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Livermore National Laboratory director shares career insights with Ohio State students

‘People underestimate what they’re capable of,’ Kimberly Budil says

Kimberly Budil, director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), visited The Ohio State University’s Columbus campus last week and shared insights about the laboratory’s cutting-edge work in addressing national security concerns. The colloquium, hosted by the Department of Physics, was held last Tuesday at the Physics Research Building.

Lou DiMauro, professor of physics and faculty host for the colloquium, said he invited Budil to speak at Ohio State so that she could provide students and faculty with an inside perspective on her work at LLNL and the career path that brought her there.

“I’ve known Kim since she was a graduate student,” he said. “I would hear from my friends, ‘Kim’s moving up through the system pretty quickly.’”

Kimberly Budil met with Ohio State students and answered their questions.Budil is the first woman to lead LLNL, where she manages a workforce of approximately 8,400 employees and oversees an annual operating budget of $3 billion. Founded in 1952 and located in Livermore, California, LLNL employs innovative science and technology to address nuclear proliferation, terrorism, climate change and other national security threats.

“Informal leadership roles are really an important part of what got me to where I am today. And that includes things like being on committees or outside activities,” Budil said. “I headed up our women in science and engineering group. I chaired the parent advisory council at our children’s center. Each of those gave me a chance to learn part of what it takes to lead people.”

As LLNL director, Budil sets the strategic vision for the laboratory. She engages with the senior leadership of the U.S. Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration and other federal agencies as well as leaders across academia and the private sector.

“We have a lot of interesting collaborations all around the world with other academic institutions and other national labs,” she said. “We study material properties, we study fusion. … This facility is remarkably precise for how large it is.”

Budil holds a PhD in engineering and applied science from the University of California, Davis, and a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She said working in various capacities at LLNL before becoming director enabled her to develop the technical expertise and people skills necessary for leadership.

“For me, it was a process of being willing to say, ‘I don’t know if I can do that, but I will try.’ That’s really important,” she said. “People underestimate what they’re capable of. Once you’re actually in the job and actually doing and not thinking about doing, it’s not as scary.”

Prior to her talk, Budil met with faculty and students. During a reception with students, she answered their questions about her day-to-day job responsibilities and how she worked her way up to become the LLNL director.

“I feel like it was very useful to have her come in and talk with us,” said Katie Robinson, a graduate student who works as an administrative assistant in the College of Medicine. “A lot of us don’t know where we’re going next, and it’s always helpful to hear what other people are doing in their career and how they got there.”

Undergraduate student Alex Torres said Budil’s talk made him aware of courses of study and career paths in science that he hadn’t considered before.

“I really particularly enjoyed hearing her talk about working with other people, project management and hearing that she got to explore different kinds of research,” said Torres, who is majoring in astronomy and astrophysics. “Hearing about different ways that I could potentially explore more physics … was definitely really helpful for me.”

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