Where intuition & risk-taking top the bill

Direc­tor Gen­er­al Del­e­gate for Sci­en­tif­ic Affairs at the CNRS, Philippe Bap­tiste pre­pared his doc­tor­ate, award­ed in 1998, at UTC. “I want­ed dear­ly to work with Jacques Car­li­er”, recalls Philippe who went on to enjoy a “pas­sion­ate” aca­d­e­m­ic career. 

The first time he met Jacques Car­li­er, a research sci­en­tist and lec­tur­er at the UTC-Heudi­asyc Lab­o­ra­to­ry, he found him hun­kered on the office floor, scru­ti­niz­ing card­board rec­tan­gles. “He was in fact inves­ti­gat­ing a con­crete case of queu­ing the­o­ry, a top­ic lying between math­e­mat­ics and com­put­er sci­ence” adds Philippe with a smile. Armed with patience and deter­mi­na­tion, he had to wait a year before Jacques Car­li­er found the time to accept to super­vise his the­sis. “While wait­ing, I did a so-called Advanced HE Diplo­ma (DEA) at the uni­ver­si­ty Paris 6 (Pierre & Marie Curie) and that was where I real­ly got to dis­cov­er the joys of mathematics”. 

A passion for discrete mathematics and algorithmics

It was his pas­sion for math­e­mat­ics that led Philippe Bap­tiste to start an aca­d­e­m­ic career. He built up a real­ly friend­ly rela­tion­ship with Jacques Car­li­er, who left him lots of degrees of free­dom dur­ing his PhD work. Here we have a research sci­en­tist for whom intu­ition and risk-tak­ing take top pri­or­i­ty, with­out neglect­ing the nec­es­sary sci­en­tif­ic rig­or­ous atten­tion. I stayed on for a year at the UTC-Heudi­asyc Lab­o­ra­to­ry with the pro­fes­sion­al sta­tus of ATER (research assis­tant) after which, with the sup­port of Messrs Car­li­er, Charara and Dubuis­son, my appli­ca­tion to join the CNRS was accept­ed”. Between 2000–2001, Philippe Bap­tiste went over to the USA, to work at the IBM Research Cen­ter in New York. His work there revolved round basic research in the the­o­ry of com­plex­i­ty. Receiv­ing a pro­pos­al to accept a pro­fes­so­r­i­al teach­ing posi­tion at the pres­ti­gious Ecole Poly­tech­nique, Philippe Bap­tiste returned to France. “That’s the kind of pro­pos­al you just can­not turn down!” At the time, he was super­vis­ing or co-super­vis­ing (some with Jacques Car­li­er) sev­er­al PhD the­ses. Two of these PhD stu­dents joined or stayed at the UTC-Heudi­asyc Lab/: Antoine Jouglet (UTC lec­tur­er) and David Savourey (research sci­en­tist and lec­tur­er). Philippe then joined the joint CNRS/ Ecole Poly­tech­nique Com­put­er Sci­ence research teams at the LIX Lab over which he became direc­tor in 2008 and then set up the Com­put­er Sci­ence Insti­tute for the CNRS. For a short peri­od, he held the posi­tion of Head of the Research and Inno­va­tion Strat­e­gy Ser­vice at the French min­istry for HE and Research, after which he was appoint­ed Direc­tor Gen­er­al Del­e­gate for Sci­en­tif­ic Affairs at the CNRS by Pres­i­dent Alain Fuchs. 

1 000 start-ups in the past 15 years at the CNRS

In his cur­rent posi­tion, Philippe Bap­tiste is respon­si­ble for the coor­di­na­tion of the CNRS’ 10 Insti­tutes, for inter­dis­ci­pli­nary projects, for inno­va­tion, inter­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion and part­ner­ship agree­ments and con­tracts. “The aim is to devel­op inter­dis­ci­pli­nary projects, and this runs against the temp­ta­tion to enjoy mono-dis­ci­pli­nary com­forts. It is eas­i­er to work at the core of one’s own skills. How­ev­er, an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary approach becomes inevitable for cer­tain sci­en­tif­ic top­ics. We must have the means to take these prac­ti­cal and epis­te­mo­log­i­cal hur­dles into our stride to encour­age and induce more inter­dis­ci­pli­nary exchanges and work”. Philippe also under­scores the lit­tle known role of the CNRS to val­ue-add to research and enhance inno­va­tion trans­fer oper­a­tions. Thus, the CNRS is prepar­ing to cel­e­brate its 1 000th start-up, cre­at­ed in a part­ner­ship with oth­er aca­d­e­m­ic or eco­nom­ic actors. “The CNRS is far from being an ivory tow­er and its real added val­ue is to see that break­through resrec­ah in the lab­o­ra­to­ries actu­al­ly gets trans­ferred to socio-eco­nom­ic appli­ca­tions”. Philippe Bap­tiste him­self par­tic­i­pat­ed in the cre­ation of sev­er­al com­pa­nies, includ­ing Erge­lis, spe­cial­ists in ther­mal build­ing man­age­ment using spe­cial opti­miza­tion tools. Philippe would like to see the start-up oper­a­tions mul­ti­ply and grow and also to engage the CNRS is wider scope R&D programmes. 

Structuring the French university scene

“I have an excit­ing and cap­ti­vat­ing job, since it lies at the cross­roads of a mul­ti­tude of sci­en­tif­ic fields in close liai­son with the lab­o­ra­to­ry heads and their high­ly-qual­i­fied research sci­en­tists. The CNRS also has an impor­tant role to play to help restruc­ture the French uni­ver­si­ty scene; at the present time, the lat­ter is still some­what ‘dis­or­der­ly’. The CNRS, with its nation­al vision, its superb equip­ment and its high­ly dynam­ic inter­na­tion­al pol­i­cy, is a key actor in HER (high­er edu­ca­tion and research).” A vast major­i­ty of the 1 000 CNRS labs are joint research struc­tures. “It is in our inter­est at the CNRS to have strong aca­d­e­m­ic and uni­ver­si­ty part­ners”. For stu­dents who wish to take up an aca­d­e­m­ic career, Philippe Baptist’s advice is to love sci­ence and be pre­pared to take risks. “There can no such thing as a good the­sis with­out tak­ing high risks! France offers some very attrac­tive open­ings for young high-fly­ing research scientists.” 


  • 1994 : engi­neer­ing diplo­ma from the Ecole nationale supérieure des Mines de Nancy
  • 1998 : PhD in com­put­er sci­ences and engi­neer­ing, UTC Compiègne
  • 1999 : recruit­ed by the CNRS
  • 2000 to 2001: IBM Research Cen­ter, New York
  • 2002 to 2011: appoint­ed adjunct pro­fes­sor at École Polytechnique
  • 2008 : appoint­ed Direc­tor joint CNRS/EP com­put­er sci­ence Lab, the LIX
  • 2010 : appoint­ed Direc­tor of the Insti­tute for Com­put­er Sci­ences and Engi­neer­ing and inter­ac­tions at the CNRS
  • 2013 : Head of the Research and Inno­va­tion Strat­e­gy Ser­vice at the French min­istry for HE and Research June
  • 2014 : appoint­ed Direc­tor Gen­er­al Del­e­gate for Sci­en­tif­ic Affairs at the CNRS

Le magazine

Avril 2024 - N°62

Faire face aux enjeux environnementaux

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