Research in the service of society

The Ethics Committee and Scientific Integrity: Research that respects society

The Ethics Committee, which is shared with IRSTEA, completed its term of office in 2019, and a new ethics committee will be set up with Université Gustave Eiffel as IRSTEA and INRA have merged to form INRAE which will come under the ethics committee of the former INRA.

The work of the ethics committee focused mainly on scientific integrity. How is it possible to conduct honest research, firstly as an individual researcher, but also as a laboratory or an institute? During this epoch of “fake news” and societal mistrust of science, it is essential to produce science that is honest. By drawing on the abundant existing bibliography, by sharing its experience with other institutes (CNRS and INRA in particular) and by inviting the president of OFIS (the French Office for Scientific Integrity), the ethics committee was able to identify the various ways scientific integrity can be compromised. These can be straightforward - for example, simply omitting a citation, but sometimes they can be take staggering forms, such as massaging data or plagiarism. One rule is obvious: there is no such thing as a minor breach of scientific integrity.

Based on the recommendations of the Ethics Committee, IFSTTAR has appointed a Scientific Integrity Officer who does not depend on any hierarchy. This officer also performs the same role at UPEM and will continue in this role at Université Gustave Eiffel. He or she can be consulted by both staff and management of the Institute in order to give a completely independent ruling on any breach of scientific integrity. This officer belongs to the network of Scientific Integrity Officers managed by the OFIS, which is a factor which encourages the sharing of experience.

Still following the recommendations of the Ethics Committee, the Institute and the future Université Gustave Eiffel would like to implement a policy of scientific integrity based on the triple "prevention, information, rescue" principle. “Prevention” aims to avoid the need for rescue, via briefings to new arrivals and the inclusion of the prevention task among the duties of department and laboratory directors and the provision of a dedicated intranet page.

Brochure: IFSTTAR’s scientific strategy [.pdf]

The PhD: a gateway to employment

Between 1 January 2011 and 31 December 2019, 699 theses by IFSTTAR doctoral students were defended. In 2019, the number was 57, with a mean duration of research of 39 months (3.26 years), a standard deviation of 5 months and a median of 38 months (3.15 years). Only 3 theses required more than 3.5 years of research. These good indicator values are the result of a quality approach shared by all those involved in the supervision and monitoring of doctoral students and then that of PhDs. The excellence of this approach was mentioned by IFSTTAR's HCERES evaluation committee (2018-2019 evaluation campaign - wave E) which drew attention to the "Specific, high-quality reception and support for doctoral students" as one of the Institute's strong points.

Our PhDs' progress is monitored for a period of 5 years after they received their degree. The response rate to the survey of the 448 "IFSTTAR Doctors" who graduated between 2014 and 2019 was 97%. As at December 31st, 2019, the employment rate (permanent jobs + fixed-term jobs) varied between 90% after 1 year (2018 PhDs) and 100% after 5 years (2014 PhDs).

On 31 December of the year the PhDs defended their thesis, between 70 and 81% of them had already found a job. To help them through the process, IFSTTAR has developed rules for extending or bridging the gap between a thesis contract - of whatever kind - and their first job:

  •  Extension of a research contract or hiring on the basis of one: as an exception to the employment charter for fixed-term contracts - no short contracts lasting less than 12 months - when the date of the thesis defence is known before the thesis contract comes to an end, doctoral students receive an extension for between 3 and 6 months, depending on the availability of funds for the research contract and expenses.
  • A bridging arrangement that covers the end of the thesis contract and a first job: when the date of the thesis defence is known before the thesis contract comes to an end, if the starting date of a job, in France or abroad, is known, subject to financial availability and the availability of a full-time equivalent grant, the doctoral students in question receive an extension (or are hired) for a period of 3 months..

These provisions make it possible to overcome a number of problems, in particular in the case of doctoral students from outside the EU (due to residence permits), and in the case of doctoral students from the EU who as a result do not have to deal with the Employment Agency, meaning that at the end of their doctoral studies they can devote themselves to writing up their thesis without worrying about their income.

These bridging arrangements are in addition to the legal extensions of the doctoral contract in the event of maternity leave.

As an example, during the period 2018-2019, 9 PhDs were granted an extension or hired on a research contract, and 14 PhDs were awarded a bridging arrangement with a grant. Of these, 20 took up a job directly following their extension or bridging arrangement.

IFSTTAR has therefore set up effective monitoring of doctoral studies. Doctoral students receive support at all levels. This limits the duration of doctoral studies – keeping it below the first MESRI threshold of 40 months - the theses are finished under good conditions and the young IFSTTAR PhDs find work.

