Features - January 2015

The Next Generation: Mentoring and Internship at NETL

Every year brings another crop of graduates who are eager to make their marks on the world outside academics. Internship opportunities give these emerging talents the chance to develop the skills and practical experience that will help guide their career paths. Hands-on experience in laboratory environments offers a real world understanding of how research and technology development is conducted, as well as an opportunity to experience mentorship under established scientists and engineers.

That mentorship can be a powerful force that inspires the next generation of bright, young minds to harness their talents for productive work in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. A capable mentor can help shape the trajectory of a career. That’s why the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is deeply invested in offering both the opportunities and the mentorship that can change a young scientist’s life.

Kelly Rose has mentored over thirty early career scientists.

Kelly Rose, the Geology Team lead for NETL’s Office of Research and Development, has mentored more than thirty early career scientists, from part-time interns to fulltime fellows. She has found her role to be deeply fulfilling.  "I’ve always enjoyed working with others and forming strong collaborative partnerships," she said. "At NETL, I’ve had the opportunity to mentor a number of earnest, inspiring, and thought-provoking scientists."

Kelly also recognizes the important role that early career scientists play in keeping research programs on the forefront of scientific thought. "[Internships] really provides two-way education. These early career scientists are often coming from academic tracks and have been steeped in the data, trends, capabilities, and thinking that are new in the field. They give the research programs at NETL the opportunity to be exposed to these new ideas."

For young scientists, graduating and leaving academia to take the first steps into research careers or industry can be an exhilarating but turbulent time. NETL works with several organizations to ensure that the promising STEM talents of the next generation are given a place to grow and thrive through a number of popular and successful programs.

  • The Mickey Leland Fellowship is a summer internship offered by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy. The program provides minority and female students pursuing degrees in Science, Technology (including information technology), Engineering, or Mathematics the opportunity to spend a summer working under the mentorship of researchers at one of NETL’s three locations in Albany, OR, Morgantown, WV, or Pittsburgh, PA.
  • The NRC Research Associateship Program (RAP) caters to early career scientists performing graduate level or post-doctoral work. Research projects are listed on the RAP website, and prospective interns can contact their potential adviser to ensure that funding will be available if the application is accepted by the NRC panel. RAP facilitates the placement once a mutually beneficial opportunity is established.
  • The DOE’s Office of Science places interns at NETL through the Computational Science Graduate Fellowship (CSGF) program. CSGF provides opportunities to students pursuing doctoral degrees in fields that use high-performance computing to solve complex science and engineering problems. The program places these young researchers at a DOE national lab for twelve weeks, giving the interns a unique experience that offers insight into how their scientific interests can translate to research areas important to the nation.
  • The Office of Science Graduate Student Research (SCGSR) is a DOE-sponsored program designed to prepare graduate students for STEM careers. The program provides supplemental awards to outstanding U.S. graduate students to pursue part of their graduate thesis research at a DOE laboratory in areas that address scientific challenges central to the Office of Science mission, while benefitting the national labs with an infusion of young talent.
  • NETL also works closely with the Oak Ridge Institute for Education and Science (ORISE). The ORISE program at NETL provides opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, graduate and postdoctoral researchers, and faculty researchers to participate in energy research through projects in the Office of Research & Development that support Office of Fossil Energy programs.
Alexandra Hakala considers her ORISE experience to have been formative.

The ORISE program has been particularly effective at NETL, and many of the lead scientists in NETL’s top research projects recall having joined the lab as a young intern. For example, Alexandra Hakala, now the Team Lead for the Analytical Biogeochemistry team in the Engineered Natural Systems Division, and Evan Granite, now a Technical Coordinator for NETL’s in-house research efforts on detection, characterization, and recovery of rare earth elements from coal-derived streams, both got their start through the ORISE program.

Evan Granite believes watching his ORISE interns flourish is one of the most rewarding aspects of his job.

Alexandra remembers the program fondly as a formative experience. "[ORISE] helped me to understand areas within fossil energy research that needed environmental and risk assessment considerations in order to ensure safe and reliable development of U.S. energy resources," she said. Though she has now blossomed into exploring other branches of geology and geochemistry, she believes ORISE helped mold her career aspirations.

Evan, too, had a powerful experience as an intern and he credits much of it to the mentor who sponsored him during his ORISE experience.  

"My mentor was Henry Pennline at the Pittsburgh Energy Technology Center (PETC), which later became part of the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL)," he recalled "Hank is one-in-a-million – a terrific researcher and role model.  The experience helped me settle on a career in research." Like Kelly Rose, Evan has found that the opportunity to give back as a mentor is a deeply rewarding experience.  

"I have mentored many ORISE interns over the past thirteen years, and consider it the most enjoyable part of my job," he said. "I try to impart the excitement of research, that it is okay to have experiments fail-most do, especially the first ones on a new topic- and that we should not get discouraged, but rather learn from our mistakes. I am very proud of my ORISE students, and many have gone on to great success."

NETL is committed to ensuring a robust energy future for America. A workforce guided by experience and flush with the talent, dedication, and energy that early career scientists offer is one of the ways that the laboratory works towards accomplishing that vision.