Valérie Issarny: “EU research is a source of freedom”

Changed on 18/05/2020
As part of a week devoted to the EU, Inria Paris is giving the floor to its researchers. Valérie Issarny from the Mimove team was awarded one of the 12 “European stars” in 2013 for her work as coordinator of the collaborative EU project Connect. A specialist in systems and software development, we spoke with Valérie about her experience with EU projects.
Valérie Issarny
© Inria / Photo S. Tetu - La Company
Valérie Issarny, Research Direction in the MiMove team.

Why opt for EU projects as opposed to other forms of research funding?

Key figures:

  • 10-15 EU projects
  • 2 projects coordinated
  • Participation period: 1992-2013

Valérie Issarny: I've always been involved in these projects; I’m very comfortable with them. They have given me a great deal of freedom in my research. When you feel happy within a funding system, one which suits you and that you’re familiar with, it's easy to remain within the machine. I also find there are a lot of advantages to it. In my field, the progress we make depends a lot on human resources, and the EU is a source of a significant amount of funding. I don’t believe it really has any equal. That also explains why I don’t have much need for national funding, where the possibilities are far more limited. Furthermore, given that I have always collaborated at both a European and an international level, I consider my national network to be far less important.

How are collaborative EU projects put together?

VI: When you're used to making proposals, you know how to put projects together as part of EU framework programmes, the most recent of which were FP7 (2007-2013) and H2020 (2013-2020). There’s a sort of template to follow: having examples and experience really helps in being awarded a project. But that doesn't mean we handle calls for papers on our own. When it comes to project coordination, I’ve had enormous support from admin staff. There was also a time where Inria employed consultancy firms to help us. 

Can investing in an EU project lead to further research?

VI: It is important to bear in mind that the projects we present are always ambitious; again, EU funding enables us to invest in research that is often overlooked. This tells you that it is possible to investigate complementary subjects, to open up avenues and to stimulate future research with complementary research that is still to be undertaken but which has been identified. Projects often come in series.

What are the advantages of EU projects?

VI: The resources available encourage ambition. Collaborating in such a format gave me the freedom to be an entrepreneur, with some projects leading to innovations or to start-ups being founded. Networks also play an essential role, expanding as our collaborations develop.

In addition, you get to choose your own level of involvement in our collaborations. There will always be partners who go with the flow, and others who are keen to have a say on what research will be carried out. What this means is that it is possible to influence the direction major research will take, which is highly stimulating.

Her favourite project: Connect

“Connect was a large-scale project that came to an end in 2013. Its aim was to tackle a problem that is still relevant, interoperability, taking a multidisciplinary approach to IT. Our goal was to teach protocols on the fly in order to then be able to synthesise protocol translators. There is research currently ongoing following on from that research. The advent of the IoT and the number of datasets to be incorporated has underscored the importance of this area of research. 

You have been a coordinator and an evaluator for EU projects. How would you describe these roles?

VI: I enjoyed being a coordinator - it was a bit like conducting an orchestra. In this role, I was able to drive both the theme and the project in order to ensure that they matched research problems I was interested in. Coordination is also a way of choosing collaborators that you like and whose research you respect; working together, the research becomes more interesting for that. You're responsible for managing the project and what results from it.

I also evaluated EU projects on the theme of “future and emerging technologies”. This role is similar to that of a reviewer for scientific publications, but with one crucial difference: it is a vision that you're evaluating, not something that has already been done. Given that I’m more future-oriented, I find it fascinating observing where laboratories want to go and the avenues which open up behind each project. 

Are EU projects demanding?

VI: The level of human engagement is demanding, but you get out what you put in. Of course it is easier to stay in your corner and to focus on your own subject, but that can’t match contributing to something bigger and opening up new possibilities beyond your own research. We’re researchers because we like what we do, and investment is very much part of that.