Could you please introduce yourself?
My name is Cezara Petrui and I'm from Romania. I am a second-year student in the Bachelor program at Ecole Polytechnique, pursuing a double-major in Mathematics and Computer Science.
Why did you choose the Bachelor of Science of Ecole Polytechnique?
Once I discovered the intriguing world of Maths contests and olympiads during secondary school and high school, I put in a lot of effort to improve my problem-solving skills. As I delved into more advanced concepts, the initial fascination for competitive Math turned into a passion for this subject. Additionally, back in the 11th grade I participated in a Cryptography course, where I sensed the importance of mastering Computer Science in order to run experiments, implement algorithms and transpose mathematical ideas into actual practice.
For my undergraduate studies, I wanted to broaden my knowledge in these two fields, in an environment where I could interact with like-minded people. I was particularly attracted by the small-size of the Bachelor programme, since it provides the valuable opportunity of communicating closely with professors, researchers, and building a network. Additionally, the prestige of Ecole Polytechnique, the course selection and the academic life convinced me to move to France.
Could you tell us how the second year is going ?
The second year has surely been more stressful and demanding than the first year, in terms of the workload and the activities that I’ve been engaged in, mostly related to the Bachelor Mathematics Committee that I worked for together with some colleagues. We have plenty of exams at Ecole Polytechnique during the semester, and at some point it became a great challenge to manage schoolwork, applications to internships, and personal life.
But so far, things have turned out well and I’ve accumulated information and experiences that shaped me into becoming more resistant to stress and managing my time better.
Do you have a favorite course?
During this semester, the course that I’ve been enjoying the most is Euclidean and Hermitian Spaces, taught by Professor Javier Fresán. The algebra course has been well-structured, highlighting some interesting connections with topology when we expanded on the notion of Hilbert spaces. This preference for areas of pure or abstract Mathematics is rather natural for me, since the passion for Maths, nurtured during high school, has prompted me to actively cultivate my knowledge in this field. Eventually, exactly how it happens with any curiosity discovered in life, once you get a taste of it and you enjoy it, you aim to broaden your understanding even more.
However, especially during the second year, the courses that we had have been useful and applicable in future careers. For instance, we studied the design and complexity of algorithms, and also an introduction to machine learning. For the latter one, I enjoyed the fact that, besides understanding how to implement certain models for both supervised and unsupervised learning, we also studied the Mathematics that lays behind them: the link between PCA and the eigenvectors of the covariance matrix, or why OLS fails in some cases.
What would be a great memory of your second year in the Program that you would like to share with future students?
The greatest memory from this academic year is the “We Are One” show that I got involved in as part of my PDV Volunteering course. During last semester, some fellow Bachelor students and I worked with primary and middle school kids from Palaiseau. We had fun activities, such as dancing or drawing, with the purpose of introducing the children to the notions of gender equality, tolerance and solidarity.
I admit that these practices taking place in the French educational system surprised me, since they are different from how things are approached in Romania. I was impressed to see that, unlike in my home country and, perhaps, from other countries too, in France there are activities which aim to instill essential values and principles in kids from an early age. I enjoyed the show, where I danced with the kids and we even sang together on stage.
What are your ambitions for the future?
In September, I’ll start my exchange semester at EPFL. I am enthusiastic to move there thanks to the possibility of choosing some master-level cryptography and computer security courses that appeal to me. Data privacy and security interest me, my curiosity being awakened last summer when I conducted research at LIX on minimizing information leakage. After I finish the Bachelor programme, I hope to get into a good master or PhD track programme and to study cryptography or data privacy. I aim to later work in these fields and I wish to bring valuable input to the research being conducted.
Any piece of advice to future Bachelor students that you would like to share?
I’d encourage future students to come here prepared to say ‘yes’ to challenges. When I started the Bachelor programme, I was a bit shy to approach professors, ask for supplementary materials, or even express my ideas. My advice is to take advantage of all the opportunities, regardless of how ambitious or difficult to handle they might seem, because people here are very willing to help and to listen to your ideas. Another important thing would be to join a committee or more - it is a nice way of meeting people, improving collaboration skills and the ability of working in a team, while also experiencing a great time.