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  • culmegan

INL Graduate Fellowship with Cybercore Programs

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

This summer I had the opportunity to go to Idaho Falls for a few weeks in support of one of the projects I was working on for my Idaho National Lab Graduate Fellowship. It was a long journey to get there, but I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to do some hands-on work and take ownership of some tasks.

My fellowship started later than anticipated. Originally scheduled to begin in March, my travel was cancelled just a week before it was planned due to Covid19 restrictions put in place. The next couple months were filled with uncertainty as companies, including INL, scrambled to decide what to do with summer interns. Many of my friends' internships were cancelled, but INL felt there was still value for teams and interns, and they were able to set up the infrastructure for hundreds of interns across the country to start work remotely.

Luckily for me, I had never been terminated as an employee after my experience with INL in Spring 2019 because we knew I would be returning. I avoided the virtual onboarding process and only had to catch up on trainings.

It was certainly a new experience to start a job entirely remotely. I pretty much logged in on a Monday morning and started planning my work for the week. Due to a variety of factors, remote work, remote advisers, previous experience, and being a graduate student, I was given a lot of freedom and responsibility to pick the ways in which I wanted to contribute to the project I was working on. My mentors gave me some directions to pursue, but no tangible deliverables. I made my own schedule, read a lot of existing literature, and did my best to produce something tangible by the end of each week. This was more for my benefit than anything else. Submitting documents allowed helped me track (and motivate) my progress, and helped me ask for feedback on the research directions I was pursuing.

As the summer progressed and I got more comfortable with the work I was doing, I was asked to help with new parts of the project. I appreciated the diverse opportunities, and I appreciated that some of the new tasks pushed me out of my comfort zone. I wrote more code in Python from scratch than I every had before, and I learned how to write my own unit tests and prepare test plans for software and hardware. I wrote the test plan for new energy storage hardware that we were commissioning, ensuring that it would perform all of the necessary functions for our later experiments. I also created the historian and controls programs to interact with the new equipment. A lot of my cybersecurity work focuses on understanding the communications interfaces with cyber-physical devices, so this was a great opportunity for me to do a deep dive into the communications protocols of such a device.

I even got permission to do some hands-on work at the lab, travelling out to Idaho Falls for 3 and a half weeks to do some in-person tests. I put my code to the test, making sure to try each available feature in different ways, updating it all as I went along. My work didn't stop when I left the lab physically. I continued to support tests remotely, and continued making tweaks to my code so it would be user-friendly, and most important robust and functional, when it reached its final deployment.

I'm excited to see where my continued work with INL takes me. If everything goes well, I hope to use parts of my research in my Master's thesis, in which I plan to do a deep dive into the cybersecurity of distributed energy resources, both in microgrid and grid-connected configurations.

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