Saturday, July 02, 2005

I am seeking some input

Dear Bloggers-

I am considering a postdoctoral position at LANL with thoughts of perhaps transition to a TSM if such an opportunity presents itself. I am trying to gather as much information as I can on what the LANL experience is like and that is the reason for this post.
I recently interviewed with two groups at LANL and can say that both presented
the possibility for conducting exciting work with people who can be described only as professional and of the highest character. At the same time, I realize that this was an interview and this setting most likely influenced the behaviour of all involved. Therefore I am seeking some input on what the postdoctoral experience is like at LANL without the pressure of the interview setting and with the benefit of anonymity. Thanks very much for any constructive input!

Pete Karpius


I came to the lab as a postdoc years ago, and was later converted to TSM. I enjoyed my postdoc experience, and had the opportunity to participate in research activities that were truly unique.

Working at LANL as a postdoc now may allow you access to similar experiences. Experiments are harder to pull off than they used to be, and this can be frustrating. However, if you are persistent, or if you will not be involved in experimental work, this should not be a deterrent.

Even better, as a postdoc you will have an opportunity to examine LANL much more closely so that you may make an informed decision about staying longer as a TSM. I absolutely would not recommend that anybody join the lab as a TSM straight out of grad school. Too much responsibility, too much frustration, too little prior warning.

Good luck.
I am a postdoc now and I have a lot of things that I can tell you, both good and bad, about working here. Much of it is too lengthy for this forum. I would be happy to send you an email if you can make one available.
LANL was once described as "157 Groups connected by a common janatorial system". To an extent, this is still true. Your experience as a Post Doc, and a TSM if you go that way, depends very much on the Group and the Group Leader. The LANL top management does not work, and worker polls show that it is not trusted.
So, what is the Group like? It will make, or break, your work life. And, do you want to work for a nuclear weapons lab, because that is what LANL is? Forget the PR!
As far as group leaders go I've been here 20 years and had 4, from pretty good to pretty devious. Expect a new one every 4-5 years.
Hey, I have had five group leaders in the past five years and expect another when the contract expires. If your group leader is over 50 or 55, expect a new one June 1, 2006.
I spent three years at LANL as a postdoc and later became a TSM. My postdoc was kind of different in that I worked on several research projects, not just focusing on one thing for a couple of years. Looking down from 20,000 feet, I would have to say that much of the technical work is done by postdocs (although many TSMs think they are the ones who actually get things done because their names are associated with the groveling-for-dollars exercises). LANL is generally a good place to spend time as a postdoc - you are expected to focus on your work and should not have to spend inordinate amounts of your time on the day to day paperwork that the rest of the staff have to deal with. You still have to take all the training to be able to do your work, and do your work within the confines of IWDs. This sometimes limits the 'creativity' you can exercise in doing experiments, but you learn to adjust and plan out your work accordingly. The couple of previous comments about group and group leader effects on postdocs just don't make sense - your experience is primarily determined by what you make of it and how well you work with your mentor.

One thing every postdoc needs to be keenly aware of, and is not emphasized enough by the cheery folks at HR is that there is NO guarantee of a staff job after your postdoc. The last numbers I saw a couple of years ago showed that less than 30% of all postdocs eventually become LANL TSMs. Beginning the second year of your postdoc, begin looking seriously for jobs. Your mentor has no responsibility (and often no motivation) to further your career after your postdoc. But be aware that some staff members try to hang their hats on their postdocs and put too much pressure on them. Be very aware of what is expected of you and bounce ideas off other postdocs and staff members you can confide in if you do end up at LANL.

Do you have some specific questions that you are seeking answers to? If so, please post and you will likely get some decent answers.
I would like to add one more dimension to the original post: what's the life like over there? What would you recommend to someone moving there from overseas? Or even to a single person moving there?

Like the person who sent the original post, I am also currently considering a post-doc position at LANL. While I am sure I will enjoy the work, what troubles me is how I will like the life there...

Any tips?
"What's the life like over there?" It's what you make it.

