The questionnaire answered by the Women of Tech is a variant of the Proust questionnaire, named not because Marcel Proust got lost in the Paris metro, but in memory of Emilie du Chatelet, a woman of letters, mathematician and physicist, renowned for her translation of Newton's Principia Mathematica and the dissemination of Leibniz's physics work. She was a member of the Academy of Sciences of the Bologna Institute. Emilie du Chatelet led a free and fulfilled life during the era of the Enlightenment and published a speech on happiness.
Why a career in tech?
It was obvious ! Since I was very young, I liked to understand, create, imagine, build… I was rather gifted at school, and I was interested in Physics from the first year I studied. The rest of my studies was quite evident : I chose the topics I liked.
Your professional experience?
I chose Sciences (computer sciences, electronics and physics) as a major in the first year of high school instead of economic sciences. I pursued last years of high school with a major in physics. Then, I went to a specific class in physics, chemistry and engineer sciences in order to go the an engineer school. Unfornatunately, I didn’t really succeeded. I joined University in second year of general undergraduate studies in material sciences, at Evry Val d’Essonne University. I defended a licence and a first year of master in Physics and Modelling. I then joined an engineer school, Polytech’Orleans, to get my master degree in electonics and optics. I also completed a second master degree in Fluids, Atmospheres and Plasmas at the same time, and did doctoral studies. I have an European PhD in Plasma Physics. I resumed studies for one year in 2020 to prepare and defend my French special degree (HDR) to supervise PhD candidates.
Your first experience with technology?
As soon as I defended my PhD, I got a 6 month postdoctoral position in order to join A technology transfer center, which was under construction. It finally was a 5 year rich learning experience. I took part in the center construction, dedicated to plasma processes, before becoming the CTO of the center. Within 2 years, we grew from an office and an empty technical center in a urban community to a start-up with a 5 people team and two industrial equipments. It was a wonderful but scary and stressfull experience, that made me « grow » very fast. It also convinced me, if I still needed, that my future was in technologies.
What do you do today, and why?
I’m now a research engineer in Safran Group corporate research center, Safran Tech. I’m in charge of two main topics : thin films by dry surface treatments, as part of surface treatment and engineering, and fuel cell materials. I’m an expert in my company. I also manage the Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) lab at Safran Tech, where I have one of the most efficient and innovative plasma deposition machine in Europe. I lead different research studies, often in collaboration with academic or industrial teams to develop innovative solutions. I supervise students, in France and abroad, as apprentices, trainees and PhD students. My studies result in patent applications, publications, and new products in the Group. As an expert I often work with different companies of the Group, in order to support them : it’s a rewarding work. It makes me work on various parts for various applications, from the first stages of development (R&T) to their production and serial life. I’m also part of the team for several road maps of the research center and/or the Group : my studies have to support the Group strategy, answer its needs, and prepare the future.
Your strengths in this role?
I have 10.000 ideas per minute… but I’m very rigourous and pragmatic ! I can understand a new topic quite fast, as recently new issues linked to SARS-CoV-2 surface contamination for example. I mostly reason by analogy, thus using what I know from a domain to solve issues in other more or less connex domains. I understand quite quickly but I also work a lot and I’m very organised. It allows me to manage several projects at a time, keeping a global (and convergent) vision. I also have a wide network, both in academia and industry, in France and abroad, that helps me to develop my ideas, and to find my missing skills.
Past challenges, failures and disappointments?
My first challenge was to get my engineer diploma ! My grand father was a worker in a printing company. He encouraged me to become an engineer because I was a gifted pupil. And I succeeded, even if my grand father died before I finished high school. A failure, among others, my first year of specific class in physics, chemistry and engineer sciences : I was not able to adapt, it was a very difficult year. Another failure, more funny, I dreamed to become a fighter pilot in the French Air Force. But I failed at the « spreader test » during the selection. No regret, I tried ! My PhD studies were a challenge but also a moment of loneliness : I was in a good lab, with good colleagues, I had a wonderful topic, but I was harassed by a colleague. My strong personality and my colleagues support helped me to complete my PhD thesis. I learnt at least assertiveness, and never to give up. Ironically, I achieved an excellent PhD thesis, with 10 papers published. Another moment of loneliness, which became a great challenge was when a careless surgeon announced « Madam, you are strongly disabled, you will have to adapt. » Though my husband was there, I fell through the abyss. But, as we say in french « le naturel est revenu au galop », I took my ladder and climbed out (more or less on one leg !). Now my handicap is part of our life, as well as my optimism, my sense of humor and my grumpiness before my 2nd coffee in the morning ! Great moments of loneliness… often ! When my brain starts thinking at light speed and I realize I just said something totally stupid before ending my sentence. But I try to progress…
Best moments, successes you’re proud of?
