Layla Azzam, a student at Mines Paris – PSL, talks about her experience as a woman engineer

Education Equal opportunities Interview
Published on 21 June 2024
To mark International Women in Engineering Day on Sunday June 23, Mines Paris – PSL had the pleasure of interviewing Layla Azzam, a third-year civil engineering student at the School. Originally from Lebanon, Layla is pursuing a double degree at Mines Paris – PSL and Saint-Joseph University in Beirut. Her career path, marked by success in demanding competitive exams and commitment to innovative projects, illustrates the excellence and diversity encouraged at the School.

Mines Paris – PSL is committed to promoting equality between men and women, and has 30% female students in its Civil Engineering Cycle. In addition, thanks to its exchange and cooperation programs, the School welcomes 35% international students, enriching its academic and professional community with valuable cultural and intellectual diversity.

In this interview, Layla shares her experience at Mines Paris – PSL, her career aspirations and her vision of the place of women in engineering.


Can you tell us about your background before joining Mines Paris – PSL and what motivated you to pursue a double degree with Saint Joseph University in Beirut?

“Before joining Mines Paris – PSL, I followed a rigorous academic path that prepared me for both academic and professional challenges. I began my higher education at the Université Saint-Joseph de Beyrouth (USJ), the only university in Lebanon to offer classes préparatoires aux grandes écoles (CPGE) similar to those in France.

During two years of preparatory classes (MPSI then MP*), I acquired solid knowledge and efficient working methods that strengthened my ability to solve complex problems.

I then joined USJ’s Civil and Environmental Engineering department for two years, with the aim of immersing myself in the civil engineering and construction sectors. This training enabled me to develop an integrated vision of engineering-related professions, while exploring related fields such as consulting and business management.

I then chose to pursue a double degree with Mines Paris – PSL for the richness of its training, particularly in the Civil Engineering Cycle. I was looking for a school that would offer training in line with my career plans, while maintaining a generalist approach. Mines Paris – PSL turned out to be the ideal place to fulfill these aspirations.”

How would you describe the welcome and integration of international students at Mines Paris – PSL?

“The integration of international students at Mines Paris – PSL is a unique experience that blends historic traditions with lively Parisian life. Arriving from the four corners of the world at the Maisons des Mines et des Ponts, located in the heart of Paris, we are welcomed in a setting that is conducive to harmonious integration.


Layla, during second-year induction week

It all starts with an integration weekend, when we head off to a surprise destination, facilitating first encounters in a relaxed setting. This is followed by a geology week, during which we discover the fascinating world of minerals and create unforgettable memories with our fellow students. Then comes mentoring week, providing support and advice from more experienced students. These traditions, along with many others, sometimes surprising, enrich our experience and facilitate our integration at Les Mines.


Sponsorship gala in 3 years

Between courses, projects and the many events organized by the school, strong bonds are forged between students. These moments of sharing and learning foster open-mindedness and intercultural understanding, indispensable in today’s globalized world. Mines Paris – PSL offers much more than a top-quality academic education; it offers total immersion in a dynamic and diverse community, ready to support each student throughout his or her academic and personal journey.”

Mountain weekend organized by the student sports office (BdS)

Which aspects of the generalist training at Mines Paris – PSL best match your professional ambitions?

“After a purely technical training in civil engineering, my scientific curiosity and desire to broaden my academic and professional horizons grew stronger. The generalist training at Mines Paris – PSL responded to this aspiration by offering a multidisciplinary education integrating science, engineering and management. This approach enabled me to acquire a variety of skills, going beyond technical expertise to include project management, strategic decision-making, and a broader understanding of economic and social issues.”

You’re about to complete your third year in the Civil Engineering Cycle at Mines Paris – PSL. What have been the highlights of this year for you? Can you share your impressions of the lessons you’ve learned and the experiences you’ve had?

“At the end of my third year in the Civil Engineering Cycle, several highlights stand out, marking a year rich in learning and experience. One of the highlights was a visit to the Directorate-General for Competition (DGComp) in Brussels, as part of my industrial economics specialization. This visit, undertaken with my option colleagues, was directly linked to our in-depth study of water management policies in France, where we analyzed management mode choices and their economic and social implications. Attending discussions with DGComp experts gave us a better understanding of how economic decisions and regulations can influence market dynamics and company competitiveness.

