A scientist, mathematician, and entrepreneur, Aurélie Jean set off on a mission to demystify algorithms, coding and science!
This founder of In Silico Veritas, an analytics and computational consulting agency, is a role model to all girls. Through her hard work and dedication Aurélie exemplies the fact that a person can do anything and choose any career!
Passionate, bold and committed, she has served as the patron of the first class of the Microsoft School of Artificial Intelligence. Nowadays, she navigates between her ventures, teaching, research and writing!
We sat down with Aurélie to ask her more questions about her life and here work.
What is it like to be a mathematician and a computer scientist? (Actually, what name(s) would you choose to describe what you do?)
I was trained to be a numerician. Practically speaking I develop mathematical models and algorithms that I implement in computer programs to digitally simulate phenomena of reality, in order to make predictions, answer questions and understand mechanisms. To do this, I use applied mathematics, computer science and knowledge related to the disciplines for which I develop these models.
Wow! That's amazing! How did you get involved in this work?
After my internship during my first year of my Master's degree at the University of Colorado, Boulder, USA, I realized that I wanted to do work in the digital mechanics of materials. I choose this specialty in the last year of my Master's at the ENS in France and then did my doctorate on this subject at the Mines ParisTech. The main idea is to develop these digital models in the mechanics of materials, to understand how materials deform, break or even regenerate. I love this approach because it allows me to understand through digital simulation what we can't understand in the real world. For example, in my dissertation, I was able to accurately observe the elastic deformation of an elastomer on a nanoscopic scale through numerical simulations, which is still impossible with current microscopes.
Wow, that sounds like you're speaking in Greek to me. Did you have role models (female or not!) when you were a child?
I have had many male role models who have been my best support in my career. I am thinking of Ryan Flannery and Arvind Seth in Bloomberg, John Joannopoulos and Markus Buehler at MIT, or George Engelmayer at Pennsylvania State University. I had some female role models, such as my physics professor Lucille Julien at Sorbonne University who made me want to get a doctorate. I owe her a lot! I also think of Professors Tara Swart and Simona Socrate at MIT who inspired me enormously!
What were your favorite games and activities when you were a child?
As a child, I used to play a lot with dolls, Legos and cars. I dressed up as Zorro as much as I dressed up as a princess, and my grandparents bought me a motorbike and a pedal tractor! I was raised by my grandparents without any gender bias or stereotypes, and I thank them for that! My grandfather kept telling me that I shouldn't think about my gender or social class to choose what I wanted to do... it's because of him that I am where I am today, and I keep moving forward remembering his words.
Did you ever feel that being a girl/woman was a barrier or was simply perceived as atypical? And if so, what kept you going at that time?
When I was younger, not really because I was raised in an extremely open-minded environment. That being said, I saw the differences between women and men became more apparent during my higher education. There, I was in the minority, and I sometimes had the impression that I was not in my place. Above all, I realized that the upbringing I had received was far from being the upbringing my friends had received. I was very lucky, and I realize it every day. From a professional point of view, I have mainly worked in the US, and I admit that I have always felt respected and protected there, perhaps more than in France, where sexist remarks are often considered with a form of humor that kind of legitimate them for a lot of people. I'm quite intolerant about this sort of behavior; one can laugh at anything but not in the workplace.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
I don't have a typical day! I organize my day according to the moments in between consulting, teaching, research and my editorial contributions.
What do you like most and least about your work?
What I like most is discovering new things, working with the people I love and improving and understanding the world better! What do I like the least? All of the administrative tasks! I am lucky to have a great help with Jenny Chamberlin who is my right-hand on these tasks I am running from!
What advice would you give to children who are afraid of failure?
In order to overcome your fear of failure, you always need to learn lessons from them.When we understand that failure allows us to learn faster and progress more easily by increasing our level of experience, then we let go of our fear! Every time I've failed at something, I always spent time thinking about what I had learned, which helped me a lot afterwards.
How do you maintain your strength and positivity in the face all these challenges? Do you have a habit, a ritual?
I'm of American culture, and it helps! My grandparents always taught me to see the glass half full. "Tomorrow is another day" my grandfather used to tell me. Also, I learned a lot about relativizing my situation, which helped me to take more risks in my life and career. Like everyone else, I've had difficult times, moments of doubt and hard ends of months, but I've always thought there were worse elsewhere. I'm a big grouchy woman, but I always propose a solution after my little argument (laughs...). In my opinion, we have the right to complain, but in the end we need to come up with a solution, even the simplest or the least realistic, because at least we are making progress on the problem. I am a great optimist and my almost 10 years spent in the USA reinforced this state of mind in me.
In your opinion, what could be done, or created, so that girls can be inspired and grow up thinking they can do anything?
I believe very much in talking to parents. In my case, I realize the strong impact my home life had on my vision of the world and my thoughts on the possibilities of what I could do in the future. My friends, who weren't so lucky, have often seen a limited realm of possible careers and work. We need to talk to parents and show them examples of women scientists, so that they can inspire and encourage their own children!
What advice do you have for girls who have to overcome extreme obstacles and who simply believe they can't?
Surround yourselves with caring people (men or women) who will help you navigate difficult situations, reflect on possible decisions, and move forward more easily. These people will give you courage too! They could be a family member or a teacher. Later on, these people can also be friends. You need this support and guidance to overcome any obstacle.