Patricia Paviet joined Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in October 2018 as the Radiological Materials technical group manager. She is a subject matter expert on used nuclear fuel reprocessing and is leading research in molten salt chemistry. Patricia previously was the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Nuclear Energy’s director of the Office of Materials and Chemical Technologies. She is currently serving on the American Nuclear Society Board of Directors, organizes a Gen IV International Forum monthly webinar on advanced reactor systems, and holds three patents. She earned a Ph.D. in Radiochemistry from the University Paris XI, France.
What inspired you to work in STEM?
I visited a nuclear research center in France with my physics class when I was 16 and saw a movie on alpha, beta, gamma particles at the CEA Saclay Nuclear Research Centre and realized what radioactivity was. I knew nothing about nuclear energy before, but I was good at science and math, and I fell in love. Seeing how good nuclear energy is as an energy supply was my inspiration, and it never stopped. I didn’t know how to get there, but the inspiration was my driver. I wanted to come to the USA from France, because I wanted to grow in this field; the United States gave me the opportunity to meet my goal. I wanted to develop a nuclear energy strategy to close the nuclear fuel cycle, which sometimes involves reprocessing/recycling.
What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?
So many things! I am excited by the opportunity to influence strategy for many years at a time. You don’t build a reactor in a day. You must have a vision and push that vision to reality. I’m excited to be able to bring things past just an idea, so, at the end of the day, we have something in our hands. I’m excited that DOE is a leader among other countries; we have competitors, but that is an opportunity to continue pushing forward. I’m excited by the ways that I can shape what education is needed and bring the next generation of leaders on board.
How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
Girls and women need to have examples that show they can have both a rewarding career and a family. The current board of directors for the American Nuclear Society has so many qualified women who have achieved both. We need to start early and use programs to help women and girls see that their natural inclination toward multitasking is a strength. When I was a professor, so many junior students would come to me with their concerns. I advised them to help them grow, to see that they could project themselves into a position like where I was, to help them see they have a path. The role of senior researchers and leadership should be to emulate the dream and invite them to participate. Successful women embrace their own supportive side and help others.
Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
Set your goal and don’t feel trapped by where you are. It can be common to feel like you need to stay in one place for 30 years, but that can limit you and make you change what you want to do or even change yourself in ways you don’t want. If that happens—or better, before it happens—think to yourself, “Where can I meet my goal next?” We spend half our life at work, so it’s important to be happy and feel like you’re contributing. Look at the bigger picture of what you’re doing. For me that’s producing clean energy, protecting the environment, and giving energy to everybody. That bigger picture keeps me focused on my goals. Find the energy inside of you, have a goal, and do it.
When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
I love making memories with my kids. We spend time together and have fun. I walk at least 10,000 steps a day, and I recently discovered Zumba aqua fitness, which I do in a beautiful outdoor pool on the weekends. It’s so relaxing. And I read, read, read! As a Gemini, my brain is happy when I find new things.
Learn more about our programs & resources for women and girls in STEM at http://www.energy.gov/women