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Our People: Sara Dolatshahi

 Our People: Sara Dolatshahi

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​Sara Dolatshahi was still a new mom with an 18-month-old baby at home when she decided to take on one of the most difficult nuclear training and licensing programs in the industry – Control Room Shift Supervisor.

To qualify for the role, which is an authorized position requiring a licence from the federal government, applicants must commit eight hours of training per day and spend additional time in the evenings and weekends studying for exams and testing in a simulator.

​It’s an arduous program with a high failure rate.

Sara Dolatshahi receives her Control Room Shift Supervisor licence.
Sara Dolatshahi receives her Control Room Shift Supervisor licence.

But through perseverance, sheer will and the support of her family, Dolatshahi became the first female Control Room Shift Supervisor in the history of Pickering Nuclear Generating Station’s Units 5 to 8 in 2013. All told, it took her almost five years to become licensed.

“When I started the training I had an 18-month-old daughter. By the time I finished and got a few years of experience under my belt as a Control Room Shift Supervisor and then as a Shift Manager, I had a second daughter who was 10 years younger,” laughed Dolatshahi, a 20-year OPG veteran. “I always say half of my licence belongs to my husband – he took off one year when our baby was very young. It would’ve been tough without his support.”

Dolatshahi was hired as a junior engineer in 1999 and attained her Masters in Nuclear Engineering from McMaster University in 2006 while working full-time at OPG. After supporting OPG’s nuclear regulatory affairs, reactor safety and projects at both the Pickering and Darlington nuclear stations, she joined operations at Pickering Nuclear in 2007 as a Shift Assistant Technical Support once she decided to tackle the Shift Supervisor program.

As Control Room Shift Supervisor, Dolatshahi was directly responsible for all authorized nuclear operators in the control room and for the safe and reliable production of electricity from her units.

“It’s a lot of material you have to study and recall under a lot of stressful situations,” she said. “You have to think on your feet and respond very calmly. It took a lot of determination and sacrifices to make it.”

Now working as a Manager of Operations Training at Darlington Nuclear, Dolatshahi is on the other side of the classroom, administering the training for shift supervisors and authorized staff to make sure they understand the standards and perform the job safely.

With everything she has experienced, she’s aiming to make the training process more accessible to women and less daunting, as well as improve diversity in the workplace. She currently chairs OPG’s “Bridging the Gap” committee, which seeks to recruit other women to consider becoming Control Room Shift Supervisors or Authorized Nuclear Operators.

“Because the training program is long and difficult, some women don’t even want to try it out of fear of making tough family choices,” she said. “We’re not trying to scare people off. We want to educate and bust some myths and basically show them they can still do this. There are now supports in place for better work-life balance.”

As an example of this, OPG is working with its nuclear regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, to build greater flexibility into training requirements for licensed operators. This includes new approaches to account for pregnancy and parental leaves.

More women are slowly heeding the call, as the number of female trainees for licenced positions at Darlington and Pickering have gone up. Dolatshahi is pleased to see the change, but knows there’s more to be done.

“There’s been some improvement, but we still have a ways to go.”

Employee Spotlight: Sara Dolatshahi
Position: Manager of Operations Training
Location: Darlington Nuclear Generating Station
Years of Service: 20
Favourite place to visit in Ontario: Niagara-on-the-Lake
Favourite book: Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
Favourite hobbies: Hot yoga
Favourite weekend activities: Spending time with family