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Women and Science: Anne Cantu, laureate of the year, is saddened by the situation |  TV5MONDE

Women and Science: Anne Cantu, laureate of the year, is saddened by the situation | TV5MONDE

Anne Cantu, winner of the prestigious 2023 Giulio-Curie Prize for “Scientific Woman of the Year” in France for her work in cryptography, describes the status given to women in science as “terrible,” in an interview with AFP.

Director of research in computer science at Inria (National Institute for Research in Digital Science and Technology), she was rewarded this week for her work in this obscure discipline.

“It’s the modern version of secret codes, which we use to protect the confidentiality of information,” she explains. A world that was once reserved for governments and the military, but which everyone is immersed in today without realizing it, for example using their bank card to buy online.

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

Her role, more personal to the king than to predatory hackers, is to “find flaws in the system before someone malicious does.”

It draws on both mathematics and computer science, a major she never wanted to pursue after dropping out of her junior high classes in Lille, she says with a laugh.

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

The situation is “worsening”

Nothing would have appreciated this good student from a high school in Dunkirk, with a mother who taught history and geography and a father who was “not at all in the education system,” to accomplish such a journey. The path was made possible “thanks to today’s educational system, which is full of pitfalls.”

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Major engineering colleges “recruit only a small number of students, mostly from Ile-de-France,” thesis funding for the best students who leave the school “no longer exists,” and the rare elected officials who secure a thesis contract are “at best able to rent a maid’s room.” , regrets Anne Cantute.

As for the situation of women, she describes it as “terrible” and the situation is “getting worse.” “There are almost no women in science,” especially in computer science and mathematics, according to the winner of the Irene Joliot-Curie Prize, awarded by the Ministry of Higher Education and the Academy of Medicine, which aims to promote the status of women. In research in France.

The engineer and researcher salutes the hard work of associations such as Animath or Femmes et Mathématiques, which strive to introduce young girls to science – and have been involved in interventions in middle and high schools.

But she is disturbed by the contradictions: on the one hand, everyone understands that women constitute a significant minority in scientific disciplines, and on the other hand, “all measures taken only exacerbate the situation.”

Starting with the 2019 secondary school reform that reduced the placement of mathematics and led to a decrease in the number of girls enrolling in mathematics majors. The reform in turn was “fixed”, and mathematics was again taught on a compulsory basis for all secondary school students in the first year, since this year.

Anne Cantu also criticizes the system of awarding junior professorships, which dates back to 2021, with a dedicated jury for each position open for recruitment. An organization that has the negative impact of preventing inclusive visibility of nominations and respect for diversity (not just gender) in applications.

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The result: Of the twelve chairs awarded to Inria in three years, only one went to a woman.