsibilities, I recently had the opportunity to supervise a group of graduate students working with data processing, algorithmic and Python systems. This experience allowed me to discover teaching as a career. Once I complete my PhD, I would also like to work in a corporate environment so as to gain first-hand industrial experience. This would allow me to apply the theoretical approaches that I am currently developing as part of my thesis project. Such experiences would help me identify what interests me the most and make successful career choices. 

Keywords: Phd Portrait Algorithmics COATI Network resource allocation Fibre optic