How to make the most of SET?

Two days ago I had the pleasure to speak to 150 new students of the masters I started 3 years ago (Sustainable Energy Technologies in Delft). This post contains tips & tricks of former SET-students reflecting on their experience. Thanks to Bert van Dorp, Ewoud de Kok, Diego Acevedo, Manuel Vargas Evans and Gaurav Durasamy for their contributions. 

1. Ask yourself: who do you want to become? Do you want to invent a new photovoltaic panel or help your government build a wind turbine park? You have much freedom to choose. Create the experience that lines you up for success after you finish in Delft.

If you do not know who you want to become, ask yourself: Which possible scenarios do I see for myself? Many students wrote this down on their slips of paper. Test different scenarios by joining side-projects or doing research with a professor in your evening hours.

2. Explore courses offered outside SET. Delft has much to offer at different faculties. Are you interested in water desalination? Approach a professor at civil engineering. Do you want to learn about electric vehicles? Speak to researchers at 3ME (Mechanical, Materials and Marine engineering). Look at the curricula of the energy masters in Delft and all masters in Delft.

3. Work with professors who inspire you. Find the professors whose research fascinates you and who you admire as human beings. A good way to start is to print the Energy Initiative’s list of professors and look at all their personal research pages. Make appointments with those professors who you find interesting. Write a reflection after each meeting, and see which meetings make you excited for future collaboration.

4. Sign up for email lists. You want to be at the center of information flows. Start with The (Delft) Energy Club, MIT Energy Club and MIT Energy Initiative. Through these lists you will learn about events, interesting people, books and competitions to take part in. Also take a look at YES!Delft students. You want to set up an environment in which information flows to you.

5. Build friendships with students from different backgrounds. The easy path is to connect with people who speak your language and eat your food. Don’t limit yourself – you will miss out on learning the stories and insights from many of the cool people in this room!

Back Camera

6. Work on side projects. The best way to learn is by doing. Participate in the Solar Decathlon, the Nuon Solar team or one of the many projects The Energy Club offers. Or: start your own team. Diego Acevedo joined the BlueRise team during SET, now a steady source for Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) projects.

7. Look for internships that make you uncomfortable. Just like side-projects, internships are a great way to learn. You will understand what skills you need to build a solar panel or change the heating and cooling controls, in stead of theorizing about these skills in a classroom. Find companies that inspire you; go after them. Resist the temptation to do an internship within the TUDelft.

8. Go abroad. Travel to international energy conferences. Consider the ATHENS program, the Cleantech Forums; ARPA-e and the Renewable Energy World Conference. You can pull the student card: this often means free or cheap access. If that does not work, find a newspaper to write for (start with Delta or a newspaper from your country) and apply for free conference-tickets as press. A third option is to offer your help as a volunteer. If you

Do you want to study in a different country? Hunt for the opportunity! It will take dedication and effort to study abroad. Approach professors at different universities directly (attach your previous research papers) or ask professors in Delft whether they have connections at other universities.

9. For thesis: find a research group that works together closely. Big ideas do not form in a vacuum (this book tells the story of Bell Labs, one of the most innovative research centers of all times). Sitting in a small room for 6 months will unlikely yield novel technology ideas. In successful research groups, PhD’s, post-docs and master students have lunch together and share their findings on a weekly basis. Look for groups where it is normal to walk into the office of your colleagues every day to ask them questions. To learn whether the research group you are interested in works this way, sit in their office for a week!

10. Do you want to prototype a big idea? Ask the university for support. Do not hesitate to approach the dean and other faculty members for (financial) support: they want to help you, and typically do not know what’s going on inside the classrooms. Delft Energy Initiative supports student projects with funding to build a prototype.

11. Participate in challenges and competitions. This is the best way to make your side-project fly. Look at the Cleantech Challenge, the Cleantech Open and  the Sustainability Challenge.

12. Join a startup. YES!Delft has lots of startups. If you feel entrepreneurship is your thing, just go there and join one! The atmosphere is fantastic.

13. Build long-lasting relationships with fellow students, professors and partners. Being a student gives you the opportunity to build relationships with other students, with the people you work with on projects and with the people in your research group. Make sure the relationships are long-lasting: who knows what you will be doing when you graduate?

When you leave Delft – for work abroad or for good – do not hesitate to send updates to your friends from SET. Send an email once every 3 or 6 months with the questions you’ve thought about; the way your life has changed; and  ideas you would like to work on.

Final advice: be proactive. This is so important that we have to repeat it. SET is a broad program, flexible enough to suit your own specific needs. Do not feel comfortable with “just the coursework”. Shape your agenda in your own way. If you need advice, contact fellow students and alumni.