Los Alamos is a small town in a gorgeous rural (mountain/desert) setting, and it is richly endowed with things that some people find highly attractive, while being deplorably short on things that other people find highly attractive. Like to hike, ski, cycle, rock-climb, run rivers? It's hard to imagine a better environment for that. Don't like any of those, but you get your kicks from night life? Forget it. Your hobbies involve participating rather than watching? You can probably find someone world-class at what you want to participate in, and a club that's active in doing it. Other way around? Well, the nearest major-league sports is 300 miles away...

I was part of the enormous wave of student/post-doc immigration during the 1970s (side topic for discussion: what should take the place of LAMPF as a magnet for young talent?), and since my tastes did and do run to the outdoors and participatory, I've loved living here -- which was something to cling to during the Nano-years. The place has always had a reputation as a social wasteland for the single male, but a great many of us who came during that time met our eventual spouses after we arrived, so I would hardly say that that reputation is a deterrent to the single potential post-doc. (There's always Santa Fe.) And while, as a US citizen (indeed, part "Native American"), I can't speak first-hand to the issues associated with arriving from overseas, there certainly don't seem to me to be any social impediments to the arriving foreign national -- yet. Realistically, your chances of getting a permanent job are reduced if you are a foreign national arriving to post-doc, but they are certainly non-zero -- now. This is a thing to keep an eye on as contract negotiations unfold. The more thoughtful Washingtonians know full well that Los Alamos was founded on world-wide, world-class talent and that the continuing intellectual vitality, maybe even viability, of the place requires a similarly cosmopolitan view. It is fair to say that "more thoughtful Washingtonians" haven't exactly been in the ascendancy recently ...

So, still a distinct thumbs-up on the potential experience, if you are the personality type that is attracted to the strengths and don't mind the shortcomings. As for the "work experience" part of it, others are covering that, and this is already too long.

In any event, thanks for asking. It's better to ask all the questions than to know all the answers.
I was a post-doc who luckily became a TSM. Perhaps the rules have changed but at the time, you had to choose which group to push your post-doc application forward. You didn't have the option to become a post-doc and then choose which group to go with. Making the wrong choice can have later (political) consequences.

I very highly recommend the Lab over an academic post-doc. You will have a MUCH better chance of doing state-of-the-art research and will truly enjoy the different atmosphere. However, if you are pretty sure that your ultimate goal is academia, you may be taking a risk because your lab mentor might not be part of the insider group that passes around academic jobs....
I agree with most of what is stated in the previous comments. Coming in as a Post-Doc is a marvelous opportunity to check out LANL. With a three-year term (2nd and 3rd years not guaranteed) you will see enough of the new contractor to make an informed choice. However, conversion to a TSM is not guaranteed and will is less likely for non-citizens and this will get worse in the future. As a post-doc, you are eligible to apply for "LANL-only" jobs.

LANL does treat the post-docs quite well, better than most universities. Too often, post-docs at a university are treated as indentured servants. That is not (at least seldom) the case at LANL.

Indeed, if you are single (male or female), you will have few choices for dating or mating. It's best to bring your own significant other. However, spousal employment can be difficult within LANL and there isn't much decent employment outside of LANL.

Yes, the Group Leader is the most important manager and they do often change every five years. But that does vary among the divisions. I have had three in 30 years. But, during that period, I had 10 Division Leaders. This would be an interesting question to ask during the interview.

Housing in Los Alamos and Santa Fe is expensive by comparison to the national average. If you are coming from San Francisco or New York City, you will think that housing is a bargain. But, if you are coming from the midwest, you will think that the prices are outrageous. Rentals are similarly expensive.

The Los Alamos schools are excellent. The schools in the surrounding community are aweful. The dropout rate in the two Santa Fe public high schools is 44%! I regard the excellence of the Los Alamos schools and the problems of the other schools as primarily due to the parents being either interested (Los Alamos) or not interested (Santa Fe). BUT, you will not be able to fix that. The bottom line here is that if you have children then you probably MUST live in Los Alamos.

On the downside, Los Alamos is a company town; you really never get away from work. If the brat next door throws a football through your picture window, check his parents' LANL positions before you decide what to do about it. If you should be so foolish as to volunteer to coach a youth team, you had best be aware of the LANL positions of the players' parents.

