Claudine Besson sets her sights on radar

Claudine heads up an optics research department. She and her team are interested, amongst other things, in the detection and characterization of the wake vortices left behind by aeroplanes in their slipstreams. These masses of moving air represent a potential hazard for other aeroplanes or helicopters, which could be destabilized if they follow too closely.

We need to gain a better understanding of these phenomena in order to optimize the rate at which aircraft take off and land, thus improving air traffic in the vicinity of airports. “To do this, we are developing optical radars or lidars based on new laser sources. These are optical instruments that detect, localize and measure the force of the wake vortices.

Claudine joined ONERA (the French Aerospace Lab) in 1989 and has been Head of Department for two years now. As well as managing the technical side of the studies, she is also now responsible for coordinating, planning and managing the team as well as the financial resources and equipment she uses… “My role is essentially to keep everything going at every level: managing human resources, sorting out scheduling problems, as well as finding clients for large-scale projects…

Look simple at first glance…. but managing a research unit dealing with the development of new instruments is in fact a complex task. After all, innovation is about taking technical risks but in a controlled way. From one day to the next, Claudine has to coordinate the workloads of team members, whilst finding the best way of enhancing the specific and often very specialized expertise of each one of them. She has to constantly adjust schedules and finances. To do this, she has to be both very organised and know how to anticipate any unknown factors.

Putting these difficulties aside, Claudine loves her job. She is both proud of what she does and satisfied in her work, because the work accomplished by her team often leads to actual and new achievements. She believes the research environment gives her more freedom to create than if she worked in industry. This is why she is brimming with enthusiasm and ideas. The projects that are currently underway are due for completion in five or ten years’ time, but along with her colleagues she is already preparing for a more long-term future. “Research always has to be one step ahead of industrial achievements if it is to remain at the forefront of proposals and innovations.”

For Claudine, working in research above all means having a certain state of mind: the desire to invest time and energy in finding a solution for new problems, without any preconceived ideas. As for managing a team, she doesn’t have any particular recipe for success; but if she had to produce one, organisation, empathy and communication would probably be the main ingredients.

CV
1978: “Bac” (French equivalent of “A” levels), focussing on science
1979: Lexington High School graduate (USA)
1980-1982: Preparation for entrance into the scientific “Grandes Ecoles” (French higher education establishments)
1985: Diploma from the Institut de la Matière et du Rayonnement de Caen (ISMRA), specializing in optics
1986: DEA (post-graduate qualification) in Automatics
1986: Ph.D. at the Institut d’Optique (Institute of Optics) in Orsay
Since 1989: Engineer in the department of theoretical and applied optics at ONERA
Since 1995: Project and team manager



This portrait is an extract from the brochure “Hommes, femmes et métiers de la recherche aérospatiale” (“Men, women and working in aerospace research”) published by ONERA in May 2007 (PDF format - 8 Mb).


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