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From the inside

Meet Morgane, PhD Student in Machine Learning

Posted by Morgane Goibert |

Morgane Goibert is a 24 years old PhD Student with an interesting rare background in both Engineering and Business, graduating from the prestigious and highly selective ENSAE and ESSEC. We talked to her about her career path, her projects and her time with Criteo.

Hello Morgane! Could you tell us a bit about your background to start with?

Morgane Goibert: I am French, and I live in the suburbs of Paris, where I grew up. When I think about how I got where I am today, I must say it’s a mixture of good fortune, hesitation, and determination.

When I was in high school, I definitely liked math, but also history and literature… so in short, I had no idea what I wanted to do 🤷. I finally chose to do a “classe prépa ECS”: it is a two-year intense study program (with majors in math, history/geopolitics and literature/philosophy) to take the competitive exams to join French Business Schools. This is where I discovered my love for math and decided to join an Engineering school instead of a Business one.

Fast forward, in 2015 I entered ENSAE, where for 2 years I learned a great deal about maths (and mainly probability theory and statistics), data science, machine learning. I even discovered research during the very first internship I ever did at the end of my first year there. In the meantime, I decided I still wanted to have the opportunity to study in a Business School, and I was selected for a double-degree program with ESSEC Business School, which I entered in 2017.

I spent two years in ESSEC, where I had courses absolutely not related to math (I specialized in negotiation and geopolitics), but where I broadened my knowledge and my competencies (how to speak in public for example, which was something quite difficult for me before, but also in economics and entrepreneurship, etc.). It also was a great opportunity for internships: I did two 6-month internships when I was in ESSEC, both closely related to math and research, which is something I could never have done in Engineering School. I spent 6 months working on graph theory at the University of Barcelona, in Spain, in an academic research lab (UBICS, the Institute of Complex Systems).

And, finally, I did my end-of-study internship in Criteo, from January to July 2019. I worked under the supervision of Elvis Dohmatob, which is a senior researcher here at Criteo, and after my internship, he supported me to continue with Criteo for a PhD. From September 2019 to July 2020, I worked as a researcher at Criteo, and officially started my PhD in August 2020 (yes, the administrative process is long).

Let's get back to where it all began. How and why did you join Criteo?

I joined Criteo for my end-of-study internship in January 2019. I went through a great deal of internship offers before I finally chose Criteo, and the reasons I did were:

  • I wanted to do “real research” even though I was not in an academic lab. In fact, this criteria was quite difficult to meet, and after discussion with Nicolas and Elvis, I realized that yes, Criteo AI Lab does real research, some projects are very theoretical, some others are more applied, but in the end it is research, with papers published in conferences and journals, and so on.
  • Amelie’s interview in Criteo’s blog (you can find it here) Amelie is a researcher in Criteo AI Lab, and at some point, after I sent my application to Criteo, I started reading about the company and the lab, to understand a bit who the people working there were and what they were doing, and I came across Amelie’s interview. It really helped me identify with her, as she is young too, she has overall a similar background to what I had and a PhD in addition to that, etc. and realized that, somehow, I fitted.
  • The smoothness of the process: I applied, got very quickly a first call with Nicolas, then I met Elvis (and also Mike, another researcher) not even a week after that, got an answer for my application a few days later… I think impressions are quite important, and I had a really nice impression at my first contact with Criteo and Elvis.
  • Honestly, Elvis impressed me when he presented the topic during the interview (I was like “ok, it looks very very cool, interesting, and everything, I don’t even know if I’m up for the job”).

There is an interesting point you mentioned. What are the most important things to look for in your first manager when starting your career?

The best thing you can find in your manager is this subtle mix between trusting you with your work, without disappearing from the landscape, and demanding regular feedbacks without resorting to micro-management. When you start your career, you need guidance, but you also need to build your self-confidence, and a great manager must find a way to respond to both needs, which is not that easy.

To give specific examples, my supervisor Elvis and I submitted a research paper at a conference, which in the end was not accepted. Elvis organized a meeting during to discuss the review we had and new ideas to better the paper, but he also found a way to stay really positive and encouraging, so that I felt not only driven and mentored, but also reassured and strengthened. It’s also quite interesting to realize that this “balance” quality I described can be obtained by very different people with different managing methods. Since I integrated the EEL team led by Clément, who is now my manager, I have regular planned meetings with him and work sessions that are quite different from the way I work with Elvis, but that still equilibrates well between guidance and autonomy.

What career advice would you give to your younger self?

Without any doubt, my most important advice would be to say: “Dare to ask”. When you start your first work experience after your study, you don’t really know how a company operates on an everyday basis and you’re still, obviously, inexperienced, so there are many things you don’t know. You don’t know the meaning of the acronyms used everywhere, you don’t know where the rooms are, you’re supposed to go to, you don’t know you should get in touch with to solve technical problems, and more importantly, you don’t know where to find the information you need. On your day-to-day work – and I believe it is true for any job but particularly for research – you can be stuck on a problem and you don’t know how to solve it. When I first arrived at Criteo, I was quite shy about asking others for input because I thought I would be a nuisance and that I was supposed to know all that. That is not true, and in the end, you realize that being part of a company is being part of a team that has the same goal. Everyone is quite happy to help if they can, and definitely you won’t look stupid when you ask for help. You’re not in school anymore! I think daring to ask for other’s input makes you save time, be more efficient in your work, engage with more people around you, form bonds and collaborate more successfully.

Thanks Morgane for taking the time to share your experience!

Morgane Goibert

PhD student in Machine Learning

The Future is Yours.

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