Like many organizations, the DOE has a program to develop leaders. The Oppenheimer Science and Energy Leadership Program (OSELP) is the premier leadership development program of the DOE’s National Laboratory Directors’ Council (NLDC). Created by the NLDC in 2016, the program exposes emerging DOE leaders to the breadth, diversity, and complexity of the national labs and their partners in government, industry, and academia.
Over the past year and a half, two Berkeley Lab participants, Noël Bakhtian (Executive Director of the Berkeley Lab Energy Storage Center) and Peter Nugent (Department Head for Computational Science in the Computational Research Division), participated in the Oppenheimer Leadership Program, as part of its fourth cohort.
Normally, Oppenheimer Fellows participate in a year-long series of on-site visits at national laboratories and in Washington D.C., covering the spectrum of DOE’s missions and operations. This time, the participants enjoyed on-site visits to Sandia National Laboratories and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico before COVID pandemic restrictions began. Then, the program continued through virtual channels. One benefit of the virtual meetings was that the cohort was able to “visit” all 17 DOE national labs over the Fellowship term, which would not have been possible in a normal year.
Getting to Know the DOE Labs
“It was amazing to have the opportunity to meet the Directors and the leadership of these impactful billion dollar organizations,” said Noël. “We got to tour each lab’s major capabilities, get a feel for what their major initiatives are, picked up on the difference between the science, applied, and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) labs, and explored the diversity of tactics employed across the labs to get work done efficiently and safely. This experience also really hit home the scale and importance of the work that we do at the national labs.”
“I really appreciated the conversations with lab leaders, as they shared their own paths, what drives them, challenges they faced, and what they wished they had known as they progressed in their careers,” added Noël.
Peter noted, “What I enjoyed most with the on-site visits was sitting and chatting with the leadership over coffees and lunches, picking their brains about how their lab operates and their culture that is the foundation for their work. It was a real treat.”
“I think visiting these labs has also made me a better collaborator,” he added. “The program gave me a much better understanding of each lab’s motivation and focus, and if you understand others’ motives, it is easier to fit your work into a collaborative effort.”
Developing Think Pieces to Address Present and Future Challenges at National Labs
During the program, the Oppenheimer Leadership Fellows also collaborated in small groups on the development of written think pieces aimed at tackling major organizational, policy, scientific, and other challenges within DOE’s mission areas.
Noël co-led a piece on pipeline, recruiting, and workforce development and led a piece on enabling successful moonshot initiatives. For the workforce development piece, her team surveyed all 17 labs to highlight the innovative programs and mechanisms related to workforce pipeline and development and provided recommendations to the lab system for short- and long-term changes. The report was shared with all 17 lab directors at the annual NLDC meeting in June, as well as all the HR directorates and other interested stakeholders across the labs.
The moonshot think piece offered recommendations to create a super-structure and framework to enable successful moonshot initiatives led by the national labs, and provided next steps for implementing these recommendations for a climate change moonshot. After the final presentation to the lab directors in June, the team was asked by the NLDC to create a task force to apply its findings to the DOE’s Energy Earthshots Initiative.
Peter also collaborated on three think pieces with leaders from other labs. He was on the workforce development team with Noël, and also collaborated on one on data management and another on hybrid and remote work during and post the COVID pandemic. The data management think piece suggested ways for the DOE and national labs to handle data in a way that would accelerate conventional discovery as well as empower new kinds of discovery. The piece was shared with lab directors and the national lab chief research officers, as well as with Berkeley Lab’s Computing Sciences Area leadership.
The COVID think piece provided recommendations for enhancing national lab hybrid work environments and enhancing both remote work capabilities and inter-lab exchanges. Peter and his co-authors cautioned that community and culture, which are important to scientific creativity, would be challenging in the remote and hybrid environments, but that if these were addressed, there may be new opportunities to work, not just within one lab, but across the DOE lab system, in more flexible and expansive ways.
Reaping the Benefits
For both Noël and Peter, the fellowship program was valuable in many ways.
Peter noted, “Recently I’ve been asked to help with some new strategic directions for DOE, for example, in high energy physics and in computing. The program helped me understand where all the labs are coming from, to be a better representative of Berkeley Lab, and to better understand how to work with the entire DOE complex. It also helps me be more effective in sharing the Berkeley Lab vision, now that I know where others are coming from.”
“I now have a better understanding of the national lab system, insights for my own career development, and 17 new friends across the DOE network that I can reach out to for help, connections, and collaboration,” said Noël. “In a word, the experience was priceless.”