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Old 11-01-2008, 02:35 PM
 
52 posts, read 67,195 times
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Default Los Alamos Lab Engineers

Hello, I have been researching the Lab at Los Alamos for my husband for a potential job and it seems there is alot of negativity surrounding the labs all over the internet. Are there any engineers out there that can elaborate on their experiences working for the lab? Was their pay enough to live on for that area? I read someone say that it is comparable to the stepford wives. What exactly does that mean? Everyone there is perfect and stay at home moms? I just want to get a feel for the place before he starts seriously considering it for an ENG II job. He really wants to enjoy his job and do something creative but I would be giving up my career. I have read about layoffs and closure talk. Is this still something that is pending? Thanks so much, the area really sounds beautiful and a great place to raise kids.
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Old 11-01-2008, 03:11 PM
 
Location: Abu Al-Qurq
2,803 posts, read 4,243,130 times
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Different strokes for different folks. Without knowing more about you and your family, you could love it as easily as you could hate it.

*Expect a commute. Less than half of LANL's employees live in Los Alamos, and it's not like you can set up a trailer just outside the city limits. The land just isn't available for that. You may find yourself commuting from White Rock, or living in Española or Santa Fe or even Albuquerque metro.

*Expect bad winter weather on occasion. It's not like, say, Detroit weather, but it is mountainous and they do get dumped on (great skiing) and you can't live there without living with snow.

*Lots of upper-income people in a lower-income area, and strong California values. Taos and Santa Fe have now caught up in terms of "carpetbaggers", but if you're moving from California and want nothing to do with it, you have further away to move. California-style housing prices, California-style attitudes with regard to child-rearing are common.

*Labs are pretty much the only employer in town (other than, say, fast food, banks, and groceries). If you hate being out of the loop in your town's goings-on, don't move there without working there.

*Coming from a small town? Strong chance you'll like it. It's kinda clean, kinda caught-in-the-50's. Beautiful mountain scenery.

*Coming from a big city? Good chance you won't like it. It's about 30 mins to Santa Fe for most big-city things, and maybe 1:30 to Albuquerque for the real big city things. This includes airports and concerts.

*Got weak lungs? It's HIGH. That means cooler summers and colder winters, and altitude sickness at first.

I like to visit, I wouldn't want to live or work there. But that's just me. Your mileage may vary.
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Old 11-01-2008, 06:09 PM
 
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As mentioned by the other poster, Los Alamos is the largest and best paying employer in the Santa Fe area. Engineers and scientists are very highly paid. I believe I read or saw on TV, not long ago, that the Los Alamos is one of the highest average per capita income towns, in the entire country, which is ironic because Los Alamos doesn't look like a wealthy town.

Some people who work at the labs prefer not to live in Los Alamos, for a whole variety of reasons, but it is certainly the most convenient for some. If you are loaded, my favorite neighborhood outside of Los Alamos, in Santa Fe, is Hyde Park -- check it out -- but I'm not sure it is the best place for kids to meet other kids. Also, a consideration of living in Santa Fe is the kids would go to private schools, whereas the public schools in Los Alamos and Eldorado, are probably quite good.

I've heard the Stepford thing too, in Los Alamos, and part of that may be attributable to the secrecy. Make sure you are well versed on the best brand of disposable diapers, if you choose to live there. It is not like you can talk about the elephant in the room; the bomb your husband is working on, or whatever.

It is doubtful that you will hear from an engineer on this board, because many employees at the labs are involved in highly confidential work. With security problems they've had, that are in the newspapers, they are probably tighter than ever. Working for the labs, your husband and family will be subject to security checks and scrutiny, unlike few other places in the country.

Besides running into people that work at LANL once in a while, my only connection to that industry is several years ago, having a good friend whose husband, a nuclear engineer at Rocky Flats, died at a young age, from a rare cancer attributable to his exposure to "materials," athough she had to fight for years for an award. I hope conditions have improved since then.
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Old 11-01-2008, 09:18 PM
 
52 posts, read 67,195 times
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Thank you for the replies. Please keep them coming! If anyone else has any input I would really appreciate it. We're already slated to go to Saint Petersburg Fl next summer but if this job means he can work on nuclear projects and we can afford for me to stay at home with the kids we will definitley reconsider that move for NM!! By the way, I am in a small town now that snows worse than detroit!! NM should be a breeze in comparison and I love the small town atmosphere.
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Old 11-02-2008, 07:08 AM
 
24 posts, read 64,639 times
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The snow is wonderful here. It sticks in the mountains, but in Santa Fe, most of the time, it snows a foot or less at a time, and then sometimes is gone in a few days. Some winters, there is very little snow. There are exceptions though, just no five feet of snow, ever. The sun always comes out. Best thing about winters, is there is rarely penetrating damp-air freezing gloom.

