With a photograph of an intricate, spiralled shell in hand, Dalicia Thomasson sits down in her creative space at her new home in Discovery Bay, California. She picks up her spiral sketchbook, a stick of charcoal, and begins to recreate the natural beauty of the photo in a black and white drawing.
“You get to be in your own zone and forget about the work and everything else,” Thomasson said of her artistic pastime. “It’s kind of like a getaway.”
For Thomasson, a senior administrator for the Biological Systems and Engineering (BSE) Division, this creative outlet helps her to feel connected with the natural world while also restoring her calm disposition. In her position at Berkeley Lab, Thomasson supports BSE Division Director Blake Simmons, and each day is filled with new challenges and surprises. Keeping a level head and an optimistic attitude are key to her success. “In our role, we just have to stay calm,” Thomasson said. “Things change and you have to adapt.”
Early to Rise
Thomasson’s workday often begins before she gets to her office at Emery Station East (ESE). When Simmons is on the road or on the hook for an event, both of which occur frequently, Thomasson double checks the day’s itinerary before seeing her teenage sons off to school. Meeting agendas change and flights get delayed, and it’s her job to help figure out a new plan. “I always have to be one step ahead,” she said.
Beyond navigating the unexpected of meetings and travel, Thomasson supports Simmons as he strives to set and meet the goals of the Division. BSE investigators lead efforts that combine the power of biology with the tools of engineering to advance sustainable energy, develop biomanufacturing solutions, and improve human health.
From planning team retreats and constantly coordinating across people’s calendars, to tracking expenses and helping Simmons prepare for events, Thomasson is frequently required to do many things at once.
And when groups come onsite to tour the ESE labs, like a university interested in understanding how a lab is set up, Thomasson works to plan and coordinate all of the trip details, including being present onsite to help out as needed. Earlier in her career, Thomasson particularly enjoyed learning about biology while studying at UC Davis. Supporting the teams that are applying science to help people is one of her favorite things about her job in the Biosciences Area.
“In this Division, the researchers are using science to help make our environment a better place,” she said. “It’s amazing!”
Focusing on What We Do Best
As someone who connects with science and its potential, Thomasson is inspired to bring her expertise to the BSE team to accelerate their research. “I want to take care of logistics and let Blake focus on the science.”
Thomasson also brings her skillset to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Bioenergy Institute (JBEI), as Simmons is the Chief Scientific and Technology Officer and Vice President of the Deconstruction Division. This center is complementary to the biomanufacturing work of BSE—researchers are developing the biofuel research into an actual, marketable product that could replace gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.
For Thomasson, it’s a fun journey learning about the intricacies of the work done by the BSE and JBEI teams. “ESE is a great place to work, scientists are always willing to explain their research and share about their work, Blake especially.”
Prior to this role, Thomasson specialized in executive administration in the corporate world. But when she came across the role to support bioenergy-related research, she was almost immediately hooked. “I’ve always had a love for science so this was a perfect fit,” she said.
When she joined the Biosciences Area in 2019, Thomasson had a few months to work onsite before the COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to work virtually. Fortunately, she was able to forge relationships and establish rapport with many of the stakeholders critical to her role before the Lab’s physical shutdown. “Everyone was doing their best to pivot during the pandemic, we all just leaned in and helped support one another,” she said.
Outside the normal working hours, Thomasson spends a lot of time with her family. One of her sons has more recently picked up the charcoal as well; they often make art together at home. Another hobby that involves the whole family is sports.
It all started with her husband’s love for baseball, but expanded into basketball when their two sons started picking up an interest. They never miss a Golden State Warriors game, their favorite Bay Area team to watch, and Thomasson’s husband always takes the lead on whipping up a gourmet meal for the family to enjoy together during the game. More recently, Thomasson has gotten into watching college-level basketball games. “Their plays and technique are so much fun to watch!” she said.
These days, both of Thomasson’s teenage sons are deeply involved in playing for local basketball teams. Nearly every evening and weekend is consumed with practice and games. Despite her busy day-to-day life at Berkeley Lab and the non-stop movement of supporting her sons’ passion for sports, Thomasson manages to maintain a level head.
And when her younger son’s basketball team started traveling for their weekend tournaments and needed help organizing the calendars and the travel plans, signing up as the team admin was, according to Thomasson, a no-brainer.
Read other profiles in the Behind the Breakthroughs series.