My whirlwind tour of Oak Ridge went pretty well, I would say. I left early Monday morning and got home about 7:30 p.m. yesterday. I definitely enjoyed my time there. The land is just breathtaking there, needless to say. They have beautiful, tree-covered hills, and the Smokies are just a short drive away.
It was crazy hot there, with highs in the 90's both days and high humidity. In case you were wondering, polyester olive-green suits do not breathe well, and panty hose keep you warm in the summer and cold in the winter.
On Monday, I left really early for the airport, meaning that I didn't get much sleep the night before. The plane trip went without incident. When I arrived at the Knoxville airport, I went to the restroom and got freshened up before heading to the rental car counter. Getting my car took a while, because they were short on cars. Finally they asked if I would be willing to rent a minivan, and I said sure, I don't mind, I just want to get out of here. So I got a Chrysler Town and Country minivan. It was very fancy. If only they rented out a set of kids and a soccer ball, I could have passed for a soccer mom. But I actually liked the minivan. It was built for big people, and I am nearly six feet tall. Also, it kind of reminded me of driving my parents' tan van, which was lots of fun once I conquered my fear of it.
I arrived at the lab at about 3:00 p.m. I met with my host, who turned out to be an affable and friendly man. Out of all the hosts I've had, I think he was the most personable. He showed me their big machine room, which made me drool, but I managed to avoid creating any puddles. He also showed me this big visualization wall that they have there, and visualizations of some of the scientific problems that they've modeled. It was very impressive. We talked for a while about my research, and he tried to understand it. The problem with inverse problems is that if you're not familiar with them, it can get kind of confusing. You're solving for the parameters so obliquely that it's hard to believe it would even work.
Then I went to check in to my hotel. There has to be a bit of an adventure on every trip, and it was the hotel that fulfilled that requirement for me. The water was turned off at the hotel, because there was a leak right over the electric box. They had not yet located the leak, and until they did, they had to keep the water off. The poor woman at the front desk was distracted by all the people calling her, confused about the water. She assigned me a room, which I went to only to discover that it hadn't been cleaned up from the previous guest. There were wet towels strewn about and the bed was unmade. I went back down to the desk, and she assigned me a different room, which was clean. I relaxed for a bit as I waited for my host to come and take me out to dinner.
He took me out to dinner in Knoxville, with another guy who I'd be working with there. As it turned out my visit coincided with an important meeting for the management, which this guy had to go to the next day, so this was his only chance to meet me. We went to an Italian restaurant. This time, I could comprehend the menu. I ordered the only thing that looked good, didn't feature onions, and also had short pieces of pasta rather than long ones. I didn't want to try to tackle long noodles while trying to make a good impression!
I then went back to my hotel room, where they had apparently fixed the leak and turned the water back on. I called my husband and chatted for a bit, and then went to bed.
The next morning I went to Oak Ridge and met with my host as he transferred my talk to a USB drive. He asked me why I'd e-mailed it to him and brought a backup on a CD instead of just bringing my own laptop or one of those drives, and I said it was because they hadn't allowed that at Sandia, so I just went with how they did it there. He laughed and said that because Oak Ridge is not a weapons lab, they don't have as much security as Sandia. He was certainly right about that. I was allowed to wander around the Oak Ridge campus without any kind of supervision. At Sandia, they have to escort you to the bathroom, and wait outside while you do your business. I imagine it will be like that at Los Alamos too when I visit the week after next.
I gave my seminar in a very fancy and very new seminar room. I think it went pretty well, although two young people, possibly student interns (?) were there and I kind of put them to sleep. But I think that my talk would have been boring to me at that age too, so I didn't feel bad. The people whose opinions mattered managed to stay awake.
I met with many different people after that, including two men who both knew my advisor from when he worked there. He hasn't worked there for nearly 15 years, but one guy said that my advisor actually hired him to work at Oak Ridge, and his first assignment was to finish up his thesis. I remembered my advisor telling me that story, actually. I also talked to another guy who is friends with my former boss's boss at NCSA who is now at Purdue. I really liked him, but unfortunately, I don't think I'm the postdoc he's looking for. He seemed like a really fabulous guy, though, and I imagine he would be great to work for.
My host also seemed like a pretty good guy to work for. He was personable enough that I think I could relate to him in a friendly way. He also seemed honest and straightforward, which are other traits that are important to me.
I think he's interested in hiring me. I don't know what, if anything, will come of it, but we shall see. He did go so far as to ask me how soon I could start, and my salary expectations. I told him I thought I could start in August, but I danced around the salary expectations as best I could, making it into a bit of a joke by saying "more than I make right now!"
I felt more comfortable at Oak Ridge than I felt at IBM. I enjoyed the characteristically Southern politeness of the people at the airport, hotel, and even the lab itself. I loved the accent, which I am embarrassed to say sounded a bit quaint to me, after living in Illinois for so long. I enjoyed being called "ma'am" and even "honey" again. But there was more to it than simple Southern culture. My host was not from the South. Most of the scientists there are not from the South. It just seemed to be more of a place where I wouldn't have to be aggressive and thick-skinned to get along. Which is not to say I could be a "submissive Southern woman" and make it. But I could be more like myself without having to worry about trampling others or being trampled by others.
So I feel pretty good about my visit to Oak Ridge. I just hope that they will get their act together and make me an offer, instead of stringing me along like they did to my former officemate.