It’s actually been about seven now, but that doesn’t sound as good. I’ve posted a few times since I moved here and grad school and my post-grad school vacation ended, but nothing substantial, or really about being here. So where to start, there’s the lab, Santa Fe, and the commute between.
In short, the lab is really excellent, but very different. It’s one of the biggest labs in the world, with some history that you’ve probably heard of. I ended up in a materials science group, which has some chemists, but many other engineers, etc, and definitely a different feel than a normal chemistry group. It’s been a fun and interesting adjustment, getting to work a lot of different things, but also has moments of “What do you mean there’s no pH paper around, this is no chemistry lab! Oh… right.”
Definitely a great change, being exposed to all sorts of new areas of science, and seemingly no end to new projects. Being a postdoc gives you tons of freedom to more or less research whatever you want.
The size of the lab is different in terms of both number of groups, scientists, and facilities, but also size. There’s almost every possible imaginable resource, if you can figure out who has what. In terms of size, given the origin of the lab, there are a lot of things spread out, so you do a lot of driving just within the lab. There are government vehicles available for use most of the time, so you don’t end up racking up tons of miles of your own gas, which is nice. (Unlike the commute…) My horrendous sense of direction has been getting a good workout; finally starting to not get lost every other day.
Comparing academia to government is interesting. I don’t have any current aspirations of professorship, so the national lab system seems pretty perfect for me right now, giving you lots of research freedom, without the teaching aspects. I could see going to academia someday down the road, but not in the near future. That isn’t to say the research experience is the same as in academia, there’s definitely a significant amount of things which go a lot slower.
Safety culture is huge. If you are not trained and authorized to do it, you’re not doing it. There’s no “oh, I can figure it out”, “oh, he can just show me how then I’ll be fine”, no. This has its ups and downs, in theory being safety/proficiency and slower progress/unnecessary(?) bureaucracy, but overall I can’t argue with it. I’m not without my fair share of grad school accidents, so when I have to sit through hours of training, there’s definitely some moments of, “yeah, I did that, ouch”.
You probably spend your first three weeks doing nothing but various forms of training, and lots of reading. If you weren’t warned about this, you’d probably be really frustrated. I was, so I just pushed through it. It’s really mostly in the beginning, so you just sit through it all once. There’s lots of refreshers along the way, keeping different types of training active, but it seems to be spaced out enough that it’s not bad.
Once you get going, everything picks up with whatever speed you want it to. There will be things which get in the way and take a while to get approval, etc, but remember, you have lots of projects at once, so if you’re without things to do, it’s probably your own fault.
Like I said in the beginning, super fun so far.
That ended up being a lot more than I thought, so I’m breaking this up into a couple parts, next up, New Mexico itself.