I’ll start with a thank you and a congratulations to the Nuclear Infrastructure Council, David Blee, Caleb Ward and all supporting staff for assembling a great cast of attendees and speakers at the fifth annual Advanced Reactor Technical Summit. The event was a high quality, well run and skillfully moderated affair that provided valuable learning experiences and excellent networking opportunities.
David’s personalized introductions and pot stirring questions helped turn what are often dry parts of any conference into worthwhile and/or humorous interludes. Even though the event’s five year track record indicates that the weather will likely be challenging again next year, I have already made a note on my calendar to look for the invitation and plan to attend.
I’m going to break up my coverage of the event into a couple of posts instead of producing one that is too long to read in one sitting. Analytical tools tell me that people rarely return to a post for a second try. I apologize for the lack of photos, but my phone’s Li-ion battery abruptly hit its end of life soon after I arrived in College Station.
Millennial Nuclear Caucus
The two-day summit was preceded by a Millennial Nuclear Caucus moderated by Suzanne Jaworowski, Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor at the U.S. Department of Energy.
Her panel included four professionals representing a broad spectrum of millennials working in nuclear. One was a man with a PhD and a middle management government job. One was woman with an MS in Nuclear Engineering and an MBA with experience at DOE and the IAEA now serving as the Director of Strategy and External Affairs at a leading small modular reactor company. Another was a woman who had earned her BS about three years ago and had immediately accepted a job as a system engineer at the Comanche Peak Nuclear Generating Station. The final member of the panel had also completed his undergraduate program a few years ago and was now working in sales at a leading radiation instrument device company.
The panel members provided a brief overview of their experiences, describing their educational paths and motivation to join the nuclear industry. They shared a bit about what it was like to work in their segment of the industry. Later, in response to questions from Ms. Jaworowki, they described their view of the current state of the industry, their excitement about technological improvements, their recognition that superior technology without better communications isn’t going to lead to success, and their cautious optimism that we will figure out a better way to move forward.
Daniel Vega, the Doctor from DOE, advised the students and young people in the audience to make sure they developed enjoyable hobbies that could help alleviate some of the frustrations that they might encounter in the working world. He told us that his personal distraction hobby was “making crappy furniture.”
All of the speakers agreed on the need for aspiring professionals to work on developing more than one skill and a variety of interests in the field so that they would be at a lower risk of finding themselves left out if there was a significant shift in the market, the political winds or the fortunes of their particular employer.
They also expressed satisfaction with their decision to enter into the nuclear industry, even though some of the questions from the audience indicated that others in the field were not so sure. One somewhat jaded questioner stated that he had been attending similar events for a decade or more and asked when the promised Renaissance was going to begin kicking in. No one had any firm answers to that one.
Career Fair and Welcome Reception
After the Millennia Nuclear Caucus, most attendees headed over to a career fair held in the Legacy Club at the recently renovated Kyle Field, home of the 12th man and the Aggie football program.
During the fair, I eavesdropped on several intense conversations and watched a number of resumes being handed over upon request.
it seems to me that the career fair associated with this particular conference is a great place for interaction for motivated job seekers. It avoids the potential for a shotgunned resume to fall to the bottom of a deep pile. Unlike many large career fairs, this one wasn’t staffed by HR specialists.
Instead the tables were manned by company presidents, chief technical officers, vice presidents and even founding CEOs. If I was looking for a job at the cutting edge of nuclear technology development, I’d have appreciated the target-rich environment. As it was, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the discussions. Some of the student attendees asked deeply probing questions that showed deep understanding of the importance of finding the right fit between employer and employee.
Following the job fair, we were treated to some excellent Texas treats including a variety of wings, tacos and BBQ.
While munching on my wings, I had a somewhat distressing conversation with an old friend who told me that he sees little reason to hope for any near term improvement in nuclear. He’s a business development guy in the front end side of the business, so he has a broad perspective on a particularly stressed segment that has seen the loss of numerous paying customers, severe pricing pressures and little in the way of new customers who are ready to buy anytime soon.
I heard that some of my former colleagues from BWXT were planning to attend the career fair and reception, but they’d been delayed by the notoriously fickle transportation capabilities of Lynchburg, VA. My report of what I learned about BWXT’s current involvement in small and advanced reactors will have to wait for the next installment.