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A conversation with two PPPL administrators who are “the backbone of the Laboratory”

The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory salutes its administrators and celebrates their contributions to the Laboratory. The more than 25 administrators at PPPL provide support to PPPL’s leadership team and more than 600 staff members at PPPL. As Carol Ann Austin, administrative manager of the Office of the Director, put it during an online celebration for Administrative Professionals Day on April 21: “We are truly the backbone of the Laboratory.” Steve Cowley, PPPL director, said the Laboratory’s administrators help the Laboratory achieve its mission of investigating plasma physics and developing fusion energy as an affordable, safe and sustainable way to generate electricity in the future. “There are many, many things that make the Lab run well and the core to that is the administrative professionals who coordinate the whole thing and bring it together and make sure that the team acts as a team,” he said, “so I thank you for that.”

Trisha Perez: Administrators are “the glue that keeps the mission going” 

Name: Trisha Perez 

Position: Senior administrative assistant to the Theory Department

How long at PPPL: Two and a half years

Three things about yourself:

1. “I am a foodie. Pre-covid, I went out to different restaurants with people and tried their culture. I am not scared to try a different culture. My department has so many different ethnic groups and nationalities, so going out with them to their favorite restaurants, I absolutely love it.”

2. “I am 4’11.” I didn’t make the 5-foot crowd. You might not see me in a crowd but I am there.”

3. “I love people. The pandemic has been really hard because I’m such a social person. When it first started, I was trying to Zoom with all my new postdocs that would come in internationally just to make sure they were fine because their families are not here.” 

Describe your job:

“Being an administrative assistant entails a lot of different hands in a lot of different places. I work closely with IT especially since we’re all virtual. I also work with HR when we have visitors coming in or when we have new hires coming in and I make those new introductions. I’m the first face they see when they come in through the doors, or they get an email now and I just provide that personal contact. When they come in, I order items and make stuff personable for them so they feel like they have the right set-up to get their job done.

I always make sure I have an open-door policy. If anyone needs to contact me, I try to respond at my earliest convenience. I help managers and remind them about meetings by sending extra text messages or emails and holding people accountable to their calendar and schedules because Zoom can be very forgetful! I try not to overdo people’s schedules because of Zoom fatigue, so saying, ‘Hey, we have too many Zooms on your calendar, can this wait for another day or try to schedule it next week?’ I try to follow up and make sure everyone is healthy, especially with the vaccine, and remind them to use COVID days instead of sick days. I just try to be that helpful person because people can be so consumed with their work that they just don’t know about the paperwork or the admin work.”

What role do administrators play at PPPL?

"They are everything. They are the glue that keeps the mission going. There are the actual people who work on the machines, the technicians, the physicists, people like that, and we admins bring them all together. PPPL is a pioneer in plasma physics and I think admins help. We are contributors, we are necessary, and we keep everybody accountable. We are central to the mission."

What does working at PPPL mean to you?

"PPPL means being pioneers in the whole plasma physics world. I didn’t know what plasma physics was before I got here. Working with a lot of physicists, I know what it is now and it’s just making the Earth a better place for the next generation. I feel like PPPL is such a selfless organization. We’re putting in the work now so that people can enjoy the Earth later, that’s what it means to me. Just being selfless, putting in the hard work, the long hours, and making a difference and an impact on our current community and our future communities."

Janine Sharif: “Proud to be part of the PPPL team”

Name: Janine Sharif

Position: Executive assistant to Craig Ferguson, chief operating officer and deputy director for operations

How long at PPPL: 13 months

Three things about yourself:

1. I was one of the very first staff members to join PPPL virtually during curtailment.

2. I’ve been an administrative assistant for over 30 years, and started my career at the age of 17 on Wall Street.

3. I enjoy decorating, gardening, cooking, frequenting B&B's, antiquing, and spending time with family. 

Describe your job:

“I’m proud to be a part of the PPPL team, supporting Craig Ferguson (PPPL deputy director for operations), who is not only responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Lab, but also ensures our mission readiness, which is no easy feat, especially during curtailment. Aside from being Craig’s right-hand partner and an extension of his office, I work closely with Craig’s direct reports and their staff, and am also part of the executive management team (EMT) administrators, who have been extremely supportive with helping me navigate successfully around the Lab.   

It’s definitely been a challenge trying to learn our unique culture and dynamics of being a DOE National Lab managed by Princeton University, especially without ever having the opportunity to work onsite at the Lab.

I’ve recently started mentoring other administrators, which has been very fulfilling. It gives me the opportunity to pay forward what others have invested in me, since it can be challenging being new to the Lab and working remotely. I must say though it’s been very impressive how much the leaders of the Lab truly care about our well-being and safety, which is priceless these days.” 

What role do administrators play at PPPL?

“It’s an important but often unseen role. Admins act as an extension of their managers. They serve as a right-hand person to perform any and all tasks necessary to keep their executives and the team up to speed and able to do their jobs with excellence.

Oftentimes, you really have to be a step ahead of your manager, being extremely detailed and organized, and you also have to know how your manager thinks, because again you’re an extension of them, so you need to know what’s important to them. You need to know their work style, their communication style, and then even the culture of the Lab … I have found that the leaders and all the people here are top-notch. I’ve had a great experience.”  

What does working at PPPL mean to you?

“It’s a great honor to be a part of PPPL, a prestigious Lab with the important mission of developing fusion energy for the entire world. When I left JPMorgan Chase after 20 years, I really wanted to work at a company or organization that I respected and was proud to be part of, and I feel like what we do is highly important. It’s also a privilege to be an employee of Princeton University. I’m really happy to be here.”

PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which  is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visitenergy.gov/science.

U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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