This is one of several interviews in a series about the changes we can expect at the Lab during 2024.

The Learning and Culture (L&C) Office is a new name for the former Learning and Organizational Development team that brings culture to the Lab’s forefront. The Lab’s Chief Culture Officer, Aditi Chakravarty, leads the office. The team consists of learning and organizational development specialists who work, in partnership with others across the Lab, to help employees enhance their careers, build stronger teams, and deepen our practice of the Lab’s core stewardship values

“Our shared goal is to create a culture at the Lab that inspires and empowers our employees to commit and contribute their talents to the Lab’s scientific mission,” said Chakravarty.

Q: I understand the learning in your title, but what is culture?

A: Culture has become a buzzword, so let’s define it. In an organization, ‘culture’ is the set of shared values, norms, practices, mindsets, and mental models that a group uses to get work done and achieve common goals. In other words, culture is what helps a diverse, complex set of teams and groups cohere as a community. When we understand it this way, we know that culture influences our behavior at every level, whether we are aware or not. It is important that we find ways to understand whether our default behaviors reflect and align with the values that we talk about and care about most.

And, the truth is, sometimes the behaviors and default ways of working that get rewarded and repeated are things we inherited from a different time or work culture. For instance, I might have learned in a past work experience that sharing knowledge and data with my peers backfires and is not rewarded. So, if I’m not self-aware or intentional, I might end up building a team or entire function in my current workplace that implicitly reflects this mindset. This is where a strong organizational culture can help disrupt old patterns. If I instead anchored myself in the values and norms of my current organization, like in the value of team science at Berkeley Lab, I might recognize how some of my default behaviors don’t fit or serve my personal goals or my team’s or the institution’s. That’s why we say that culture-building always happens at three different levels simultaneously: at the individual, team, and institutional levels. Each level flows into and depends on the others. 

As we think about the future and ensure that we’re built to serve future generations, the Lab is investing heavily in upgrading its physical infrastructure by constructing new buildings and upgrading our facilities. It’s just as vital that we invest in strengthening our cultural infrastructure. 


Q: Aditi, what are the Lab’s central learning and culture projects for 2024?

A: We have two major initiatives this year: the Director’s Stewardship Summit, which wrapped up its three-day January kickoff with an amazing cohort of 174 leaders from across the Lab, and the LBNL Culture Survey, which launches in March. This culture survey is a critical project for the Learning and Culture Office and the Lab. It is the first lab-wide employee engagement survey we’ve done since 2016, and it is the first time we have control over what we measure and why because we’ve built the survey ourselves. In other words, the survey was written by the Lab for the Lab. Previous surveys from UC were sent to a random sample of our employees, so our insights from them have been useful but very limited. 

This survey will go out to everyone. But to provide value and create a true feedback and accountability loop, we need many people across the Lab to take the survey. At this point, we might have an idea of what Berkeley Lab’s cultural strengths and challenges are, but this is primarily based on anecdotal evidence and often based on what the “loudest voices” in our community might say. This survey gives each of us, regardless of our position or where we sit in the organization, the opportunity to share feedback on our experience as employees. 

The survey is only 10 minutes long, but even two minutes of your time is extremely valuable. We hope you will participate and reach out to us if you have any concerns or questions. 


Q: How was the survey designed? And how will the results be analyzed?

A: Adi Greif, our Culture Data Scientist and an expert in survey design, and I are social scientists, so we’ve taken the creation of the survey very seriously. The survey measures 11 cultural constructs, all validated extensively in academic literature in organizational behavior and other related fields, and each of those corresponds with one of six areas of workplace well-being based on the work of the Surgeon General. We’ve also coordinated our efforts with different areas, divisions, and Employee Resource Groups (ERG) of the Lab that already conduct culture surveys or have special interest in this initiative. This has helped us ensure that our questions address key areas of interest for both employees and Lab leadership. We’ve also tested the questions to make sure they make sense to people across different roles and contexts. Finally, our survey instrument is designed to be used biannually so that we can compare our progress over time. This will be the first, but not the last, Lab-wide culture survey to ask the same questions.  

