After many years as a researcher followed by a few in government and policy, Ashley White sees her new position as ALS Director of Communications as a perfect blend of it all. “I’m thrilled to be back in a research environment, since I started out my career as a researcher and loved being in the lab,” she says. “When I walk around the ALS and see all the tin foil and the beamline equipment, it feels like home.”
After completing her PhD in Materials Science from the University of Cambridge, White says she was looking for something “a little bit different” and heard about an opportunity to spend a year on Capitol Hill as a special policy advisor in the U.S. Senate. “I thought I’d just do it for a year and go back to being a researcher,” she says, but the experience launched a new focus for her career.
White spent one year as a Materials Research Society/Optical Society Congressional Science and Engineering Fellow, working in Minnesota Senator Al Franken’s office. Her focus was mainly on STEM education, which she says aligned nicely with the science education work she had done as a grad student through Science and Engineering Experiments for Kids (SEEK), hosting elementary and middle school workshops. White wrote legislation to create a STEM master teacher corps, a program that would identify top science, engineering, and math teachers and provide them with further professional development.
After her stint on Capitol Hill, White continued on to the executive branch, working in the Materials Research Division of the National Science Foundation as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy fellow. “I really enjoyed getting that broad overview, seeing how things worked in both branches of government,” she says.
Toward the end of her time at the NSF, White had focused on materials for sustainable development, which led to her next position at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The USGBC sets standards for green building practices and certifies green buildings through LEED, which gave White the opportunity to interface with industry.
White moved to the Bay Area last year and began to think about how she could combine her recent work experience and her passion for research, which led her to Berkeley Lab. “I was really looking to get back into a research environment,” she says. “I knew that I wanted that collaborative mindset and that I could contribute my knowledge of how things work at a federal level, and how they influence what researchers are able to do.”
The collaborative mindset was a hallmark of White’s conversations about working at Berkeley Lab—“everyone mentioned it when I talked with them about what it was like to work here,” she says. “During the interview process, I was really struck by how positive and welcoming everyone was.”
In addition to her passion for science, White has developed her passion for music throughout her life. She has played violin since the age of six and has developed and taught university courses on the connections between science and music. Locally she performs with the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony.