Interview originally conducted on April 27, 2023
How did you decide on your career path and to what extent did Berkeley Lab support you in your career path?
Berkeley Lab changed my perspective. My grad school preached academia as the best career path for Ph.D. candidates, and I accepted that without questioning it. I loved teaching and I’m extroverted, so it felt like a fit for me. But at Berkeley Lab, the postdocs were encouraged to be open to many other opportunities. We explored the pros and cons of being in academia, as well as working at national labs, in government, or in industry. I learned that I could do lots of good things in industry. This exposure really shifted my perspective about my career options. I started going to seminars with industry speakers, having one-on-one meetings with companies in Emeryville to learn more about industry career paths. A friend of mine was working at Afton, which is how I learned about this opportunity.
“At first it was intimidating because the Lab is so prestigious, but I realized quickly that…everyone was open, collaborative, and so supportive of postdocs. The resources were phenomenal, the research was really cool, and I met so many different people.“
– Mariah Parker
What did you work on as a postdoc at the Lab?
I worked in the John Gibson’s actinides chemistry lab on gas-based chemistry. Actinides are the 14 metallic elements at the bottom of the periodic table, all of which are radioactive. We looked at the fundamental mechanisms and interactions of these elements using gas-phase chemistry techniques (think what happens when molecule A collides with molecule B and why). This understanding can lead to wonderful potential applications for actinides, for example, breaking up carbon dioxide or cancer treatment.
What have you been working on since you left the Lab?
I’ve been at Afton Chemical for a year and a half. Afton is a lubricant additive company that works primarily in the automotive industry; our products make things move smoothly. My team and I are working on the next generation of engine oils that are cleaner, better, and longer lasting. We are also looking for ways to make engines and engine oils more sustainable; for example, engines in hybrid vehicles have different lubricant requirements than vehicles that only have an internal combustion engine.
A career at Berkeley Lab offers a range of opportunities supported by training, mentorship, and career development programs. Whether you choose to build a career at the Lab or take your skills to other organizations, a career path to and at the Lab sets you up for success.