Meet our Team: Jen DiStefano, Deputy Director of Research

Even though we all share a love for climate justice, EFI employees are so much more than just our work.

Meet Jen DiStefano! Jen is EFI’s Deputy Director of Research. An avid fan of Star Trek, birdwatching, and jazz, she is passionate about the fight against climate change.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an astronomer from a young age. I was an avid Star Trek: Voyager fan starting at 8 years old (oddly enough, not inspired by my parents) and developed a deep fascination for space. I even dressed as Captain Janeway for Halloween in 5th grade. But unlike other little kids, I never had any interest in becoming an astronaut and actually going to space—that sounded way too dangerous—but instead wanted to be a scientist safely studying space from earth. I was a very pragmatic child. However, I decided that wasn’t the right path for me in high school when I learned that a Ph.D. is pretty much required to pursue a career in astronomy; I didn’t want to commit myself to such an arduous, time-consuming degree.

What was your most rewarding experience prior to working at EFI?

…getting a Ph.D. in science! Ironically enough, I fell in love with a different scientific discipline—materials science—and decided to pursue a Ph.D. after college anyway. My Ph.D. research was on ultrathin semiconductors that were only a few atoms thick and how to use them for energy-efficient electronics and clean fuel production. My Ph.D. advisor allowed me a lot of intellectual freedom and the opportunity to direct my research based on my interests; as a result, I got to play with a lot of cutting-edge, sometimes dangerous, lab equipment during my five years there. Ph.D.s can be incredibly challenging, taxing endeavors, but I am incredibly proud that I completed mine; I not only contributed to the scientific community through several publications and patents, but I also feel my Ph.D. set me up for success in my professional career by forcing me to develop confidence in independent research and robust problem-solving skills.

What’s the best thing about working at EFI?

I love working on a team that brings not only passion but also a wide range of backgrounds and experiences to the fight against climate change. Our team holds expertise in everything from energy technologies to social science to finance; this diversity of viewpoints leads to comprehensive research products and also daily opportunities to learn from our colleagues. Also, having an organization-wide shared vision for the future and dedication to the planet means everyone has something in common from the day they join EFI. As an added bonus, it also means that many of our employees enjoy outdoor activities, which have led to some great employee outings!

What gives you hope for the future?

Working in climate can definitely be demoralizing some days, but I am encouraged by rising interest in two important topics: carbon dioxide removal methods and efforts towards community resilience and adaptation. The conversation around climate change is no longer limited to reducing emissions but also finding methods to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and prepare society for life in a future climate. All three of these pieces are integral to minimizing the impact of climate change on humans and the planet. While carbon dioxide removal and climate resilience and adaptation cannot wholly reverse or shield us from the negative impacts of climate change, I am hopeful they can meaningfully reduce the long-term damage.

What is one thing on your bucket list (professional or otherwise)?

I would love to go birding at the Rancho Naturalista lodge in Costa Rica. I started birdwatching during grad school and particularly fell in love with the diverse songbird and shorebird populations of Chicago (surprising but true!). Rancho Naturalista is widely regarded as one of the best birding spots in Costa Rica, with a wealth of tropical songbirds, hummingbirds, and more. I had a trip planned to visit in spring 2020—which was, of course, cancelled—but am excited to plan a new trip in the next few years.

What is your favorite song at the moment?

I recently saw the jazz trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah perform and have been listening to a lot of his work since.

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