Things I Learned at The Energy Foundation

I still cannot believe that it is already the end of my internship at the Energy Foundation, and that the new semester at Brandeis is in front of me. I still remember when I entered the door of my office, I had a lot of uncertainty about what this experience would be like. I expected to know about how NGOs work in China, learn more analytical skills, and improve my writing through research, and those wishes all got fulfilled in the projects I joined! I also learned many unexpected things, such as how environmental theories can possibly be used to meet the strict government requirements, and how sustainability is closely connected with other subjects such as urban planning and transportation. I am very impressed by the passion of my colleagues and I got to know their stories, some of them even left some privileged institutions or high-earning jobs to join this organization to make a real difference in the environment of China.

Besides general office duties, I mainly joined three projects throughout this summer. In the beginning, I did not jump into a project immediately, instead, to get familiar to our organization and the City Group, I read a lot of documentation in our library, and helped with office duties such as creating charts, translating, and writing summaries. After a few days, I was desperate to join a real project. After one staff meeting, another intern and I stayed and asked the program director whether there was any projects that we can join. He was a bit shocked and then smiled (I guess he was shocked because most interns just do what is assigned rather than ask to join.) He replied, “yes, we have 60 projects going on around China and we definitely need people to help.” What I learned here is that I need to communicate what I want to do, because it could turn out to be a perfect match.

Then I started my first project, the Jinan Urban Planning Project. Our goal was to apply dense street in the new city area and to provide the Jinan government technology and policy support. One challenging task I got was to summarize two, 250-page MIT research papers down to only 5 pages, focusing on methods and policy. I struggled to choose the most important and related context from tons of seemingly related materials. But after I made it, I could read papers and get their theses much  faster.

After the Jinan Project, I joined the Beijing Low-carbon Transportation Project. We collaborated with Beijing Municipal Institute of City Planning and Design on a research project aiming to build a low carbon strategy and integrate it into Beijing’s upcoming comprehensive plan. My duties included doing research on literature reviews, analyzing international low carbon transportation development principles and strategies, and drafting out a case study summary report. This project included both teamwork cooperation and independent research, my time management improved to accommodate to this multi-tasked project. I also had a chance to work with government and see how governors and scientists negotiate and make decisions together.

The last project I did was assisting in statistical analysis to build a model explaining how residents’ social-economic, demographic characteristics, and communities’ spatial structures could influence residents’ travel behavior hence resulting in different patterns of carbon emissions in Beijing. I also completed the preliminary statistics processing and analysis. This project focused on data analyzing; we used mainly LEAP, STAT, Excel to find what were the most essential variables that shaped residents’ behavior. I also used a cross-list skill, the statistics software STATA, that I learned from my economics class.

Working in the Energy Foundation was like a test my knowledge learned in Brandeis and how it could be applied in real work. So far the most important skills I learned at Brandeis to help me this summer were reading and writing, conducting research independently, teamwork, discussion, sustainable cities factors, Excel and STATA learned from financial accounting and econometrics classes, among others. This internship focused me more around the sustainability field so I can better choose classes and experiences when I get back to Brandeis.

For students who are also in working in the environmental field or any NGOs, here are my suggestions:

1)   Be close to your professors and start looking for your ideal internships as early as possible.

2)   Try different NGOs in different fields, and different sizes. It might be easier for you to figure out in which environment you shine more.

3)   Connect with your colleagues, ask them for advice for your future and listen to their stories.

4)   Last but not least, do your work, learn fast, and love what you do.

3 thoughts on “Things I Learned at The Energy Foundation”

  1. Hello Yifan,

    It seems like your internship was such an incredible learning experience! And that you were exposed to so many different tasks that required you to develop different skills. I am not well acquainted with the environmental field, but I have to say the projects you were involved with really seem fascinating. I really liked the suggestions you give out at the end, in particular the one advising to intern with different organizations of not only different fields but also different sizes! Indeed, working with a small NGO on the field is an entirely different experience as doing office-work in a large-scale organization where bureaucracy and structural hierarchy must be taken into account.

    Thank you for sharing your insights with us!

  2. Your observation about the importance of communication is a great one to make. It is amazing that with just simply expressing what it was you wanted to do, or that you wanted to try something different, you got assigned projects about which you were passionate and excited. It sounds like you were an invaluable part of The Energy Foundation this summer and that you truly helped The Energy Foundation make great strides towards a more sustainable and clean energy future in China.

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