Ekaterina (Katia) Paramonova ’13 acknowledges starting Course 22 with some distinct advantages: both her father and grandfather work in the nuclear industry, and her Russian parents insisted on fluency in the language, opening up opportunities in another country with a well-established nuclear sector. Now this 19-year-old undergraduate is intent on leveraging her assets in some surprising ways, establishing a unique career track that intriguingly combines nuclear engineering and diplomacy.
“The nuclear world is quite small. There are not many of us who have an education or experience in nuclear,” says Paramonova. “In order to be successful, we need to work together.” In pursuit of this end, Paramonova is trying to engage with people in the field, especially other students.“ There’s definitely a high demand for young minds in nuclear, with a huge age gap between older experts and the next generation.” When she learned of Russia’s AtomExpo, an international conference whose 2012 theme was “Nuclear Power Industry Worldwide: One year after Fukushima,” she determined to organize a group of MIT NSE students to attend. “My vision was to start some communication between Russian and American students and discuss ways we could be helping each other.”
Paramonova discovered a Russian nuclear engineering student on LinkedIn who helped recruit other Russian students as well as garner sponsorship from TVEL, a Russian nuclear fuel company, for entrance fees to AtomExpo. Paramonova also found additional financial backing from MIT NSE and the SkTech-MIT Initiative. After working out visas, flights and hotels, Paramonova took off for Moscow with a group of 10 NSE undergraduates, graduates and faculty for the three-day conference in June. There were few other U.S. participants, she notes. “We not only gave MIT a good face, but made the U.S. look good, too.”
AtomExpo opened a window for Paramonova not only on the academic and research challenges facing her Russian student peers, but issues facing the international nuclear community.
The nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima has greatly affected the nuclear industry in other countries, and Paramonova worries that in the face of negative public opinion, nuclear energy may not attract adequate numbers of science and engineering students. “We need more people who are passionate, and understand the need for clean energy,” she states. “My life goal is to make sure we’ve got a solid nuclear energy source as part of that mix.”