Good Luck
Wow. The last paragraph of 7/04 11:37's otherwise excellent post is kind of strange. I've lived in Los Alamos for 25+ years. I've coached youth sports teams, dealt with neighbors, and participated is a wide array of local activities. I've NEVER worried about or even considered anyone's "LANL position" outside of the workplace.
To anonymous at 7/04/2005 12:08:21 PM, I am anonymous at 7/04/2005 11:30:27 AM. Trust me! I know from 30 years of first-hand experience that this happens at Los Alamos.

Of course, this is not a phenomena that is unique to Los Alamos. I have experience from IBM with company sports teams that played in city leagues. The boss selects his position and how much he plays.

AND, if you choose to live off the hill, you will not be a member of the old boy (or girl) network. If the Division Leader sees you at church on Sunday and at the soccer games, then when a choice must be made between the Los Alamos resident and the employee who does not live in Los Alamos, the Los Alamos resident will get the perk and the non-resident will get the boot. Again, I have seen this going on for 30 years.
I just want to say thanks to all for your input, I really appreciate learning those bits and pieces that one can not find at etc. I know every place has its ups and downs, and I am trying to prepare myself for what lies ahead, wherever I go.

As for 11:37's comments, I'm with 12:08. I have lived here for over 25 years, have been involved in youth work for much of that time including coaching one former lab director's child in a team sport, and I have NEVER, not once, felt any pressure to show favoritism or special treatment to that or any other child. I will not say it does not happen; that would require more universal knowledge of the town's personal dynamics than I (or any other one person) have. But it just wasn't a problem with me, or with the other people I coached with, helped to organize activities, etc.

I will further add that working with the kids has been a lot of fun. Certainly there are pathological personalities among the children of the town, as among its adults. But as with the adults, the vast majority of the kids I've dealt with have been interested, interesting, respectful, and just generally good to do things with. The extent of parental (and other adult) involvement in youth activities in the community counts generally as one of our strengths, and for many, one of our attractions.
Pete- The management of LANL is corrupt. You have a 1 in 10,00 chance of being the next guy that is blamed for making a mistake eventhough it is the LANL system and management that is to blame. The managers will hang you out to dry and will not admit their own mistakes. There have been a large number of honest and loyal americans that have been the guests of the FBI for no other reason than that it was their turn.
If you like the odds then come on in. Just remember it can cost you your life, that's what happened to Todd kauppila.
Pete -

Taking a postdoc at LANL is good and bad. And many of the previous comments are right on. It really depends on where you want to end up and what you intend to get out of the postdoc. I spent several years at LANL as a TSM and enjoyed the research part, but hated the isolation, lack of culture, and frustration caused by the very poor managers who run the place. I got a high-level job in industry and left, and am much happier. So is my spouse.

Recruiters may tell you that it is this wonderful intellectual place, but LANL is not the Laboratory of Oppenheimer and Bethe, and over the last 60 years has become populated by rednecks and the religious right, who think that they don't have to be accountable for anything. Among the more extreme examples, T Division employs a guy whose research focuses on proving that Noah's flood actually happened.

If you want a well-paid place to land for a few years, and make some publications while you're looking for an academic or industry job, then LANL is a good place. As a postdoc you can mostly avoid the dirty politics that occur at the group level and above. While many postdocs do convert to TSM staff, many do not, and not nearly as many as in past decades. Some decide they don't like LANL, others are asked to leave if they disagree with the Lab culture and don't "fit in." For some reason, many TSMs find it hard to leave LANL, even if they are not vested in the UC retirement system or have less than 10 years or service. They seem to get so entrenched in the LANL lifestyle or whatever it is that that they lose perspective and forget about the rest of the world. The truth is that the retirement is ok, but you can do better elsewhere by diversifying your portfolio. The health care plan is mediocre, and New Mexico physicians are not on average very good.

If you want a career in a big city with culture, diversity, and other career opportunities in case you are not happy in your current job, don't remain as a TSM at LANL. If you want to teach, don't stay at LANL. UNM is a third-tier institution and in Albuquerque which is two hours away. UNM-LA is a joke.

