Alumna Spotlight: Farnaz Farzan, Ph.D.

“Opportunities come out of unexpected places and conversations.”

Farnaz Farzan is an advisor in enterprise integration and smart grid strategy at Quanta Technology, which helps clients such as utilities  establish and implement enterprise integration plans that align business and technology to manage transformational changes. Before joining Quanta, she was a senior consultant in market and policy development at DNV GL with a focus on developing advanced analytics to support power systems’ decision-making processes around renewables, distributed energy resources, and emerging technologies. She was also instrumental in the development of several key DNV GL proprietary planning and analytic tools used evaluate the impact of DER and renewables. Farnaz earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering from Rutgers School of Engineerin gin 2008 and a doctoral degree from the Rutgers Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering in 2013. 

Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Tehran, Iran and moved to the US when I came to Rutgers in 2006. 

Why did you choose Rutgers for your graduate education? 
I wanted to come to the US to experience living abroad. I knew Rutgers from my uncle’s family, who lived in Staten Island. I had a cousin – ten years older – who’d gone to Rutgers. So I felt a personal connection and I also wanted to be close to family. 

Did you notice any differences between Rutgers and the University of Tehran? 
I went to a really good school in Tehran and lived at home with my parents. Here, I was an international student and lived by myself. For the first time, I had responsibilities besides school and had to take care of myself, my car, cooking, my taxes, my bills – you name it. 

There was also more diversity at Rutgers, where there were students from all over the world. I got to know a lot of cultures. This was a valuable experience for me. 

Why did you switch from Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering for your master’s to Industrial and Systems Engineering for your PhD?
I enjoyed Mechanical Engineering. Math and physics were my passions. But there came a point when I couldn’t imagine myself in ten years doing research in computational fluid dynamics 

I realized I was more interested in decision-making and problem solving in multi-disciplinary topic areas covering technical, market, strategy and policy dimensions. I met Industrial and Systems Engineering Department professor Dr. Mohsen Jafari through CAIT Director and Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Ali Maher ,who was mentoring me when I was figuring out what field to switch to. We had an informational conversation with Dr. Jafari where everything was on the table. He suggested I attend his group meetings. I did and realized these were topics I was interested in. Dr. Jafari also had an open position for a doctoral candidate.

Some people told me it would be a mistake to switch to industrial systems and that I’d regret it. It turned out to be a good path for me. I was able to learn about and take advantage of opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Does your research work at Rutgers support your career?
Now, as a technical consultant, I draw on my technical background in the projects I work on. I like this work – I get to develop solutions that put different topics and engineering, statistics and economics models together to make a framework that translates the technical aspects of energy systems into what it means for policy, decision-making, and marketing.

What are your long-term career goals?
I like the industry I’m in. I’m working on studies around renewable, distributed energy resources, or DER. I’m in that area for the foreseeable future as far as my career goes. 

What do you most enjoy about your work?
I enjoy working on large-scale projects that are shaping policy and make an impact. We know human activities are causing climate change and we know that human activities can slow it down. We’re using this knowledge to shape things and make the world a better place. 

Do you think DER is the wave of the future? 
It does seem like it. It is happening and utilities are incorporating some of it. If there is a market for it, people will do it regardless of whether or not policies are in place. 

Have you mentored any SoE students? 
I’m not an official mentor, but I’ve been involved programmatically. I have a close relationship with my department, and whenever there’s an opportunity – such as career workshops or seminars -- I love to participate. 

Would you like to teach?
Teaching is one of my biggest passions. I would love to teach a course at some point. 

You have managed several teams as a technical lead in several interdisciplinary projects. How would you describe your leadership style?
A key feature of my style is that I encourage each of my team members have a sense of ownership and accountability. And I want them each to shine and be recognized for their contributions. There is never just one champion on the team who presents results and takes credit. 

Did you learn any early leadership lessons at Rutgers?
Definitely, especially while working towards my PhD. On my advisors’ team, I felt responsible for delivering and had ownership of my piece of each project. 

At work, as well, I’ve been lucky to have mentors, managers, and supervisors who share the same style of learning. 

What do you most value about your School of Engineering education?
My experiences at Rutgers made me more flexible and broadened me. I grew to be more open-minded and have more patience, tolerance, and respect – and appreciation -- for differences. 

Academically and professionally, getting my Ph.D. was a priceless experience. I was given so much responsibility and had so many good experiences. When I transitioned to a job for the first time, I hardly noticed the difference.

Do you have any career advice for new graduates?
Networking is more than a buzzword. My suggestion is to go out there and network, talk to people, and see what’s going on. Read about the fields you are interested in. Don’t limit or restrict yourself to one thing. 

Opportunities come out of unexpected places and conversations. Be open to new things and opportunities will follow. 

What’s it like being a woman in a male-dominated field? 
Sometimes it can be easier for you as a woman because people and companies today are encouraged to involve more women engineers. While the utilities field is still mainly male-dominated, it is also changing. 

What do you do for fun these days?
Pretty much the same things I did as a student.  My boyfriend and I are foodies. We like to take cooking classes and cook together. And I love spending time with my friends and family. 

Do you have a guilty pleasure?
I watch Persian shows and find them entertaining. I don’t vouch for the quality. But they portray a different side I’m normally not exposed to. My brother and cousin tease me and give me a hard time, though. 

If you could take a vacation tomorrow, where would you go and why?
I’d go back home to Tehran and visit my family. It’s a long flight back home, but I hope to get back soon.