I was supposed to attend my first T&D conference in April of 2020. My abstract was accepted. My poster was ready. I was excited to attend my first big expo, an experience I'd only heard about. And then Covid shut everything down. Not to be overly dramatic about it of course. The pandemic affected a lot bigger and more important things than my poster presentation at a conference. But I was still a little bummed, mostly for the missed experience.
Well two years later, I got my opportunity to go back, my second conference after things started opening back up. In some ways, I'm glad I had to wait an extra two years. As much as I'd heard about how big and impressive the expo floor was, nothing could really prepare me. It was all a little overwhelming at first. There were so many booths. I knew no one there until my coworkers were scheduled to arrive the next day. I had a list of companies that I knew I worked with on different projects, but only a couple with representatives I knew would be at the conference.
I spent a good chunk of my first day just going line by line through the rows of booths, taking it all in. I wanted to take advantage of all the potential networking opportunities there, but to be honest I didn't really know how. I'm not afraid to strike up a conversation, but the vendors were there to sell, and I didn't really feel like I was a targeted buyer for anyone. So I mostly hung back unless I could think of clear questions I wanted to ask... or unless it looked like they had really good giveaways.
Things got easier when I finally met up with my supervisor, who was able to introduce me with more of the contacts he's made over the years. It's definitely easier to talk to someone when you've been introduced by a mutual acquaintance, or even if you know you have someone in common.
I think my key takeaway from the networking side of things was that it is encouraged and okay to rely on those mutual connections and introductions to expand my own network, but I also need to get a little more comfortable with the cold opens. "Hi, my name is Megan. I work for a DOE national laboratory in Idaho and I'd like to learn more about your product/service. What can you tell me about it?" Some of those conversations will probably be awkward and fizzle out pretty quickly, but so what? Move on to the next. My other big fear when approaching tables was that I wasn't sure I had the technical expertise to hold an intelligent conversation. But I think that cold open line works well in that scenario too. "I'd like to learn more." "What can you tell me about this?" "I'm fairly new to the industry but trying to expand my knowledge. Would you be willing to give me a quick overview?"
I struggle in general with the same imposter's syndrome that everyone does, and perhaps sometimes feel the extra pressure of being a young female in the field. I want to be taken seriously, and I fear that "looking dumb" by asking questions (or not asking the right questions) will validate someone's assumptions about me. It's something I'm actively working on, but every opportunity to practice helps.
Now from the struggle to the success.... I did meet up with a couple of people I already knew, including Dan Toland, who ran the IEEE PES Scholarship Plus program while I was a part of that. Dan is a gracious, welcoming, and encouraging leader, and I enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with him. He also connected me with some other IEEE PES staff currently working on the scholarship program, and follow ups from that led to the opportunity to tell more of my story as a previous scholar for International Women in Engineer's Day (look for an upcoming post on that!). I also met some new people that I had no connection to prior to the conference. A talk on the IEEE Smart Village stage talking about energy equity efforts from a utility in Florida teed me up for a question on how to better incorporate energy equity targets smoothly into projects as researchers. After the talk, the intelligent and enthusiastic Larissa Pareda Muse approached me to talk more about energy justice. This led to a follow up conversation with multiple people from both of our companies on the line to discuss potential collaboration opportunities. This is a clear example of how these in-person conferences are supposed to work. Organic connections that would be difficult, maybe impossible, to cultivate in an online environment. Interactions like these make me consider the implications of my decision to work in a full-time remote loan, but I know my position is the best for me to balance my location restrictions with doing the work I want to do. I am grateful for my supervisor and for INL's support of my travel to conferences like this one to maximize the organic, in-person activities I can take advantage of.
Now on to the technical stuff (which I know is what you came here for)...
My official reason for being at the conference was to backfill my supervisor on the panel "Impact of Recent FERC Regulatory Actions Regarding Dynamic Line Ratings." He wasn't sure until the last minute if he'd be able to come, so I helped prepare the slides, sit in on the planning meetings, and was prepared to present if needed. The panel was hosted by Rob Schaerer, a senior power engineer at POWER Engineers, Inc. The panelists were Joe Coffey, of Prysmian Group, Jake Gentle of Idaho National Laboratory, Hudsen Gilmore of LineVision, and Chris Postma of POWER Engineers.
Although I did not end up presenting, the panel was interesting for me to attend to learn more about different perspectives of the use and future of dynamic line rating (DLR) from stakeholders who participate in the industry in different ways. Beyond the perspectives, I had some valuable takeaways for my research projects.
Here was the abstract for the panel:
In early 2021, FERC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) on managing transmission line ratings. In December 2021 this became a final ruling (Order 881) that requires transmission owners and operators to implement ambient adjusted ratings (AAR) for transmission lines and opened proceedings to further explore wider use of dynamic line ratings (DLR). Traditionally line ratings have been primarily static with seasonal adjustments, leaving excess capacity under most conditions. AAR and DLR can change throughout the day to allow usage of the excess capacity under most conditions, but may actually result in lower ratings in some scenarios. This panel will discuss a number of impacts to utilities and system operators including aspects such as: system planning with less predictable and more variable ratings, economic benefits and costs of AAR/DLR implementation, considerations of applying AAR vs full DLR, and the implications of DLR/AAR for system reliability and resiliency.
And finally, I couldn't finish this post without talking about the location in the city of New Orleans. It wasn't my first time to The Big Easy. In fact, I was there just earlier this year for a personal trip. But I did my best to take advantage of my time there. I walked the 20 minutes from my hotel to the convention center. (I took the bus back though each day, expo floors take a lot of walking!) I searched for local restaurants each day, even waiting for a spot at the famous Ruby Slipper Café on my final day. I ate much more seafood than I normally would - not usually my go-to on a menu, but when it's that fresh you've got to take advantage! Crabcake eggs benedict, catch-of-the-day, and fried calamari all found their way on to my plate. Fried boudin balls might be my favorite Louisiana dish, and I made sure not to miss out on that either. Okay, so this might just be a paragraph about the food I ate, but if you've been to New Orleans you understand.
On night two, I had dinner with two people I'd never met in person before. One was a mutual connection that I'd actually worked on a proposal with, but the other was someone brand new who I met on LinkedIn after posting about being at the conference, and happened to run in to at the poster session. Score one more for networking!
Overall, the conference was still a lot for me to take in, but what an awesome opportunity to grow and attack a new challenge!