Santa Fe is sometimes listed as a top ten or twenty tourist destination in the world. As a place to live, it isn't bad. I know people who could live anywhere they want in the world, and choose to live in Santa Fe.

The terrain varies from high desert, expansive views of mountains all around in the distance, as in a subdivision like Eldorado (which would be the longest commute to Los Alamos), to places with rolling hills and the new-urbanism subdivision of Aldea, to places with a more Alpine feel, in foothills of mountains or mountains themselves, such as Hyde Park area, and Los Alamos itself. There's also the "old Santa Fe" unique neighborhoods, near the plaza and up the road with all the art galleries, Canyon Rd., or the village of Tesuque. There are beautiful homes in the hills in the area around the opera, which would be closer to Los Alamos than living in Santa Fe.

Los Alamos is pretty. White Rock is close to Los Alamos, and has a very suburban-looking housing development. As another poster mentioned, Los Alamos has a unique stuck-in-the-50's feel.
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Old 11-02-2008, 10:23 AM
 
Location: Knoxville
587 posts, read 849,835 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Vertigo7 View Post
As mentioned by the other poster, Los Alamos is the largest and best paying employer in the Santa Fe area. Engineers and scientists are very highly paid. I believe I read or saw on TV, not long ago, that the Los Alamos is one of the highest average per capita income towns, in the entire country, which is ironic because Los Alamos doesn't look like a wealthy town.
Certain parts of town could definitely use some improvement - that I can agree with. But yes, scientists are, in general, paid very well. My dad worked at LANL for roughly 20 years, and he was always able to comfortably support our family (we spent time in both White Rock and Los Alamos).

Quote:
Also, a consideration of living in Santa Fe is the kids would go to private schools, whereas the public schools in Los Alamos and Eldorado, are probably quite good.
The public schools in Los Alamos are the best in the state, so this is sound advice.

Quote:
I've heard the Stepford thing too, in Los Alamos, and part of that may be attributable to the secrecy. Make sure you are well versed on the best brand of disposable diapers, if you choose to live there. It is not like you can talk about the elephant in the room; the bomb your husband is working on, or whatever.
Honestly guys, I have no idea where you're getting this "Stepford thing." Is this based on personal experiences you had, or stories you heard from others? Throughout my childhood I was always surrounded by normal people raising normal families in an excessively normal environment. None of these "California values with regard to child-rearing" came into play, although I'm not completely sure what that's supposed to mean.

Yes, a lot of stuff that goes on at the lab is confidential, but it's not as if there's a cloud of secrecy and mystery hanging over the town. My dad frequently worked on confidential projects (I think I visited his office once in all my time there ), but what he did at work never affected our family dynamic. Maybe that's not the case for everybody, but his job certainly didn't transform my mom into a Stepford wife.

Quote:
It is doubtful that you will hear from an engineer on this board, because many employees at the labs are involved in highly confidential work. With security problems they've had, that are in the newspapers, they are probably tighter than ever. Working for the labs, your husband and family will be subject to security checks and scrutiny, unlike few other places in the country.
Well, this makes it sound like lab security personnel will be coming to your house on a daily basis to ensure that no shady business is going on - that's not true. Your husband will certainly be subject to extensive background checks, and the rules and regulations that govern what can and cannot go beyond laboratory property are very strict, but what he does at work shouldn't spill over into your family life (unless, of course, he decides to start stealing precious documents or something ).

Quote:
Besides running into people that work at LANL once in a while, my only connection to that industry is several years ago, having a good friend whose husband, a nuclear engineer at Rocky Flats, died at a young age, from a rare cancer attributable to his exposure to "materials," athough she had to fight for years for an award. I hope conditions have improved since then.
I'd say the lab is a safe place to work, but that's just based on my dad's experiences. He worked with lots of potentially harmful materials over the years (he's a nuclear engineer), and he's not any unhealthier for it. At the moment, I can't actually recall an instance where somebody died from exposure in the time that I lived in Los Alamos, so something like that is obviously the exception and not the rule. This is not to say that there's no risk involved when you work there, but I think the actual risk is overblown more often than not.
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Old 11-02-2008, 11:27 AM
 
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Wow, what a challenging set of questions.
Quote:
Originally Posted by YNGRL View Post
Are there any engineers out there that can elaborate on their experiences working for the lab?
Yes. Software engineer, worked at LANL from 1994-2001. I resigned my Staff Member position in 2001 for (much) better opportunities but my wife and I still live in Los Alamos because we love it here.
Quote:
Was their pay enough to live on for that area?
Yes. Cost of living can be high here, but LANL pay is adequate.
Quote:
I read someone say that it is comparable to the stepford wives. What exactly does that mean?
That's an interesting comment, but I suspect it says more about the speaker than it says about Los Alamos. I see Los Alamos as a quiet town, intellectually rich (*wonderful* library), with a set of priorities that don't necessarily match the rest of the US. Crime and traffic are low, tempers are (relatively) even, the Outdoors is a big part of the pull.


