Two researchers passionate about mathematics
©Inria / Photo-Kaksonen
To mark International Women’s Day, two of Inria’s female staff, an experienced researcher and a young PhD student, tell us about their passion for their work. Interview with Catherine Bonnet, Head of the DISCO team and member of the board of the association ‘Femmes et mathématiques’, and Céline Blondeau, a PhD student in the SECRET project-team.
How did you get into mathematics research?
Catherine Bonnet: I studied maths because I liked it. At the time, the only career I could see it leading to was teaching. It was while I was at university that I started to come into contact with PhD students and think about a career as a researcher. But at the time I thought that research could only be applied and that it wasn’t possible to make any new discoveries in mathematics. It was only during my PhD in the field of aerospace that I understood the stakes of theoretical research and exact, reliable and generic methods for solving real problems.
Céline Blondeau: At school, I didn’t really know what doing research in mathematics meant. The image I had got from the media was of quite a quaint, antiquated profession. But I have always been attracted to mathematics, logic, the magic of numbers and of all the different kinds of objects that you can manipulate. I wanted to teach maths. It was through my teachers at university that I learnt about research. From then on, a career as a researcher seemed like a natural step for me.
What are the best things about working as a researcher?
Catherine Bonnet: For me, the most important thing is being able to learn things everyday and to make progress. I really enjoy my work, as you have to interact constantly with the researchers in your team and with colleagues abroad. Another aspect of the job that I really like is the need to explain our work in layman’s terms to non-experts. I am particularly involved in actions aimed at young people who, unless they happen to know a researcher, have only the vaguest idea of what the profession entails.
Céline Blondeau: here is an element of challenge to our profession. I love tackling complicated problems and trying to find original solutions to address them. And there is nothing routine about it: we learn new things all the time and the problems we work on are very varied. We don’t all do the same thing. But that doesn’t mean we work alone. Teamwork is important. I am in a team where there is a great working atmosphere and we help each other a lot.
Catherine, you are a member of ‘Femmes et mathématiques’. Could you tell us a little about that association?
Catherine Bonnet: I first learnt about the association when I went to watch a friend speak at a forum of young mathematicians, an event held regularly by the association. I was impressed by how rich and dynamic the speeches and contributions were, particularly on the subject of the place of women in the world of science. The goal is to attract young women into careers in science and to fight against self-censorship by providing an opportunity for them to share their experiences. More generally, the association lobbies government bodies to improve working conditions for female mathematicians. It also tries to change mentalities, to ensure, for instance, that promotional campaigns about women are not counter-productive!
(Security, cryptology, transmission)
The core field of the SECRET project-team, the design and analysis of cryptographic algorithm security, is essential to ensure data integrity for web browsing, online payment, telephone communications, electronic voting or, more recently, personal health data.
DISCO research team
(Interconnected dynamic systems in complex environments)
The DISCO team develops robust control methods that can be applied to all sorts of complex systems in fields such as medicine (chronic and acute myeloid leukaemia), microbial biology (anaerobic digesters) and nuclear energy (cryogenic systems, remote operation systems).