Alumni talks: Amrita Dasgupta
In the latest catch-up with EIT InnoEnergy alumni, we speak with Amrita Dasgupta, whose work at the International Energy Agency is helping to plot the future course of the energy transition.
What was the main learning you took from your studies?
In a two-year programme that took me to five cities in five countries where I learnt completely different things, it's not very easy to pick just one learning. However, I can say that I graduated with a much deeper understanding about climate change and a strong appreciation for the magnitude and urgency of action needed to mobilise all the tools we currently have in order to fight it. Moreover, being quite an introvert albeit one who is good with words on paper, I must say that the programme helped me immensely in finding my voice and becoming more confident to make myself heard. At the end of my two years of MSc RENE, I also gained something just as valuable as my degrees and that was a group of brilliant friends and mentors to whom I owe so much of my knowledge and the most memorable experiences.
What was your first thought when you graduated? Did you feel prepared or daunted by going into the "real world"?
I can't honestly say that I ever thought about this. Before I graduated, I was already working at the International Energy Agency (IEA) where I had previously been an intern and just completed my Master thesis. After a short trip to KTH in Stockholm to defend my thesis, I was back in Paris and fully immersed in the preparations for the launch of our upcoming World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2019 at that time. So, I would not say that I felt daunted as the transition between studies and work was rather seamless. This does not mean that there were no challenges of course. From searching for a Master thesis project/internship and supervisor to making sure you do your best when you have the opportunity, every step is a challenge but I looked at them more as milestones to reach rather than obstacles to overcome.
What was your first work experience after graduation?
I continued working within the WEO team at the IEA after the completion of my internship. The team is responsible for several of the Agency's flagship publications. I wrote my thesis based on an energy modelling and analysis project on sub-Saharan Africa that I undertook during my internship, which also formed a part of the WEO Special Report on Africa, in 2019. Now, after 2 years and 4 months since I started a 6-month internship, I am still a part of the wonderful team as an analyst and modeller.
Can you share a tip on how you got this position?
It was a transition from intern to staff. I don't think staying on as staff after my internship was ever my ambition, I was focused on doing the best possible work for my internship. I was lucky to have a wonderful mentor at KTH and to have this opportunity for the internship. For anyone looking for tips, I can only say that we need to let our work speak for itself. Set short-term goals and try your hardest to achieve those and the rest will fall into place. For me, this is the path I find most comfortable as thinking too far ahead tends to cause me anxiety, it is always more practical for me to control what I can in the present. Besides sincere work, I will also say that flexibility and a willingness to learn new things is crucial. I am a physicist, used to working in laboratories and my previous practical experiences (while I was a student at École Polytechnique) were based on fabricating perovskite solar cells at l'X and then III-V solar cells at Fraunhofer ISE in Freiburg - extremely valuable experiences. Energy modelling was completely alien territory for me that I was only introduced to at KTH and during my internship at the IEA. I cannot pick a favourite between the fields as they are both extremely critical for the future of energy transitions but I can say that it's possible to keep learning new things - it's the best way to grow.
Can you explain more about your current role and the company?
WEO provides critical analysis and insights on trends in energy demand and supply, and what they mean for energy security, environmental protection and economic development. The detailed projections are generated by the World Energy Model (WEM), a large-scale simulation tool, developed at the IEA over a period of more than 20 years that is designed to replicate how energy markets function. It covers the whole energy system, allowing for a range of analytical perspectives from global aggregates to elements of detail, such as the prospects for a particular technology or the outlook for end-user prices in a specific country or region. In my time at the IEA, I have already worked, in various capacities, on nine different publications- which is indicative of the high speed of work and enormous productivity of the team.
Which skills and experience do you need for your current role?
The experience level required would vary based on the position you apply for. If you are a student, you need to have taken some courses (energy modelling, energy engineering, policy and development, climate science, energy or development economics are just some examples) relevant to the responsibilities of the team you wish to join. In terms of skills, I would say the most important are analytical thinking and attention to detail. There are opportunities for economists, engineers, physicists, policy and development studies graduates, programmers/computer scientists and language majors (depending on the division in which you wish to work) but the common trait amongst all my colleagues is the ability to think and solve problems with a logical and analytical approach.
How strong is the link to the energy transition?
There is a strong link to the energy transition. In fact, to lead the global energy transition is one of the main goals of the IEA. The WEO uses a scenario-based approach to highlight the key choices, consequences and contingencies that lie ahead, and to illustrate how the course of the energy system might be affected by changing some of the key variables, chief among them the energy policies adopted by governments around the world. Last year, we launched a WEO Special Report on Sustainable Recovery to guide governments to choose a sustainable pathway out of the Covid-19 crisis. Currently, the teams are preparing for the launch of two new reports with important links to the energy transition and net-zero pledges. Moreover, the IEA also recently hosted a Net-Zero Summit together with the COP26 UK Presidency to bring world leaders together with the aim of setting the scene for a successful COP in Glasgow later this year.
What is the biggest lesson you learnt in the period after graduation?
I think a good lesson to highlight would be to never take any opportunities for granted. I learnt that things are never exactly as we wish them to be and sometimes it can be frustrating to think of the sheer magnitude of challenges facing us, be it personal, academic or those related to climate change and the energy transition. But the key is to never lose hope and keep working towards what we believe in, even when it's not very easy. I think most of my MSc RENE peers would agree with me on this.
How has the pandemic affected you, did it make your work easier or curtail it?
In terms of work, the pandemic did change a lot. Both in terms of our work streams, which had to be pivoted, and also how we work. Many things became more difficult and we need to acknowledge that projects and logistics are just one part of work, the other is how we feel mentally and emotionally and for that, these past months have been quite a test for all of us. But like the rest of the world, I am still learning to adapt and looking forward to the light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccination drives gaining momentum.
What do you think will be your next step?
As I said before, I try to take one milestone at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed. For the next several months, I am working on four flagship reports, including the World Energy Outlook 2021 that is launched every year in the fall, and two that are out this month, so stay tuned!