Rocky Mountain Institute
University of Michigan, MSE Chemical Engineering, 2018
University of Michigan, MS Environment and Sustainability, 2018
My career path has been a bit different in that I’ve already moved around a bit since graduating. I spent 8 months at Apple on their Environmental Technologies team before joining the Emerging Solutions (ES) team at the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI). RMI is a non-profit think-and do tank with global presence. RMI has 12 programs that are vertically focused on either sector (electricity, industry, mobility, etc.) or regions (China, Africa, India, etc.). The role of ES is to sustain institute thought leadership and explore new cross-programmatic areas of work. It’s almost analogous to the R&D division at a tech company that is in charge of innovation and incubation of new ideas.
My university experiences set me up well for the positions I held after-being involved in a variety of projects that ranged from academic with no clear real-world application to very tangible on-the groundwork. This ‘experimental’ approach has helped me in two ways: 1. Learning more about myself and where my interests truly lie and 2. Gaining a broad set of skills and experiences, which I’ve found to be very complementary and beneficial to my work.
Doing the double master’s program also equipped with a breadth of subject matter expertise and opened up a broader range of opportunities. The academic/research-oriented projects honed valuable skills of critical thinking, structuring approaches, and designing solutions even in times of high ambiguity. Hypothesis development and testing are useful skills regardless of what type of work one ends up doing. Research also strengthened my fundamental technical and scientific knowledge, which definitely provided an edge in non-academic jobs. For example, working on photocatalysis and industrial ecology research has allowed me to make informed decisions on which technologies have the potential to work and which ones seem far-fetched just based on thermodynamics or material/energy efficiencies.
Additionally, conducting research in two different departments allowed me to draw connecting lines between different sectors and take a broad systems view of the problem at hand. My research experiences were well complemented with more professions projects-providing the opportunity to develop skills such as techno-economic analysis, multi-stakeholder engagement, rapid iteration on work products, how to factor real-world externalities, and effective communication methods. For example, working on solar desalination and transportation systems in Costa Rica gave me a deeper understanding of technologies and also made me appreciate the nuances of working in an emerging economy setting.
All these experiences have allowed me to be more effective in the work I do today-conducting rigorous research and understanding new-age technologies, being able to draw valuable insights from the messy data that is available, developing solutions taking a systems view of the problem, working with different types of stakeholders, and effectively communicating results that the audience can digest and comprehend.
How does you master’s degree differentiate you from others?
The largest differentiator has been the knowledge and experiences gained across two master’s programs versus one. Companies typically settle for either deep subject matter expertise or broad cross-functional thinking. Being able to do both — have a breadth and depth of knowledge can be a big differentiator and is key to honing systems thinking approach. It also allows me to choose that I want to do because I can fit into a variety of different roles.
time spent at U-M
The community (both U-M and alumni) is fantastic – share your concerns, ask questions, reach out to people [don’t stop till someone threatens you with a restraining order (mostly joking)]. Don’t be afraid to take risks and try new things — there are more people out there who are likely to support your efforts than try to foil them. Work hard and keep laughing.