Portrait - Lilia Bouraoui, 3rd year engineer at ESPCI Paris-PSL


For the International Women in Engineering Day, we are very happy to meet with Lilia Bouraoui, a student-engineer with a double degree in engineering from ESPCI Paris - PSL and in atomic engineering from Mines Paris - PSL. Passionate about the nuclear industry, she completed her first internship in July 2020 in the DIPDE (Nuclear Asset, Decommissioning and Environmental Engineering Division) at EDF, then a second one in the Probabilistic Safety Studies group of the DIPDE. Motivated and full of ambition, she is now a trainee at IRSN (Institute for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety) in nuclear safety.

IRSN's SOFIA study simulator

What made you want to become an engineer ?  

The first reason is my interest in science. I grew up in Tunisia until I was 18 and I loved mathematics, physics, life sciences and so on. For me, engineering was the most general path to continue doing science. After my baccalaureate, I went to the Lycée Sainte Geneviève in Paris in Maths and Physics preparatory classes and then I entered ESPCI.

The second and most important reason was that I wanted a meaningful job, one that would help me meet the challenges of the century. As early as high school, I started to think about global warming and energy transition. I told myself that as an engineer, I would definitely find a field where I would be useful to society and I have not regretted my choice at all.

Why did you choose to enter ESPCI ? 

I chose this school for three main reasons. First of all, academic excellence: ESPCI has the reputation of being a very good school from a scientific point of view. When I finished my third year of preparatory school, I knew that I wanted to deepen my knowledge of physics and it was the school that seemed most appropriate in terms of rigour and quality.

I was also very attracted by the multi-disciplinary nature of the course. The fact of having a cross-disciplinary program with biology, chemistry, physics and maths, allowed me to keep the rather general aspect of preparatory school. And finally, the ’small class’ aspect totally convinced me. On average, 85 student-engineers enter the school each year and this allows for good personal support.

What meaning do you give to your training ?  

Finding my path gave meaning to my training: nuclear energy is a scientific passion. I was quickly fascinated by the complexity of the operation of a nuclear reactor, amazed by the different backup systems that allow a reactor to return to a safe state in the event of an accident, and impressed by the demands and transparency of this industry. As a future engineer, I could not help but be fascinated by the technical professions in the nuclear sector.
As a citizen of the world, I am concerned about the consequences of the ever-increasing global warming. For me, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is partly a matter of electrifying our carbon-intensive societies and nuclear power is a pillar in this fight. We need an energy mix based on renewable energies and nuclear energy to achieve carbon neutrality as soon as possible.

It was by becoming aware of this that my training at ESPCI made sense. Before, I used to follow the courses with which I had more or less affinity. Today, with hindsight, I realise that, even if there are no courses directly applied to nuclear energy, the fact that I have a varied scientific culture allows me to understand the complex subjects dealt with in this industry.

I also appreciated the academic support I received, which enabled me to go and discover other courses. I wanted to do an exchange in my third year and the school management agreed that I could go for three months with the Master of Nuclear Energy at Chimie ParisTech. There I was able to follow courses related to nuclear energy, to delve into subjects that were close to my heart, and I found notions that I had already seen at ESPCI. Furthermore, I am currently doing the Mines Paris - PSL double degree in atomic engineering where I am really specialising in the field I want to continue in.

What are your future plans ?  

My 6-month industrial internship in probabilistic safety studies at EDF had a huge impact on me professionally and personally. I had the chance to work with empowering colleagues and to work on a complex technical subject. I was very autonomous but well supported by many people in the DIPDE unit. I was able to exchange with experts and organise technical meetings with others to present my reasoning and results. All of this quickly enabled me to develop my skills in the field of security. This internship, as well as the one I am currently doing at IRSN, have confirmed my desire to play an important role in this industry.

In the future, I would like to work in the nuclear industry, probably in a large group such as EDF or Orano. I am attracted by the vast projects in this sector. We will have to build 6 to 14 new reactors, and I would like to participate in the renewal of the nuclear fleet. I really want to be involved in the revival of nuclear power in France. It therefore seems essential to me to first find a responsible and challenging technical position that can provide me with the technical background necessary to understand the many issues in the sector. Then I would like to quickly reorient myself towards project management.

Do you have a message for the young girls who will read this testimony ?  

I would say to them not to close any doors and to get information from a very young age, so that they can choose the professions that they like best, without any gender considerations. Today there are only 22% women in the nuclear industry, and we are still far from parity in many technical fields and more broadly in engineering.

But these numbers are not directly due to sexism in companies, but rather to a gendered representation of jobs that society conveys from an early age and which persists because of a lack of awareness. Internships, whether at college or engineering school, are a great opportunity to discover the engineering and industrial professions. Dare to go and discover these fields to make your own opinion, because they have a real and concrete contribution to make to society!

I would also like to reassure them and encourage them to go into the technical fields of industry, which are recruiting enormously, because mentalities have changed and continue to change. Today, diversity is a real asset in all engineering sectors and most companies are pushing for parity. You have to dare to venture out and have confidence in your abilities, because the human brain and your skills are not dependent on your gender.