Natalia V. Saraeva is a nuclear engineer at Argonne National Laboratory, where she serves as a project integrator lead for the research reactor conversion program.
Natalia V. Saraeva is a nuclear engineer at Argonne National Laboratory, where she serves as a project integrator lead for the research reactor conversion program. She contributes to the development of spent nuclear fuels storage and transportation decision analysis systems. Prior to joining Argonne, Natalia was a staff member at the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future in Washington, D.C., where she was a liaison for the Disposal Subcommittee and served as a research scientist. She was also a fellow on the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council in Washington, D.C., focusing on advanced nuclear technologies. She has worked as a research scientist at the Kurchatov Institute (a national research center in Moscow, Russia) and served in the capacity of deputy project manager of an international project dedicated to nuclear security.
Natalia has a Master of Science degree in foreign service from Georgetown University, a dual Master of Science/Master of Arts degree in nuclear security and economics, and a Bachelor of Science degree in nuclear engineering from the Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute. She has presented papers at a number of international meetings including International Atomic Energy Agency conferences and seminars, Institute of Nuclear Materials Management topical and annual meetings, and a Summer Symposium on Science and World Affairs, among others. Natalia was also a fellow of the World Nuclear University Summer Institute (Stockholm, Sweden) in 2006 and visiting fellow at James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (Monterey, California) in 2004. Her professional interests include energy policy and security, research reactor conversion, nuclear waste management, nonproliferation, and project management.
1) What inspired you to work in STEM?
I was always good in math and physics, but as a middle-school student I wanted to be in fashion design. I am thankful to my dad (also an engineer) who inspired me to pursue a career in engineering. He was absolutely right that having a technical background would give me a great foundation and the flexibility that would result in plenty of exciting possibilities in the future. I went to graduate school right after college and when I graduated, I had the choice to be an engineer, a researcher, a scientist, or to work on interdisciplinary issues. I chose the latter and started working on international project management—aimed at preventing proliferation of nuclear materials and technologies. Later, I received an MS degree in International Relations and now I am co-leading efforts on the technical integration of a big international program. I like solving problems and making things work. I also like to see the results of my work implemented. That is why I find my job to be very rewarding.
2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?
First, the people! At Argonne, I enjoy working on multidisciplinary projects in collaborative teams of world-class experts who are dedicated and passionate about their work. Second is the importance of the work I am doing. I use my engineering skills and knowledge to make the world a safer place and it is very rewarding to know that my contribution is valuable. Third, I found a great fit for my multidisciplinary background—nuclear engineering, project and risk management, and international relations—through the international projects I am part of. I constantly learn new things. Last, but not least, I travel all around the United States and the world!
3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
We should interact more with these groups and provide real-life examples of women and other underrepresented groups working in STEM. Increased engagement would also help break old stereotypes, especially those which are gender-related. STEM is not for a particular gender, it is for a particular mindset: if you like math and science, if you have a curious mind and like to discover new things and/or solve problems—STEM is for you! Also, we should keep communicating that science and engineering have plenty of opportunities in a variety of fields, such as computer science and engineering, energy, chemistry, biology, medicine, agriculture, architecture, and many more. STEM opens doors to exciting careers and anyone can find a good fit.
4) Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
Besides taking math and science classes in school and college, I would highly recommend finding a mentor and networking! Mentors have guided me throughout my career. They provided me with valuable advice when needed, opened my eyes to new opportunities, and shared their wisdom. How can someone find a mentor? At school or at work, I try to find a “role model” whose career path and experience inspire me; somebody I want to learn from. In addition, I keep in touch with my former professors, supervisors, and colleagues—and I network with peers at professional events and conferences. Networking helps to expand my professional circle and stay tuned in to current trends and opportunities. It also comes in very handy when choosing a school or a field of concentration, and looking for a job.
5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
I like to stay active after work, so I enjoy sports such as playing volleyball with friends, jogging, and practicing yoga. I like to challenge myself and make new discoveries—that’s why I tried the flying trapeze and now practice on it fairly often. I also love to travel and see new places, and enjoy spending quality time with friends and family. Reading is also one of my favorite things to do, and I enjoy reading about internal relations, including books, news articles and analysis of current events. I also volunteer in different outreach activities held by Argonne and engage in public speaking.