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Sir Isaac Newton

Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences

Celebrating Mathematical Achievement by Women





Cecilia Lancien

Cecilia Lancien is a Research Student at Universitat Aut˛noma de Barcelona and UniversitÚ Claude Bernard Lyon 1, and was a Programme Participant on the Mathematical Challenges in Quantum Information programme in 2013.




When did you become first interested in mathematics and what keeps your interest fresh?

I've always been interested in mathematics! Even as a kid, I remember appreciating the "beauty" of a rigorous logical reasoning. Then, there is no doubt that successive outstanding maths teachers gradually made me feel that I should indeed pursue that direction. It was eventually during my Masters degree research project that I experienced for the first time what doing research really meant... and discovered I was perfectly adapted to it! Today, working with people I regard highly, not only professionally but also personally, is probably, even more than my passion for the subject itself, what really keeps my interest so fresh.


Could you tell us a little about your career path so far and what your current research involves?

After high school, I followed intensive courses in science for 2 years in order to prepare the selective exams for the French engineering schools. That's how I entered the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. At the end of the 4-year degree course there, I started a PhD in quantum information (this was September 2013 so I'm still a "baby researcher"!) In brief, my current research consists in using tools coming mainly from functional analysis, convex geometry and probability to solve problems arising in quantum physics and quantum information.


What achievements are you most proud of?

The competition to get into the Ecole Polytechnique is quite tough, so of course I'm proud of having achieved that (especially coming from a small provincial high school and not from a prestigious one in Paris...). Nevertheless, entering a renowned school is not an end in itself, and the real stuff only begins afterwards!

So maybe the thing I'm most proud of in my very short mathematical life is my Masters degree research project: it turned out to be unexpectedly successful, so that I had for the very first time the impression of achieving "something" (even though it was for sure some tiny little thing!) in the scientific community.


How do you achieve a balance between your work and homelife?

When your work is something you can do at almost any time and any place, it may become necessary to impose some kind of "behaviour rules" on yourself. However passionate you are for what you're thinking about and working on, there are "incompressible" moments that should remain dedicated to your family and your friends. And it's also a matter of not becoming completely mad!


What advice would you offer to young women who are just starting their careers in the mathematical sciences?

Carry on, it's worth the effort! The field I'm working in is at the border of maths, theoretical physics and computer science, so as you might have guessed, a subject where women are clearly under-represented... However, I never experienced any male chauvinist behaviour in that community. On the contrary, the impression I usually had is that most men were quite glad to have at least one woman in the group, hence being extremely kind to her whenever that happened!


Has your visit to the Isaac Newton Institute been fruitful?

I was lucky enough to start my PhD participating in a thematic programme that my advisor was organising at the Isaac Newton Institute. So this was of course unbelievable: during the 1st semester of my PhD I managed to meet basically all the people working in the same field as me! I left Cambridge with just too many initiated projects and possible problems to think about...!