In a sense, Los Alamos is "boring": no night life, most restaurants close at 8PM, there's little to stimulate someone who is dependent on TV or other prepackaged excitement. A person whose life revolves around shopping or being cool may find it hard to be happy here.
Quote:
the area really sounds beautiful and a great place to raise kids.
It is. Both. Clear blue sunny skies nearly every day. In the summer, it's typical to have an afternoon thunderstorm with sun afterward. Autumn is gorgeous: clear, cool, perfect for hiking or biking or running or just being outside. Spring can be windy and/or drizzly, but it's rare to have more than two days without sunlight.


Children -- especially teens -- find the small-town atmosphere limiting. However, the rate of return is high. Kids who grow up here "can't wait!" to leave for college; they do, live a little, and then quite frequently end up moving back here to raise *their* families once they've seen what the rest of the world is like. That, I think, says a lot.


There are tradeoffs. Many wonderful people work at LANL, but the atmosphere can be challenging. Snobbery is rampant: if your husband doesn't have a PhD from a top-notch school, he should be prepared to be looked down upon no matter how good the quality of his work. It's not everyone, and not even the majority of people, but it's surprisingly common. I found it weird and sad. My wife, who still works at LANL, finds it frustrating because she can't hire qualified graduates from "podunk" schools.


It's an oppressive atmosphere in more ways than one. There are countless arbitrary and capricious rules in the name of security, many valid, but many just ridiculous (think TSA & airports, but worse). Paperwork is a big part of life. Initiative is often stifled; talking back or questioning your betters is deeply frowned upon. Having a backbone is a liability.


One final concrete example: a close friend of mine has been a group leader at LANL for many years. Respected and admired and liked by peers and coworkers. This person has just been stripped of group leadership position, and it seems very clear that it has been in retaliation for keeping the interests of his/her people first and foremost, instead of the interests of the bureaucracy above.


Now, with all that said, I still enjoyed my years working at LANL and am grateful to have had the opportunity to discover Los Alamos. This is a fantastic place to live. Working at LANL will have its challenges, particularly if your husband has any experience in the Real World, but many people find it worth the tradeoff for being able to live in Los Alamos.
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Old 11-02-2008, 11:49 AM
 
52 posts, read 67,195 times
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ThatNGuy I was hoping I would hear from you. I have enjoyed reading all of your Los Alamos Posts. I read the stepford thing on another post of city-data, thats where I got that from.

Yes from all the posts I have read I felt like I would be moving to a town that had a horror/mystery novel based on it..

Eduardo, thank you for your post. My husband has been in the military for the past 7 years, 4 active 3 reserve. He definitly hasn't gotten his degree at a top notch school but he is a high achiever! We are both used to not being able to voice our opinion thats for sure and also being on the bottom of the totem pole. Tis life. (I am editing to say thank you for your candid honesty, thats what I was hoping to hear) Well thank you for your replies. I really do appreciate it.
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Old 11-02-2008, 04:08 PM
 
Location: Knoxville
587 posts, read 849,835 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by YNGRL View Post
ThatNGuy I was hoping I would hear from you. I have enjoyed reading all of your Los Alamos Posts. I read the stepford thing on another post of city-data, thats where I got that from.
I'm glad my posts have been able to help you. If you think of any questions or concerns, feel free to ask, whether it's here or through a direct message.

And please, take it from me - this talk about the "Stepford thing" isn't warranted. People in Los Alamos are just like people anywhere else, regardless of the town's unique purpose. I wouldn't even give it a second thought.

Quote:
Yes from all the posts I have read I felt like I would be moving to a town that had a horror/mystery novel based on it..
Los Alamos is pretty much par for the course as far as small towns go. The scenery is certainly beautiful, but outside of that, I'm sure it looks like a lot of other towns throughout the country.





http://www.wildwestnm.com/images/VallesCaldera023B.jpg (broken link)



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Old 11-02-2008, 05:39 PM
 
Location: Trans-Pecos Texas
8,537 posts, read 11,786,417 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ThatTNGuy View Post
I'm glad my posts have been able to help you. If you think of any questions or concerns, feel free to ask, whether it's here or through a direct message.

And please, take it from me - this talk about the "Stepford thing" isn't warranted. People in Los Alamos are just like people anywhere else, regardless of the town's unique purpose. I wouldn't even give it a second thought.

Los Alamos is pretty much par for the course as far as small towns go. The scenery is certainly beautiful, but outside of that, I'm sure it looks like a lot of other towns throughout the country.
I too wondered where all of this horror/mystery novel stuff was coming from!

I didn't get bad vibes when I was there, but I did get the feeling that if you were not connected with the lab, you wouldn't have a lot of social outlets there. The town is most definitely defined by LANL!

Parts of town felt like I was back in a 1950s time warp, but that was part of the fascination.
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