Archive for France

Paris-Saclay campus debated in Nature

Posted in Books, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2020 by xi'an

The newly created entity of the Paris-Saclay University is featuring in two editorials of Nature of 03 November for reaching a high ranking in one of the many league tables purportedly summarising the academic achievements of universities by a single number. This entity is made of the much older Université d’Orsay and of aggregated research institutes like Ecole Normale (formerly) de Cachan, Institut d’Optique, or Centrale Supélec, incidentally and uninterestingly located nearby my home. As an aggregate of high quality institutions, it is thus little surprise that it achieves a sufficient critical mass to reach a high ranking. Were the nearby Institut Polytechnique de Paris integrated as well, the ranking would have been even higher. (Why the two adjacent campuses did not merge defies rationality, but can be explained by politics and the long-standing opposition between Universités and Grandes Écoles in the French academic landscape.) I thus think the Nature editorial about the dangers to “the well-being of those on the academic front line” brought by the quest for high rankings is missing the point. By a fair margin. Indeed, it mixes the financial and institutional efforts made by [former president] Nicolas Sarkozy in creating a single campus with the funding of this mostly pre-existing campus [and in dire need of renovations, as exemplified by the new math department]. And seems to see the more competitive grant system in France connected with this creation when the [somewhat controversial] Agence Nationale de la Recherche in charge of the public-funded grants has been around since 2005. And I find that the unceasingly growing mille-feuille of aggregates, conglomerates, unions, initiatives, &tc. happening in the French academic landscape [like Paris Dauphine joining PSL a few years ago, whose status was confirmed today] are both blurring the picture and reducing the efficiency of the maneuvers by multiplying the administrative structures without creating a sense of belonging to a common institution. Plus ça change…

maison Poincaré

Posted in Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , on November 15, 2020 by xi'an

in memoriam

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel, Wines with tags , , on November 13, 2020 by xi'an

Hélène Massam (1949-2020)

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 1, 2020 by xi'an

I was much saddened to hear yesterday that our friend and fellow Bayesian Hélène Massam passed away on August 22, 2020, following a cerebrovascular accident. She was professor of Statistics at York University, in Toronto, and, as her field of excellence covered [the geometry of] exponential families, Wishart distributions and graphical models, we met many times at both Bayesian and non-Bayesian conferences  (the first time may have been an IMS in Banff, years before BIRS was created). And always had enjoyable conversations on these occasions (in French since she was born in Marseille and only moved to Canada for her graduate studies in optimisation). Beyond her fundamental contributions to exponential families, especially Wishart distributions under different constraints [including the still opened 2007 Letac-Massam conjecture], and graphical models, where she produced conjugate priors for DAGs of all sorts, she served the community in many respects, including in the initial editorial board of Bayesian Analysis. I can also personally testify of her dedication as a referee as she helped with many papers along the years. She was also a wonderful person, with a great sense of humor and a love for hiking and mountains. Her demise is a true loss for the entire community and I can only wish her to keep hiking on new planes and cones in a different dimension. [Last month, Christian Genest (McGill University) and Xin Gao (York University) wrote a moving obituary including a complete biography of Hélène for the Statistical Society of Canada.]

a rush to grade

Posted in Kids, pictures, Statistics, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2020 by xi'an