Lucky for you you're a guy; women are treated like trash at LANL and the few who've made it into upper management are tokens. Same for people of color. We had a female postdoc (Ph.D) in my division who was given office administrative work to do. She subsequently left. Another female postdoc was given no work at all, so did her own research for two years. She left as well.

If you're white, conservative, and christian or mormon, you'll be accepted in the community, which is very intertwined with the Lab. If you live on the hill, it's hard to separate work and your personal life. It's a gossipy place, and schmoozing goes on all the time at Starbucks and high school football games. Most of the restaurants and food stores in Los Alamos suck, by the way.

The Los Alamos schools are decent, but are nothing compared to the top US public schools such as Greeley in
Chappaqua NY or Thomas Jefferson in Fairfax County, VA. Los Alamos schools are not in the top 100 in the US by a long shot.

Both LANL and the town are like the fictional community of Stepford. There are high rates of alcoholism and drug abuse, and gun ownership. This coupled with the extreme isolation makes for some weird neighbors. They don't want any changes in the community or people who are different, and the town council sees to this. If you're married, don't bring a spouse here if they don't have a science or engineering degree and cannot work at the Lab, and they will be miserable. Los Alamos is a physically beautiful place, but is like the end of the world. If you love the outdoors, there is a lot to offer in the area and nearby Colorado. Santa Fe can be fun, has some nice restaurants and museums. So think first about what you want out of a postdoc before you embark on that road.
To all of the preceding Post-Docs and Post-Doc posters:

Great commentary on the good and bad of life in and out of work at LANL. Comparing your comments to those of others on this site, most of which are from the TSMs that are supposed to act as mature mentors and examples, I can say that I have renewed confidence that LANL will thrive.

To 12:08: Believe it. I coached and led Scout activities in LA as my children grew up. I/they were treated quite differently when I became a group leader, and even more differently when I became a Division Leader. And interactions with the schools also changed perceptibly when I climbed the management ladder. It's a company town, no way around it. We got very tired of that aspect of life in LA and eventually left.

To 9:34: We get it. We heard it. Your comments have some validity. But really, the current management both good and bad, is on the way out -- regardless of who runs the lab after the contract change. Beyond that, it's an extreme disservice to the majority of normal, hardworking group and division leaders to paint them all as nutcases waiting to frame the next innocent.
The previous commenter has a lot of it right, but I must dissagree with some of it. I do not see LANL as full of right-wing conservatives. Yes, there are quite a few but they are balanced by an equal number of ultra-left-wing liberals. The county of Los Alamos does vote Republican but, I think, on the whole is basically moderate.

As far as women and minorities at LANL, they often seem to get promotions with less experience and less education than their white male counterparts. I think that we are trying too hard with this diversity stuff.

In the good old days, as recent as 15 years ago, LANL was a "classless society" in that the Division managers were interested in the science and technology. In nearly all cases they were technical experts in the field(s) within their respective divisions. And, they knew the names of many of the TSMs in their respective divisions. Today, that is no longer the case. The "a good manager can manage anything" rule seems to be in place and we end up with Division Directors who are not expert in the science and technology of their respective divisions and they seldom attend technical colloquiums. (Of course, many of us don't think that a lot of the Division Directors are "good managers.") Management matters (reorganizations, etc.) take precedence over interest in science and technology. Division Directors focus upward to the higher levels of management and few know many of the names of the TSMs and TECs in their divisions. Group Leaders are becoming similarly detached from their subordinates. The Management Walkaround System had to be established about five years ago because it became known that many Group Leaders and most Division Directors never EVER went into the facilities that they supposedly managed.

One of the earlier commenters (anonymous at 7/04/2005 09:34:30 PM) was very negative about a culture of blame and punishment for safety and security incidents. I must agree although I believe that has been forced upon us by the DOE. Indeed, it is scarey situation for employees involved in experimental work.