We will apply that same rigor to analyzing the results. This 10-minute survey is completely voluntary, first of all. Secondly, it is important for us to be able to understand employee experiences across different demographic factors like areas, work mode, gender, race/ethnicity, and years at the Lab. To make this possible, survey responses will be linked to basic human resources data and self-identification data that employees had put into UC Path when they were hired. Some people may feel nervous to share their experiences, so I want to be clear that our Culture Data Scientist, Adi Grief, will be the only person who will have the key to connect responses to individuals, and she will remove all identifying information as soon as she makes this link. We take our responsibility to protect your input extremely seriously; it is the most important part of this initiative. So, we promise transparency by sharing the survey questions, our methodology, and all data protection protocols on our survey website (, which anyone can access before, during, and after the survey is sent out in March. 

I recognize that taking any survey, especially one like this is an investment of employees’ effort and time. We want to repay that investment by providing thoughtful and thorough analysis and empowering employees across all levels and roles at the Lab to take meaningful actions to address our biggest cultural gaps. We all care about this place and have the power to make it even better. When the analysis is completed, the Lab will hold a Stewardship Town Hall, and aggregated results will be available on the website. This process will take some time and it is our first round doing this, so I ask for some grace. But I can promise that we will be open to feedback every step of the way since that’s at the heart of this process.


Q: What other programs are you working on?

A: There are already existing professional development resources available through our website and offered across multiple offices like Career Pathways and IDEA. Several mentoring programs also continue this year, and we support the lab-wide Just-In-Time mentoring events. Learning & Culture (L&C) is also updating its coaches and facilitator “bench” so individuals and teams across the Lab can leverage a broader network of vetted specialists whenever needed. Finally, based on years of feedback and research on the Lab’s evolving learning and development needs, we’ve created the LBNL Core Competency & Technical Acumen framework that outlines the 10 behavioral competencies and six areas of technical acumen that we all, as employees, need to be strong stewards of the Lab’s people, research, and resources. These are the areas of knowledge and skill we need to cultivate beyond our individual professional technical domains and what L&C programs will focus on.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, the Director’s Stewardship Summit (DSS) returned for its third year with a kick-off in January. The participants will continue to meet for practice sessions we call “management practicums” over the next six months, and they will officially graduate from the program in July. The DSS is the Lab’s flagship leadership program, open to anyone at the Lab and geared specifically towards managers of all experience levels. Our vision is that 100% of our managers go through it in the next five years and, in fact, that everyone at the Lab can attend at multiple points in their careers. Going back to the definition of culture I shared earlier, the Summit program gives attendees shared vocabulary, mental models, and practices that help us get our work done in ways that equip us to better live our stewardship values.


Q: How do you partner with the Lab’s researchers?

A: I’m continuing to work with the wonderful IDEA in Research Working Group, a cross-area group focused on helping researchers successfully address PIER plan requirements sponsored by Carol Burns and the IDEA Office. Beyond that, all the programs we run — from the Director’s Summit to Equity Reset to SAFE and beyond — are designed to build new cross-functional collaboration networks within the Lab and give researchers tools to manage projects and lead their teams more effectively. The L&C specialists also often work with researchers to understand what they need in terms of learning interventions or cultural support. We consult with people on individual leadership and team-building challenges and offer advice or potential solutions in areas such as coaching, leadership development, team retreats, decision-making, and conflict management and communication. If a leader or PI is encountering a challenge with supporting their team, we can help by working with them directly or bringing in a skilled consultant based on the need. 


Q: What have you learned about the people at the Lab?

A: As someone deeply passionate about human behavior, I have known from the moment I set foot here that I was in the right place at the right time with the right people. The Lab’s mission is powerful enough, but people at the Lab have shown me that how we choose to work together and treat each other matters, even when or especially when we’re working on hugely ambitious projects.   

I have learned that the thing that draws many of us to Berkeley Lab — the pursuit of knowledge and the desire to be a part of helping humanity solve its most dogged challenges — transcends any specific professional or technical domain. And I’ve seen people at the Lab approach culture-building with the same rigor they apply to other areas of their work. As a former organizational consultant, I know this is not always the reaction you get when discussing culture. People here want to explore questions like, what do we implicitly value, do we walk the talk, how do we strengthen our personal relationships and team interactions, and what can I do differently? I’m moved by how deep some people prefer to go on these topics. The rest of my team has had similar experiences, and we feel blessed to be working at a place where IDEA, learning, and culture are seen as critical enablers of our mission.