Jaewon Oh, NPTS ’20


Nuclear Research Reactor Practicum participants at the Vienna International Center (VIC) in Vienna, Austria, where we visited the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

As soon as I heard about the Nuclear Research Reactor Practicum, I knew that I wanted to do it. Like many NPTS students, I came to MIIS precisely because it gave me the chance to specialize in a niche I found fascinating and wanted to learn more about, rather than pursuing a more generic Security Studies or an even more generic International Relations program. Because nonproliferation is so specific, I had done some work on it during my undergraduate studies at Middlebury College, but had never really delved deep into the subject matter itself until I got here. I dove headfirst into my first semester at MIIS, taking Science and Technology for NPTS, Introduction to WMD Nonproliferation, and the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Simulation course, in which I represented France in Working Group 2/3, Nonproliferation and Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, along with my language class and other illuminating workshops.

A few weeks into the semester, it was really gratifying, going from utter confusion at the acronyms, dates, organizations, groups, and treaties I was hearing about constantly, to suddenly feeling like I had found my footing and actually knew what was being referenced at any given moment. Even still, a lot of that knowledge felt very theoretical. I knew what was being talked about, but not what it looked like; how it worked, but not how that translated into real life.

For me, the Nuclear Research Reactor Practicum felt like a definitive turning point. I hadn’t even articulated to myself that need for my knowledge to become more concrete, and yet, suddenly, thanks to this incredible opportunity, here it was: exactly what I hadn’t even realized I needed. I had the privilege of working in children’s publishing, at Scholastic in New York City, right before I came to MIIS, and during that time, I got to visit Scholastic’s national warehouse and book printers in Jefferson City, MO. I remember the gears turning furiously in my brain as I saw the actual mechanics of books being printed and orders being filled, and all that mental activity really just produced awe and a profound gratitude that I got to see a little more of all the wonderful people and processes behind a job and an industry that I love. This practicum, to me, felt like the equivalent for NPTS. I spent four months learning about the science behind nuclear weapons, the implications for proliferation, and the benefits of nuclear energy. I even, in my NPT Simulation course, got to defend the merits of nuclear energy and propose plans to expand its use. But it was only when I took part in this practicum that I got to, not only learn more physics, which I genuinely wanted, but also actually see a nuclear power plant. My favorite days on the practicum, by far, were the ones when we learned or reviewed a concept in the morning, and then proceeded to go straight to the research reactor in the afternoon to point out the parts we were talking about or to conduct an experiment using those very concepts.

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