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People: Michelle Steger, Jackie Kerlegan and Natalya Brown Help Users Feel at Home

A welcome sight for users at Building 120: (from left) Michelle Steger, Jackie Kerlegan and Natalya Brown. (Photo by Lori Ann White.)

Scientific users at the SLAC's two light sources generally have less than a week to get in, get their data and head home. But between navigating paperwork, learning safety regulations, taking care of samples, dealing with the particulars of the experimental hutch and the instruments—and sometimes doing all this in a language not their own—too much precious time could easily slip away before visiting researchers even get to the science.

What's a poor user to do?

Often users of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource and the Linac Coherent Light Source turn to Jackie Kerlegan and Michelle Steger, two stalwarts of the User Research Administration group. Steger, a 27-year veteran at SLAC, is there from the users' first contact with the lab, helping guide SSRL proposals through the review process. Kerlegan, with Steger as backup, helps users once they arrive at SLAC.

After an SSRL proposal is accepted and beam time scheduled, Steger notifies the researchers to register as users. "We strongly recommend they register through our user portal online," Kerlegan said. Once Kerlegan assigns each an ID number, the users are able to access online training courses they can complete before arrival, a definite time saver. Required classes include titles familiar to any SLACer, such as Cyber Security Basics, General Employee Radiation Training and Safety Orientation for (Non)-SLAC Employees. But there's no substitute for hands-on training, and once users are checked in at SLAC they get that too, including safety orientation for the facility and hutch training. And then there are the behind-the-scenes arrangements, which range from getting user agreements from home institutions to making safety preparations for individual experiments.

"A SLAC safety officer reviews the samples and materials in each proposal to see what they need to prepare for," Steger explained. Depending on the experiment, additional training might be required, such as nano-materials handling, laser or additional radiation training. The safety officer also prepares a safety checklist for the experiment that is signed by the user facility floor coordinator on shift.

"It is a lot of paperwork," Kerlegan said. "I have to verify a variety of documents, then everyone needs a photo ID." Oddly enough, the toughest requirement of check-in for users seems to be getting their photo taken, according to Kerlegan.

"I'm willing to redo a photo once or twice," she said, "but sometimes I just have to cut them off."

Occasionally Kerlegan, Steger and Natalya Brown, who recently joined the group as LCLS proposal administrator, even have an opportunity to practice their skills at crowd control.

"Sometimes there are 20 people in the [User Administration] lobby," Kerlegan said. "It's like a mini-DMV. That's how I think of it."

Once users are checked-in and up-to-speed on SLAC procedures, the user administration team helps ensure they have a smooth workflow while at the lab. "We help them to establish user accounts if they need to order special gases or supplies," Kerlegan said.

To help incoming users feel more comfortable, the user administration team members do everything from switch languages—Steger speaks French; Kerlegan, Spanish; Brown, Russian—to tidy up in the Users' Lounge. But they are quick to point out they're not the only ones who try to make users feel at home. In truth, everyone helps out, they said—including beamline scientists, support staff and even other users.

According to Cathy Knotts, manager of the User Research Administration, "On the end-of-run survey users complete after each experiment, our facilities routinely get exceptionally high marks." Knotts highlighted a recent survey from a user from Arizona, which noted that, "The user administration and beamline support staff are all friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. I have been to other synchrotrons where we just don't get the quality of help or data that we get here."

"Our user facilities pride themselves on providing exceptional customer service," Knotts added, "and it pays off."

—Lori Ann White
SLAC Today, April 13, 2011