My best moment is everyday (or almost everyday) ! My professional life is as rich and exciting as my personal life. I’m proud of my PhD thesis and my HDR. I’m also proud of some of my inventions I can’t speak about. I’m proud of my son and my husband : they are absolutely awsome ! To cite U2 « They are the best things about me ». Globaly, without any modesty, I’m quite proud of myself, my background and my actual life.
People who helped, influenced - or made your life difficult?
Some teachers impressed me, often in a positive way, except a chemistry lecturer, who kindly told me « I was dumb and I won’t do anything further in my life ». I’m sorry I don’t remember her name, I really would like to send her all my diploma and my CV ! I was harassed by a colleague during my PhD studies… Hopefully, even if it took a lot of time, justice was done and he was convicted. I also met wonderful people, who helped and trusted me all along my professional life. I especially think about a lab head (who may recognize), some researchers who encouraged and supported me… And my first boss, various mentors, who knew how to give me both freedom and reliance, but also led me to increase awarness about my imperfections and weaknesses. All of them brought me something and helped me to progress. On a personal side, my husband supports me and helps me each and every day to overcome my handicap and to have a normal life (let’s say almost normal !).
Your hopes and future challenges?
I always feel like discovering new things ! My next short-term challenge will be a few months abroad, without my family. It’s a really great opportunity to work closely with my colleagues abroad. But it’s kind of difficult to leave my husband and my son in France. I also feel like exploring new research domains : frontier research is fascinating. I recently had the opportunity to work at the frontier of physics and coordination chemistry, physics and virology… I’m looking forward to having a new oppotunity to discover a different domain !
What do you do when you don’t work?
I’m a reserve officer at DGA (the French Defence Procurement Agency) as an expert. I spend 15 to 20 days a year working in the French army. I play the doublebass, in a music academy and in a symphonic orchestra. I like to attend concerts, ballets, with my family. I do (a bit of) sport. Before I had my leg issues, I was a karate black belt. Now, I have to limit my ambitions ! I take yoga lessons, and I love hiking. I read a lot, usually several books per week : a lot of fantasy, dystopia, dark novels, I read almost everything I can find ! And comics. My son and I are comic lovers. We have several hundreds of them at home. I spend a lot of time with my son and my husband : family outing, a good movie all together… I’m also a volonteer at the "C Génial fondation", which aim is to develop young people interest for sciences and technologies, and make them discover possible professional careers. And I’m a sponsor « Elles bougent », which is an association aiming at attracting young women (from high school to university) to studies and professional carreer in sciences, technologies, engineering, through meetings with women engineers.
Your heroes -from History or fiction?
In real life : Caroline Aigle. She was the first fighter pilot to join a fighter squadron in the French air force. She stands for both fulfillment and the place of women in our society, I mean very very high. Irène Joliot-Curie, physicist, chemist, Nobel prize winner, deputy secretary of state for scientific research, CEA Commissioner. She dedicated her life, in the literal sense, to research and applications. In the « manager » category : King Arthur in Kaamelott without a doubt. I’m convinced he is the best manager in the world ! Sometimes, I dream I can tell everything I think to my colleagues… But it’s not exactly recommended in our management standards ! And of course… Iron Man, the high tech super hero ! Obviously, he has nothing to be a super hero, but a remarkable talent to develop amazing technologies.
A saying or proverb you like in particular?
A French one « Parfois on regarde les choses telles qu’elles sont en se demandant pourquoi ? Parfois on les regarde telles qu’elles pourraient être en se disant pourquoi pas ? » (Gaëtan Roussel), I could translate as « Sometimes we look at things as they are, wondering why ? Sometimes we look at how they could be, wondering why not ? » Another one, less serious (maybe not) « With magic you can turn a frog into a prince. With science, you can turn a frog into a PhD, and you still have the frog you started with. » (Terry Pratchett)
A book to take with you on a desert island?
Without any doubt, the 4 volumes of « Science of Discworld » ! Everything I love : fantasy, humor and science.
A message to young female professionals?
DARE ! Nobody knows better than you what you want and what you are able to do. Don’t let negative people bring you down. Run away from them and seek people who are supportive and understanding, who rise you up. In everyday life, there is a lot of ups and downs, the path is not always easy, but when you reach the place you want (you need ?) to be, you don’t regret the efforts you made.