Aug. 19, 2021
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Former interns share insights during career panel

Holly Auten/LLNL

The DSI’s new career panel series continued on August 10 with a session featuring former LLNL interns who converted to full-time employment at the Lab. Inspired by the annual Women in Data Science conference, the panel session was open to all LLNL staff and students. Moderator Mary Silva was joined by panelists from the Computing and Engineering Directorates: Brian Bartoldson, Jose Cadena, Jacquelyn First, and Mariah Martinez.

Many of the Lab’s summer interns receive employment offers after they complete their undergraduate or graduate degrees. For the panelists, the opportunity to continue working at the Lab was an exciting prospect. Silva, who was hired as a data scientist last year after interning with Computing in 2018 and DSSI in 2019, said, “I knew immediately after my first internship that this was a place where I wanted to work after graduation.” Bartoldson, another former DSSI intern and now a postdoc, added, “I really liked my mentors and knew the Lab wanted to hire machine learning researchers.” First, who works as a systems analyst in LLNL’s Global Security Computing Applications Division, did not apply to other jobs because she wanted to work here.

Most of the panel returned for a second or even third internship, so Silva asked why they kept coming back. Cadena worked on the same project for three consecutive summers, developing algorithms for graph data and machine learning networks. He noted, “As a PhD student, my internships provided a change of pace where I could explore different problems besides what I was doing for grad school and see how my research connected to a different environment.” Martinez interned both in the summer and year round, contributing to software projects that lasted three to six months. She explained, “My mentor introduced me to new technologies that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. I enjoyed coming to work, learning something new, and getting to know people.”

With current summer students in the audience, panelists discussed their experiences transitioning to full time, the interview process, and Lab culture. Bartoldson, who worked as a statistical analysis consultant before enrolling in graduate school, contrasted LLNL’s encouragement of innovation with industry’s emphasis on profits and applying known techniques. “The Lab is more welcoming of a work–life balance,” he added. As for interviewing, panelists agreed that the internship is part of the application, and interviewers focus on matching the candidate to a specific project or group. Cadena stated, “Mentors can help you find a good place at the Lab.”

Panelists also shared their thoughts on the unique situation caused by the pandemic: interviewing, onboarding, and working remotely. Cadena suggested a “tech check” and practice run before an interview. Although body language can be difficult to perceive on a video chat, and some interview participants may not have a web camera, Martinez reminded students to stay calm. “Remember that it’s not just the job picking you. You should be picking the job as well,” she advised. Bartoldson suggested joining online activities to help new employees become virtually acquainted with colleagues.

Ultimately, to prepare for a possible job at the Lab, panelists recommended making the most of an internship by networking and asking questions—regardless of whether the internship is in person or virtual. For example, Martinez asked fellow software developers about their programming skills and met with different groups over the course of her internships. She stated, “I was taken with the respect and support these groups showed to others and how well they integrated together. You can learn new skills with every project you work on.”

Now that they are on staff, the panelists are learning what mentoring is like from the other side. First often meets one-on-one with interns and emphasized, “There are no dumb questions, and people think highly of interns who ask questions and are curious. And if you’re interested in a particular job or project, bring it up with your mentor early.”