Works and Days

Electric Power Research Institute: Kate Jentoft-Herr, Winter Shadow 2016

This January I spent a little less than a week shadowing Naomi Goodman at the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto California. I was drawn to this shadow because I wanted a better sense of the kinds of career opportunities that exist for environmental chemists outside of academia. I was also interested in the fact that EPRI receives some of its funding for research from the power industry. I came into this shadow with the hope of understanding if this source of funding could potentially lead to a bias in the types of research that EPRI does.

After spending a week talking to Naomi and her colleagues I now have a much better appreciation for the work that EPRI does. EPRI does research for and receives funding from, a variety of different stakeholders, including their members in the power industry, but also the EPA and some environmental advocacy groups as well. EPRI’s goal is to gather and present data in the most objective, least biased way possible. They do not make policy recommendations or do advocacy work but strive to maintain a reputation of credibility and objectivity that makes them important allies to all third parties that require credible scientific analysis of environmental problems.

Naomi and the rest of the folks at EPRI were incredibly welcoming and hospitable.  While I was there I got to have my own cubicle office and I spent most days working on my thesis, going with Naomi to meetings, and meeting with her collogues at EPRI and discussing their work. The people who I met with were, for the most part, project managers and no longer do their own research. They spend most of their time coordinating research projects, analyzing that research, and communicating the findings of that research to the agencies, companies, and other interested parties that are their members.  This happens largely via phone calls.


Through my conversations with Naomi and others I developed a much fuller understanding of the work that that the environmental group at EPRI does and also of how some major environmental issues are being addressed by both governmental agencies and the power industry. I also learned several things about my goals for life after Reed. Whatever I end up doing, it is important to me that my job provides me the opportunity to collaborate on projects with co-workers and that I am not sitting at a desk all day long. Additionally, I am still not sure whether I want to pursue opportunities geared towards environmental advocacy or chemistry but I do know that if I do chemistry, it is important to me that I am able to actually do research and continue to acquire experience with different research methodologies.

EPRI is a fantastic organization and I am very grateful that they exist and are working so hard to provide their members with access to objective scientific analysis. I really appreciated how many people were willing to sit down with me and talk to me about their work and their experiences finding jobs as environmental scientists. I enjoyed my visit immensely and I think I gained a lot from doing it. 

Tags: winter shadow, winter externship, environment, chemistry, environmental chemistry