Industrial economics students in Brussels

At the same time, other highlights of the year included technical projects, interactive courses and exchange trips to Poland and Italy, each bringing a fresh and stimulating perspective to my academic and personal journey. The richness of exchanges with teachers and fellow students deeply nourished my experience.”


Layla on her option trip to Brussels

What are your career aspirations after graduation?

“After completing several rewarding internships, my goal is now to land a job to apply the skills and knowledge I acquired during my training and make a significant contribution within a company. My ambition is to find a position where I can continue to learn, evolve professionally, and bring real added value to the organization.”

As a woman in engineering, how do you see the role of women in training?

“It’s true that women can sometimes feel less legitimate in the engineering field, often due to persistent stereotypes and under-representation in certain educational or professional circles. However, it is crucial to recognize that women have just as much ability and potential as men to excel in this field. By actively encouraging and supporting their participation in engineering education, we can overcome these perceived barriers and create an environment where every individual feels valued and competent.

For several years, Emma Watson’s speech on inequality has inspired me every day, particularly her phrase: “If not me, who? If not now, when?” This statement resonates with me as a call to immediate action and responsibility to promote gender equality. It reminds me that every woman, myself included, is responsible for making things happen right now, and that limits should not exist for what women can achieve.”

Industrial site visit as part of water market study

What challenges have you faced as a woman engineer, and how have you overcome them?

“As a woman engineer, I’ve often had to deal with gender stereotypes and biased perceptions calling into question my technical skills and interest in complex projects. For example, during certain terms at Mines Paris – PSL, I worked on complex projects such as the development of a drone, requiring precise technical choices such as hardware and propellers, as well as on a catamaran model as part of the MECATRO term. When I discussed these projects with classmates from non-scientific backgrounds, I frequently received reactions that questioned my interest and skills for these technical tasks, reflecting a misconception that women are more attracted to the social sciences than to complex, technical projects.

Mechatronics project, whose objectives are to help you understand the problems associated with the design and production of technical systems, integrating mechanics and electronics in a balanced way.

This challenge also manifested itself during an internship on a construction site, where I found myself in a predominantly male environment, sometimes feeling isolated and challenged because of my gender. To overcome these obstacles, I first strengthened my confidence in my skills by building on my successes and looking for additional learning opportunities. Secondly, I adopted clear, pedagogical communication to demonstrate the value and relevance of the technical aspects of our projects. Finally, the support of mentors and my ability to persevere in the face of difficulties enabled me to integrate effectively into predominantly male environments.”

Layla and her team celebrate the end of the MECAERO quarter with a final demonstration of their drone.

Do you perceive a cultural difference in the integration of women into scientific training?

“It’s clear that significant progress has been made in integrating women into scientific training. However, this evolution remains slow, and we still have a long way to go to achieve true equality. Personally, I’ve been lucky enough to study in an environment that values gender equality. However, I am aware that this is not the case everywhere. Gender stereotypes remain, often discouraging girls from taking up scientific and technological fields perceived as “masculine”.

These stereotypes often make girls doubt their ability to get into training programs where boys are in the majority, sometimes leading to self-censorship. It is crucial to continue deconstructing these stereotypes from an early age. Creating an environment where everyone has equal opportunities to succeed in scientific and technological fields is essential to enable everyone to flourish without artificial gender-related barriers.”

30% of female students are in the Civil Engineering Cycle

How do you perceive Mines Paris – PSL’s commitment to gender equality, and what improvements would you like to see in this area?

“I believe that Mines Paris – PSL demonstrates a strong commitment to gender equality. The school has set up various support systems, as well as actions to prevent gender-based violence. For example, it has set up a double hotline: one internal to Mines Paris – PSL and one external via PSL University, offering resources for students concerned.

The FéMINistes! association also plays a crucial role, organizing initiatives to raise student awareness of the issues surrounding gender-based violence.

While these measures are encouraging, it would be beneficial to intensify equality and diversity training for all students and staff, and to raise the profile of existing schemes. In addition, developing mentoring programs for women in science could facilitate their integration and progression in fields where they are still in the minority.”

What advice would you give to young women considering a career in engineering?

“I urge young women considering a career in engineering to pursue their passion with unwavering determination. Whatever obstacles they encounter, passion and commitment to their work are invaluable assets. Don’t let stereotypes or doubts discourage you; move confidently forward in pursuit of your ambitions, surrounding yourself with mentors and support to guide you along the way. And above all, don’t put obstacles in your way, believe in yourself and aim for the stars.”


Layla at the homecoming weekend at the beginning of third year

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