Laurie Stephey – Computing Sciences

Ngoc Bui, Fadji Maina, Sneha Jani

Words Laurie Lives By: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” ~ Mark Twain

Laurie’s journey to Berkeley Lab

Laurie grew up in the sunshine state of Florida. She earned her Bachelor degree in Physics at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, which sparked her interest in becoming a scientist. Before attending graduate school, however, she served in AmeriCorps for a year to help raise community awareness on  local water quality issues through different volunteering activities. Laurie then pursued a PhD in stellarator devices for magnetic confinement fusion at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and W7-X in Greifswald, Germany. Laurie is now a postdoc at NERSC in the Data and Analytics Services group where she is optimizing the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) Python code to run efficiently on Cori.

…A great passion to help and serve others

Amazingly, this desire brought our plasma physicist, Laurie, to a new field – computer science! At LBNL, she has been striving to  serve her peer scientists by offering them a great environment to efficiently unfold their science. Her current work at NERSC allows Laurie to help scientists understand dark energy through creating a three dimensional map of the universe with algorithms that can be up to 10 times faster than usual. Also stemming from the passion of proactively serving the community, Laurie is an active member of the LBL Postdoc Union (UAW 5810), an association that represents thousands of postdoctoral researchers across the University of California campuses.

What’s her next step?

Inevitably, changing fields was tough. At times, one can feel as if they have no idea what they are trying to do. The great thing about it, however, is that you never get bored of learning new things every single day. To Laurie, the patience and continuous support of the NERSC staff has been extremely helpful for her to excitedly get through the initial nervousness. The fact that they set their focuses on investing in people, rather than in their initial experience, is truly inspiring for junior scientists in building their careers. Through these processes, Laurie realized that computer science is what she always wanted to do. The most interesting part, to her, is to solve a diverse set of problems with algorithms that can help hundreds of scientists in enormously speeding up their paths of exploration. In her free time, she has also been learning machine learning nested with deep learning to prepare for the next steps of her career.

A hope for the future of Science…

…with diversity and more women involved. In addressing our last question to Laurie, regarding a message to the junior women out there, she said: “don’t underestimate yourself, you are smarter and better than you give yourself credit for, so don’t quit as we need your good ideas.” Again, we couldn’t agree with her more.

Interviewed and written by Ngoc Bui, Fadji Maina and Sneha Jani – On behalf of BLPA