Today at Berkeley Lab

Parts of a Greater Whole: DOE Program Fosters Next Generation of Lab Leaders

Oppenheimer Science and Energy Leadership Program fellows for 2017-2018 with lab directors attending the National Lab Directors’ Council spring retreat in D.C.

By Theresa Duque

Katie Antypas thrives on data. As both division deputy for NERSC and head of the Data Department, she navigates a complicated path of data workflows and applications for thousands of NERSC users nationwide. But her dual responsibilities left little time for learning more about the Department of Energy and the national lab system – until she was selected last year to participate in the DOE’s Oppenheimer Science and Energy Leadership Program (OSELP).

Antypas was one of 14 mid-career scientists, most representing the national labs, to graduate this April from the leadership program, now in its third year. To date, 28 Oppenheimer fellows have completed the program, including Berkeley Lab’s Antypas and Trent Northen, a Biosciences Area staff scientist who heads the Metabolomics Technology group at the Joint Genome Institute. A call for nominees to the 2018-2019 cohort will be issued later this year.

“Before I participated in the Oppenheimer leadership program, I had visited the computing facilities at Argonne, Oak Ridge, and Los Alamos, but that’s a very narrow view of what the national labs have to offer,” said Antypas. “It was a great opportunity to see how Berkeley Lab – as well as each of the other national labs – fits into the broader scheme of the DOE mission, and understand the key challenges that lab senior leaders and directors face.”

The Oppenheimer program – which evolved out of a pilot program called the Energy Sciences Leadership Group, which was proposed by former Lab Director Paul Alivisatos when he chaired the National Lab Directors’ Council – is designed to “build a deep bench of stewardship of the national labs in exceptional mid-career professionals with expertise in the sciences, operations management, or policy,” said Berkeley Lab Deputy Director for Research Horst Simon. “The program also helps these future leaders develop relationships with their peers at other national labs so they have a deeper understanding of DOE’s role in the federal government,” he added.

Under the mentorship of senior figures within the DOE system, Oppenheimer fellows work closely together as they visit national labs across the United States – for example, the most recent cohort visited 12 of the DOE’s 17 national labs – in addition to meeting with key leaders at DOE Headquarters in D.C. to get a firsthand view of the national labs’ unique capabilities, and to facilitate a better understanding of each lab’s challenges.

The fellows also collaborate on a number of “think piece” proposals centered around a range of topics – from the future STEM workforce to strengthening relationships across sectors – as well as fostering cross collaborations between DOE, the national labs, and the academic sector as they work together to solve critical problems related to DOE’s mission areas of energy, security, science, and the environment.

Those are big problems that don’t come with easy answers. But according to Northen, an alum of the leadership program’s inaugural 2016-2017 cohort – that’s where the value of the Oppenheimer program comes into play.

“The DOE national labs are the greatest scientific enterprise in history. Programs like OSELP help to maximize the positive impact of the overall system by fostering collaborations that leverage the unique capabilities and expertise of the individual labs,” Northen said. “My experience in the leadership program left me feeling even more inspired to take on big problems, because thanks to this program, I now have a rich network of colleagues across the national labs to help facilitate collaboration.”