Without postdocs, where would the Lab be? Postdocs are critical to the work and mission of the Lab. There are currently more than 500 postdocs at the Lab, more than at any other national laboratory. About 80% hail from overseas.
To support the Lab’s postdocs, the Career Pathways Office (CPO) offers monthly orientations, resource workshops, and professional development, and serves as a central point of contact during their appointment. The CPO is also working to provide useful information about career paths for postdocs and training programs that support multiple career paths. Most recently, with the COVID-19 pandemic raising many questions within the community, CPO and the Directorate co-hosted a Postdoc Town Hall, providing information on and answering questions about travel and visas, postdoc extensions, benefits, and more.
We took the opportunity to talk with two Lab postdocs, the Accelerator Technology and Applied Physics division’s Lígia Diana Pinto de Almeida Amorin (who goes by “Diana”), and the NERSC Exascale Science Applications Program’s Oisin (pronounced “USH-een”) Creaner, to see how they are faring during the COVID-19 pandemic and the shelter-in-place environment.
|What are you working on, and how has your work changed with the COVID-19 pandemic?
Diana: I help develop accessible accelerator machines, which are usually large and expensive but critical in medicine, science, and industry. I use computer simulations to understand how the compact and efficient BELLA Center accelerator technology can create and accelerate positrons. I now conduct my work and collaborate with my team via Zoom, which is less easy. The pandemic boosted my motivation to improve accelerators that will be used for medical research.
Oisin: My work supports the LZ Dark Matter detector. We use the Cori Supercomputer at NERSC to trace photons of light back to their origin. I convert code that uses CPUs into code for GPUs (Graphics Processing Units), which have ray-tracing capabilities and are much faster. Because I work with computers, I can work from home, but I miss direct personal interactions. My home office has become the place I spend almost all day, every day.
You’ve been actively participating in the Postdoc Program offered by the Career Pathways Office. How has the program helped you?
Oisin: The Postdoc Program has helped me develop skills to build my career to the next stage. It provides workshops on grant writing, presentation, and interview skills. The specialists brought in give good advice on what you need to do to identify and take the next steps in an academic career.
Diana: I really appreciate the Career Pathways Office’s exciting opportunities to share science and my work. It also provides guidance and development training for the postdoc phase of my career that I found extremely valuable and vital to prepare me for my next steps, as well as to increase my confidence. Plus I have enjoyed a lot hosting the monthly postdoc orientation sessions with Meg [Rodriguez, Program Manager, Career Pathways Office]!
What are you most looking forward to this year (personally and professionally)?
Diana: I hope a COVID-19 vaccine will be available soon and that we can address the social pandemics in all our countries. I long to visit my family and friends in Portugal. On a lighter note, I wish to play piano, to attend more of the super fun Lab Open Mics, and to tell the Lab about my work at SLAM! I look forward to finding ways to accelerate positrons more efficiently for our BELLA work.
Oisin: Personally, I’m hoping that the virus clears up a bit and the restrictions ease so I can see family and friends more. Living 8,000km from home was always going to be isolating, but doing so during a lockdown is far more difficult than I’d imagined. Professionally, I’m looking forward to the commissioning of the Perlmutter supercomputer and the first science run of the LZ detector.