National Labs in the Spotlight for this Month's Virtual Career Fair!

Gabriel Huerta, PhD, (Sandia Statistical Sciences Department) talks about research opportunities at Sandia Labs.Emily Casleton, (Los Alamos National Laboratory) talks about projects involving statistics at Los Alamos.Nancy McMillan, (Battelle) shares her experiences and career opportunites at Battelle.Ben Lee (George Mason University) fielded questions for the panelists as moderator of this session.

Another exciting NISS Virtual Career Fair took place with presentations that shared helpful information and insight about the National Labs. (see Event page)  This career fair took place Wednesday, January 19, 2022 from 12-1:30 pm ET with much excitement from our audience. We certainly learned a lot from this session! 

NISS assembled three senior statisticians who shared their extensive knowledge on working in these specialized federal laboratories. These speakers included Nancy McMillan from Battelle, Emily Michele Casletonos (LANL) from Los Alamos, and Gabriel Huerta from Sandia. Seiyon (Ben) Lee with the Department of Statistics at George Mason University Volgenau School of Engineering moderated the session, and introduced each of the speakers before their presentations. Each presenter gave a 15-minute presentation to describe jobs for statisticians and data scientists in their setting, their own personal career journey, and advice they provided to prospective applicants and graduate students. After the three presentations, the remaining time until 1:30pm was available for Q&A.  

Graduate students looking for post doc positions, and permanent jobs certainly benefited from this informative event and these presentations help recent graduates decide where to place their efforts when deciding their career path. 

The National Labs Virtual Career Fair had over 150 people registered, so there must have been a lot of interest in jobs at National Labs! Our speakers shared their stories on their own career experiences that led them to their current position at a National Laboratory.  

Nancy McMillan, Ph.D., PMP, who leads the Advanced Analytics Division at Battelle, started off the day’s session. Nancy has been working with Battelle for the last 27 years after being a former NISS Postdoc for 3 years. Nancy explained that many of the projects that Battelle’s staff work on include data design, data quality assessments and data applications. GIS systems are also important to some projects at Battelle. Her career involves working with a lot of environmental and public health data. To do this type of work, the data science staff at Battelle typically comes from those holding PhDs in statistics, applied mathematics, electrical engineering, or physics.

Those that are interested in joining Battelle may find that the work has a multitude of projects they could work on.

Battelle is a project-based organization, they could work on over 100 different projects a year per team.
 Nancy McMillan

There are individual research projects you could also be assigned to. And who knows? Your individual research may lead to the next big innovational project.
Battelle is a company that focuses on innovation

Innovation is really driven by data science…  data science is the engine behind all the innovation”  

 Nancy McMillan

Emily Casleton, PhD, at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) gave the next presentation. Emily’s career involves conducting simulations for many different projects. LANL provides direct support of weapons science as one of the major projects. In addition to conducting simulations, Emily and her team designs experiments for projects at LANL working on areas in nuclear material management and nuclear nonproliferation and safeguards. She considers her group at LANL as “statistical sleuths” since they can figure out how to determine what caused an explosion to happen after it happens. LANL also focuses on assessing environmental health impacts, disease modeling, space research and many other research focused areas. Opportunities to do original statistical methodological development at LANL also exist.

Emily shares comments on what National Labs are looking for in prospective employees: 

Our definition of what makes a successful statistical employee is flexible, it’s not the number of publications or the number of grants you win, there are lots of different paths you could take to be a successful employee.”  

 Emily Casleton

The most important quality of an applicant is their willingness to learn and be a good collaborator along with having a good statistical foundation. 

Gabriel Huerta, PhD, at Sandia Statistical Sciences Department, our last speaker for the session, describes Sandia National Labs as a “multi-mission laboratory.” He has had opportunities to work on a lot of different problems related to cyber security or terrorism that are very critical to issues of national security. Sandia has many facilities across the nation and has five main program areas on nuclear deterrence, global security, national security programs, energy & homeland security, and advanced science & technology. One example of an area of work that statisticians at Sandia are involved with is statistical research for detecting climate pathways. There are various data techniques that statisticians perform involving data fusion, spatial statistics methods, deep learning and change point methods. 

Sandia is very engaged in research collaborations with a variety of institutions and universities, some even have adjunct positions at universities. Sandia supports many students from universities throughout the USA through summer or year-round internships. There are also some internal teaching opportunities and Sandia participates actively in the development of courses.

Each staff member at Sandia has developed their own career paths.Areas of expertise and career paths within the department range from Bayesian analysis, functional data analysis, statistical machine learning, data visualization, and much more! Some started out as student interns or post docs which then turned into permanent positions at Sandia. 

Postings for student internships available.
You can visit Sandia for more information.

The Q&A session occurred at the end of our presentations. During the Q&A, our speakers gave us a real inside look of what a statistician is tasked with in National Lab careers. There were many enthusiastic participants with great questions! Our speakers each provided detailed advice on work/life balance and how you could prepare yourself for obtaining a position with a national laboratory based on their experiences. 

After the session we were happy to hear that some graduate students have expressed that they very much enjoyed the session, and they were especially thankful that Nancy, Emily, and Gabriel provided such clear overviews of each national lab.  

The speakers demystified the types of research taking place at the national labs and provided clear explanation of the application process.

 Graduate Student Attendee 

We would like to give a big thank you to our speakers for giving us their time preparing and presenting for this session!  Their personal stories, and comments on work/life balance were very beneficial!

Hopefully many of our audience will apply for internships and positions in the future! You can check out the full session on our YouTube Channel embedded below. 

Recording of the Session

Slides Used by the Speakers

Nancy McMillan, (Battelle) 

"NISS National Lab Career Fair"

Emily Michele Casleton, (Los Alamos)

"Being a Statistician at Los Alamos National Laboratory"

Gabriel Huerta, (Sandia)

"Statistics at Sandia National Laboratories"

Monday, January 24, 2022 by Megan Glenn