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Women @ Energy: Theresa Lahey

February 26, 2014 - 3:01pm


Theresa Lahey works in the computer engineering staff at the SLAC National Accelerator Lab.

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Theresa Lahey started her career doing experimental data acquisition for the University of Michigan High Energy Physics group at the Fermi National Accelerator lab as a Computer Science student at a time when there were few women in the field. After graduation in 1975 in Computer Science, she moved to Fermilab to develop early control systems for high energy particle beams, when particle physics labs were very male-dominated. She moved to the SLAC National Accelerator Lab in 1988 to help bring on the SLC collider project control system. Terri promoted health improvement by bringing exercise programs to SLAC and was awarded the SLAC "Globie" Awards in 2004 and 2007.  Notably Terri has been responsible for recruiting highly valued computer engineering staff, both male and female. She took temporary leave from SLAC to go to CERN (Geneva, Switzerland) in 2010, working on the LHC accelerator controls for groups both at CERN and at Fermilab, returning to SLAC in 2011.

1) What inspired you to work in STEM?

At the University of Michigan, I became very interested in computer software and instrumentation. My brother told me to check out computer science,  because he thought I’d enjoy it. I liked the technical challenge very much, and in a large university, it provided  a team environment while we poured over our computer assignments far into the night.

During the summer between my junior and senior years, I interned for the University Physics Department, working on an experiment at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. The physics experiment  was a  very exciting application of computer technology. It was a lot of fun to work on a real computer application.

2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?

I am excited to apply computer technology to interesting science.  At the laboratories where I have worked, I have been offered a lot of responsibility, which is very exciting.

3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

Expose them to math and science at an early age.

4) Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?

Take math, science, and computer classes throughout your schooling. Most important, participate in internships. The internships allow you to understand what excites you, and to get to know prospective employers. Also check coursework in the engineering schools. Try to work with your professors on their research projects.

5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?

I day sail and race sailboats, and teach sailing. I like downhill skiing, hiking, biking, movies, reading, and travel.