UPOP Mentor | Tina Ghosh PhD ’04:
"Mentoring is such great professional and personal experience"
You could say engineering is in her blood: Tina Ghosh’s father and sister are electrical engineers. But her love for it comes from the heart: since high school, she has focused her studies—and her career—on the overlap between science and the environment.
Still, the journey to her current position as a risk analyst at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) was anything but direct. Ghosh, who is a two-time UPOP mentor, holds a bachelor’s in engineering from Princeton University and a master’s (2000) and doctorate (2004) from MIT.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do for basically forever,” she says. “I did lots of internships, even during graduate school. I tried everything. I worked for a utility company, did energy consulting, worked at different nonprofits (including Green Peace) and a national lab. My very last internship was at the NRC. And I absolutely loved the interesting, challenging technical work, and the fact that I was also helping people. It’s a perfect mixture of things that I like, and I decided this was the place I wanted to work.”
According to its Web site, the NRC aims to regulate the nation’s civilian use of nuclear materials, and to protect the environment while ensuring “adequate protection of public health and safety.”
The NRC addresses three main areas: reactors, materials, and waste.
The nation’s high-level radioactive waste is currently stored at disparate reactor sites, and they are running out of space. Ghosh’s division is charged with oversight of the Yucca Mountain project. Located in Nevada, Yucca Mountain has been identified as a disposal site for all of the country’s spent nuclear fuel.
The NRC functions as the safety regulator, charged with evaluating the Department of Energy’s plans, determining whether they have technical merit, and establishing conditions for safety.
Day-to-day, this means a lot of research, computer models, risk assessment, and applied math. Ghosh and her team analyze data from subject-matter experts, laboratory research, field work, and literature reviews, and identify the most important risks to community health.
Ghosh develops extremely long-term risk assessment models, since the consequences from disposed nuclear waste may be felt hundreds of thousands of years in the future.
“Part of my specialty is to assess these uncertainties and unravel which are most important,” she says. “People are still determining how nuclear waste can be disposed of safely. There’s a lot of public opposition, and the NRC does a lot of work with the community. I’m on the technical side, and respond to the technical questions that arise in public forums.”
Mentoring UPOP students provides a welcome change of pace. During the January IAP workshop, she provided guidance to a small group, and participated in the delivery of the week-long course.
“I absolutely loved working with students. Sophomores are so energetic and enthusiastic, and it’s wonderful to see people who care so much about improving themselves.”
In addition to the rewards of supporting the students, Ghosh recognizes the personal benefits of serving as a UPOP mentor.
“I like facilitating the teachings of the modules,” she says. “It has helped my own professional development, and reminds me of useful concepts I learned before: group work, lean process design, communication. The UPOP week is a great reminder.
“I would highly recommend it—it’s such a great professional and personal experience.”