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Photo of Tomas Diaz de la Rubia
Tomás Díaz de la Rubia
Deputy Director for Science and Technology

Postdocs Vital to Our Future Workforce

AMONG the most energetic people at Lawrence Livermore are
postdocs, new doctoral scientists and engineers who are just beginning promising careers. We depend on a vigorous Postdoc Program to bring new skills and knowledge to the Laboratory as well as a fresh perspective to our work. Postdocs bring their ideas, enthusiasm, and passion while providing a vital link to the academic world. It is good to see the Laboratory’s postdoc population grow from 112 two years ago to 177 today.

Every year, we receive far more applications for postdoc positions than we can fund. As described in the article Training a New Generation of Scientists, we look for candidates with strong scientific or engineering research skills, an established publication record, and a desire to work in a multidisciplinary environment. The most promising candidates are invited to the Laboratory for interviews and to present a seminar on their doctoral research.

Livermore postdocs perform research alongside some of the top experts in the world. They present and publish research that advances knowledge in both basic and applied research and contribute to the continuing scientific and technological success of the Laboratory. Postdocs also receive career encouragement and advice from senior scientists who serve as mentors. A valuable part of the Postdoc Program is the opportunity to develop professional skills, such as writing grant proposals and peer-reviewed research papers and presenting research results at national and international conferences.

Every summer, our postdocs showcase their current scientific research results at a poster symposium. The symposium gives postdocs an opportunity to gain feedback from senior Laboratory scientists on their work, and it helps to promote interactions between postdocs and the general Laboratory community.

Postdocs are also an essential element of our strategy for recruiting and developing our workforce. Faculty members at the world’s greatest universities send some of their best graduates to the Laboratory for postdoc training, and we look to these young researchers as a major source of talent for our future workforce.

By any measure, postdocs value their experience at Livermore. In fact, surveys conducted by The Scientist have ranked the Laboratory among the top workplaces for postdocs internationally. It is also gratifying that so many postdocs desire to make Lawrence Livermore their permanent home once they have completed their appointment. Currently, more than 60 percent of the Laboratory’s postdocs are retained as staff. We encourage those who leave for other positions—whether at another national laboratory, academic institution, or private industry—to remain part of the extended Laboratory community. Many former postdocs who do not stay nevertheless become important research collaborators or otherwise remain “ambassadors” for Lawrence Livermore in the greater scientific community.

My strong feelings about Livermore postdocs are based on more than observations and surveys. In 1989, I joined the Laboratory as a postdoc in materials science. My supervisor said my job was to do science and become famous. After six months, he asked me to take the lead on writing a paper describing research that had begun before I arrived at Livermore, but that I had been heavily involved with first as a graduate student and then as a postdoc. I experienced great difficulty at first, but with others’ help, we soon published the paper. I went on to do much more research of which I am still proud. As for becoming famous, I’ll let history be the judge of that. Today, I see my role as helping other postdocs achieve their full potential as scientists working at an institution that offers unparalleled opportunities for advancing scientific knowledge.

The postdoc experience can be one of the most rewarding chapters in an academic or research career. I’m pleased that so many postdocs have told me their experience at Lawrence Livermore has been extremely valuable in advancing their careers. A vigorous Postdoc Program has proven to be immeasurably beneficial for the Laboratory, as well.

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