ARPA-E Energy Summit 2023: Take Vacations and Sleep!

March 22, 2023

ARPA-E Energy Summit 2023: Take Vacations and Sleep!

Dr. Rachel Slaybaugh Welcomes Students to the 2023 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit

Washington, D.C. — March 22, 2023 — Dr. Rachel Slaybaugh addressed students who were part of the Student Program of the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit, which Anthropocene Institute sponsored this year. It is a unique opportunity for student energy leaders to engage with companies looking for new talent, as well as learn about new energy innovations.

She, too, was previously part of the ARPA-E Student Program. “It had a big impact on my career,” she said. “I’m still friends and colleagues with people I met at The Summit. I also had a chance to see the cutting edge of a bunch of energy topics I didn’t know much about. That helped me grow my interest in the energy ecosystem beyond my area of focus.”

Slaybaugh noted how worthwhile it is for students to keep answering hard questions, such as “How can I make a difference?” “What’s the best way to use my time and my career?” and “What should I do and how do I do it well?” Her opinion: “There are no ‘right’ answers, and the answers you find may shift over time.”

Slaybaugh has worked both as an engineer and as an academic. As an Assistant Professor of Nuclear Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, she researched computational methods applied to nuclear reactors, nuclear non-proliferation and security, and shielding. She’s now a Partner at DCVC focused on climate, sustainability, and energy investments.

“Everything I’ve done has been guided by how I felt I could make the biggest difference,” she said. “When the nuclear energy community started having multiple startups, seemingly out of nowhere, I founded a nuclear innovation bootcamp to try to bring startup culture to more of the nuclear community.”

After that, she had the chance to be a Program Director at ARPA-E. “I concluded that if going to ARPA-E cost me my academic career, so be it. I loved it, and it changed my career…that experience had me discover how much I wanted to work closer to the front lines of commercialization. If you can’t ever deploy your technology, then it doesn’t change anything.”

As she continued to experiment with career choices, Slaybaugh co-founded the think tank the Good Energy Collective and served on the Biden-Harris transition team. “If you had told me 20 years ago, I would be working in finance in Silicon Valley, I would not have had any idea what that meant or why I would possibly want to do it, yet here I am.”

Her parting advice for students: “All of the types of work are important. Maybe sometimes one appears more important than others, but truly, it’s a coherent whole that all has to function together to move forward. You can be a professor. Or an ARPA-E performer. Or fellow. Or program director. You can work on climate policy. You can start a company or be an early employee. You can work at a traditional company. You can work on other types of policy to help bring peace and prosperity to more people, freeing us up to make better choices for the planet. I can’t tell you what the right path is for you, but I can encourage you to listen to yourself. Whatever you choose, do it with passion and integrity. Do it from a focus on contribution. Do it with curiosity. And if you can, bring some lightness to it. And, for heaven’s sake, take vacations and try to get enough sleep.”

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