MIT ESM Challenge Description

What is the ‘MIT Energy Studies Minor?’

The Energy Studies Minor (ESM) is a 6 to 8 course Minor offered by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which seeks to provide a balanced curriculum to answering today’s most pressing energy questions, as a supplement to other related MIT majors. It provides a toolset for arriving at sustainable, reliable, safe, and economically viable energy solutions, with anthropogenic climate change mitigation at the forefront. The Minor is comprised of three core areas plus a selection of electives.

1. Energy Science Foundations – Fundamental laws and principles that govern energy sources, conversion, and uses

2. Social Science Foundations of Energy – Social scientific perspectives and tools that explains human behaviour in an energy context

3. Energy Technology/Engineering in Context – The application of laws and principles to a specific energy context

The best part is, MIT offer most of the minor course content, including lectures, assessment and solutions, for free, via the online Open Course Ware (OCW) portal.

Why do I want to study the MIT Energy Studies Minor via Open Course Ware?

As a Mechanical Engineer with four years experience in the oil and gas industry, I am cognizant of the important and necessary role that hydrocarbons play in the energy mix, and also the fact that the use of such fuels has had a negative impact on the climate. However, I am not a fossil fuel apologist, and the quality of life that the vast majority of people around the world now experience is only possible due to their widespread use.

After nearly 3 months travelling Central America as part of a career sabbatical, I have been exposed to many different cultures, socioeconomic strata, and energy production and consumption practices. Combined with my experience with the recent and ongoing ‘energy crisis’ in my home country Australia, it is clear that humans as a species are still grappling with how best to generate electricity sustainably and reliably, transmit and store it efficiently, and consume it responsibly. I have recently become very interested in this problem, and how we might go about solving it.

Energy is a resource that is so readily taken for granted, however it is the grand enabler for all life on this planet. We use it to cook, provide water, travel, heat, cool, light, defend our nations and care for our sick. Coupled with an internet connection and a computer, it provides unlimited potential to educate and connect everyone on earth.

There are many different ways to generate, transmit, store, and consume energy from a technical perspective. Often overlooked are the social, economic, legislative, regulatory and environmental factors. The real challenge is finding a balance between these factors in designing and implementing any integrated energy system. The MIT ESM provides a toolset for finding such a balance.

What is the ‘MIT Energy Studies Minor (ESM) Challenge?’

The ‘MIT ESM Challenge’ is my attempt at learning all six mandatory core courses, as well as studying two optional electives, online and through self education, in under 12 weeks. This consists of just under 300 hours of lectures and 87 pieces of assessment.

There are a number of rules that I have set myself to complete the challenge;

– Live in Medellin, Colombia

– Study 50 hours per week

– Complete all lecture material and reading material, studying mandatory textbooks

– Complete all assessment from all courses, including quizzes, examinations, essays and presentations

– Complete subjects in series as opposed to conventional approach of 4 in parallel

– Publish my attempts at all assessment pieces, including insights, learnings and summaries of each course

– Complete in 12 weeks

Consider the normal university load of 4 subjects per 14 week semester, at a typical load of 20 contact hours per week. Consider also that I have four years’ experience in the energy industry, 1st class honours in a related engineering degree, and have understood how I learn effectively through years of study and self awareness, and the attempt doesn’t seem quite as unreasonable. My attempt scales to completing the content at about twice the normal speed.


A number of close friends and family have already asked, when discussing the idea of self education; ‘So how are you going to actually get the degree after doing this study?’

By documenting and publicly publishing the entire self education process throughout my independent study of the MIT ESM, I hope to demonstrate my commitment and passion towards the subject matter, and provide credibility where it may be sought, without foregoing tens of thousands of dollars of tuition fees and a mandatory move to Boston, MA.

Having already graduated from a top Australian university with a dual major in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering with 1st class honours, completed four years work experience with a top international O&G company including a 2 year structured graduate training program, and received my Engineering Chartership with The Institute of Mechanical Engineers, I believe I have sufficient accreditation to demonstrate my work ethic and professionalism.


Physically attending a university and studying a degree is not that difficult. By difficult, I don’t mean that at times the subject matter isn’t challenging. What I am talking about is maintaining daily motivation to regularly attend class, complete assessment on time, and studying enough to pass exams. When you attend university, it is hard not to be swept up by the momentum of shared group accountability, which tends to drag most along. This is often overlooked but it is incredibly important.

For me, the challenge of studying the degree online and independently is more a question of maintaining personal accountability as opposed to overcoming the subject matter. Hence this blog post, and my circulation of this attempt through various forms of social media, which I hope will add some reputational stakes to the challenge!


