From a bookstore entrepreneur to a researcher

Assistant Professor Mahdi Pourakbari Kasmaei is researching power and energy system modeling, because the transfer to a carbon-free energy will be fast.
Mahdi Pourakbari Kasmaei started as an Assistant Professor at the Aalto University Department of Electrical Engineering in April. Photo: Aalto University / Mikko Raskinen

Mahdi Pourakbari Kasmaei, who started as an Assistant Professor at the Aalto University Department of Electrical Engineering in April, wants to build an encouraging and international cooperation network. He says that developing a carbon-free future relies on a multi-disciplinary concept that asks for closer collaboration of researchers from different sectors.

What are you researching and why?

I study power and energy system modeling. I am interested in investigating the effects of radical transition toward a carbon-free future on the energy system modeling (including planning, operation, and maintenance), energy market, and social welfare.

Developing a carbon-free future relies on a multi-disciplinary concept that asks for closer collaboration of researchers from different sectors, such as transport, buildings, agriculture, non-ETS industry and waste, etc., to propose a welcoming infrastructure for different parties in contributing to this ambitious goal. If each sector solely strives to reach the carbon-free ambitious goal and neglects the interdependency with other energy sectors, the whole idea just remains as a big beautiful partly-achievable dream for life.

How did you become a researcher?

When I started the B.Sc. program, I only wanted to be a successful engineer and find a good job. In the middle of my journey, I visited an international book exhibition that ignited the idea of opening a bookshop, and yes, I opened a bookshop with two friends of mine. As an advantage, I had access to all different books from which I could learn a topic from various sources and challenge myself with solving many different problems. Still, I wanted to find a good job in a pioneer company to practice whatever I learned in the university and also keep the bookshop open; sometimes, life doesn’t go as you dreamed and planned, so for some reasons, I decided to close the bookshop. I think this was the starting point of a big change in my life. I took some advice from my family “pursue a Master’s degree”. So, I started my M.Sc. with a new goal “to obtain some practical experiences”.

At that time, there was an opportunity to propose idea to some companies, and I prepared a mini practical project in line with my academic research project for a distribution company. As the time was flying and I was closer to my defense, I was getting more and more interested in doing research. Two years after my M.Sc. and already finalizing the third practical project, which was a renewable energy-based project, I decided to get some international experiences, so I started my Ph.D. in Brazil, where I learned how to become a better researcher. Indeed, studying in different subfields of Electrical Engineering during my B.Sc. (Electronics), M.Sc. (Control Engineering), and Ph.D. (Power System Engineering) helps me a lot to enjoy expanding some practical ideas. Before starting my postdoc in 2017 at Aalto that was, among all, a great experience for me to learn the high importance of doing multi-disciplinary research, I have had the chance to be a postdoctoral researcher in Brazil, and a Visiting researcher in Spain.

Why I am a researcher thanks goes to my parents. I never wanted to participate and go to school, instead, I always wanted to listen to music and play the violin. My parents tried really hard to keep me motivated such that I have always been among the top three students in the class. As you see, it was mostly a coincidence that now I am here as a researcher and occasionally playing my violin, it could be the other way around.

What have been some of the high points of your career?

I try to pay attention equally to different aspects, so I can’t name any individual highlight in my career. But I would say the moments that I could be of any help to my colleagues, students, and researchers are the best moments, and from my research outcomes, I am happy with proposing a new business model for integrated community energy systems and proposing a novel framework for carbon footprint management, because both works strongly contribute to the radical transition toward carbon-free future.

What are the characteristics that a researcher needs?

To me, ethicality, working by heart, and helping others come first. I strongly believe helping others and seeing their success and happiness is the primary key to our happiness and success. Also, diligence and persistence are the other key factors in becoming a successful researcher. I would also like to remind that we can always learn from our failures so my advice is that never give up, be prepared for positive changes and upgrade the knowledge.

I would like to emphasize that being flexible, respecting all different ideas, and improving the ability to work in a multi-cultural group always help you in making a friendly international network, which is a great step toward being a successful researcher.

What are your expectations for the future?

The future is very bright for research environments with a good infrastructure for multi-disciplinary collaboration. I joined Aalto in 2017, and I see Aalto university as a great ecosystem where you can easily find keen researchers from different fields and start a collaboration and address the most challenging problems.

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