Breakthrough Generation is an initiative in the Breakthrough Institute’s research program, founded in 2008 to foster the development of a new generation of thinkers and writers capable of finding pragmatic new solutions to today’s greatest challenges in the areas of energy, economy, and environment.
Every summer from June to August, Generation offers a small number of paid, highly competitive, ten-week fellowships to recent college graduates and postgraduates from around the world.
The first two weeks of the summer are dedicated to Breakthrough Bootcamp, an intellectual crash course involving intensive reading, writing, and an expert lecture series designed to provide a grounding in the broad-spectrum thinking that informs Breakthrough's policy agenda. Topics covered include modernization theory, social psychology, aspirational politics and philosophy, economics and innovation policy, and technology policy.
For more advanced and independent research, see Breakthrough's new Research Fellowship.Breakthrough Fellows were invited to tour the Advanced Light Source (ALS) research facility at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories in August 2014.
In addition to research and analysis, fellows attend the Breakthrough Dialogue -an opportunity to interact with the leading thinkers, writers, and scholars in the study of society and the environment, as well as attend talks, debates, and working groups within Breakthrough’s different program areas.
2015 Fellows in Yosemite on the Breakthrough Generation camping trip.
Over 75 young experts and analysts have completed Breakthrough Generation since its inception in 2008 and moved on to important positions in government, academia, and the nonprofit sector. Together with career support from the Breakthrough staff and the wider network of Senior Fellows and associates, Breakthrough Generation makes for many avenues to continue an exciting career.
The first two weeks of the Breakthrough Generation Fellowship consist of an intensive intellectual crash course called Breakthrough Bootcamp. Over the course of Bootcamp, fellows acquire a strong foundation in the theoretical and philosophical underpinnings of Breakthrough's outlook and work, plus the skills required to successfully undertake an independent research project. Bootcamp not only involves lengthy readings and vigorous discussions, but also guest lectures from Senior Fellows and other experts, field trips to cutting-edge institutions, and ample socializing and networking opportunities with other young public policy professionals.
Readings and Discussions
Every day of Bootcamp, fellows have a set of readings covering themes such as pragmatism, risk and the precautionary principle, modernization and development, energy systems and transitions, conservation in the Anthropocene, natural resources, and futurism. Highlights from the syllabus include excerpts from Why Nations Failby Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen, "The Entrepreneurial State," by Mariana Mazzucato, and Rambunctious Garden by Emma Marris. These readings form the basis for a variety of group discussions, presentations, and workshops designed to facilitate learning and hone participants' skills in analysis, presentation, and debating.
Bootcamp features a set of regular presentations and Q&As with people from Breakthrough's network of Senior Fellows and associated experts. Examples from the past include:
Roger Pielke, Jr., Breakthrough Senior Fellow, gave a presentation on the role of science in politics and policy.
Sarah Evanega, PhD, Director of the Cornell Alliance for Science spoke to the 2016 Generation Fellows on Genetically Modified Organisms and agricultural resiliancy in the developing world.
Bill Bonvillian, Director of MIT's Washington Office and Professor at Georgetown University, presented a history of the federal government's involvement in technological innovation.
Joyashree Roy, Professor of Economics at Jadavpur University, Kolkata in India, spoke to 2015 fellows about development and energy in India.
Rasmus Karlsson, Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in South Korea, answered questions about his work on futurism, space colonization, and technological solutions to climate change.
Fred Block, Research Professor at UC Davis, presented on the historical role of government investment in energy technology innovation and the outsized influence of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.
Fieldtrips and Socials
Bootcamp offers unique opportunities to visit local Bay Area think tanks, research labs, and companies. Some of the popular sites visited in past summers include:
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Breakthrough’s 2013 Fellows were invited to Lawrence Livermore National Lab in Livermore, CA to visit the National Ignition Facility, the world’s foremost research facility for nuclear fusion. Fellows met with the lab’s staff to discuss the potential of nuclear fusion energy.
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab Fellows learned about different research projects developing clean energy technologies and briefed the Lab Director on their summer research projects. We also visited the Advance Light Source to see how new materials are designed and tested.
Greenstart is a cleantech start-up incubator. Fellows learned about the process of launching a cleantech start-up.
Advanced Energy Economy is a clean energy industry association. Fellows of Breakthrough Generation and AEE briefed each other on their respective projects and shared other experiences from the sector.
Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant Breakthrough Generation 2014 fellows visited the California nuclear power station.
The Energy Institute at UC Berkeley is a multi-disciplinary research group focusing on energy economics. We met with the director, affiliated professors, and graduate students at EI and shared the projects we were working on and heard about their current research.
Brightsource Fellows visited Brightsource's US headquarters to learn about their Ivanpah solar project, the largest concentrated solar power project in the world. We also discussed their experience as a recipient of the DOE's loan guarantees.
Young Professionals in Energy We went to several happy hours and panel discussions with the San Francisco chapter of Young Professionals in Energy. Fellows got to meet their peers working for public utilities, renewable energy developers, and other clean tech entrepeneurs.