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Mueller’s Career Path a Blueprint for Other Researchers

Juli Mueller's successful career climb can help guide others in early career stages.

March 23, 2018

Written by Albany High School intern Cleighton Roberts 

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Juliane Mueller rock climbing. (Photo: Brian P. Harrington)

Finding a career can be an exciting and sometimes challenging time in one’s life. It involves being noticed by your peers and making connections to find people to work with. This can be intimidating for some but comes naturally to others, like researcher Juliane Mueller.

"One thing that has always impressed me about Juli is how easy she has made it look to develop her career,” says Ann Almgren, the group lead of the Center for Computational Sciences and Engineering where Mueller now works.“Juli's path could serve as a blueprint for undergrads and graduate students who are just beginning their professional lives.”

Mueller started college at Freiberg University of Mining and Technology in Saxony, Germany, where she grew up. In Germany, she participated in the ERASMUS exchange program which led her to Tampere University of Technology in Finland. She got her Ph.D. in applied mathematics at Tampere University and Cornell University. She became interested in computer science while taking a programming class at Freiberg.

Outside of work she enjoys rock climbing, a hobby which is reflective of how she mapped out her career path.

The first step rock climbers take before making a climb is to search for a spot where they can gain a hold that will lead them to their objective. She took the same first step on her career climb while attending Tampere University. She searched for connections, or holds, by getting the attention of a wide audience. She sent abstracts about her optimization research to professors and researchers around the world, who then invited her to conferences that focused on global optimization topics with a relatively small number of attendees and only a single track of presentations. These talks allowed Mueller to develop a tightly knit network with the people she met.

In order to go to these talks, she applied for and received funding support from Tampere University. This funding was a critical component to her career; it allowed her to gain professional recognition by traveling the world and interacting with experts in her field.

Tampere also provided funds for her to go to Cornell University to do research work for her P.h.D. She became close to her professor who acted as a mentor for her. She said that finding a good mentor was crucial. Her mentor played a very important role by suggesting that she find a fellowship at one of the Department of Energy national laboratories.

Mueller then applied to almost all the national laboratories in the United States, a handful of which offered her a position, including Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. She headed west. Almgren said Mueller would be a real asset to the lab because she was “someone with a lot of poise and scientific maturity who could make their own path to success.”

She joined the lab as a Luis W. Alvarez fellow, a fellowship that provides recent graduates opportunities to work on some of the most important research challenges in Computing Sciences. Now as a research scientist, Mueller has been awarded funds through Berkeley Lab’s early career Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program to hire a postdoc to work with her on projects involving optimization under uncertainty. She claimed that a critical part of getting funding from the lab was that she made lots of connections with people who could help her with developing ideas for proposals.

Mueller also plans to apply for the Department of Energy Early Career Research Program, which would provide funding for five years on a project of her choice.

A consistent aspect of Mueller’s professional growth has been reaching out and communicating to others. Requesting funding and getting known by her peers by giving talks all require lots of communication. “She is smart about making connections with others in her field and figuring out how to not get stuck. She's always looking for new opportunities -- new problems to work on and new people to work with,” Almgren said.

Mueller says she’s enjoying her time at the lab. She says she enjoys her work because it is applicable to the real world and “everything can be made more efficient, anything from a simulation to your daily commute.” This allows her to work on a range of different topics and projects. She has even started an online hub for researchers and programmers who are interested in optimization. In 2015 she was honored as one of the “Women @ The Lab” for her work in STEM education.

Mueller believes she is not just defined by the work she does, but by who she is and her personality. She is known by many at the lab for her friendliness and her witty sense of humor. “People don’t just measure you on the work you do, people measure you on who you are,” she said.