Dr. Rachel Slaybaugh speaking

The Summit Student Program: A PD's Perspective

​​​​​​​Before She Became a PD, Dr. Rachel Slaybaugh Was a Student Program Participant

Dr. Rachel Slaybaugh currently serves as a Program Director at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Her focus at ARPA-E includes a wide range of technologies to enable advanced nuclear reactor systems. We sat down with her as she reflected on her experience attending the very first ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit Student Program back in 2010.

The Student Program at the ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit is a unique opportunity for student energy leaders to engage with companies looking for new talent and learn about new energy initiatives. The graduate-level students selected to participate in the program receive complimentary registration to attend the Summit, participate in student-focused panel sessions, and network with corporate recruiters. The application is available here and the deadline is March 1, 2019.

When did you attend the ARPA-E Summit Student Program?

I actually attended the first-ever Student Program at the second ARPA-E Summit. I honestly can’t even remember if I had to apply. It was 2010, so give me a break! What I do remember clearly is the people and the enthusiasm.

How did you first learn about the Student Program?

I originally heard about the Student Program through my university’s energy club. I was in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin—Madison and my role was to reach out to and engage with other energy clubs around the country. We decided that I should go to the Summit because of my role in the energy club network. The program sounded like a great opportunity to learn about cutting edge energy technology and to meet student leaders in energy from around the country.

What did you think of your first Student Program experience?

My experience far surpassed my expectations. The Student Program gives you the opportunity to listen to speakers not offered to regular attendees. One of my most memorable moments was standing in a room of 30-40 students and being addressed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steven Chu. Somewhere there’s a photo of me standing next to them. It was a relatively informal and intimate environment so we all got to ask questions and have a discussion. That was pretty remarkable.

Dr. Slaybaugh listening to Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at the 2010 Summit Student Program

Above: Dr. Slaybaugh listening to Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at the 2010 Summit Student Program.

Do you remember what was on the Student Program’s agenda that year? What aspect did you find most valuable?

The program offers a lot of time to network with other students. For me, that was probably the most valuable part of the experience. I’m still friends and colleagues with many of the students I met, and that network has been instrumental to my professional development. On top of that, the program was a lot of fun. In 2010, the Summit took place right before the MIT Energy Conference. Most of the other students were heading from the Summit directly to Boston. Over the course of the Summit, some of the other participants convinced me to cancel my plane ticket back to Wisconsin, take the train to Boston, and crash on the couch of one of my new-found friends. I eventually did make it back to Madison.

Did your experience at the Student Program—or the Summit more broadly—influence your decision to join ARPA-E as a Program Director?

To be honest, at the time of the Summit, I didn’t know what a Program Director was or that ARPA-E had them! However, I did get a sense of what ARPA-E is all about and the opportunities and excitement of pushing the boundaries of energy technology. That stuck with me, so nearly 10 years later when the opportunity to work at ARPA-E came up, I jumped at it without hesitation (even though it was tricky to work out as an untenured professor at Berkeley). For me, the freedom and autonomy that ARPA-E offers is unparalleled. It’s an amazing opportunity to make a difference.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Summit?

This year I’m looking forward to the Program Director and Fellow Fast Pitches, where I get to hear about what my colleagues are thinking about and listen to their perspectives on how to transform energy. I’m also excited for the Tech Showcase—I love to see all the teams that I don’t get to interact with regularly. That’s where you get to see all of the different tech areas and what’s being accomplished in them.

Do you have any advice for this year’s crop of Student Program applicants?

Apply! The opportunity to attend the Summit is a remarkable one. Maybe you’ll find your future employer, or co-founder, or the idea that sparks your PhD topic, or your first company, or your major initiative in your first job. Maybe you’ll just make some great friends and see some cool tech. Whatever it is, it will leave an impression on you. I invite you to jump in!