Argonne National Laboratory

Laura Zamboni

By Kathryn E. JandeskaJuly 31, 2013

Postdoctoral fellow Laura Zamboni joined Argonne in 2010. A mentoring advocate, she credits her career success, in part, to the counsel of trusted mentors. 

What do you do at Argonne?

I’m a climate scientist, working to improve climate predictions. My research uses Argonne supercomputers to quantify uncertainties about rainfall simulations and increase our understanding about cloud physics. This will be extremely useful, for example, in developing water management policies worldwide.

Why did you become a scientist?

I was always good in math and science. I fell in love with physics in high school, where I had a terrific teacher. I earned a master’s degree in physics from the University of Bologna, Italy, my hometown. I then did my Ph.D. at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics, in Trieste, Italy, in collaboration with the University of California, Los Angeles.

What brought you to Argonne?

In 2009, my fiancé, Diego Fazi, accepted a postdoctoral position at Northwestern University. Soon after that, I was offered a postdoctoral position at the Euro-Mediterranean Center for Climate Change in Bologna. As a dual-career couple, it was a tough choice to make, but we decided that I would take the position in Italy and we would be apart for a year.

As Diego prepared to join Northwestern, I happened to read an email with job listings. I wasn’t looking for a job — I had one waiting in Italy — but the email had a listing for a computational fellowship at Argonne. I didn’t know anything about Argonne, but when I saw it was a national laboratory in Chicago — the beautiful city where my fiancé was going to be — I became curious. I contacted Argonne, interested in the position, and I proposed to visit the lab while visiting Chicago with Diego.

It occurred to me that a research idea I had formulated while at UCLA required a tremendous amount of computational resources. Suddenly, the computational fellowship at Argonne seemed like a great fit. After I joined Argonne in October 2010, my mentors encouraged me to apply for the Advanced Scientific Computing Research (ASCR) Advanced Leadership Computing Challenge (ALCC) Award. I eventually won the award: 40 million core-hours on Argonne’s supercomputer Blue Gene/P, the second largest ALCC allocation that year and the first ever awarded to a postdoctoral fellow.

At Northwestern, Diego became interested in renewable energy and made a major career shift. He joined Argonne in 2012 as a postdoctoral appointee in the Solar Conversion group.

Is mentoring important at Argonne?

Yes. I’m having a terrific experience and I have built several mentoring relationships. Some of them are official, like the ones with Robert Jacob, Timothy Williams and Maria Cadeddu, while others are more informal, like the ones with Veerabhadra Kotamarthi, Kawtar Hafidi, Joe Bernstein, Tina Henne, Sarah O’Brien and of course Diego (who is now my husband).

I am also currently serving as a supervisor to a recent college grad. It is a big responsibility. I’m learning how to find a balance between giving guidance and letting him walk his own path and figure out things for himself.

Do you get involved in extracurricular activities at Argonne?

Yes, I regularly participate in WIST: Women in Science and Technology. It’s a tremendous group and one of the best things about Argonne because it broadens my view about the possibilities. I’ve also joined the board of the Postdoctoral Society of Argonne, where I chair the Mentoring Committee. It’s important for postdoctoral fellows to get involved in mentoring.

Do you have work-life balance?

Yes, I enjoy yoga — something I did often in graduate school. I’m going to complete my yoga teacher training. I like to travel, too. Diego and I have visited Sequoia National Park five times. When our parents visited from Italy, we took them to Yellowstone.

What advice would you give someone thinking about a postdoctoral appointment?

It’s key that you’re someplace where you can be exposed to learning all the skills you need. Many skills are not taught in graduate school, like the art of collaborating, leading meetings, managing a group, finding grants, writing proposals and building a healthy relationship with your supervisor. All of these can be sources of struggle in science. Mastering them is key to your success.

When you come to a major institution like Argonne, you’re treated like a scientist. In many cases, you’re also expected to have experience and skills you don’t yet have. I’ve been very lucky to be able to benefit from career-development activities.

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