Insights from the NEST Framework: A chat with Larissa Shasko, PhD student and NEST Fellow
Larissa Shasko participated in the NEST-SMR Hackathon in August 2020.
Ensuring nuclear skills and education is an increasingly important challenge for NEA member countries, all of which need new generations of scientists and engineers for the continued safe and efficient use of nuclear technologies for a wide range of industrial, scientific and medical purposes. In this context, the NEA Nuclear Education, Skills and Technology (NEST) Framework was launched in 2019 with the collective effort of ten NEA member countries in order to build up skills vital for the future of the nuclear sector through multilateral co-operation.
The NEST Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) project addresses challenges and opportunities with regards to the development and deployment of SMRs. The project works to integrate existing SMR research projects conducted by the NEST Framework Participating Organisations into a broader and more impactful programme. It also aims to provide NEST Fellows with broad awareness on a wide range of real-world issues and challenges relating to the development and deployment of SMRs. Key topic areas that are covered under the project include SMR technology assessment and development; regulatory frameworks; societal issues; spent fuel management; and SMR economics.
The NEST SMR Project organised a week-long SMR Hackathon in August 2020, bringing together more than 30 NEST Fellows from the NEST SMR Project Participating Organisations. The NEA spoke with Larissa Shasko on her experiences as a NEST Fellow in the SMR Hackathon.
Tell us about your NEST Fellowship: What was your training experience like?
I participated in the NEST SMR Hackathon – a five-day, fast-paced, virtual event held from 17 to 21 August 2020. The mornings featured interactive training sessions to build our technical and non-technical knowledge as cross-disciplinary researchers. In the afternoons we worked in teams of three or four students, along with one mentor, to develop a theoretical deployment strategy for a small modular reactor technology. The mentors provided us with information and advice on the technical, societal, regulatory and policy elements for the deployment scenarios we were developing, and they nudged our creativity along in helpful ways. We were given the lead and our mentors were there to support and encourage our work.
What did you learn out of this experience?
Placed into diverse teams with students from a wide variety of locations and research areas, we learned to work collaboratively across different academic disciplines to come up with practical solutions to real world problems. We were also assigned fun challenges throughout the event, such as the SMR Hackathon website challenge, where each team was tasked with designing a website in one afternoon that featured both informative and interactive elements. Such challenges forced us to think quickly, be creative and work together in a collaborative spirit.
Did your experience influence your PhD research in any new and unexpected ways?
This programme helped build confidence in my skills as a researcher and elevated my awareness of how I could contribute to the SMR field. It made me both more enthusiastic and excited about continuing on a career path in the field of nuclear energy. My aspirations to help solve the climate change crisis as a global citizen were also supported through this fellowship.
What else did you appreciate about your NEST Fellowship?
Through the opportunities given by the NEST SMR Hackathon, my professional network continues to expand, allowing me to share my experiences in the programme and to stay in touch with teammates and other students I met through NEST. It was clear at the end of the hackathon that not only had I met new colleagues and mentors, but I had also made friends. So I look forward to our paths crossing in the future.
Anything else you wish to add?
I would highly recommend this programme to other early career professionals. It was fun, challenging, informative and exciting. The strength of the ideas that emerged out of the hackathon show that the NEST Framework can help early career professionals work more collaboratively at an international level.