Women and science: Anne Canteaut, winner of the year, is saddened by the situation – Frenchweb.fr

Anne Canteaut, winner of the prestigious 2023 Joliot-Curie Prize for “Scientist of the Year” in France for her work on encryption, describes the status of women in science as “terrible” in an interview with AFP.

She is research director in computer science at Inria (National Institute for Research in Digital Sciences and Technologies) and was rewarded this week for her work in this discipline shrouded in mystery.

“It is the modern version of secret codes that we use to protect the confidentiality of information,” she explains. A world that was once the preserve of governments and the military, but that today everyone enters without realizing it, for example by using their bank card to make an internet purchase.

The 53-year-old researcher is currently working on “systems that use very little energy, such as remote-controlled medical implants, such as a heart defibrillator.” With a communications security imperative that is even greater than that “embedded in the car key.”

More a privateer of the king than a rapacious pirate, his role is to “find the flaws in a system before they are discovered by someone malicious.”

This science is based on both mathematics and computer science, a discipline that she definitely did not want to pursue after completing her preparatory courses in Lille, she says with a laugh.

His first year at ENSTA Paris (National School of Applied Techniques) was a revelation: “I discovered that computer science was a science and I loved it.”

– A situation that is “getting worse” –

Nothing predestined this good Dunkirk high school student, with a mother who taught history and geography and a father who was “absolutely not in the education system,” to undertake such a journey. A path “made possible by an education system that is now full of pitfalls.”

The major engineering schools “recruit only a few students, mainly from Ile-de-France,” funding for a thesis for the school’s best graduates “no longer exists,” and the few elected officials who have received graduate contracts “can do at best rent a maid’s room,” laments Anne Canteaut.

As for the status of women, she describes it as “terrible” and that the situation is “getting worse and worse.” “There are almost no women in science,” especially in computer science and mathematics, said the winner of the Irène Joliot Curie Prize, awarded by the Ministry of Higher Education and the Academy of Sciences and aimed at promoting the status of women goal has been set in research in France.

The engineer and researcher acknowledges the careful work of associations such as Animath or Femmes et Mathématiques, which strive to introduce young girls to science – she has taken part in interventions in middle and high schools.

But the contradictions annoy her: On the one hand, it is clear to everyone that women are too much of a minority in scientific disciplines, but on the other hand, “all the measures taken would only make the situation worse.”

Starting with the 2019 high school reform, which diminished the importance of mathematics and led to a decline in the number of girls enrolled in mathematics subjects. The reform was again “reformed” and since this year mathematics has again been compulsory for all high school students in the first grade.

Anne Canteaut also criticizes the system for awarding junior professorships that will be introduced from 2021, in which there is a separate jury for each position to be filled. An organization that has the perverse effect of preventing an overall vision of the nominations and respect for the diversity “and not just gender” of the applications.

Result: Of the twelve people who are qualified for a professorship at Inria within three years, only one is a woman.

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