My internship as a computational engineer

Longfei Wei

Longfei Wei, electrical and computer engineering doctoral student

Name: Longfei Wei

Hometown: Tangshan, Hebei Province, China

What is your major? Electrical and computer engineering

Where did you intern? I interned at the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) located in Lemont, Illinois. Lemont is a suburb of Chicago.

What did you do there? I worked as a computational engineer for the Energy System (ES) Division, which conducts applied research to strengthen the economy, protect the environment, and enable energy independence and national security. During the internship period, I mainly worked with ANL research professionals to test the renewable energy resources, especially solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind in the current power system, and collect their power measurement data. Using the information collected, we developed machine learning algorithms to forecast the future renewable energy generation and detect the abnormal events for the system protection and self-healing. The result will be announced in ANL’s annual report.

How did you get your internship? In the first year of my doctorate, I worked as a volunteer for the 2015 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE) International Conference on smart grid communication organized by my supervisor, Arif Sarwat, associate professor for FIU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Luckily, I had a meeting with several scientists from ANL. We were still in contact after the conference and they were helpful for research discussion. In fall 2017, I found the internship information on the ANL website and submitted my application.

What advice do you have for those beginning the internship process? Except for traditional industry internship opportunities, the national laboratory is another good option for the undergraduate/graduate students who want to participate in cutting-edge research and develop a skill set for the next stage. For example, the Department of Energy’s (DoE) national laboratories provide various internship opportunities every year, such as the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) program, Student Research Participation (SRP) program and Professional Career Internship (PCI) program. In addition, participating in academic conferences is an important way for students to connect with professionals in a specific field. Be confident to voice your opinion and demonstrate your work.

What projects did you work on? Due to the nature of intellectual property, I cannot discuss specific projects, but I can discuss what I did in general. I worked with several ANL scientists for a DoE project regarding the distributed energy resources (DERs) in the current power system. First, we collected and preprocessed the large-scale DER datasets including solar, wind and battery bank for analysis. Then, we would formulate the mathematical models and machine learning algorithms for optimizing, operating and managing the DERs. Finally, the formulated models can be trained using the preprocessed dataset. Our work will be delivered to industry companies for real-world simulation and evaluation.

How did your internship connect back to your coursework? The internship project at ANL was related to implementing a variety of electrical engineering operation mechanisms and machine learning algorithms to derive the high penetration of renewable energy resources in the future power system, which fits well with my courses and dissertation work in the current power system operation. Moreover, the internship provided me with an opportunity to extend the knowledge and concepts learned from the electrical and computer engineering courses to the real world.

What was the coolest thing about your internship or that happened during your internship? This winter, Chicago had the largest amount of snow fall since 2015, and my car parked outside was always and completely covered by snow. Now I have obtained the skill set to live in a city with a real winter.

What did you like most about your experience? The best experience of being an intern at ANL was working with the research professionals besides the professors. They are smart and helpful. Since we had a similar education background and research area, we could have an in-depth discussion of the current project. We also shared a passion for the NBA, traveling and Chicago lifestyle.

What did you learn about yourself? The knowledge gained and skills acquired through this internship are things that complemented and enhanced the education I’ve obtained at school. I began to apply my academic knowledge to the industry. More importantly, I confirmed that the research field I am pursuing is where my passion is. It was great to see funding from the Department of Energy increase in this area. More and more students and scientists began to join in this cutting-edge research. Therefore, I would like to continue my current work and research after graduation.

How did the position increase your professional confidence? Working with the top research scientists in ANL through this internship helped me feel more comfortable and confident for my future work and even career plan. First, this internship provided me with technical and soft skills that are required in the job search. For example, having access to the most advanced power system equipment and software at ANL increased my confidence. Plus, I have a clearer understanding of the current development and future of my research area, which makes me more confident in my career planning.

How did you expand your professional network? First, by participating in the annual IEEE general meeting in my research area, which was a good opportunity to meet with research professionals and industry experts from around the world. Secondly, the activities organized by local industry companies gave me support to get access to the culture of a company. For example, the FIU solar project helped me to get to know a lot of industry experts at FIU and I found out about renewable energy areas in Florida.

How did it help you prove yourself in the “real-world?” The internship made me realize that I can work with top scientists at ANL. It also reminded me that I am not done. There is more to do to get to where I want to be and to achieve my personal goals.