A French federation of physical scientists

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28 July 2014

When I travel abroad I try to get the pulse of the physical sciences community, for my own interest and to be able to view AIP within the global ecosystem of scientific societies. While traveling this summer, I met Michèle Leduc, the founding president of the Fédération Française de Sociétés Scientifiques (F2S), at her laboratory at École Normale Supérieure in Paris, France. She related a sentiment popular among the French science community that they are not training enough young people to satisfy the needs for innovation in their society. The physical sciences community needs to widely and effectively communicate about how science and technology improve lives, positively impact international business, and influence diplomacy. The path of a researcher in science and technology also needs to be better understood by young students as they choose a career. It is around these issues that physical science societies joined together in 2010 to create the F2S (http://www.f2s-asso.org/). The federation began as a partnership among three societies: la Société Française de Physique (SFP), la Société d’Electricité, d’Electronique et des Technologies de l’information et de la Communication (SEE), and la Société Française d’Optique (SFO). In 2012 they were joined by la Société Française du Vide (SFV) to create a federation of over 10,000 French scientists. 

Similar to the mission of AIP, F2S promotes the physical sciences and brings together scientists working in academia and industry in order to act as a resource for the French government on questions of innovation and technology. They aim to speak with one voice regarding support for government-funded research and the need for large research infrastructure. 

Another major goal of F2S is to promote the profession of physical researcher to students. To achieve this objective, Michèle explained that F2S partnered with the Office National d’Information Sur les Enseignements et les Professions (ONISEP) to engage with students and young scientists by building a web tool: “Ma Voie Scientifique”—or my scientific pathway (http://mavoiescientifique.onisep.fr/). The site shows students and their parents the wide variety of science and technology–related careers available today and also describes trends to predict careers that will be needed in the future. The website puts into focus the world of scientific research and demonstrates the links to the many positions in academia and industry that are available to students who study science, math, and technology. Designed to appeal to girls as well as boys, the site describes how all scientific disciplines need students with the capacities of invention, innovation, and creativity. A scientifically literate community can rise to the challenges of the country’s infrastructure, technology, and research needs and to keep competitive in the global marketplace. 

ONISEP is a national organization that works closely with the national education system to provide resources to high school students. Because France has a centralized education system, the site is available in practically every high school, attracting several million visits per year. The site contains blog postings with summaries of hot research topics in the physical sciences. Key words from the digests are displayed in word clouds. Tabs guide students to information about high school courses and tracks, pathways available to students who study science after the Baccalaureate, and descriptions of various college programs. One example is, “Five reasons to study at an engineering school.” In France, many physical scientists attend these science and technology elite schools for their first level of training. The site takes some of the mystery out of the question of access to the schools by providing testimonials and videos that show scientists in the lab and at work in a variety of professions (http://mavoiescientifique.onisep.fr/zoom-grandes-ecoles/5-bonnes-raisons-de-faire-une-ecole-dingenieurs/). 

This project parallels one currently being completed at AIP by the Society of Physics Students. The “Career Pathways” project, completed by AIP staff members Toni Sauncy, Roman Czujko, and Kendra Redmond, describes the pathways that are available to physics undergraduate students in the United States and how students can learn about the multitude of careers available to them. The team has already developed the “Careers Toolbox” to guide students through the process of building their technical resumes and thinking about careers. A related website is currently under construction. 

After four years of service, Michèle has stepped down as president. Her successor is Tiberiu Minea from the Laboratoire de Physique des Gaz et des Plasmas, l’Université Paris-Sud. He will continue to guide the activities of F2S, including participation in “2015, Année de la Lumière en France”—national French activities as part of the International Year of Light. (This audience may already know that APS, OSA, and SPS are also active in their preparations for this international celebration.) I also met Costel Subran, président du Comité National, 2015 Année de la Lumière. I spoke with him about the range of activities planned in France, including events involving culture, dance, music, architecture, and cinema, as well as science and technology conferences. I look forward to meeting Michèle and Costel again in Paris for the opening ceremonies of this important international collaborative effort, at UNESCO on January 21, 2015.