Admiral Butthead's standdown wreaked havoc on the careers of post-docs finishing their terms during the standdown. Yes, there were extensions for some of these individuals but only if the managers could find funds. And, keep in mind that whatever was done in regard to initiating the standdown was done with the full advance concurrence of the DOE. So, the departure of Admiral Butthead is no assurance that such stupidity will not occur again.

All that said, I still think that LANL is a good place for a post-doc. But, if you come, do so with an open mind and keep your eyes open while you are here.
Great, thoughtful prior comments.

Two things to consider in addition to the minutiae directly connected with the details of your situation and potential work prospects.

(1) Los Alamos is a family town, and the "lifestyle" that does well here is based on being married and having kids. For that, the town is comparatively safe, and if you keep the kids engaged with satisfying out-of-school activities, there are good prospects for your kids getting a good education and staying out of stupid and detrimental psychological and physical situations. Along those lines, it does help to be a person of faith, but that's not a deal breaker. But there are (by an order of magnitude) far more houses of worship than bars in LA.

(2) It is most definitely "interesting times" (as in "may you not live in interesting times") in LA. The future is uncertain, and if a variant of UC gets the contract, Supreme Admiral Butthead Foley still will do his best to destroy the Laboratory. On the other hand, I believe that there is a good chance that we have seen the nadir of Los Alamos's plunge and that truly an upward climb might be beginning again. This could provide opportunities that you can't really foresee now.

The advice about coming as a postdoc without being married to a Lab-TSM future are sound, in my opinion, and good people are welcomed to a significant extent. With the prospect of so many more senior people leaving, there are opportunities as well as potential liabilities associated with our "interesting times." So check out your other options, consult your own value system and future [familial] plans, and if you come, welcome in advance.
I came as a postdoc more than 20 years ago. I never regretted staying, although at times, an incompetent leader would make a mess for a while.

One division I would stay away from right now - N division, where the clueless division leader has appointed totally incompetent group leaders, that will make it a job shop (for those parts that are not one already).
Regarding the "excellence" of the LA public schools: One little mentioned fact is that LAPS has to be propped up by an additional $8 million per academic year of federal government money above and beyond what the struggling surrounding public schools ever receive. This is due to a pork barrel contribution directly from the federal government. I think if similar funding were provided to the adjacent school districts, the playing field would easily be leveled.
Divisions that are worthwhile are
T, MST, C, P and B. Divisions that you should stay away from are D, NMT, DX, and X. The people in those groups are worthless and will drag you down.
Regarding the statement by Anonymous at 7/05/2005 12:58:39 PM about the $8M subsidy to the Los Alamos school system: That is based on there really being no potential for developing a commercial tax base in the town and county of Los Alamos. There just is no land available. Other nearby communities have plenty of land available for commercial development and thus they have more than the residential property taxes.
LANL has 368 Postdocs. Breakout is

Divisions with > 10 Postdocs:

Divisions with < 10 Postdocs:
9:01 "I think that we are trying too hard with this diversity stuff."

Now that's progress! In the old days you would have said I slept with the boss to get my job.
I'm pleased to hear that people are still thinking of coming to LANL to postdoc. The word from some quarters would have us believe that science has already withered and died. Tom Bowles and Science Council, are you listening?

I think opportunities are going to be stupendous here for early career people who are willing to be flexible and are interested in working on programmatic assignments.

Some things have not changed in the past decade: If you come here as a postdoc expecting the place to be just like academia but with higher salaries, shorter work hours, and no teaching assignments, then forget it. (TANSTAAFL principle at work). LDRD proposal success rates at the Lab are much lower (10% typically) than NSF/BES/NIH/etc success rates in academia. There are no "startup funds" for new staff, no "early career" grant set-asides, and no "renewals" per se in LDRD. You play with the big fish from day one. If you want to be an academic dilettante, go to academia.

On the other hand, if you are interested in working on real team projects, potentially with people from other disciplines - if you want to do something "applied" or if you feel some sort of calling to national service - if you want the opportunity to redefine your career every few years instead of being pigeonholed as an expert in "XYZ" for the rest of your life - this is a great place to work.

