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SUPER Summer: A Research Experience

October 2, 2020
Kevin Skinner
Energy Resources Engineering, Class of 2022

This summer, I prepared myself for uncertainty in more ways than one. Prior to the pandemic, I had my doubts about my ability to aid in the research project I was initially aligned with. The subject of the research was interesting to me, but I thought I might be out of my depth a bit. As the summer began and pandemic grew, I became uncertain of whether I would have a project to help with at all. Fortunately, I was redirected to a research mentor who had the beginning stages of a new inquiry in mind. And so, I began my work with Professor Reichelstein on cataloging the major projects and decision making milestones Stanford has made in the last few decades to decarbonize and become more energy efficient.

One of the components to the research that surprised me, and became a welcome obstacle, was how difficult it can be to start a process of information gathering for a seemingly open ended question: “What has Stanford done in recent years to decarbonize?”. “The Start is often the hardest part” is something I tell myself often, and it’s especially true with things that are new and unlearned to us. So I dove in at one point, starting with SESI (Stanford Energy System Innovations), and wove my way through a series of new information about the inner workings of Stanford’s construction and project decision making process, guidelines, goals, and efficiency improvements. For every one question that was answered, at least two new ones sprouted from the information I’d learned. So much so, that by the end of it all, I was sure I knew less than I had at the start. But maybe that’s the beginning of knowing something.

The work I did was well suited for a remote setting, and is likely something that would have maintained a similar research style if there was no pandemic to begin with. The thing I believe I missed out on the most however, was the opportunity to collaborate in person with my research mentor and peers, as well as be able to investigate some of the questions and information leads in person, with the appropriate people (an in person tour of SESI for example). Despite the setbacks, having constant communication with my research mentor, SUPER cohort, and student peers helped make the experience feel as “traditional” as I think could be expected under the circumstances.

A flow chart

Information flow chart I started with. I soon learned I would need a bigger board.