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Rahul Chakraborty finds community at NC State by embracing opportunities

Chakraborty, electrical engineering ‘23, made lasting friendships during his Ph.D. program

Rahul Chakraborty

When Rahul Chakraborty defended his thesis in February, more than 100 of his friends came to celebrate over a potluck dinner. He’s expecting to see just as many friends when he returns to Raleigh for NC State University’s commencement ceremony on May 6.

Chakraborty, who earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering, is now a level III researcher for transmission system strategic planning and modeling at Dominion Energy in Richmond, Virginia.

“I have so many friends now in North Carolina,” he said. “I am grateful to NC State because it changed my life.”

Chakraborty grew up in Kolkata, India. He earned his bachelor of engineering in electrical engineering from Jadavpur University in Kolkata in 2015. He moved to Bangalore, India, for his master of science in electrical engineering, which he received from the Indian Institute of Science in 2017.

Rahul Chakraborty

Making a move across the world to attend a Ph.D. program was a huge next step for him.

“I wanted to have some level of personal connection with my lab mates and friends,” he said. “I felt like when I’m coming out of my own country, to a different country, when I’m leaving my family, there should be at least some element in the new country that will make me feel like (part of) a family.”

It was his family who inspired him to pursue engineering. His mother was a math teacher, and his brother, who is 11 years older, is also an electrical engineer. When Chakraborty was a child, his brother showed him a circuit that he once accidentally blew up.

Long beyond his days of playing around with a circuit, Chakraborty knew he wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in the U.S. He had NC State on his radar from the start because of its unique lab infrastructure and the strength of its electrical engineering program. The FREEDM Systems Center was a huge draw, and he knew someone who had started a Ph.D. program there who spoke highly of the personal relationships he’d made at NC State. The Raleigh area — with its good weather, proximity to the mountains and ocean and abundance of job opportunities — sealed the deal.

During his Ph.D. studies, Chakraborty developed three unique algorithms to help the power grid optimize its transmission and distribution system operation, especially as more renewable energy sources enter the grid.

The first algorithm helps develop a distributed regional power flow optimization solution rather than using a centralized solution, which is the current procedure. It enables each local area to use its own renewable energy resources maximally to provide local partners solutions to optimize system performance in terms of frequency stability, voltage stability and system operation reliability.

Rahul Chakraborty and friends stand atop a large, flat rock overrhang.

The second helps improve real-time operation of the grid by trying to improve the stability limit of real-time solutions in a more computationally efficient way than the existing algorithms. The third algorithm incorporates machine learning for distribution system voltage support when there are unknowns about some of the grid parameters.

This research led Chakraborty to his current job. The five people on his team specialize in analysis of the power grid’s steady state, when everything is running normally. His expertise comes in when there is a disturbance in the grid, called transient disturbance.

“That was part of my Ph.D. study, that I optimize the dynamic performance of the grid,” he said. “I am the right fit there. So that’s how I add new knowledge to the team.”

Chakraborty is proud of his research accomplishments, but his life outside of the lab was equally important to him. The first nine months were difficult as he adjusted to his coursework and new surroundings, but he was determined to attend all kinds of events at NC State and in Raleigh.

He was on a winning intramural ping-pong team, made trips to the mountains and the beach, was active in the gym, explored hiking trails, and started attending Acro Yoga every Wednesday at Pullen Park. Acro Yoga has become one of his favorite activities, where he found a community he feels part of no matter where in the world he is.

Rahul Chakraborty and friends practicing yoga at sunset.

Six years later, Chakraborty has a diverse, close group of friends who have become like family — in large part due to his willingness to put himself out there, but also because of how welcoming NC State students and Raleigh residents were to him.

“I still remember when I first started going to the gym,” he said. “I did not like it because I was very thin and not strong at all. And the only thing I kept telling myself is I just need to enter the door in the gym. Once I enter through the door, everything will come to me. “That’s my advice to students, to explore and take all the opportunities.”

This post was originally published in College of Engineering News.

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