Sakshi Mishra is an energy researcher working on the nexus of energy systems and artificial intelligence. At the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), she serves as the development lead for REopt Lite API. REopt is a techno-economic optimization model focused on integration and optimization of distributed energy resources. The tool is being used by industry practitioners, consultants, and research labs. She is actively researching AI-based methodologies for accelerating the transition to clean and resilient energy infrastructure through renewable integration and smart energy systems design. She is also leading the Predictive Analytics work for NREL’s Intelligent Campus group.
Prior to joining NREL in 2018, Sakshi was a Grid Planning Engineer at American Electric Power, where she worked on utility-scale renewable energy integration projects. Sakshi got her Bachelor’s in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from VIT University, India and conducted her bachelor’s thesis at Deakin University, Australia as a full-ride scholar. She holds a Master’s in Energy Science Technology and Policy from Carnegie Mellon University and a Professional Certificate from Stanford University on Energy Innovation and Emerging Technologies. Sakshi is a Licensed Professional Engineer in the state of California.
What inspired you to work in STEM?
Growing up, I loved math and science. I received enough support and encouragement to keep marching forward, which was fairly unusual for girls at that time, in my community, in the country I grew up in. In high school, I got exposed to the science of renewable energy and participated in a project to build tiny windmill models, which I found exciting. Electrical Engineering then seemed like a strong option to pursue. During undergraduate education, I became increasingly interested in distributed energy resources combined with clean generation technologies. This led me to the opportunity to conduct my bachelor’s thesis at Deakin University, Australia. Conducting hardware-in-the-loop experiments in Deakin’s Renewable Energy program was a rewarding experience. Later, during my graduate studies at Carnegie Mellon University, the field of artificial intelligence called to me.
My desire to be part of the solution for climate change problems, my keen interest in conducting renewable energy research, and my fascination with the field of artificial intelligence are the key drivers that lead me to the path I am on. Another critical factor was the inspiration and encouragement from many mentors and advisors along the way. My goal now is to pay it forward by helping young girls understand that STEM is an exciting and rewarding career to pursue.
What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?
With the evolution of the grid as a dynamic network, the way electricity is generated, transmitted, and consumed is transforming at an unprecedented pace. I love that the day-to-day work we do has a direct impact on solving the current energy problems of various parts of the world and helps carve the path to a sustainable and clean future for the planet. Not many professionals can say that! This enormous opportunity to make a positive impact attracted me to NREL and gives me a strong reason to stay excited. Furthermore, I find the opportunity to work with the smartest minds in the research industry incredibly rewarding. Beyond their intelligence, their dedication and passion to solve energy problems is inspiring to me and makes the Energy Department a great place to invest my energy. Another perk of working with nerdy scientists and engineers – I stay on my toes and learn something new every day!
How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
I believe this needs a two-fold approach:
- Encouraging individuals to go in a STEM direction. I think starting early is the first step. We need to make sure that girls in elementary, middle, and high school have role models to look up to or at the very least are made aware that STEM is a rewarding career field for women. It is important to highlight role models for younger girls, so they can imagine themselves being in a STEM field. When they reach middle and high school ages, having a mentor who encourages and affirms that girls are very much capable of pursuing the career they imagined themselves pursing, will dissolve mental barriers and open new possibilities.
- Shaping organizational culture to foster diversity and inclusion. Workplace inclusivity is a key aspect for recruiting and retaining individuals from the next generation of women and underrepresented groups. It is very affirming for an individual to know that their contributions are valued, and they are wholeheartedly welcomed to be part of the STEM community. Development of programs to facilitate mentorship and support groups to have honest conversations about the hurdles faced by women and other underrepresented groups, can help foster such culture further.
Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
The transformation that the energy industry is going through is both exciting and challenging. If you are looking to enter a STEM field, you presumably love solving problems and overcoming challenges. Having a “growth mindset,” is, therefore, arguably the most productive way to carve a career in a STEM field. As Einstein put it eloquently, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. So, develop a growth mindset, which means enjoy challenges, savor effort, and love learning. Seek exposure to real-world experiences and lab-work as early as possible in your career through internships, networking, etc. This gives you a peek into what is that you are going to be doing when you complete your studies. Another tip I highly recommended: learn at least one programming language. No matter what sub-field in STEM you choose to work on - if you are a researcher, scientist, or engineer - you will need to instruct computers to do computational tasks for you. Knowing the language that computers understand (i.e. programming language) is incredibly helpful and empowers you to tackle technical conundrums with machines on your side assisting you with complex simulations and optimizations.
But, most importantly, believe in yourself. Don’t let other’s perceptions of you decide what you are and are not capable of doing. Don’t give up.