When asked why he wanted to intern abroad last summer, junior Pelkins Ajanoh acknowledges a very clear purpose. “As in machine learning, where more data samples often lead to strong predictions of behavior, I needed more data points about the world in order to find ways in which I could improve it,” he explains. Ajanoh, a Mechanical Engineering major, interned at EDF in Paris, France. A French utility company, EDF draws most of its energy from nuclear reactors – but is steadily moving toward the use of renewable energy sources. Ajanoh’s internship involved analyzing French weather data in order to find patterns between wind velocity and orientation, and faults in the company’s electrical network. In addition, his work touched upon smart metering and designing intelligent systems capable of making accurate measurements at different points in the electrical network. When asked why he chose to pursue a more computer-science-focused internship, Ajanoh answered that as an engineer, he sought to solve a problem holistically, using a multitude of skills beyond his MechE background.
Developing new skills
Ajanoh drew greatly on his MIT skills and experiences to overcome challenges in his role. He worked independently, receiving some guidance from his supervisors, but also significant room to learn and explore on his own. Although he found this somewhat “stressful” at times, he states that it also “gave [him] the freedom to think without a status quo.” Ajanoh aimed to produce “distinguishing” work; in order to do so, he relied on the experience of the “myriad projects [he has] tackled at MIT,” which provided him with the resources necessary to complete his project with little guidance. He applied machine learning techniques, and by the end of his research, “was able to implement machine learning algorithms which made predictions of electrical faults based on the orientation and force of wind.”
Not only did Ajanoh develop new technical skills, but he also immersed himself completely in Parisian life. He frequently met other MIT-France students – and international students – over dinner at the Cité Universitaire’s dining hall or in the piano room. Taking advantage of Paris’s cultural riches, he found himself “amazed at how deeply art [is] rooted into the Parisian culture, from the beautiful graffiti on the embankments of the RER tunnels, to the stunning Impressionist works […][at the] Orsay Museum” and beyond. He got to know his colleagues over lunches and coffee breaks, taking time to chat with everyone and engage in conversation over current events and more. Ajanoh plans to return to France sometime in the future. “I learned how to deal with both internal and external stress” far from home, he observes. And as for his initial goal? “I feel like I have grown in my knowledge of the world,” Ajanoh concludes. Mission: accomplished.
Through the MIT-France program, I found a dazzling opportunity to explore new engineering methodologies, people, cultures, cuisines; in a nutshell, I discovered a new, beautiful world.