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October 2013 Communicator

The Future Paths of Young Professionals

By Michael Huggins

Future Paths of Young Professionals highlights a young member of the Institute participating in an internship, research or co-op. If you have an intern, undergraduate, or graduate research assistant that you wish to be featured here, please contact me.

ImageJohn Stooksbury, a senior in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK). John was recently elected president of the University of Tennessee’s INMM Student Chapter. He currently is interning at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) with the Safeguards and Security Technology Group.

How does the mission of the Institute fit with your career goals?

I have been exposed to NDA through my internship at ORNL. The design and application of detectors have always interested me, and these fields are obviously a huge part of the work presented at INMM conferences. The professionals involved in INMM provide great opportunities to network and find work for students like me. The Institute is a venue for me to be exposed to new technologies and to meet others who are already have careers in the field I want to work in.

Why did you choose your educational path?

I like physics, but I don’t like overly abstract work. I figured that engineering would be the best way to learn about physics but to also do work that produces actual devices and techniques for real-world problems. Nuclear engineering focuses on the areas of physics that I most enjoy, so it was an easy choice.

What did you learn in the first few weeks about your new INMM position?

In a small chapter especially, if the president is inactive, the entire chapter stagnates.

How do you see your current position helping you achieve your career goals?

Previously as a chapter member with no officer role, I received some opportunities just by attending talks given at our chapter meetings. As the head of the chapter, I see even more networking opportunities becoming available as I seek out interesting and relevant speakers. I see the experiences from organizing meetings, delegating work to peers, and working with other student organizations as valuable in building attributes that are not necessarily learned or heavily emphasized in traditional engineering and science classes.

What role do you see yourself in five years from now? Ten years?

Ideally in five years, I will be a year or two out from finishing a doctorate in nuclear engineering. In ten years, I want to be in a full-time R&D position at a national lab or private company. Regardless of where I end up, I hope to be doing work related to nuclear material management and to remain active at the Institute.

 What is your opinion on the current state of the nuclear science field?

I am very new to the nuclear science field. From my limited perspective, I tend to be pessimistic about the reactor industry. In the United States, whether it’s the politics, the economics, or the public’s opinion, the future of the nuclear energy industry seems uncertain to me. There are exciting and daunting challenges in the field, and I strongly feel that it is a field I can positively contribute to.

What was your favorite presentation at the 2013 INMM Annual Meeting and what was the most intriguing presentation?

My favorite presentation was “Remote Imaging of Critical Facilities with Cosmic Rays.” I believe it was presented by Jonkmans, as he is the first author on the paper, but it might have been another author. The research conducted was relevant to my current studies, and it was presented in an easily graspable manner. Since the motivations and implications of the research were clearly stated, I felt that most of the information stuck with me.

The most intriguing presentation was Stephen Croft’s talk on effective communication between those with policy backgrounds and those with engineering or scientific backgrounds. The main takeaway from this talk was a proposal to invent an index of sorts that relates attributes of states that are relevant to safeguards and nonproliferation in a quantitative manner.

Based on the conferences you have been at, what else can the INMM do to have a focus on early career development?

The environment at these conferences is excellent for meeting professionals in a relatively casual setting. It is easy to meet people from domestic and foreign labs and companies. The exhibits let us see the types of work that companies in the field are currently doing, and we meet representatives from those companies. Coming home with 20 business cards isn’t uncommon for students. However, though the companies that showcase themselves are always topnotch with much success, barren is the list of companies that attend the conferences and actually have any openings for those of us attempting to enter the field. The Institute should focus on finding and reaching out to companies that are hiring. I know that the search for companies that are hiring might be unfruitful despite much effort, but if I had one wish for the conference, it would be for companies like that to attend.