Describe your role in the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). What is the best part about your job?
Currently, I am an NNSA Graduate Fellowship Program (NGFP) fellow in Domestic Uranium Enrichment. I support the office’s mission to reestablish a reliable and economic supply of low enriched uranium for defense purposes. Specifically, I have been supporting the socialization of the office’s pilot plant acquisition strategy. The best part of my job is the people and the mission. I’m so glad I ended up in an office with passionate people and a fascinating mission!

Photo of Polly Keim wearing graduation sash

What did you study in school and how did it impact you personally and professionally? 
I received a bachelor’s in political economy and a master’s in public policy from the University of Virginia (go Hoos!). My time at UVA taught me ways to think critically and to analyze policy, which has me well-prepared for my current role. Additionally, being a UVA grad impressed upon me the importance of working hard, but also having fun!    

What led you to a career in nuclear security? 
My favorite professor and mentor in grad school, Brad Carson, had a long history of public service and this inspired me to apply to the fellowship – he also wrote my recommendation letter. When I asked him for advice on what career path to take, he didn’t hesitate to tell me to accept this position. I was very fortunate to receive such good mentorship at UVA and I have also found fantastic mentors at NNSA.

What’s one of your favorite things about working at NNSA? 
One of my favorite things about working at NNSA has been visiting the labs, plants, and sites. So far, I’ve been to the Y-12 National Security Complex, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Pantex Plant, Kansas City National Security Campus (KCNSC), Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), and I have upcoming trips planned to Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) and Savannah River Site (SRS). I now understand why people call the labs “the crown jewels of the nuclear security enterprise.” It’s been incredible to see all of the hard work that goes on and the people who make it happen. 

What are the characteristics of the best teams you have been part of?
The best teams that I have been on are ones that are collaborative and have efficient communication which is truly embodied by my office. In my fellowship, I’ve been able to observe Camera skillfully interfacing with ORNL, Whitney explaining difficult budget concepts, Matt translating technical jargon into plain language, and Kyle providing substantive mentorship. 

How did you hear about the fellowship program?
I knew a fellow Wahoo (UVA grad) who did the program!

Any advice for young women and girls interested in a career like yours? 
My advice is to be audacious. This is the advice I received from my grad school mentor, and it has stuck with me ever since. The NSE is the perfect place for women who embrace a willingness to take bold risks!

What are your thoughts on women only making up a third of STEM workforce and studies?
While I am not a woman in STEM, I like to call myself a woman in STEM “groupie.”  I have so much respect for my friends who are women in STEM, and I am constantly inspired by their expertise and tenacity!

Who is a woman (or who are some women) that inspire/s you and why?
A woman who really inspires me is Brigadier General Stacy Huser. I was lucky enough to be able to visit Pantex with her and see firsthand how she leads with kindness. She recognized one of the female guards who was accompanying us with a challenge coin for Women’s History Month and I thought that was such a thoughtful gesture. 

Tell us a little about yourself – a fun fact, a personal hobby.
Fun fact, in high school I used to do ballet! I have ballet pictures in front of the monuments in DC because I really wanted to live here. It feels good to be living the dream!