Making choices that really please her has been Margaux Zaffran's compass since middle school.
"In the 8th of high school, I was lucky enough to have an absolutely incredible physics and chemistry teacher at the Marseilleveyre, Mr Khelladi. He knew how to make everything exciting. Then, in the same school, but at lycée level, Mr Torregrosa. I fell in love with astrophysics and particle physics. It was a real driving force for me and helped me make my choices for the première, as I was also very interested in economics."
Margaux Zaffran finally opted for the scientific route, securing a place in preparatory course at the Lycée Louis Le Grand in Paris. Then came the time to choose a school, and ENSTA Paris seemed the obvious choice.
"I knew from the start that I wanted to do research afterwards. As ENSTA Paris has one of the most demanding core curricula in maths and physics among the major engineering schools, I knew that it was a choice that would give me every chance of going on to do a thesis, like 30% of every prom. I also knew that energy, which is a crucial issue in the ecological transition, is one of ENSTA Paris's major fields of application."
A period of her life she has fond memories of.
"My time at ENSTA Paris has been truly wonderful. Living in the École's residence gives the associative life a rare richness. In one of the associations I was part of, we invited Cédric Villani and Étienne Klein to speak to us, which was really exciting. Throughout my time at ENSTA Paris, I felt like I was in a cocoon. In terms of courses, I really liked the multidisciplinary nature of the first year. It opens doors to fields you hadn't necessarily thought of, which was the case for me. ENSTA Paris training is extremely well structured."
Studying at ENSTA Paris proved to be a particularly good start to her career as a researcher, for which she has now been awarded the L'Oréal-UNESCO prize:
"I entered ENSTA Paris with the idea that I wanted to go into theoretical physics. As the courses progressed, I became aware of my responsibility as a young scientist in relation to the ecological transition, which is a real emergency. So I turned to statistics and data, thanks to another brilliant teacher, Jeanne Nguyen, who introduced me to the beauty of statistics and their universality."
This universality of statistics is so true that the method Margaux Zaffran is currently developing in her thesis to quantify the uncertainty of electricity market price models will shortly be tested on a model for predicting hemorrhagic shock in polytrauma patients undergoing emergency treatment.
When asked what winning the L'Oréal-UNESCO prize means to her, Margaux Zaffran takes the opportunity to share her deepest convictions:
"It's a wonderful message, but one that unfortunately still needs to be heard: yes, women have their place in science. We need to fight tirelessly against stereotypes, in families as well as in society, education and business... I've been very lucky personally, because I've never been restricted in my choices. But I can see that we're still a long way from parity. It's a battle we need to keep up, by example, but also by reaching out to high school and college girls. In 2022, I took part in a meeting of young female mathematicians held every year at ENSTA Paris. It was really great to see the stars light up in their eyes simply by explaining my career path to them, demystifying scientific studies, that moment when they understand that for them too, it's possible, and above all that there's mathematics everywhere and for everything."
Looking back on her academic career, Margaux Zaffran realizes a constant, which would perhaps be her best advice to high school girls wondering about their direction:
"Make choices that really please you, without necessarily making very long-term plans. Life always has more imagination than we do, and you have to be able to seize the opportunities it offers. The important thing is to make choices that allow you to flourish at every stage, because that's the easiest way to be happy. And you have to be happy to fight the battles that are important to you."