First woman appointed to the direction of the famous school, emblem of French excellence, Laura Chaubard is a research head who defends the cross roads. Interview.
Madame Figaro . – A wake-up time?
Laura Chaubard. – 6 hours, to read or dive into my work subjects in peace. Sometimes I judge this too soon, but I find a certain balance in it.
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The pitch of your position?
To run a school, of which I was a student, born 228 years ago to train the best scientific minds in the service of the general interest. And maintain the openness and the rise in power impelled over the past five years within Polytechnique, at a pivotal moment in its development due to the international context.
Figures to give here and now?
A campus (in Palaiseau), 3,800 learners (including 40% international), 23 laboratories, 1,500 teacher-researchers, and a partnership with four other engineering schools to form a vast and visible whole in terms of research.
If we go back to the origins?
A family of teachers, parents professors of history and philosophy, who transmitted to me a great curiosity and a taste for commitment. We also talked a lot about politics.
In the military environment, the rank, the uniform, protect and somewhat mask the question of gender: we respect the function
Who trusted you?
On several occasions, I was given the chance to explore new subjects. At the Ministry of the Armed Forces, I worked in industrial strategy as well as finance and politics, including a mission aimed at encouraging innovation in the field of defence. From this carte blanche was born a dedicated sovereign wealth fund.
Obstacles in the way?
When we carry subjects of creation or transformation, we have to convince. It’s not always the case. I had to accept that there was a question of timing. Understand that detours are not always renunciations. I always found on my way the subjects on which I had worked.
Being a woman in a man’s world?
Counterintuitively, I was quite protected. In the military environment, the rank, the uniform protect and somewhat mask the question of gender: we respect the function. At the direction of La Villette, on the other hand, I switched to the feminine world of culture!
Your course accelerators?
My strength is to have had various experiences. Each turn made was an accelerator: by changing my frame of reference, I learned to trust what I had accumulated in other universes.
Your challenges for tomorrow?
Despite the free course for French students and meritocratic recruitment, diversity at Polytechnique can be improved. The school’s objectives, and therefore mine? Work with researchers to qualify persistent cultural biases, double the number of scholarship holders, and reach 30% of women in the engineering cycle by 2026 (they are 20% today, editor’s note).
When do you go offline?
Cultural moments have always been a refuge for me – they are my yoga! As a student, I spent all my free time in arthouses and at the theatre.
What would you like to convey?
The idea of a double culture: I come from a literary family, I did science. When I was a weapons engineer, I kept a link with the research community. Today, I remain in contact with the cultural world. It enriches the look.
Your definition of influence?
The power to help others, to circulate ideas.
A thought that frees you?
You have to choose your battles and lead them to the end. When I arrived in the ministerial cabinet, I was warned that I was going to be solicited permanently. We must define in priority those on which we would like to have acted when we leave. Write them on three post-its and stick them on the edge of the screen: they become a compass.