Maeghan Brundrett was named a fellow to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Graduate Fellowship Program.
When thinking about a national laboratory, images may come to mind of people in white coats writing indecipherable code on a clipboard while performing random experiments, however inaccurate that may be. While there probably are some people working on top-secret projects in the name of national security, a lot more happens at a national lab than one realizes.
Maeghan Brundrett, a Texas Tech University alumna who recently received her doctoral degree in civil engineering with a focus on environmental water resources engineering through the university's Graduate School, now knows what goes on behind the closed doors of one laboratory after being named a fellow of the National Nuclear Security Administration's (NNSA) Graduate Fellowship Program (NGFP). The NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
“I had been selected for five interviews with five different NNSA offices while actively looking for a job and also trying to defend my dissertation,” Brundrett said. “A lot of the offices said, ‘We don't usually hire people with doctoral degrees, but we're looking to add that level of expertise to the NNSA enterprise.' I was able to select down to one office, and when I found out I had been selected to work alongside Sandia National Labs, I was very excited.”
As part of her fellowship, Brundrett works for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory as a liaison for Sandia National Laboratories' field office in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“It's a one-year fellowship program, and a great opportunity,” she said. “I get to work with Sandia, one of the highest-ranking national labs in the country. I believe there are roughly 2,000 projects currently going on at Sandia National Laboratories. It's crazy because you don't even realize some of these programs are out there, and it's a wonderful experience when you actually get the chance to be exposed to them.”
Since beginning her fellowship, Brundrett has become fascinated with all the facets of the DOE and NNSA.
“To be quite honest, I didn't understand the breadth of what the DOE does in terms of not only ensuring long-lasting energy resiliency and resources for our country, but also their mission to ensure the United States is always at the forefront of discovery sciences,” she said. “They are one of the largest supporters of basic science research in the country and also support the NNSA's mission to provide cutting-edge research in the areas of national security and nonproliferation.”
From small town to Texas Tech
Brundrett grew up in Scurry, Texas, a small town southeast of Dallas. At the time she graduated high school, its population was 318 but has since risen to more than 700. She also came from a family who mostly attended Texas A&M University.
“I was actually going to go to Texas A&M because my family all went there,” Brundrett said. “I went down to College Station to visit the campus, and I just couldn't get on board. My friend was going to visit Texas Tech and she asked, ‘Hey, do you want to go visit with me?' and I said, ‘Sure, why not?'
“I'd never been out to West Texas before, and I just fell in love with the campus. I fell in love with the kindness of the West Texas people and the expanse of the Texas Tech community.”
Brundrett was so enamored with Texas Tech that she not only earned her bachelor's degree from Texas Tech, but she also received her master's and doctorate.
“I love Texas Tech,” Brundrett said. “I bleed red and black.”
A little life advice, a lot of opportunities
During her time at Texas Tech, Brundrett was impressed with how caring and attentive her professors were while she was still “growing up.”
“I cannot say enough great things about the faculty and staff at Texas Tech,” Brundrett said. “I never felt like I was just a number or a face. I believe most of my professors and the Texas Tech staff went above and beyond trying to make sure the students' needs were met, not only in terms of academics, but also in helping grow us up so we are better prepared to face the real world. Some of the life advice the faculty gave me really helped me out and helped me build the foundation for my core beliefs.”
Besides the words of wisdom befallen upon Brundrett, she also raved about the fantastic opportunities she received at Texas Tech that many of her friends who attended other universities didn't get.
“Texas Tech is a wonderful institute if you are looking to grow yourself in terms of academics,” Brundrett said. “There are numerous opportunities; you just have to put yourself out there. I really appreciated that because I have friends who went to other universities and would complain, ‘Well, I was never allowed the opportunity to teach,' or, ‘I wasn't allowed the opportunity to do research as an undergraduate. How were you able to do that?' And I would say, ‘Well, in a lot of ways, it was part of our curriculum and the opportunities were just there.'
“I also think the faculty are so willing to make sure students are given the opportunities to be exposed to those kinds of avenues.”
In fact, it was Brundrett's doctoral adviser, W. Andrew Jackson, President's Excellence in Research Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental & Construction Engineering housed within the Edward E. Whitacre, Jr. College of Engineering, who insisted Brundrett keep applying to one particular fellowship.
“I applied for the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship three years in a row, but I didn't want to apply that third year,” she said. “Dr. Jackson pushed me to apply for it again. He said, ‘No, we're going to put in another proposal this year,' so we wrote up the proposal again. I was thinking it was going to get rejected and then he texted me one day and said, ‘Hey, you got it.' I was shocked. I really appreciate him continuously pushing me to aim for a higher standard.”
Advice to current students
Brundrett has taken many of the things she learned while attending Texas Tech to heart. Some of those lessons were to make a name for yourself and always stay persistent.
“If you're pursuing a master's degree, and especially if you're pursuing a doctorate, make sure you're getting your name out there. Be up to date on the research that is going on in your department and make sure you are making connections with your fellow graduate students and other faculty,” she said. “One of the biggest things I would say is, don't get discouraged. There are a lot of bright people out there in the world, but just because you get a ‘No' the first time or many times afterwards, doesn't mean your idea or your proposal was not brilliant. It just might mean there were other avenues the reviewers were looking for, so that's what they went with.
“I also would say, apply for everything. If it falls within your purview, there's no reason you shouldn't be out there writing proposals or applying for awards, trying to seek some type of avenue to support yourself. Have confidence in yourself that you are worth getting your name out there and you're able to actually do these fellowships. And once you actually have that fellowship, work hard. Don't just sit back believing the easy work is done. Make sure you're putting the effort into ensuring the fellowship is worth your while.”
Brundrett also wants to encourage those who might be interested in working for a national lab to consider applying for the NGFP.
“I can't say enough great things about the fellowship,” she said. “If you have a mindset of working in the government within national security, nonproliferation, or if you just want to work at the national lab in a science sector, think energy, biosciences, geosciences, etc., I can't say it enough: apply.
“The great thing about the fellowship program is you don't have to be an engineer to apply. It is excellent for individuals with government and business backgrounds because these are the people who are going to be writing and implementing the policies in the future for people like me who are not as government savvy. They are definitely looking for those kinds of people.”