There are many career paths open to scientists: working for national laboratories or for the government, academia, industry or media, for example. Whichever path they choose, the Lab offers a variety of initiatives and programs to support them. Each Area, for example, offers mentorship programs. In addition, the Career Pathways Office (CPO), which reports to the Office of the Deputy Director for Research, offers numerous professional development resources, including workshops, webinars, professional career coaching, and a career fair.
“We aim to make the career paths for scientists and researchers at Berkeley Lab more transparent and to foster an early career workforce that has the tools to succeed,” said Meg Rodriguez, CPO’s program director.
For example, CPO’s Scientific Leadership and Management Skills course provides training for postdocs and early career researchers who want to develop their leadership skills. This past February, more than 100 researchers from Berkeley Lab participated in this training program developed by UC San Francisco (UCSF), UC Berkeley, the Gladstone Institute, and Berkeley Lab. Researchers from these institutions, as well as Genentech, took part in three days of training on a broad range of topics: hiring, working with colleagues who have different work styles, building team culture, and inclusivity. Berkeley Lab researchers have participated in previous versions of the program, last held in May 2019. This year, the Lab helped organize the program.
Communication is another skill set that is critical to career success for scientists. Many at the Lab are familiar with the annual SLAM competition, which offers an opportunity for researchers to hone their science communication and presentation skills. The popular competition is friendly but fierce. This year, the SLAM competition is expanding to other national laboratories, giving participants of the Berkeley Lab competition a chance at competing in the first national competition.
On the writing front, CPO offers both writing in science and grant writing training, taught by scientist and science writer Jennifer Huber. The Career Pathways Office offers a three-part series for both of these tracks, twice a year.
CPO also partners with the Berkeley Lab Postdoc Association and UC Berkeley’s Visiting Scholar and Postdoctoral Affairs (VSPA) Office to hold an annual Postdoc Career Fair. The large-scale event, usually held in July, offers presentations and panel discussions about career paths in academia and industry, as well as opportunities to connect with companies that set up exhibit booths at the event. More than 24 companies participated in the last career fair.
Facilitating mentorship at the Lab has been a priority for CPO, the IDEA team, and divisions across the Lab in the last years. A new program called “Just-in-Time (JIT) Mentorship,” piloted last November with executive sponsorship from Energy Technologies Area’s Mary Ann Piette and Computing Science Area’s Jonathan Carter. The JIT Mentorship program connects mentees with three mentors in a 90-minute period to get quick feedback on an issue or topic.
Said one participant,” “I used to think that the only way to network was in conferences, and now I realize that it’s completely ok to reach out to someone who you’re interested in learning from and just starting a conversation over a virtual coffee.” The next Just-in-time Mentorship session will be held on May 17, 2023.
The Lab is also adapting a curriculum-developed specifically for national laboratories by the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER) project called “Entering Mentoring” to upskill aspiring mentors on best-practices. More is underway: eight mentorship workshops and mentorship training on topics ranging from work-life balance to professional development to IDEA topics.
CPO also provides leadership training through its Early Career Enrichment Program (ECEP), which is based on the DOE’s Oppenheimer Science and Energy Leadership program. ECEP helps prepare emerging leaders at the Lab by providing a deeper understanding of the Lab’s mission, capabilities, and relationships. This year’s ECEP cohort includes the Lab’s Early Career Awardees and Area nominees across Berkeley Lab’s six scientific research areas.
The year-long program kicked off last October; to date participants have attended sessions that provide a strategic overview of the Lab, strategic communications, and a panel discussion about strategies to seek funding from the Office of Science. Participants will also have an opportunity to more intimately get to know the different Areas at the Lab.
“CPO strives to provide resources that help prepare early career scientists for the next phase in their careers. There is a wealth of resources available to researchers at Berkeley Lab,” said Meg. “Researchers just need to take advantage of them.”
Read how Akanksha Menon, a former postdoc in the Energy Technologies Area and now an assistant professor at Georgia Tech, made use of Berkeley Lab resources to explore and pursue her chosen career path.