Tamar Moss

SULI Intern Mapped Populations Vulnerable To Heat-Related Illnesses In US Cities

Internship program: SULI
Year: 2019
Undergraduate institution: Brandeis University
Major: Environmental Studies
Host DOE laboratory: Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Oak Ridge, TN
Mentor name: Bandana Kar

What was your research topic during your internship?
Cities across the globe exhibit the urban heat island effect, where urban areas are significantly warmer than their surrounding rural areas. Cities are warmer because they have increased impervious surfaces, reduced vegetation, changed wind dynamics due to buildings, and excess heat released from human activities. Higher urban temperatures increase risks of heat-related illnesses. My research found relationships between socio-economic vulnerability, based on race, age, income, employment status, and level of education, and exposure to high urban temperatures across the Sun Belt. I used satellite imagery to study the temperature distributions throughout cities and US Census Bureau data to study socio-economic vulnerability. I determined the spatial distributions of the populations most vulnerable to high urban temperatures and heat-related illnesses for the cities included in my study. It was exciting to research a real-world problem that affects people in cities all over the world.

What was it like coming to a National Lab for your internship?
Working at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory was an experience like none other. At first it felt overwhelming to be an intern at such an esteemed institution. I adjusted pretty quickly though, and thoroughly enjoyed being surrounded by passionate professionals. My favorite thing about being at the lab was the exposure to research topics that were new to me. I loved going on tours and attending talks. In addition, taking a break from college to work at the lab gave me a taste of what life after college might be like. Leaving behind my college friends and familiar school routines to move to a new state where I knew no one taught me how to be more independent, resilient, and adaptive. I now feel more prepared to take on new experiences after college. During the spring it was harder to make friends, as there were only 12 interns in my cohort. In the summer, however, the number of interns allowed for a thriving social scene. It was cool to make friends with people from diverse places and academic backgrounds.

Describe a concern you had while considering or applying to the internship. What advice would you give to help a student with the same concern today?
The SULI application was overwhelming to me. It felt like there was a certain cookie-cutter type of student that they were looking for, and that was not me. However, I didn’t let myself get discouraged by the application, and I found a way to reframe the questions in a way that seemed more applicable to me. I did not have any previous formal research experience, but I had worked on some impressive projects. My advice to students considering applying to SULI is before you start filling out the application, jot down preliminary answers to each question. Think about all the projects and leadership positions you have had. Even if they do not seem relevant at first, highlight each and every one in a way that shows your character traits and personal drive. You never know what might make you stand out.

Think of a time you experienced success during your internship. What did this success look like?
As someone who is shy speaking in front of crowds, I experienced success when I was selected as a winner of the “IGNITE” presentation competition for interns. I was nervous going into the presentation. The training I received through the internship and the preparation I did helped a lot though. I learned a lot about how to speak concisely and effectively, using simple language to convey complicated points. I did not expect to be a winner in the competition, and felt proud and supported after receiving the award. Since the presentation competition, I have felt more confident as a public speaker. The heightened confidence I have makes other presentations go better.

Think of a time you experienced failure during your internship or academic career. How did you feel at the time? How did you deal with the failure and work past it?
Towards the end of my internship, I realized that I had done a calculation incorrectly. The incorrect calculation made all of my subsequent calculations and results incorrect. I felt discouraged that I had done so much work, only to have to go back and do it again. My mentor helped me retrace my steps and fix the problem. I was able to correct my mistake and finish the calculations successfully. It was stressful to complete my project under a time crunch, but I felt even more accomplished after navigating the problem.

What are your hopes for your career?
I am planning to pursue a graduate degree in environmental science and policy. I hope to draft, support, and implement environmental policies based on scientific research. I plan to develop science-based environmental policies that help mitigate climate change while taking into consideration distributive justice issues. I can envision myself researching the impacts of possible policy options and working to translate science to policy makers.

Did you make any important personal connections during your internship?
I find it important to surround myself with friends and role-model figures. I found both at ORNL. I made memories with a group of interns that rock climb, and have stayed in close touch with many of them. It was great to make friends who were also immersed in research the way I was.

I also formed a lasting connection with my SULI mentor, who became a role model to me. Not only did she teach me so much about my research area, I also learned from her how to be strong and confident in the lab.

What are your values? How do express your values through your academic or professional career?
I value justice, honesty, and caring for one another. These values were expressed in my research, which identified populations vulnerable to urban heat.

Related Links:
Read more about Tamar Moss’s experience as a SULI intern at ORNL, and then check out stories from other ORNL interns: https://orise.orau.gov/ornl/experiences/undergraduates/moss.html