PRAGUE NUCLEAR RESEARCH PRACTICUM
One of the main reasons I decided to attend MIIS for my degree in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies was because I had heard from mentors in the field of nuclear policy that MIIS grads were some of the more technically well-versed members of the policy field. My goal over my two years of study here has been to build up that technical foundation, especially since I came from a humanities-heavy background. The opportunity to study at Czech Technical University in Prague’s VR-1 Training Reactor, therefore, was too good to pass up!
The instructors at CTU were extremely patient with us non-science students, and generally presented the material in a watered-down way that made comprehension more accessible. Despite the fact that many of us didn’t have backgrounds in physics, we were able to conduct multiple experiments on neutron detection, activation, and analysis, and even operate the reactor (under close supervision)! I was very pleased with my understanding of the above when, on our last night of the practicum, we met up with MIIS alums and their colleagues at the IAEA in Vienna; one of the employees there who does R&D work for IAEA inspectors described some of the tools he uses for neutron detection, and I was able to understand what he said! Not only could I follow his references, but I had some of my own experience to contribute to the conversation. On a personal level, I was proud of my progress, and from a professional standpoint I felt more assured of my ability to engage with real-world practitioners.
My advice to future participants in this practicum would be twofold: first, take excellent notes, because you’ll want to review them every night after a full day of lab work! Second, don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions, speak up, and really invest your time and energy in the activities available to you. You’ll be surprised how much you learn!