Expect the pace of work to be slower than in academia. Besides our self-inflicted bureaucractic tendencies, we suffer from oversight by numerous federal and state agencies and are held to the same regulatory standards as industry (OSHA, EPA etc). If you read the trade magazines, it's clear that academia still isn't expected to meet those standards. There's a minefield of contradictory requirements to meet, and at times even the most optimistic person can succumb to the hopelessness of trying to do things "by the book."

As other posters have said, the quality of the postdoc experience is going to vary depending on who you are working with and how postdocs fit into the overall culture of the group or team. Some lab organizations have relatively little experience with postdocs but work hard to ensure that the few they have are taken care of and have a positive career path ahead of them. Others have no clue what a postdoc should do. Conversely, some organizations have a large number of postdocs but don't give them much support or help them find a job afterwards, they are just cheap labor.

Caveat emptor.
Anonymous at 7/05/2005 05:07:19 PM gave us these numbers on post-docs for various LANL divisions:


The reason that ESA has so few is that engineers get jobs when they get their PhDs. They do not have to go thru the post-doc process. The other divisions listed are embedded in the nuclear weapons program and nearly all of their work is classified. So, for a US citizen, getting the clearance takes nearly a year. For the non-citizen, there is no hope.
to 7/05/2005 03:11:43 PM
"Divisions that are worthwhile are
T, MST, C, P and B. Divisions that you should stay away from are D, NMT, DX, and X. ..."

The life in the semi-academic T, MST, C, P, & B divisions will change dramatically under the new contract and life will be much harder and unpleastant to those that don't contirbute to program. Get prepared T, MST, C, P, & B folks, you will actually have to do some real work with milestones and deliverables under the new contractor.
RE 07:58 -- Why do you publish such nonsense? The scientist in T, P etc do real work. The suggestion that they don't appears to be a deep insecurity that poisons rationale discussion. LANL is the whole enchilda -- basic science, applied science, engineering and technical maintance. Without the whole spectrum LANL would not have done many of the things that have made a difference. A T divison project today in cosmology funded by Nuclear Physics in the Office of Science can make a difference in decade with new cross sections or energy balance equations.

It sickens me when someone uses the clock of the
anonymous blog to attack fellow lab employees that are dedicated to doing a great job. The posts that noted that post docs were valued in some division more than others did not slander the work in those divisions -- it was just pointed out that post docs have a hard time in some divisions because of the nature of the work
I've met plenty of losers in all Division across the laboratory. Lets not stereotype one or two Directorates, please.
If you can spell GLOCK, you might be a LANL postdoc.

If you think baseball caps are a sign of being a good manager, you might be a LANL postdoc.

If you think Kansass State is the best technical university in the world, you might be a LANL postdoc.

If you think having a security clearance gets you closer to God, you might be a LANL postdoc.
Pete, think of LANL as a $2B corporation. In any such corporation, you're going to have lots of little entities. At any given time, some of the entities are up, others down, and others on their way up or down. Take every single comment you read here with a grain of salt. Generalizations are simply not possible.

So, my opinion? This place is driving me nuts at times. But I like it here. In general, I like the people, in spite of the fact that there are some individuals I really dislike. I like the types of discussions I hear every day. I like the fact that there's a space elevator guy here, for example; or that quantum key distribution has been developed here (I'm not saying this is the only place, but LANL is important in this field). I like the fact that I can go into a store, or coffee shop, and hear people speaking in French, or Chinese, or Indian. LANL has a more international feel to it than most places I have worked.

Are there real jerks here? yeah. Depends on where you end up. Get in touch with your boss, your fellow workers, visit, and try to get a feel for your possible future working environment.

As for the women, minorities, etc. stuff: depends on the organization again. One of the mostly highly paid, highly respected people in my department is a woman. I have not seen issues in my department with "people of color". But we're young. You look at some of the old hide-bound organizations at LANL, you will see a different story.

Good luck. I'm still planning on staying here, in spite of the fun we've had in the last year. At the very least, you may find a postdoc here good experience. Just be sure you know who your co-workers and bosses are going in -- in fact, that's always good advice for any job!
6:53 said, "The other divisions listed are embedded in the nuclear weapons program and nearly all of their work is classified." This is incorrect: neither D nor N division are in the weapons program. Both are in the "Threat Reduction" directorate. D does do considerable work supporting the weapons program, N very little.

