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Dr. Seemita Pal works at PNNL

Dr. Seemita Pal joined Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in 2016 and is currently a Senior Power Systems Cybersecurity Engineer in the Electricity Infrastructure group of Energy and Environment Directorate. Her work primarily focuses on understanding the cyber-vulnerabilities of the electric grid and developing technologies to identify, prevent, detect, respond, and recover from cyber-attacks. Her research interests also include grid architecture, synchrophasor technologies, and smart grids. She completed her Ph.D. and M.S. in Electrical Engineering from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2016 and 2013 respectively. Prior to her graduate studies, she worked as Engineer in the Project Engineering Division of Linde India.

What inspired you to work in STEM?

My father used to always say that mathematics is one of his favorite subjects, and because of that, I developed an affinity for mathematics as a kid. Both my parents always encouraged me to study STEM subjects and do science projects. When I learned about electromagnetics in high school, I was completely hooked to the subject. I knew I wanted to be an engineer since I loved to apply physics and math, but I didn’t initially have a very good idea about which field of engineering to select, so I reached out to people I knew to gather information. During this time, there were a few occasions when I was told by people that electrical engineering is not for girls, but my parents told me to follow my aspirations. Once I finally started pursuing my degree in Electrical Engineering, I knew I was at the right place!

What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?

I love being able to perform cross-cutting interdisciplinary research which is aimed at developing innovative yet practical solutions for solving problems of national importance. Grid cybersecurity is aimed at enhancing the security, reliability and resilience of our critical infrastructure, and I consider it to be an honor to team up with world-class experts in science and technology within the laboratory and other organizations to solve some of the challenges that we face today.

How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

I love to see the door open in young girls’ minds during STEM outreach events when they see a woman with a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering working in a national laboratory, sometimes for the first time. I love being part of outreach to expose girls and underrepresented groups to science in fun interactive ways including science fairs and science nights that share in simple terms what different fields of science can do. It is very important for parents, teachers, STEM educators, and STEM professionals to facilitate increased STEM awareness about diverse opportunities within engineering so girls, women and underrepresented groups develop a positive mindset towards STEM subjects. It’s crucial that no seeds of doubt are planted about STEM career’s not being well-suited for women. Everyone should be taught that they too can have an accomplished STEM career, and examples should be presented to bolster this point. Once students are steered in the direction of STEM studies, more efforts should be focused at providing necessary resources and building their confidence including through mentorship.

Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?

The field of grid cybersecurity is highly interdisciplinary in nature since we frequently use approaches from computer science, data analytics, optimization, and other areas in addition to power systems concepts. It is very important to develop broad understanding of some of these fields, while developing depth in a few selected areas. I would recommend talking to people who are working in these fields to learn more about what they do. Completing an undergraduate degree in a related field is the most important first step, and if you get a graduate degree and do an internship that may further build your profile for the job of your dreams. While science and math are important, it should not be forgotten that writing and speaking skills matter a lot since being able to clearly state the value proposition and methodology are critical for effectively communicating your work to different audiences. If you are willing to work hard and are open to learning throughout your career then I believe you have everything it takes for a successful career in my field.

When you have free time, what are your hobbies?

I love dancing, pencil sketching, cooking, and sometimes try out my singing skills too. I love spending time with my family and friends, and during weekends or vacation, hiking remains on the top of my list.


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