Berkeley Lab

Top Women Scientists from National Labs Share Perspectives With Students

Women scientists make up fewer than 30 percent of the postdocs and fewer than 20 percent of the research scientists and engineers at Berkeley Lab. So what does it take to be a successful female scientist or engineer at a national lab? Five top women scientists from four national laboratories spoke at a panel discussion last week about their path from student to scientist.


Panelists (from left) Deb Agarwal, Berkeley Lab; Dianna Blair, Sandia; Arden Dougan, DOE; Nina Rosenberg, Los Alamos; Mary Beth Ward, Lawrence Livermore

The event was co-hosted by the Lab’s Women Scientists and Engineers Council (WSEC) and the Nuclear Science and Security Consortium, headquartered at UC Berkeley. The discussion was followed by a speed networking event that allowed the attendees—most of them UC Berkeley graduate students, with some undergrads and postdocs as well—an opportunity to ask questions in a small-group setting.

“The event was very successful,” said Christel Cantlin, the moderator of the event and also Berkeley Lab’s Diversity and Inclusion Manager. “Each of the panelists shared their story. At the networking event, the students had so many questions that it was difficult to get them to change tables.”

Deb Agarwal, head of Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Computing for Science Department, spoke about the exceptionally smart yet easygoing people she gets to work with on a regular basis. Her advice to students was to work hard, have fun, and to take jobs based on the people and not just the work itself.


Students meet with scientists after the panel discussion for a speed networking session.

“I was thrilled to meet Deb Agarwal at the event,” said Katy Huff, a UC Berkeley postdoctoral scholar in nuclear engineering. “She is someone I have been impressed with from afar, and I was thrilled to have a chance to share a meal with someone whose career I find inspiring.”

Several of the panelists told stories about how, at times in their career, it did not occur to them to apply for a new position or a promotion until others encouraged them to do so.

Dianna Blair, a chemical engineer at Sandia National Laboratories who currently manages the International Safeguards and Technical Systems Department, advised attendees to always be open to new opportunities. Arden Dougan, a program manager in the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) who previously worked in nuclear chemistry, said being more of a generalist and keeping up with how other fields intersect with your own would also create more opportunities.

Other panelists were Mary Beth Ward, a program analyst at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory who has worked on multi-disciplinary teams conducting all-source analysis on foreign nuclear programs, multilateral nuclear export controls, and terrorist efforts to develop advanced weapons, and Nina Rosenberg, the Program Director of Nuclear Nonproliferation and Security at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

XBD201406-00615-13.TIF“The discussion and presentations showed me how many opportunities the national labs offer to women in science, said Kulyash Zhumadilova, a physics major from Kazakhstan who is also a summer intern at Berkeley Lab. “A real conversation with panelists was also very inspirational and informative. We shared thoughts about gender equality and its economic perspective, as well as the importance of networking in modern science. I enjoyed it very much.”

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) awarded $25 million to UC Berkeley to lead a multi-institution consortium to support the nation’s nuclear nonproliferation mission through the training and education of experts in the nuclear security field. The Nuclear Science and Security Consortium was established at UC Berkeley in 2011. Berkeley Lab, as well as Sandia, Livermore, and Los Alamos national labs, along with six universities, are participants in the consortium.

Click here to view the event poster.

– Julie Chao