Sunday, April 19, 2009

Roadtrip completed, and the result is:

A job.

Yes, a job. A real job. Not fake, but real. No imaginary jobs here. Just real. It apparently will give me compensation in the form of "money" in exchange for work on my part (is this common?). Occasionally, they will pay me to go on "vacation", and will also subsidize something called "health insurance", all completely new terms to me.

I'd love to tell you what I'll be working on, but the problem is, I don't really know since they wouldn't tell me. Its classified. You see, the job is at a little place called Los Alamos National Lab. You know, the one with all the nukes.

How did I get a job at LANL? I don't honestly know. I've applied to hundreds of jobs over the past two years, all of them I found advertised on various sites like monster and other career sites, occasionally on the site of the company itself like Boeing (curse you Boeing for the 20-30 jobs I applied to with you, and you never gave me the time of day!). This one just kind of appeared out of thin air. I emailed a former student of my undergraduate advisor and asked him if he knew of any postdoc positions open at the lab. He emailed back and said, why yes, I need to hire one right away, when's the soonest I can fly you down for an interview? I said, in about 10 minutes. A week later we were driving to Los Alamos, NM (a much longer drive than it looks on a map, by the way).

It still feels a little surreal, like he's going to call at any minute and say, Oh, sorry, the funding dried up. Or, oops, I just interviewed someone else and I think they'd be a better fit. Or maybe I find out that the guy is just some quack scientist who will be shut down or let go in a few months. But no, this guy is the real thing. He ran a huge research institute at the University of Louisiana for a few years, and has ran a big group at LANL for years now working on classified projects. He showed me his lab, and he has equipment laying around in the dust in the corner that any university physics lab would murder for. His last paper was on making brand new materials in nano-fiber form with a high power laser that no one has ever made before. Its real. He showed me the high power femtosecond laser, patted it and said, This will be your baby for a few years.

He even said that if I'm a good fit after 2 years, I'd be hired on as a full staff member, the equivalent of a tenured professor at a university.

I'm totally not making this up.

I still almost don't believe it, since the job is better than anything I'd dreamed of having- I thought only MIT or caltech grads who did stunning research with nobel laureates get to go to LANL. Not me. Especially now after two years of looking, I thought I was defective.

He wants us to come down within weeks. As soon as the paperwork goes through (which really is the only thing that could derail this, and he said that he's never been denied a postdoc by his higher-ups), we leave. Well, as soon as we can sell the house- if thats even possible to do in a few weeks.

Yes, its not Seattle, but I gave Seattle plenty of time to come up with a job for me. You lost, Seattle, the prize goes to Los Alamos. Even you, Washington, couldn't muster a job- you got beaten by New Mexico. You snooze, you lose, west coast- I gave you 18 months.


Anyway, we stayed in Los Alamos for a full day (a full, blizzardy day), and tried to get to know the area a bit. Its on top of a mesa, several mesas actually, such that each neighborhood is on a different mesa and there are bridges connecting them. It is surprisingly very green (zoom out on google maps and you'll see what I mean), and the weather is really nice for most of the year- only high 70's/low 80's in the summer, but cold (and sunny) in the winter. The schools are amazing, always ranked near the top of public schools nationally. There is no crime. Its hard to commit crimes when there are soldiers with machine guns in humvees making occasional patrols. And most of the 12,000 residents are scientists, who, as we know from many hero/villain movies, make really incompetent criminals.

My work is 12 miles down this deserted, canyon road that looks like it was straight out of a car or motorcycle commercial- weavy, up and down, stunning scenery. The landscape is amazing- red rock, green trees, rivers and streams- all right there mixed in with the neighborhoods and the lab. My building is out in the middle of nowhere, and looks like a storage shed on the outside. On the inside, it is a high tech world class physics lab, but they want to fool potential spies. In fact, the layout of the lab is such that the buildings are scattered on this huge 40 square mile chunk of land, with each many mile apart from the next. They did this originally for three purposes: first, since they were working on the atomic bomb, they didn't want one accidentally going off and wiping out all the scientists- if they're spread out not all of them die. Second, better security- if someone manages to get into one lab, that lab only has a small portion of sensitive material, and third, in the original Manhattan project they kept the nature of the work secret from nearly all the scientists who worked there by keeping them separated- only a few at the top knew what they were working on.

So anyway, still in shock, but I have a job. Or at least a 99% certainty of having a job within a few weeks.

(ps- Julie, don't tell your mom yet- we're going to tell her when she gets here in a day or two.)

12 comments:

Warren said...

That's awesome. You need to go to Chaco Canyon, it's possibly my favorite place in the US. I've been meaning to blog about some of it for years now but have yet to do it.

Julie C said...

Okay - I won't say anything. But we (Dan & I) do have one pressing question. What will you put in your new garden?

lefty said...

Go Nick! I'm so very excited for you. New gardening challenges await!

And even though Washington was a major loser, don't discount ALL the people who live there...

Jon and Julie said...

Congratulations! Good things come to those who wait, right? Good for you guys for toughing out what must of been a discouraging, frustrating, disheartening, seemingly endless job search. Good luck with moving.

apyknowzitall said...

Freakin' NM...

Cabeza said...

Congratulations, Nick! The job sounds awesome. And I've heard good things about Los Alamos. It should be a great place to work.

Julie C said...

Will we ever see you again?

Nick said...

Depends on how often the military police let me leave the compound.

Alison said...

Congratulations!

JonF said...

Congrats, Nick. If you hated being underemployed as much as I did, you must be really relieved.
Think of the peppers you'll be able to grow, and the melons. Oh, the melons. Mmmmmmmmm.

Muriel said...

Congratulations! But isn't this going to put a damper on your "tomato by your birthday" plan?

Nick said...

Yes, yes it has. I will now be content with tomatos from my new garden by July.