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Discrimination in nuclear engineering

  1. Sep 6, 2011 #1

    I'm going into my second year of an engineering physics program with the intent of specializing in nuclear engineering, however I've recently become concerned that perhaps being of arabic descent might lead to me facing discrimination when I graduate. I feel this way because it seems like whenever I tell people what I plan to major in they always seem to make comments/jokes along the lines of me being a "home grown terrorist" and it's beginning to make me a little uncomfortable.

    So what I'm wondering is if anyone has seen or been the subject of discrimination due to their background, and more specifically instances involving arabs.

    Also I was thinking of changing my major to electrical engineering and wanted to know if you could later get a masters in nuclear engineering?

    Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 7, 2011 #2


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    It is unfortunate that people would make such inappropriate jokes regarding one's heritage, race or ethnicity. The folks I know in the industry do not discriminate with respect to one's background, but only on aptitude and performance, which are the appropriate criteria. One's heritage is irrelevant to one's education or job performance. I know several professors and professionals who come from families in the middle east, and as far as I know, it has not hindered them professionally.

    If one wants to do nuclear engineering, I'd recommend staying the course and completing a BS degree in NE, and possibly getting a minor in EE or at least taking as many EE courses as possible. One could do an undergrad EE major and then do a MS degree in NE. However, one may have to take some remedial courses, e.g., nuclear reactor physics and plant design/operation that one would take during one's undergrad program.
  4. Sep 7, 2011 #3


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    As long as there is nothing bad that would turn up in an FBI background check when you apply for unescorted plant access, I don't think you would have any problem whatsoever. Generally big companies are very PC-conscious about such matters.
  5. Sep 7, 2011 #4
    It also depends upon whether you are a US citizen or not. During my stiint at Ohio State, there were two other students who coul not get copies of certain computer codes (may have been MCNPX or SCALE, I don't remember) because of their non-citizenship. However, the instructor took this into account and developed alternate assignments for them.
  6. Sep 7, 2011 #5


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    I have not seen any sign of discrimination for race or national heritage for employees. Companies are more interested in the content of your brain that the place your ancestors called home or how they prayed - or didn't.

    That said, the fact is that security in the nuclear industry has become almost draconian in its over-reach. Nuclear plants have been fortified and attention has bee focused on the people who work in those fortresses. During background investigations for employment it doesn't take much to initiate what approaches the Spanish inquisition. Results of psychiatric screening , credit history, multiple traffic violations, tax liens, and any record of illegal drug use or alcohol abuse can get a secrity check sidelined for months or even outright rejected. I have seen contractors or employees that left one plant and failed screening at the next plant. New hires straight out of college have been especially hard to hire because of misdemeanor possession charges or underage alcohol use when they were teenagers. And now the whole screening process is repeated periodically.

    Don't get me wrong, I agree with the purpose of this emphasis on security. The nuclear industry is a highly political target as seen from previous "discussions" on this forum. But my caution is that in any climate like this it only takes an offhand remark or inappropriate joke you don't even remember to bring down the wrath of the three letter agencies (including NRC). Right now nuclear security is open to abuse. Investigators have a huge caseload and mistakes can happen or somebody can just have a bad day. It isn't necessarily discrimination, but it can feel like it.

    Bottom line, I have enjoyed my work and respect the vast majority of the people I have known in the industry. I wish you best of luck. It is a great career and it is very important work.
  7. Sep 7, 2011 #6

    jim hardy

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    I worked for years in a plant alongside two engineers from Iran.
    don't sweat the small stuff.

    I majored in EE, took a course in reactor physics and one in reactor operation.
    Turned out a valuable blend.

    If you want to work in a plant take some electric power courses - DC and AC machinery, and of course thermodynamics.

    old jim
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