At Université Gustave Eiffel, doctoral students working in structures that formerly belonged to IFSTTAR will continue to be monitored in accordance with this quality approach that will continue to operate in this part of the university. It is now planned to extend it to cover the rest of the new university. This will only be possible if everyone involved is aware of how important it is to monitor doctoral students during and after their studies, starting by being vigilant with regard to the actual funding of doctoral students during their studies.

Public policy support: expanding policy-related dialogue

2019 saw an increase in IFSTTAR's commitment to targeted actions and transfer seminars that involve the public authorities. With the creation of Université Gustave Eiffel on 1 January 2020, public policy support has been given a high profile symbolic role as a result of the creation of the Office of the Vice-President for Public Policy Support whose official status has been confirmed in the university's statutes.

The aim is to broaden the exchange of knowledge concerning public action, in a broad sense, with administrations, local and regional authorities, state operators and agencies and international organisations. The process will also set out to place relevant research-based knowledge at the service of these organisations and the community. This knowledge will take the form, in particular, of studies and expert appraisals, technical recommendations, and support for standardisation and certification.

Transfer actions have increased in 2019. There are now 11 "transfer seminars". Some transfer actions are presented here for the three scientific themes identified in the Goals and Performance Contract (COP).

Theme 1 concerns mobility, innovative technologies, including automated mobility, and transport safety and security.

  • Initiatives have been launched with DRIEA, DIR Nord and DiRIF for measuring, modelling, simulating and limiting congestion. The most striking features of this are the development and adjustment of control algorithms for the Île-de-France region and, for the Lille region, the training provided to the three project managers involved.
  • An important 420 page collective book, published in 2019 under the direction of IFSTTAR, presents an assessment of French road safety research and proposes avenues for public policy. It was lauded by the DSR (Road Safety Delegation).

Focusing on infrastructure, Theme 2 addresses changes related to the energy transition, climate change and the impact of digital technology.

  • Regarding the circular economy, an agreement to create a chair with the Métropole du Grand Paris was signed in June 2019.
  • The DRI expressed the wish for IFSTTAR to increase the transfer of its knowledge in the area of infrastructures to ADTech. This transfer was carried out at two events. First, during the meeting of the association's board in Nantes on 13 July, where the most recent results concerning alternative materials and the inspection of road infrastructures were presented then rounded off by a visit to the Institute's major facilities, and second on 16 September in Bron, where the results of the work were presented to all the members during the visit to TRANSPOLIS.

Theme 3 sets out to forestall natural and climatic risks, to reduce sources of pollution and nuisance in order to increase the environmental quality of transport and cities, and to contribute to planning and the policies adopted to protect the population.

  • As far as urban environmental quality is concerned, two transfer seminars were organised around the Sense-City climatic chamber: on 20 November, with Météo-France, to consider urban climate scenarios based on the expertise of each organisation in terms of experimentation and simulation; on 26 November, with the partners of the ANR EquipEx Sense-City project, presenting some of the studies carried out (heatwave control, depolluting roads, water purification and thermal diagnosis).
  • With regard to natural risks, the transfer seminar held on 11 September in Marne-la-Vallée, on the occasion of the end of the ANR SSHEAR project on the risk of scouring of structures, presented major advances concerning the in-situ monitoring of the scouring mechanisms affecting engineering structures during exceptional floods.

ADTECH: Association of the Engineering Directors of Metropolitan Areas, Départements and Regions

Full version of the Goals and Performance Contract 2017 - 2021 [.pdf]
Opening of the Sense City 2nd mini city

Science that is open to society

The research community is being challenged by society and needs to rethink access to scientific results, make scientific procedures more transparent and participate in the emergence of new forms of dissemination and knowledge generation. In order to anticipate and support these changes, IFSTTAR has set up an open science ownership initiative.

How can I open up and share my research and why should I? For researchers who are asking themselves this question or who would like to know more, IFSTTAR has produced a 35-page vade-mecum. The aim of this distillation of advice and best practice is to raise their awareness, inform them and support them in their efforts to make their research accessible to different audiences. 12 practical sheets are provided which cover three areas: opening up your research, dialoguing with society and co-building knowledge.

Research data

2019 saw the launch of a training programme that dealt with the management and opening-up of research data. The courses in question are part of initiatives to support IFSTTAR’s research data policy. They are a response to a need among researchers and doctoral students for information on the development of data management plans, good openness practices and regulatory requirements.

The course, entitled "Planning the management of your research data, including your personal data", was co-facilitated by the Institute's Research Data Management Officer and the Data Protection Officer. It was a great success. The participants particularly appreciated the thorough coverage of the subject and the way the two facilitators complemented each other. This course is to be made available again at several sites in 2020.

