Jacqueline Han came to MIT expecting to study engineering, but she soon realized that majoring in political science and minoring in energy studies would best further her interest in going into energy policy. She now works for Bain & Company in Dallas, Texas, where she uses her expertise in energy markets to inform her work in private equity.
What role does your background in energy studies play in your current job?
I’m an assistant consultant at Bain & Company in the private equity group. We cover a whole range of topics—everything from market sizing and competitive positioning to operating models and supply chain optimization. I am heavily focused on the oil and gas practice, so some of my energy background comes into play there. In addition, the analytical and critical thinking I gained from my studies at MIT has been very helpful.
How do political science and energy studies go together? Do you use skills from both courses of study in your current job?
In political science I learned a lot about good research practices and how to frame questions—skills I use on a daily basis. Going into college, I was really interested in the energy field in general, especially in renewables, and I wanted to get some perspective on oil and gas as well. The breadth of the Energy Studies Minor really helped solidify that interest, and it’s still directing me to new places where I can continue to focus on energy. My background helps support the technical side of things, too, so I can really understand the mechanics of the industry.
How does your work in consulting prepare you for a potential move into the energy industry?
Someday I’d like to move into the renewables space, now that I have some perspective on oil and gas, but I haven’t decided where specifically. I think my work in consulting would be particularly useful there because there’s been a lot of growth in renewables recently, and with that comes a lot of new and big questions. The way I’ve learned to think in consulting will help me navigate those questions, distill the relevant information, and translate it into tangible impacts.
As an undergraduate researcher at MIT, Christian Welch became involved in designing, fabricating, and programming navigation systems and other components for autonomous underwater vehicles—an interest he also pursued in summer internships at Chevron (a Sustaining Member of the MIT Energy Initiative). Welch is now working on his PhD at the MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program, where he studies applied ocean sciences and engineering.
What’s the focus of your current research?
After a certain amount of time, offshore structures used in the oil and gas industry have to be taken down because of loss of production or damage or decay. The current practice for removing them uses both remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and divers. The ROVs are expensive and aren’t ideal for seeing underwater, though, and it’s a very risky, even life-threatening, job for divers. That’s why I’m working on replacing divers and ROVs with completely autonomous technology. We have to teach the robots how to maneuver around the environment as well as the ROVs do and to touch and manipulate their environment as well as the divers do. If we can achieve that, we can take the ROVs and divers out of the equation.
Are there other areas of autonomous technology that are of interest to you?
I think that the world is moving toward simplifying processes or making them a little more predictable using autonomy. I’m not 100% sure if I want to stay in the applied ocean sciences field, but at the very least working in this field has taught me how to do robotics in some of the most unforgiving environments. Another growing field is autonomous cars. There’s huge potential for reducing fuel emissions by mitigating traffic and for saving lives by reducing the likelihood of accidents.
What’s the most important role played by MIT’s Energy Studies Minor?
The energy minor really gives students the tools to use their technical background to address climate issues. It also does a great job of showing students how [the climate challenge] is more than just a technical problem—it’s a social and an economics problem, and everyone can do something about it. The curriculum does an amazing job of bridging the gap between academia and what’s going on in the world.
As a new MIT undergraduate, Jenny Hu was involved in research to develop a novel way to generate electricity using fuel-coated carbon nanotubes. But she also developed a keen interest in economics. To combine her interests, she declared a major in management science with a concentration in operations research and a minor in energy studies. Since graduating, she has worked in home automation R&D and solar financing, and most recently joined the solution design team at Advanced Microgrid Solutions in San Francisco.
Some of your early work in clean energy was as an intern at Clean Power Finance. What did you learn there?
Clean Power Finance was using innovative financing structures to drive the mass-market adoption of solar. I realized that third-party financing, securitization, and other kinds of financial engineering were key to driving the adoption of many technologies, so I became interested in how to use finance to advance clean energy.
Can you tell us about the interplay between your energy knowledge and business background in your career?
It’s my opinion that energy—more than many other technology-oriented fields—consists of an even mix of law, finance, and technology. As such, you can’t really do one in isolation from the other. In just the few years that I’ve been in cleantech, I’ve had the chance to see the entire industry move and opportunities emerge from changes in the interplay of law, finance, and technology. So a lot of the cutting-edge work done in cleantech today is at the intersections of those fields.
What should students know about pursuing a career in clean energy?
Everybody is here because they want to help move the market toward clean energy. I find that to be incredibly inspiring, so I make a point to keep in touch with the folks I’ve met in energy through the years. Energy is an old industry, but it’s now undergoing the most change it has seen in almost a century. So we need the best and the brightest to add as much new knowledge as possible to this industry. And for that, I turn to the community at the MIT Energy Initiative and the energy minor.
When Jacob “Jake” Jurewicz came to MIT, he planned to study nuclear fusion. But he soon broadened his focus to include not only developing and improving nuclear technology—fission as well as fusion—but also examining the social and political issues that can present barriers to the expanded use of nuclear energy. Since graduating from MIT, Jurewicz has been working as a senior analyst at Exelon in Chicago, where he enjoys keeping one foot in industry and finance, and the other in research and academia, thereby staying abreast of cutting-edge technologies with the potential to have a dramatic effect on the energy industry.
How do you use what you learned at MIT in your job?
I work in corporate strategy, looking at US utilities, major trends in the US energy space, and particularly emerging and nontraditional participants. Our team is responsible for synthesizing Exelon’s vision for the energy system of the future. Most of what I do is related to looking at how various technologies are affecting and disrupting industry. I frequently leverage a great deal of my engineering knowledge of various energy technologies that I researched during my time at MIT. One day I am assessing a novel nuclear fusion concept and the next I am evaluating how a lower-cost battery may impact electricity markets.
What did the Energy Studies Minor teach you?
The breadth of topics that the energy minor addressed—in classes like Sustainable Energy, Energy Economics, and Energy Decisions, Markets, and Policies—complemented the technical learning in my engineering courses. The minor taught me a lot of the basics—about economics, market design, policy, and regulation—and it gave me perspective on how to create the greatest change in the system. The minor taught me to take a step back and look at the industry as it is now, applying those basics in order to be more effective, rather than just taking the most radical approach.
What would you tell students about pursuing a career in your field?
Don’t be afraid to take a nontraditional path, and don’t listen to anyone who immediately tries to write off a particular idea. Take in everything you learn and use everything you know from the classes you’ve taken and the experts you’ve talked to—and then go do what you feel is right.
NOTE: In early 2016, Jurewicz helped set up a research agreement that made Exelon one of the first members of the MIT Energy Initiative’s new Low-Carbon Energy Centers.
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