– No time wasted with University administration, commuting, University politics, distractions from other students, ‘introductory’ week 1, ‘summary’ week 14 and multiple ‘study’ or ‘SWOTVAC’ weeks per semester

– 100% individually tailored, streamlined and effective learning

– Full immersion in each course by studying each individually in series, 50 hours per week

– Heightened focus and no ‘switchover’ or ‘start-up’ time between courses

– Tight feedback loop between exposure to material, learning process, assessment, and results

– Ability to consume lecture content at 1.25, 1.5 or 2x speed

– Save significant amount of money on course fees, cost of living, student union fees

– Live in location of choice


– No access to experienced professors, lecturers and tutors, who would otherwise deliver content

– Loss of ‘academic community’ of students who are studying same subjects, and opportunity to discuss ideas, clarify concepts and study together

– Study is unaccredited (I have explained why I don’t think this is a huge problem for me above)

– No access to MIT campus resources

– Loss of networking opportunities at MIT

– Loss of connection to companies in the industry for potential employment opportunities that would otherwise be facilitated by MIT

Course Selection

Based on the Minor rules, there are a number of choices available within the three core areas of study, in addition to optional electives.

See MIT’s Minor requirements here.

The ESM OCW course list is available here, which is where I will access all content.

Given my background studies in Mechanical Engineering and work experience to date, I made sure to select courses that would complement my current skillset. Other criteria I used for subject selection included reviewing the extensiveness of materials offered via the MIT OCW system, and choosing courses that will give me a rounded education, without weighting the content too heavily towards technical, social or economic disciplines.

Please see the following XLSX below for further detail around course curriculum, lecture content and assessment requirements.

MIT Energy Studies Minor Challenge – Grant Shannon Course Selection and Plan

The six core courses and two electives I have selected are summarised below.

1. Science Foundations

Global Warming Science 12.34

“Scientific foundation of anthropogenic climate change and an introduction to climate models”

Electromagnetic Energy; Motors to Solar Cells 6.007

“Energy conversion and power flow in electrical and electromechanical systems, including electric motors, generators and photovoltaic cells”

2. Technology / Engineering in Context

Introduction to Sustainable Energy 22.081J

“Assesses current and potential future energy systems, covering resources, extraction, conversion, and end-use technologies, in the context of engineering, political, social, economic, and environmental goals”

3. Social Science Foundations

Principles of Microeconomics 14.01

“Analyse and understand the behaviour of consumers, businesses, markets and how to apply microeconomic principles to real life policy questions”

Engineering, Economics and Regulation of the Electric Power Sector ESD.934

“Presents an in-depth interdisciplinary perspective of electric power systems, including generation, demand response, network flow, risk allocation, reliability of service, renewable energy sources, environmental impacts and strategic sustainability issues”

Energy Decisions, Markets, and Policies 15.031J

“Focus on energy-related problems and the non-technical factors that need to be addressed in parallel, including economic, political, and social”

4. Electives

Introduction to Electric Power Systems 6.061

“Introductory subject in the field of electric power systems and electrical to mechanical energy conversion. Electric power systems are also at the heart of alternative energy systems, including wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric generation”

Fundamentals of Photovoltaics 2.627

“Fundamentals of photoelectric conversion, commercial and emerging PV technologies and various cross-cutting themes; conversion efficiencies, loss mechanisms, characterisation, manufacturing, systems, reliability, life-cycle analysis, and risk analysis, all in the context of markets, policies, society, and environment”

Risks & Mitigations

Risk: Inability or difficulty fulling grasping course content. MIT is considered one of the more difficult Universities, let alone when content is studied externally and at a much quicker pace.

Mitigation: Wealth of relevant content online, extensive readings on the subject matter, current friends in industry, and course coordinators, who have already proven to be helpful to someone not enrolled at MIT

Risk: Inability to hold myself accountable, schedule slip, and loss of motivation.

Mitigation: This website, and the reputational risk of not completing the challenge. I have also built a well thought through study schedule that includes intense study blocks of 1.5-2 hours broken up by quick 20 minute coffee breaks, walks in the park, resistance training, meals, and frequent salsa lessons.

Location of Study

Medellin, Colombia


– Thriving digital nomad, start-up, and expatriate community

– Coffee (need this even be written)

– Improve spoken Spanish

– Learn salsa

– Cool tropical climate, with year round average daily mean of 23 deg C

– Culture

– Low relative cost of living to home country

Vamos! (Let’s Go)

I will be relocating to Medellin on Sunday 9th July, starting my first full day of study on Monday 10th July. I will aim to provide fortnightly updates to this page.

It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the work of Scott H. Young, who completed and documented an MIT four year Computer Science Major in 1 year via the same MIT OCW material. Check out his story here.