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Alumni Connections

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Zhi M. Liao 1994, 1995 (MS), 2000 (PhD)

Location: Livermore, CA
Major: Optical Engineering
Company: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)
Title: Laser Physicist, Work Force Development Initiative Lead


What are your daily tasks and how do you support your organization?

I currently have two roles at the National Ignition Facility & Photon Science (NIF&PS) directorate at LLNL. I have a technical role in working with a team of scientists to model the lifetime of optics used in NIF. NIF is the world’s largest and most energetic laser system that consists of 192 laser beams and is used to study everything from nuclear fusion to astrophysics. My other role is a leadership role in which I work with senior management at NIF&PS to develop workforce initiatives to invest, attract, and improve our workforce.

What do you consider the most essential skills for this career?

My technical role requires me to be a critical thinker and a problem solver, which often requires learning new technical skills to be successful. The ability to learn and adapt to new concepts is a critical skill for cutting-edge research. To be a good leader, the most essential skill is to care for those around you and to be able to communicate it.

What advice do you have for students preparing for careers in your field?

Be open-minded in thinking, adventurous in learning, and passionate in your work. There are no perfect formulas for success but if you are open-minded, you are more likely to find the right solution. If you are adventurous in learning, you will have a more diverse set of skills to implement the right solution. If you are passionate about your work, you will enjoy what you are doing every day!

What do you wish you had known during your time at Rochester that you know now?

I think it is difficult to play the “what-if” game. I don’t second-guess my career plans because I feel like I make the best decision based on being true to myself and consistent with the information I have at that time. Sure, I have made missteps, but I think you are a better person if you can learn from your experiences.