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.

Midpoint Reflection

My internship has been going well. I have grown accustomed to the working environment and my coworkers, and my work processes have begun to speed up. With a reminder from the WOW advisor, I just realized that this is already the midpoint of my internship, how time flies! It took me some days to get into this “working beat”, so now I want to cherish the time left, keeping this “beat”, and contributing as much as possible in the second half of my internship.

The Jinan urban planning projects I had been previously working on got delayed due to some political reasons. I feel it is a pity that we cannot continue this project since we have done a lot of research on papers, reports, and international examples. Then I was assigned to the Beijing urban planning and transportation group. We have regular meetings with Beijing Municipal Institute of City Planning & Design to discuss transportation policy every two weeks. Our organization provided the government technology and policy support, and our goal is to assist the government to write a new Beijing Transportation Guide. Three other interns and I are working on one chapter of the guide called “International Transportation Examples.” I am mainly researching the transportation of the following cities: Hong Kong, Portland, Los Angeles, and Copenhagen. I learned a lot in this research process, both from how successful transportation projects in those cities have guided people to live a lower carbon life and how unsuccessful urban planning can result in inconvenient transportation to citizens. Also once the roads and the transportation systems are built, it is very hard to change it later on. So the best way would be doing the right things from the very beginning. I read a lot of papers and reports in the past three weeks, both about real policy and academic theories, and I realize how different they are and how hard it is to make theories a reality by making policy and working in the real world.

This project is a perfect match to my academic learning goal. It enhances my research abilities through reading many papers and reports and summarizing them for government use. Reading is the easy part!  However, it sometimes gets ambiguous which parts of the material are related to my research topic and which parts I should just ignore. This project trained me to find the key points among tons of materials in a short time, and this will also help me build stronger academic reading and writing skills, and at the same time, will be good preparation for graduate school in the future.

Second, the “International Transportation Examples” chapter we are working on will be discussed in our following meetings with Beijing Municipal Institute of City Planning and Design, which makes me feel proud that I am doing a “real” project and that my research results will directly reach policy makers, and hopefully contribute to the Beijing Transportation Guideline. I am proud that my supervisor is very satisfied with the Hong Kong transportation report I just finished; he said it is a very mature report and it could be used directly in the Beijing Transportation Guideline. He also used my report as a good example for other interns. Through writing reports for government, I realized how important it is to strictly follow the structure requirement and rules. Details such as words count, type setting, and page design, if done incorrectly, can all lead to the need for revision.

Third, from this internship, I did not only gain working and research experience, but also expanded my network and learned about how an NGO works in China. I think a successful NGO in China needs to maintain a good relationship with the government because we need their support and approval to get projects done. Many of my friendly colleagues are experts in different fields, such as transportation, urban planning, LEAP modeling, statistics, computer science, etc. Also, I am very lucky to be in the same office with the program director, who is in charge of hiring new staff and conducting interviews. Sometimes she evaluates candidates and shares with me what characteristics of candidates she is looking for. For example, she weighs candidates’ working experience, the ability to get work done, and responsibility more than whether their major and degree match the position. And she prefers candidates who are willing to be devoted to work without excuses to those who have many “personal” requirements and whose personality stands out too much or does not fit the organization culture. It really opened my eyes and influenced me about what kind of staff is preferable from the boss’s view.

In the second half of my internship, I hope I can do more research and have a better understanding about the relationship between urban planning, transportation and low carbon city construction. Since I also have strong interest in analyzing data, I hope that I can diversify my working fields and join other groups which will focus on data analysis and do more technical work so that I can gain both research and technical working experience from this internship. Again, thanks for the support from WOW to make this great opportunity come true to me.

– Yifan Wang ’14

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This is my office table, where I did most of my research.
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Our action plan is on the wall of our meeting room, very clear to both staffs and visitors

The first week at China Sustainable Energy Program (CSEP)

I just finished the first week of my internship at the Beijing office of China Sustainable Energy Program (CSEP). CSEP is a non-profit organization, headquartered in Beijing, China. The main goal of CSEP is to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution in new and existing Chinese cities by promoting and implementing sustainable urbanization and transportation systems. These goals are achieved by working with national and municipal governments to establish pilot projects demonstrating the effectiveness of sustainable urban development in China and providing personnel training programs. The Beijing office aims to provide program management and funding to more than 40 regional projects around China. Technology support is provided by China Sustainable Transportation Center (CSTC). There are about 30 staff members in this office, and there are four interns helping for this summer. Most funding of CSEP comes from HP Inc.

My internship mainly consists of two parts. First, I will be tracking progress of the projects, conducting data entry and analysis, writing project evaluation reports, and translating some related materials. Second, I am very lucky to have a chance to join the Jinan Sustainable City Planning Project. We will analyze real residential energy use data gathered for the last three years and conduct some research for further project refinement.

I found this internship from “Earth Notes” sent by Prof. Laura Goldin. “Earth Notes” is a list of internship opportunities for students of environmental studies and other types of related social work. The summer internship in CSEP got my attention and interest immediately because of its location in China and because the energy field has always been an interest of mine. I sent them my resume and after a phone interview, I got this summer internship.

The first week of this internship has been interesting and a bit challenging. My supervisor and other colleagues are very friendly and helpful. They impressed me with their professionalism and problem solving skills from the first day I was there. My assigned jobs consist of both urgent and long-term projects. One urgent job is preparing a group of Chinese mayors before they travel to  the U.S. to learn about sustainable city planning next week.  We are now busy preparing schedules and translating papers for their trip. The long-term project is the Jinan Sustainable Planning Project, for which I will do research with another intern over the next two months. We have set goals and we will meet our supervisor on a weekly basis. This project is kind of challenging for me because it requires strong background knowledge in urban planning, but I feel like I am learning a lot and getting more and more familiar with this field as we work. The whole organization has a file sharing system accessible to interns for ongoing projects. This common file is very useful to me. I read a lot of reports, related academic papers, and background information about this organization.  I now have a much better understanding about how this non-profit organization works and how to combine theory with practice.

Finally, in terms my expectations about the internship, I hope to learn about sustainability in urban planning through reading both academic papers and reports from real projects. Second, I wish to work closely and network with my colleagues and become aware of more opportunities in the sustainability field, both in the United States and in China. Third, by conducting a research in a team environment, I hope to develop a better communication and problem solving skills, and to have a better understanding about cultural differences between the U.S and China in this field.

CSEP logo
The logo of CSEP
The view from the window near my desk (Beijing)
A very “green” office!

– Yifan Wang ’14