Infinite Careers is a new collaboration between Career Services (CAPD) and the MIT Alumni Association to explore career paths and the non-linearity of career decision making. Read profiles of alumni with unique career paths, hear their stories and network at a series of talks.
Register here to hear Sarah speak on Tuesday, January 14th at 12pm.
MIT, SB Nuclear Science & Engineering and Political Science, 2012
University of California, Berkeley, MS Nuclear Engineering, 2017; Master in Public Policy, 2018
Sarah Laderman is an Associate Safeguards Information Analyst in Vienna, Austria, at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is the international organization charged with ensuring countries maintain their peaceful use of nuclear material.
Sarah received her MS in Nuclear Engineering and a Master’s in Public Policy from UC Berkeley, where she was a fellow with the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium researching topics of interest at the nexus of nuclear weapons technology and policy, primarily in the fields of network science and nonproliferation. While at Berkeley, she also was a graduate intern at the Center for Global Security Research at Lawrence Livermore National Lab, where she was researching Chinese military and nuclear strategy.
Prior to graduate school, Sarah worked as a contractor for the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters on issues relating to nuclear stockpile management, coordination of weapon modernization programs, and nuclear survivability of Department of Defense (DoD) systems. She received her BS in Nuclear Science and Engineering and Political Science from MIT.
What influenced your choice of undergraduate major? How has it shaped your career choices and professional ability?
I started off undergrad knowing I wanted to study Nuclear Science and Engineering as I always loved physics in high school, but wanted to apply it to real world problems. Once at MIT, I was researching fusion energy systems and took a "Science, Technology, and Society" class to satisfy my HASS requirement. I was instantly fascinated by science policy, so I quickly added Political Science as a double major and began researching the technological aspects and political implications of nuclear weapons. Having this double major has enabled me to bring a level of social awareness to the scientific communities I work with and a level of technical cognizance to the decision-makers I have worked for. It has opened doors that would have been previously closed and allowed me to work in a variety of interesting environments.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?
I love being in the room where it happens! My background has allowed me to be at the right hand of some of the most important decision-makers in the Energy and Defense communities while they work on some of the most fundamental national security and nonproliferation issues. I am consistently humbled and honored to work closely with them on issues that affect the international community. I plan to continue to work in public service and towards making the world a safer place.
Making decisions, especially important-feeling career decisions, can be challenging. What strategies have you used to make career decisions?
If I ever have a choice between Job A or Job B, I put myself in the position of the theoretical hiring manager of my dream job. I then ask myself, what would I think of a CV with Job A or Job B? Would I want that person in my organization? What other experiences would round out that CV to make it more appealing?
What professional development activities do you find really useful these days?
I sign up for every conference and training course possible. I meet so many wonderful people in my field and gain a lot of experience that I would not acquire any other way. These activities allow me to step out from behind the computer and think about issues outside of my immediate surroundings. If your boss allows you the time and money to go to conferences, go (even if it's in a non-glamorous location). If your workplace offers any training courses, even if they are only tangentially-related to your current position, attend.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve received?
Give every project 100%. You may think that a project is beneath you or unworthy of your talents, but your boss likely has a reason they are giving it to you. I started out organizing meetings and spending countless hours on seemingly mundane things like seating charts and agendas, yet I still paid attention to the details and gave it 100%. My boss began to trust me and soon let me run meetings and brief upper-management while my colleagues who blew off these things were never given the responsibilities that I was, all because they thought those tasks were beneath them. It takes time for people to trust you in any industry, so prove you are worthy of responsibility.
What career advice do you have for current MIT students, or those interested in entering your industry?
Be flexible. Nuclear engineering (and many other career fields) encompasses so many areas and if you become too specialized, it becomes difficult to fully experience all that field has to offer. I started with fusion, shifted to nuclear weapons policy, then to nonproliferation, and now to safeguards. If I had only looked for jobs in one niche specialty, I would not have had the opportunity to move all over the country and now, across the world. With this varied experience, I can now say for certain what I do or do not want out of future jobs, which would have been difficult to say if I stayed in one specialized area of the industry for years.
What do you like to do outside of work for fun/relaxation/inspiration?
I like to go clear my head outside of the city. I'm an avid skier so I usually head to the mountains for a day of solo skiing. It's essentially my form of meditation where I don't think about anything work related.