Innovative HOPE Graduate Workshop Is Accepting Applications for Summer Participation

Two Former Participants of the Hands-On Photovoltaic Experience (HOPE) Now Run the Program

Feb. 8, 2023 | By Sara Fall | Contact media relations

Annie Greenaway and Silvana Ovaitt started out as graduate student participants in the Hands-On Photovoltaic Experience (HOPE) workshop—a program designed to provide graduate students with opportunities to learn about photovoltaics (PV) from leading researchers.

Now, they are running the program for the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Solar Energy Technologies Office.

15 HOPE participants and 3 organizers pose for a group photo in front of solar panels.
2022 HOPE participants gathered on NREL's Golden, Colorado, campus include leaders Silvana Ovaitt (left) and Annie Greenaway (right) sitting in front. Sarah Kurtz, who originally pitched the program, is standing on the far left. Photo by Werner Slocum, NREL

The 2023 workshop will take place July 9–15 at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's (NREL's) Golden, Colorado, campus. Applications are open now and will be accepted until Feb. 24. Both a graduate student application and a professor nomination are required for an applicant to be considered.

The 2023 workshop will be held in person. HOPE cohort sizes are kept low (12–18 participants) to accommodate space constraints in the labs and facilitate close interactions between participants and researchers. Applicants must be enrolled in a doctoral program in the United States, and the workshop tends to be most beneficial to those in the middle—around the second to the fourth year—of their doctoral research program.

"It's been almost 10 years since I attended, though it seems more recent," NREL researcher Annie Greenaway said. "It was a great experience getting exposed to technology and scientists and to see how research really gets done. I was able to take a lot back to my home institution. Then, as an early researcher at NREL, I gained a deep appreciation for how much work is done in the background to make the HOPE workshop feel seamless for participants."

NREL researcher Silvana Ovaitt, leading the program with Greenaway, said, "Attending HOPE was a turning point in my career as a graduate student. It is such a special program and helped expand my horizons and what my lab was doing. I started a graduate internship the following summer, and then my career spun off from there."

HOPE Helps Graduate Students Get to Next Level

HOPE started in 2012 as a pitch to DOE from NREL Research Fellow Sarah Kurtz, currently a professor at the University of California, Merced. Now over a decade old, the program is still evolving.

Jennifer Sosh, who has worked as a project manager with HOPE since 2015, said, "It's been so interesting seeing how this program has changed. It started out as an idea from a revolutionary scientist with so much experience and has been passed down to a new generation of researchers leading it. This is one of those projects at NREL that reminds everyone involved why we love to do what we do."

HOPE graduate students benefit from getting to interact one-on-one with researchers, both the big names in PV research—the "science celebrities," as Sosh described them—and the people who are not as well known but who do a lot of the day-to-day lab work making the PV solar cells that drive advances in research.

"It's so helpful to meet all these different researchers," Ovaitt said. "On the one hand, it can be awe-inspiring to meet these people whose names you've read on all their papers, but then you get to learn about how they are also facing uncertainties. It's different from conferences, where you just get the end result of their research."

NREL researchers also get a chance to gain a different perspective. "Labs are so focused on minutia," Greenaway explained, "so it's a unique experience to come into this learning environment."

Curriculum Combines Hands-On Lab Work, Instruction, and Practical Career Advice

HOPE participants have a full slate of activities when they come to NREL's Golden, Colorado, campus for the one-week program. The small group (typically around 15 graduate students) does intensive workshops with scientists at the lab and is split into even smaller groups for more effective hands-on learning about PV technologies and characterization techniques. The curriculum is adapted each year to meet the needs and interests of participants, as well as to evolve with the science.

"We didn't used to talk about perovskites very much, for example," said Greenaway, referring to advancements in semiconductors for solar cells, "but over the past few years they've become a huge part of the program."

Ovaitt said, "We keep looking for the big questions the field is asking."

Two researchers stand with a hand-held solar panels connected to testing equipment while examining results on a screen.
NREL Senior Scientist Tim Silverman (right) tests solar panels with a HOPE participant. Photo by Werner Slocum, NREL

Last year, the program added a new solar module construction and destruction activity, which was led by NREL Senior Scientist Tim Silverman. The organizers have also brought in more systems-level modeling and lifetime analysis. There is also an industry panel with members from across the PV industry, along with a DOE representative, to share career advice and network with participants.

"The industry panel is an essential part of the workshop," Greenaway said. "It's so valuable to bring in this network of people from all over to share perspectives with the students, who are typically halfway through their Ph.D." and starting to think about the next steps in their careers.

Many participants in this program have come through NREL as interns or early-career researchers, and currently at least a handful of former participants are employed at the laboratory. Participants in the program find placements at a wide range of organizations and industries.

"Where do HOPE participants end up? Everywhere!" Ovaitt said.

Greenaway said, "There's a whole network of people across the country."

"This program just continues to get better—they (Greenaway and Ovaitt) have such great ideas, and they're starting to expand their impact to more and more universities and get more and more attention," Sosh said.

Access the Hands-On Photovoltaic Experience page.

Submit a graduate student application and a professor nomination by Feb. 24, 2023.

Contact the program at HOPE.workshop@nrel.gov.