© Inria / Photo Raphaël de Bengy

Liliana Cucu-Grosjean is a Research Director at the French National Institute in Computer Science and Automation (Inria) in Paris, France, where she leads the Kopernic research team. Her research interests include real-time, embedded and cyber-physical systems with a focus on the use of probabilistic and statistical methods for analyzing the schedulability of programs and estimating worst-case execution of those programs. Co-author of several seminal papers on probabilistic and statistical methods for real-time systems, Liliana has published more than 60 papers in top TCRTS conferences and journals. She has served the community by acting as (General, TPC/track/topic and local) chair for important venues of the TCRTS community (RTSS, RTCSA and RTNS) as well as strongly-related venues (DATE for architecture-oriented topics and MAPSP and ROADEF for scheduling-oriented events). Co-founder of workshops like WMC (RTSS joint workshop), JWRTC (RTNS joint workshop) and Dagstuhl series on mixed criticality, she has helped consolidating the diversity actions among under-represented categories of researchers. Chair of the first TCRTS diversity sub-committees (2016 to 2020, see Note below), she has also co-founded the Inria diversity committee in 2015, that she co-chaired until 2022.

Note: The first TCRTS diversity sub-committee has been created by Prof. James H. Anderson and continued since by the TCRTS chairs.

You have a BSc on Mathematics and Computer Science, but then you pursued a MSc in Physics. Then your PhD was again in Computer Science. You seemed undecided about which path to follow, at some point. Why did you finally decide to work in Computer Science?

I have never thought what it has looked like from outside 😊, moving from one science to another. In reality, my path has been guided by the search for a solution to the timetable problem (thus the field of Operations Research). As Operations Research field provides solutions to problems belonging to different sciences, I have searched for efficient solutions proposed in other domains in order to adapt them to the timetable problem. One such method is the Simulated Annealing, heavy inspired from Physics and I have ended by being interested in Applied Mathematics for problems coming from Physics. Once understood that part, the Graph Theory became another obvious solution and I have ended up by working on the real-time scheduling of graph tasks, funding being easier to obtain in the real-time research domain. This journey has been, also, possible as I have worked at the Faculty of Sciences in Galati (Romania) where people working on Physics, Computer Science and Mathematics collaborate intensively on the pedagogical side. So, the transition has been facilitated by working environments and clearly funding possibilities have played their role, too.

In 2015 you were co-chair of Inria’s equal opportunity committee. Can you tell us more about that? Did you ever felt, while in this committee, that women were not given the same opportunities as those given to men, namely for working is STEM areas?

I have, indeed, contributed to the creation of Inria equal opportunity committee and I have been its co-chair from 2015 to 2022. While working within this committee, I have met many situations where women are not given the same opportunities. In such situations, nobody intends to give less opportunities to women in STEM areas. Unfortunately, most of scientists does not expect that an effort is needed in order to fight against his or her own prejudged ideas on the place of women in STEM. At the end, the sum of our prejudged ideas has as a result different opportunities for women in STEM, while everybody believes that poorer opportunities are caused by the others and never by their selves. For instance, the arrival of children may have an impact on the invitations to program committees if a PC chair believes helping women by not inviting them to a PC in order to “ease” their professional life. Another example of prejudged idea is under-estimating the impact of the lack of women among keynotes or PC chairs of well-established conferences on the growth of a research community. If a young female PhD student wants to become such “star”, then that student searches naturally for a research community when she sees this dream possible. Today, more than 25% PhD holders in STEM are women in both EU and US and this percentage is constantly increasing. Research communities that do not manage to keep its female PhD holders will help other communities to grow 😊.

You have worked as professor and researcher already in several countries, universities, and schools. Did you ever felt any sort of unexpected difficulties due to being a female researcher? What about differences in terms of mindset depending on the places you worked on?

Well, usually the mindset in research is strongly impacted by the traditions of the country we are in. For instance, I have started in Romania where I have never realized that I was a woman at the university, but I am a native Romanian. Once in France in 2000, people were correcting me to indicate that I cannot be a “chercheuse” as this word has only a male form in French which is “chercheur”. Today, the feminized form, that exists in all Latin languages, is extensively used in France, too, but it did stroke me that saying that I am a chercheuse has disturbed French natives.

Recently you’ve been the GC Chair of RTSS, a top conference in the real-time and embedded systems area. Were there some specific initiatives to attract female researchers to the conference?

While working on the statistics of RTSS, it is interesting to notice that the female participation and the female composition of the PC are closely related. Thus, one first initiative supported by TCRTS is the presence of women in the PC/chairing of all related RTSS-events. Extra funding is also added in order to support travel grants for under-represented categories (women included) of students. Last, but not least, we organize this diversity event during the first RTSS evening in order to ease the connection between first-time participants and existing members. Such event helps to know better the community and we hope that we convince female PhD students to stay with us.

Finally, what would you say to young female students to attract them to Computer Science?

My parents were telling me that I should find a job that ensures me financial independence whatever the country or the political situation to enjoy my life. I believe that Computer Science is such domain and there are so many fields that it is easy to find a topic for everybody. It is good to be well paid and be a financially independent women, but it is even better to have a job to enjoy while getting paid 😊.

Thanks for your answers, and all the best!