Gwyn Williams of Jefferson Labs in Newport News, VA
offered wonderful insight on what it is like to work
in government service at a recent workshop in VA.
I never appreciated that there are over 100 national
laboratories nationwide that do work that is too
risky for industry to attempt and too big for
academic institutions. Often national labs
host “big machines”. For instance, the Kennedy Space
Center is a very large launch facility. Jefferson
Labs operates a large particle accelerator.
Gwyn shared that it is common for national labs
to be run and managed by scientists. Nearly all
people at national labs will work in teams, not small
teams but larger teams with specific missions.
So, if you like to collaborate and be involved in
mission-critical projects, government labs may be
a good fit. There is an interesting culture at most
facilities. Above all, safety is considered utmost
and some places will place security high on the list
Like academic places, some labs have a tenure system.
Like industrial places, most national labs have annual
performance appraisals. Performance is measured by
publications and presentations. It is not uncommon
for people to have diverse backgrounds from many
Where security is utmost at a number of labs, there
will be citizenship restrictions.
People have explored working in government by
doing a post-doc. Interestingly government post-docs
can provide nice career paths for industry, academia
and government. I really did not think of it that way.