The second day of the 2021 ANS Virtual Student Conference, on April 9, hosted by North Carolina State University opened with the plenary, “Student Opportunities within the Nuclear Community.” The session featured three panelists, each representing a different sector of the nuclear community.
Leslie Dewan, founder of Criticality Capital; Jonathan Coburn, a senior researcher at Sandia National Laboratories; and John Wagner, director of Idaho National Laboratory, provided insight to potential career paths and job opportunities for students.
ANS executive director/CEO Craig Piercy delivered some introductory remarks for the attendees. The entire session can be viewed on demand for registered users.
Looking back to move forward: Dewan offered the perspective of venture capitalists and their role in financing advanced technologies for nuclear’s future. But before that, she provided a quick rundown of nuclear energy’s origins to illustrate how that can be used to inform today’s decisions. She pointed to early successes in communicating the benefits of nuclear technology with the general public, giving as examples the “Atoms for Peace” trucks used by the Atomic Energy Commission to spread public awareness following President Eisenhower’s famous speech in 1953, and Disney’s 1957 short film, Our Friend the Atom, which was also turned into a children’s book.
“One of the best ways to build a better nuclear future is by looking backward and learning from the past and by examining nuclear’s rich history,” Dewan said. “It’s something that has always been inspiring to me, and we can gain a lot of insight by digging into it a little more.”
Finding your way: Coburn followed with a two-part presentation designed to give a scientists’ perspective on career opportunities. He started by explaining his career path, from earning his bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering to his current role as a materials scientist at Sandia. He closed with advice to students looking to discover their own career path.
He recommended attending nuclear engineering conferences, utilizing university resources such as job postings and interview prep, seeking out career fairs and internships, and joining professional societies such as ANS.
Gateway to the future: The final speaker, INL’s Wagner, discussed job opportunities within the national laboratory community and the pathways that lead to them. Wagner sees a bright future ahead for nuclear technology and the labs’ roles in achieving that with advanced reactors. That future includes an increasing number of jobs being created. Wagner said INL is nearing 5,300 staff members, which is an increase of 1,000 over the past five years. He expects the staff to increase by another 1,000 members in the next five years.
“At no point in my career have I ever been more excited by the opportunities to demonstrate advanced reactors,” he said. “There have been decades where we were shutting reactors down, where we were cleaning up nuclear facilities and were really stuck in what I call ‘paper reactor’ time, talking about reactors but not building anything. One of the things I’m passionate about now is that we’re on the cusp of demonstrating new reactors.”