Mwesi Musisi-Nkambwe

From SULI and CCI intern to automotive test engineer

Internship program: CCI; SULI
Year: 2003; 2004
Undergraduate institution: Monroe Community College
Major: Electrical Engineering 
Host DOE laboratory: Brookhaven National Lab, Upton, New York

What was your research topic during your internship?
I worked on the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) - a massive 2.4-mile-circumference nuclear machine that collides protons to study the matter that existed in the universe shortly after the Big Bang. My projects improved the security/safety system and the human-machine interface found in the main control room of the RHIC.

What was it like coming to a National Lab for your internship?
Everyone at the lab was very welcoming. There was a strong sense of community amongst the researchers and the students who came from all over the country.

What do you currently do, and where do you hope your career takes you?
I am currently an Automotive Test Engineer. I plan to be involved in more electrification and autonomous projects and help accelerate these new technologies into our world.

Think of a time you experienced success during your academic or professional career. What did this success look like?
When I was an intern at BNL, I worked on improving the human-machine interface for the RHIC Main Control Room. It involved understanding the accelerator’s data-collection hardware and how to use logical programming and graphics to display the collected data. It also involved creating a flow of screens that could be navigated in the control room. The night before I had the system fully running, I had a dream that the old screens morphed into the new ones. When I came into the lab the next day and the system was fully up and running, it felt unreal. 

Think of a time you experienced failure during your academic or professional career. How did you feel at the time? How did you deal with the failure and work past it?
I once took an advanced programming class without the intermediate class that preceded it. I spent sleepless nights writing code and losing myself in the logic I wrote. I even dropped the class after submitting my final project in order not to have a bad grade affect my GPA. After dropping the class, I learned I had scored 96% on the final. The teacher who taught the class accused me of cheating, when in fact I had spent several sleepless nights working on the project. This experience really discouraged me from pursuing software development as a career. I ended up going into testing, which I had a knack for. After a few years, I did end up getting back into programming to automate my testing and build tools. I am glad I have been able to incorporate programming into my chosen career after such a discouraging experience, and I urge all teachers and mentors to consider the negative impacts their words and assumptions can have on young scientists’ and engineers’ careers. 

Did you make any important personal connections during your internship?
I met a lot of wonderful, smart people at BNL. It is coming up on two decades since my internship, and I still keep in touch with many of the people I met.

What are your values? How do express your values through your academic or professional career?
Some of my personal and professional values are: be open and friendly to all, acknowledge other's hard work, and be willing to take risks.