Van Bibber Expands Network as CGSR Research Associate

Van Bibber (right) met up with his alumni mentor, Nick Martin, at a conference in November

Photo courtesy Nick Martin

December 28, 2023

RAND and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have been connected for more than a decade, and Pardee RAND students have pursued research as part of their on-the-job training requirement both in person and virtually for almost as long.

This spring, student Thomas Van Bibber (cohort '22) applied to be a summer research associate at LLNL's Center for Global Security Research (CGSR). He ended up staying an extra month to participate in a research conference he helped to organize, and the independent research he conducted while at CGSR was accepted to a Military Operations Research Society conference outside Washington, D.C., where he was able to connect in-person with a Pardee RAND alumni mentor. On the whole, he says, his experience exceeded his expectations.

Here is what Thomas had to say about the opportunity, in his own words:

Early on at Pardee RAND, I was already quite interested in capitalizing on the school’s relationship with LLNL. While many recent Pardee RAND students who had previously interacted with CGSR were limited to virtual attendance due to COVID, they still highly praised the opportunity. I was fortunate enough to join LLNL in person for a four-month-long research associateship, during which I leveraged all the opportunities that come with being on-site at a National Lab, and I could not recommend the experience enough.

My background is in policy and physics, with research interests in nuclear weapons, space, and security, so this opportunity perfectly combined my intellectual passions in a singular environment that connects world-class, groundbreaking science with a critical national security mission. In many ways, my time at CGSR offered the ideal complement to and extension of my Pardee RAND and RAND experience.

The position helped me to grow my research network beyond RAND to now include the incredible CGSR team. This includes my direct research mentors, Benjamin Bahney and Jonathan Pearl; CGSR's director, Brad Roberts; Associate Directors Mike Albertson and Asmeret Asghedom; and other CGSR fellows, postdocs, and fellow research associates. Over four months, I had the opportunity to work with and learn from them on a wide range of enriching research projects, such as the 5th Annual Workshop on Space and U.S. Defense Strategy. I joined high-level conversations with several international space experts—including some from RAND—on pressing policy issues and wrote the workshop’s annotated bibliography (PDF) as well as the workshop summary (PDF), both of which were published on the CGSR website.

Zoom screenshot of the 5th Annual CGSR Workshop on Space and U.S. Defense Strategy

Beyond this specific event, I had the opportunity to attend other workshops, numerous LLNL lectures on both science and security topics, and LLNL-hosted external conferences like one from the Project on Nuclear Issues at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

CGSR allowed me to further develop and apply my research skills on projects being conducted by their fellows, a direct extension of my OJT work at RAND. However, unique to the CGSR experience was also having the flexibility to conduct paid independent research. Over the course of the my fellowship, I completed a project exploring the policy and security implications of leveraging commercial space systems for U.S. nuclear operations.

While the research process was itself already quite rewarding, the final paper was also accepted for presentation at the Military Operations Research Society Workshop "Frameworks for Understanding Aggression and Evaluating Responses in the Pre-D+0 Space Warfight," which was hosted in November at MITRE's office outside Washington, D.C. I was fortunately able to attend the event using conference funding available to all Pardee RAND students.

While there, I gained valuable experience presenting my paper, "Commercial Space Leveraging for NC3," in a working group panel on commercial space capabilities; further expanded my research network; and was also able to connect in-person with Nicholas Martin (cohort '15), my newly assigned mentor through Career Services' Pardee RAND Alumni Mentoring Program (pRAMP). This confluence of opportunities was the true cherry on top of an incredible experience that ties together many of Pardee RAND’s unique offerings.

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