National Nuclear Security Administration

Graduate Fellow Feature: Kaatrin ‘Kat’ Abbott

November 22, 2017

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Kaatrin "Kat” Abbott, a Safety, Infrastructure and Operations NGFP fellow

The NNSA Graduate Fellowship Program (NGFP) is a unique opportunity for recent graduates to join the Nuclear Security Enterprise. These full-time, salaried positions offer a year of specialized, on-the-job training and the chance to tackle real-world challenges in one of NNSA’s program offices. Fellows develop technical and leadership skills to launch their careers with a full immersion in one of NNSA’s core mission programs.

What is your academic background/field of study?

I have a bachelor’s degree in physics and nuclear engineering from Drexel University, where I completed three 6-month internships at Department of Defense research laboratories. As a part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Nuclear Education Fellowship Program, I completed a master’s degree in nuclear environmental engineering with an emphasis on health physics from Vanderbilt University in May 2017. Prior to earning my master’s degree, I gained some valuable experience working as a health physicist at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

What are you currently doing for NNSA?

I work in the Office of the Environment and Sustainability within NNSA’s Office of Safety, Infrastructure and Operations. I’m working on several projects related to transuranic waste treatment, disposition and loading optimization, and on the former Kansas City Plant’s site transition planning. I’m also doing some collaborative work with the Office of Nuclear Materials Integration and enjoy the difference in perspective and mission focus between the two offices. I’m working towards certification as a Radiological Operations Support Specialist, a radiological subject matter expert who assists state and local authorities in nuclear incident emergency response.

What do you hope to do after the fellowship?

Being able to do what I love and feeling that I’m making the world a safer and cleaner place for future generations would be a deeply rewarding career for me. NNSA tackles aspects of safety and national security that few people want to think about, at a complexity level that few can readily visualize. I appreciate the symbiotic relationship between the national laboratories, field offices and headquarters as well as their global partnerships, and I would like to work for an organization that shares NNSA’s appreciation for science-based decision-making. I would also like to keep up my work in radiological emergency preparedness and response throughout my career, particularly in this geopolitical climate.

What advice would you give prospective fellows?

Leave the door open to every opportunity and always be willing to put in the effort to learn a new skill, even if it doesn’t immediately seem necessary. Make sure you keep an eye on your work and home life balance; your mind and body need refueling to be your best self! You’ll see some people constantly and openly discussing their work in person or on social media; don’t make this mistake. The professionalism you can display in being discreet about the sensitive nature of your work, your co-workers and the imperative mission of your workplace can make all the difference.

NGFP is funded by NNSA and is administered by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Explore a career in nuclear security!