Two other training courses were also organised for doctoral students at the Université Paris-Est Comue . The result of collaboration with UPEM, they were designed and run in conjunction with the university's open science officer and IFSTTAR's Promotion and Sharing of Knowledge Department (PEPS).

Science for a young audience

With its new “Petit Campus”collection, the Promotion and Sharing of Knowledge Department offers educational resources to make the work of IFSTTAR accessible to secondary school students. The contents, taken from our Science Topics, are presented in a simplified form and accompanied by videos, games and resources for teachers. Produced in collaboration with the Moulin à étincelles and validated by researchers, these educational resources are designed to encourage children to ask questions on issues relating to society, technology and innovation. Currently, ten issues of Petit campus are available in the Science and Society web space, as well as on scientific and technical portals such as EchoSciences and Pop'Sciences.


To show some of the subjects in the Petit campus collection, 2D animations, made by the audio-visual production company Visée.A, feature a small robot, called ELEA. Thus, the ELEA collection takes the young public on the 5th Generation Road, in an autonomous vehicle, on the train of the future and behind the scenes of urban logistics.

Twenty-two schoolchildren of about twelve years of age from the Lyon region, were able to take part in workshops and educational visits related to the issue of sustainability of short food supply chains. Organised by IFSTTAR's scientific facilitators, these meetings enabled the students to work with the social geography researcher Gwenaëlle Raton. At the end of this experience, the children and the poet Emanuel Campo created a collection of poems. The same topic was the subject of a web documentary entitled "Are short supply chains a more sustainable mode of transport?" which includes personal accounts from players in the Lyon region and research findings.

Some forty teenagers from the Gérard Philippe youth activity centre and social centre in Bron were sensitised to gender differences in road risk-taking during meetings with the social psychology researcher Marie-Axelle Granié. In particular, the children devised slogans in order to deconstruct gender stereotypes. With a positive and active pedagogical approach, these participatory workshops were designed by the association Imagineo, in collaboration with the Promotion and Sharing of Knowledge Department and IFSTTAR researchers, to take the opinions of children into account in the processes of research and innovation.

Granié, Marie-Axelle & Rizzi, Véronique & Revol, Jordan & Assailly, Jean-Pascal. (2019). "Sensibilisation à la différence de sexe dans la prise de risque routière: expérience d'un atelier participatif avec des enfants de 9-13 ans."

Sharing science to serve cities

The 5 Knowledge Encounters held in Bron (Département N° 69) encouraged interactions between residents and specialists around the "learning area" concept. The debates were organised in two stages: to begin with "actions in the city" based on a presentation of transformational accomplishments, and then a "laboratory of ideas", where science encourages debate and forward-looking thinking. Among the themes addressed in 2019 by the Bron National Scientific Encounters were: "Innovative grassroots education", "Education and culture: what levers for the city?” "How will the social and solidarity economy participate in the urban project of tomorrow?”.

These concerted approaches are arousing public interest. They are intended to be developed within the Université Gustave Eiffel which plans to be at the forefront in the transmission of research on the city, in connection with existing initiatives in various parts of the country.

The I-Site FUTURE Steering Committee made up of the 6 directors of the participating institutions validated the Knowledge Factory project. This initiative is the result of a partnership between IFSTTAR's Scientific Directorate, the Municipality of Champs-sur-Marne and the Paris-Vallée-de-la-Marne Conurbation Committee. It will have taken 6 months of work during the sessions of the I-Site FUTURE Events and Culture group.


The Knowledge Factory intends to combine and coordinate our cultural and scientific initiatives with those of the local authorities in the vicinity of the Marne-la-Vallée campus. It combines input from research and teaching with input from cultural and social centres, schools and associations. Indeed, the "challenges of the city of tomorrow" can only be met by contributions from everyone, in particular the residents of the areas in question, while at the same time making it easier for them to access the "common fields" of awareness and knowledge about urban issues.

This requires a new approach to communication, in order to meet the needs for information and participation voiced by citizens. The Knowledge Factory will take action to promote equal opportunities (for both studies and employment prospects) based on "resource centres" located in the city's neighbourhoods.

On 27 November 2019, the Future Days thus included a conference for the general public entitled "The New City: Urban Legacies and Expectations". The history and future of Champs-sur-Marne were examined and debated with a teacher from the Descartes campus, who is an expert on the subject, and a decision-maker from ÉpaMarne who contextualised the urban development projects that have been carried out. This format of event, open to all, will be repeated in 2020 and developed in the Knowledge Factory, with the support of the local authorities involved.


ELEA robot