I don't know about D, but the shortage of post-docs in N division results from three things. First, it isn't a very research-oriented place, for better or for worse. Second, many of the staff spend a great deal of time on travel to Russia, Japan, etc., to install things, and they are neither available nor particularly interested to mentor post-docs, therefore they don't seek post-docs. Third, and on the positive side, post-docs in N division have a greater than average chance of moving into regular staff positions there, sometimes rather quickly.

Every post-doc opportunity, like every other potential job, has its pluses and minuses. Pete, you're doing well to ask questions to try to elucidate those pros and cons. Be aware, however, that what holds true for one part of the lab may not hold true for another, and that some of the responses you're eliciting here are correspondingly misleading if not just plain wrong.
07:58 is a telling comment: Milestones and deliverables. Yes, please predict the discoveries you will make next year and make sure you keep to a schedule.

Real science is dying everywhere in this country because of this idiocy.
Hi all, - Pete here - Well it looks like I have stirred things up, but this advantageous as in some limit of responses it may approximate a more realistic view of LANL. I have been in academia as a grad student for 5 years. I have been in industry (i.e. the real world) as an engineer for 5+ years as well. I am VERY open minded. I don't care what color you are, I don't care what god you worship, all I care about is that you treat your fellow humanity with respect and judge others on their character alone. I know it's a company town and that it is possible for personal issues to influence one's professional behaviour even though this is not what I call professional - but that is the real world. That being said, I appreciate the input - keep it coming! Specifically, I do enjoy working in an international environment, is this doomed if UC loses the contract?
I don't think guys like Feigenbaum could do long term now what they could do before in the NNSA system. In the coming NNSA (DoD?) world there will be a few "superstars" who can do whatever they want with unlimited funds, but everyone else had better get ready for the Gantt chart/milestone/deliverable/cost recovery mentality of a giant systems engineering firm under retired military management. I get that too: "why don't you have more milestones and deliverables in this basic research project?". "Well,", I say, "let me think, it should take me 3 months at 0.2 FTE to solve a problem that the field has not been able to resolve in the last 25 years...then I will take 3 months with 4 people each at 0.1 FTE to turn that solution into a fielded system. Okey dokey?" This is why the DoD labs are largely eviscerated. There, you can't do science because science implies the answer is unknown, and there is no Colonel worth his feathers who will tolerate any science project that is not a guaranteed success with the result known in advance. How can he make General if his science project comes up with the wrong answer? The project mgmt "helpers" don't realize that we think about work and tinker on stuff well into our own time, and would gladly invest (safely) nights and weekends as available to get something done that was really cool and novel. When you get in a groove you keep at it until you get the ideas out of your head and on the paper and in the computer or the shop and it works. I've never been over budget and never missed a report deadline. But the admin staff with their internet MBAs (at best) treat us like clueless temps from Kelly Services....and get awards and promotions for the work of the staff they "manage".

If you ask me, the NNSA labs are entering into some sort of terminal velociy/death spiral, and will shed parts or morph parts as the Federal funding Ponzi scheme collapses under the weight of the Eternal War on Terror. Big tough aerospace companies like LM know how to lay people off en masse as needed, ask anyone in the industry, it comes with the territory. They will condense sites down into essential functions and components, missions and facilities. The rest will be on their own. Employment at will, folks.

In the meantime, depending on the individual project, a postdoc is probably one of the best places to be in the system, and if you aren't planning on staying around for 5 years, you can get some good work done and set yourself up for a university or industrial R&D position quite nicely.
Pete asks, "Specifically, I do enjoy working in an international environment, is this doomed if UC loses the contract?" I have no inside information on this, but my best guess is that the answer is no; LockMart and UT are unlikely to see this issue much differently than UC and Bechtel. The greater conservatism of UT compared to UC may lead to pressures to recruit US citizens for post-docs, etc., but you can't recruit people who aren't there, and the shortage of US citizens doing graduate work in fields we care about is well known (and alarming).

