Meet Gretchen Cisco: User Administrator of NSLS-II

Gretchen Cisco enlarge

Gretchen Cisco is shown on a balcony that overlooks NSLS-II's experimental floor.

As the user administrator of the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II)—a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory—Gretchen Cisco is responsible for planning and coordinating the experience of every visiting researcher (or “user”) that comes to the light source.

Nearly 1,500 scientists from around the world come to NSLS-II every year to take advantage of the facility’s ultrabright x-ray light. Their research ranges from developing energy storage solutions to uncovering the structure of proteins, and at NSLS-II they use a variety of x-ray characterization techniques to understand the structural, chemical, and electronic makeup of their samples. Cisco, in a broad capacity, assists them all.

Before she first arrived at Brookhaven Lab 19 years ago, Cisco didn’t have any background in science, let alone synchrotrons. But in the six years prior to her employment at the Lab, Cisco had the opportunity to work close by at DOE’s Brookhaven Site Office.

“I arrived at DOE as Brookhaven was transitioning between management groups amid an environmental cleanup effort, and I had the career-changing opportunity to became part of the transition team,” she said. “There was a lot to do in a very short time frame. It was a phenomenal opportunity for me to learn the structure of the Lab very quickly.”

It was there that her curiosity for the Lab’s research grew.

“I always kept my eyes and ears open for an opportunity to become a Lab employee,” she recalled.

In 2000, Cisco joined the Lab’s administrative pool and was quickly called in as a temporary employee. Shortly after, she was invited to work for the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS), NSLS-II’s predecessor.

“Over the years, I aspired to advance my career at NSLS. I became fascinated with synchrotrons and more integrated into the user community as I learned about the science being conducted at the light source,” Cisco said. “The staff and the users have always been so willing to share what they know—what they’re researching, what it means, and why it matters.”

As the face of the user program, Cisco also had the chance to connect with the users on a more personal level. Sometimes far away from home for long periods of time, users established trusting relationships with Cisco and felt they could come to her for anything they needed.

“We really did connect and come to know each other,” she said. “I’ve even been invited to a user’s wedding!”

It was in 2014, at the completion of NSLS-II’s construction, when Cisco was promoted to the facility’s user administrator role. Now, she continues to communicate with users, but she also manages larger projects, such as the annual users’ meeting and strategizing with the other DOE light sources to make the user experience as smooth and productive as possible.

Today, Cisco looks back on her 25 years at Brookhaven and DOE with gratitude for the opportunity she had to grow her career.

“Every time I walk onto NSLS-II’s experimental floor I am intrigued,” she said. “I look around and it is just so amazing. I wish I studied more science in school, but I’ve learned a lot just by working here, and I’m still learning. Brookhaven is a learning place all the way around.”

At Brookhaven, Cisco was also able to continue her education by taking advantage of the Lab’s tuition reimbursement program, completing her bachelor’s and master’s degrees while working full-time. She now holds a master’s degree in executive business management.

“I came here without a glimmer of science experience, but I have learned so much,” Cisco said. “I’m eager to share my story with young women who may not have a background in science, and to encourage them take advantage of the opportunities that places like Brookhaven have to offer.  Research facilities need support. Without support, nothing can stand. And the scientists here are eager to teach you. We need women who can be the CEOs, attorneys, accountants, and communicators, because without those roles and the contributions of everyone the science can’t happen.”

Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science 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, please visit

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2019-14405  |  INT/EXT  |  Newsroom