From France to Cornell
Cornell's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering is one of the best and values interdisciplinary research: it was one of the few places where a non-engineer working in the field would be accepted and helped. I got results here that I probably wouldn’t have found somewhere else.
Why did you choose to study at Cornell University?
My university — Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne - has a partnership with Cornell, and we exchange one PhD student every year for a few months. I’m a geographer working mostly on the European power system, and to complete my research I needed both technical insight and a comparison between the European and the American way of governance. The School of Electrical and Computer Engineering in Cornell’s College of Engineering is one of the best and values interdisciplinary research: it was one of the few places where a non-engineer working in the field would be accepted and helped. I got results here that I probably wouldn’t have found somewhere else.
Describe a typical day for you on the Cornell campus.
I was at Cornell during summertime, so I would typically wake up and have breakfast somewhere outside by the gorges (I was living nearby) before going to my lab on the engineering quad. My group was about 10 PhD students plus some visiting master students and we usually had lunch together. We were often bringing our own food and, as we all came from different places, it sometimes led to some funny mixtures and tasting, along with a good laugh. Most of us were working on individual projects, but we exchanged about them over coffee and I got interesting insights and help from labmates and faculty. Emailing from Cornell also opened quite a lot of doors with industrials that I needed to contact for specific questions.
I usually took a break before or after dinner with friends to explore the campus and surroundings, especially the orchards. As I was defending a few weeks after my return to Paris, it was quite an intense time and some of us would often work late hours at the lab — but I still managed to keep most of the weekends off for picnics by the lake, some concerts, and drinks in Ithaca, as well as a few trips to New York City and Canada.
Tell us about one surprising thing that you have seen, learned, or experienced at Cornell.
The range of fields that Cornell covers: in France we typically split disciplinary fields between different universities. There is no chance I would ever bump into a crop engineer in one of the Sorbonne’s libraries. I met several of them at Cornell. I also discovered that “I can’t come for coffee, I have to feed my cows” is actually a legitimate excuse for a PhD student when she is working on some kind of enzymes contained in milk. It brought up a lot of funny and weird situations for me (that mostly seemed normal to everyone else), and it was great. Besides the funny part, it also meant getting an opening on some applied research that was good for me at this point.
How do you expect your Cornell experience will affect your future?
Actually it already has. I defended my PhD a few weeks after I left Cornell, and I interviewed for a one-year postdoc, then a research fellow position the following year. My stay at Cornell always came up at some point in the interviews, and it was valued. I am still exploiting some of the material I got during my time at Cornell, and I know my current research unit recruited me partly because of my experience there.