A more vexing question is whether political pressures external to the contractor may force a more national, nationalistic workforce regardless of who wins the bid. We can't do much about this; if the powers that be decide to convert the place into Pantex 2100, it isn't just foreign nationals who are screwed (and I will be an ex- rather than current lab employee). However, I wouldn't let concerns about that possibility deter me from taking a post-doc here, because any such evolution isn't going to occur overnight. If you start here shortly, you'll be working with the people who are here now, not 5 years from now.

Incidentally, much-maligned N division is one of the good places for that "international" perspective. As long as we (the lab) continue to do international safeguards, there will be many opportunities in N division for interactions with the world as a whole, because of the role that they play in training inspectors and nuclear workers world-wide, not to mention installing instruments in the world's nuclear facilities. Yes, international interactions via "research" might be more satisfying for the academic, but it's better than nothing.
Like every other division at the lab, N has its good and bad points and people. N may have an international focus by sending folks to Russia, central Asia, and many other far reaches of the world to deploy detection devices and build fences around hot sites, but they are so internally focused and caught up in all the classified "I know something you don't" nonsense that foreign nationals are pretty well excluded from most of N's activities. N, like many other divisions at the lab is plagued with so-called managers that have been far-too-long entrenched, and will go out of their way to derail another person's career if they feel threatened. Too bad they feel threatened so often, but mediocrity breeds this kind of paranoia. N-7 and N-4 in particular are headed by genuine, 100 percent, grade A losers, who have repeatedly tried to screw over many promising younger staff and specialists. Equally, their abuse of foreign travel privileges is an embarrassment. The Lockmart bid team well knows of these scandals, and will clean house in N, just as in other divisions, when it takes over management of LANL.
To 7/07/2005 11:56:32 AM.
Your post is right on. N-div management has a very poor record of promoting and recognizing its people, mostly because the management team lives and breathes plagarism, taking all of the credit and also because it is truely incompetent. This starts at the top of the div. management with Scott and percolates down to the group level managers and even team and project leaders. What may be even worse is the "fitness for duty" hammer used by the leadership and management as a means of harrassment. The senior manager above N-div, ADTR Beason will end up being taken down by the
current management approach.
11:56 and 2:13. You are both right on. N is so messed up and lots of credit-stealers in that division, who go out to Washington and tout themselves as experts on international security, without even mentioning those who actually did all the leg-work, analyses, and language translations. The group leaders of the two groups mentioned in 11:56 both ferociously hate women and won't promote or support them, or anyone for that matter who may challenge their authority.
N still does some solid intelligence analysis in various groups, but as a whole that Division is a major problem.
"The group leaders of the two groups mentioned in 11:56 both ferociously hate women and won't promote or support them, or anyone for that matter who may challenge their authority." Say what? There is no such thing as an N-7 as 11:56 posted, and the group leader of N-4 IS a woman. If you mean the previous N-4 group leader, I would respectfully disagree, and leave it at that.
Lots of women who hate other women at LANL and have tried to crush their careers instead of mentoring them.
What Division DOESN'T have a major problem?
All parts of the Lab have problems, especially within the senior management team.
11:56 and 2:34, what the hell are you talking about? The current group leader of N-4 is a younger woman and has only been in the job for a few months. She certainly hasn't had time to establish a reputation for "repeatedly screwing over" anybody or anything. Please get the facts before you start smearing the reputations of good people.
Maybe he's a man in women's clothing.
regardless of gender, it gets old hearing these people brag about their diplomatic passports and having traveled all over the world, when they can't even spell "nuclear nonproliferation" or speak a word of any foreign language.
Their English ain't too good either.
Their English ain't too good NEITHER.

> ... LANL is not the Laboratory of Oppenheimer and Bethe,
> and over the last 60 years has become populated by rednecks and the religious right...

What? You mean we really *are* cowboys and buttheads?
> ... LANL is not the Laboratory of Oppenheimer and Bethe,
> and over the last 60 years has become populated by rednecks and the religious right...

What? You mean we really *are* cowboys and buttheads?
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