Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory Reviews | Glassdoor

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory Reviews

Updated November 12, 2018
352 reviews

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4.6
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Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory Director Dr. Ralph Semmel
Dr. Ralph Semmel
195 Ratings

352 Employee Reviews

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Pros
  • "The management supports work/life balance" (in 43 reviews)

  • "Great work environment, surrounded by intelligent people who in my experience are more than happy to help each other succeed" (in 34 reviews)

Cons
  • "There can be lots of red tape due to the fact that a lot of projects are funded by the government" (in 9 reviews)

  • "At least in AMDS the line management tries to focus on project management tasks more than they should and doesn't spend enough time focusing on staff" (in 7 reviews)

More Pros and Cons

  1. Featured Review

    Helpful (2)

    "Great place to make a career!"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory full-time

    Pros

    - Extremely innovative/exciting work across many different areas (defense, space, healthcare, robotics and autonomy, AI, materials science, etc.) that has a positive impact on the world.
    - APL is a research center, so the majority of the work you'll be doing hasn't been done before. You will be challenged to think critically, which will help you grow both personally and professionally.
    - Incredibly smart and passionate people allow for a collaborative, supportive, and inclusive environment.
    - You are encouraged to work on the things you want to work on, and your supervisor would be happy to work with you in finding tasking that is a better match for your interests if you're unhappy in your current role.
    - Many opportunities to earn internal funding if you have an innovative/relevant project you want to work on.
    - Continuous learning is highly encouraged and supported. You can earn a graduate degree (in a field relevant to your role) at no cost to you. There are also many training and development (both technical and non-technical) courses regularly offered at the lab.
    - Flexible work schedules.
    - Great benefits, including the best retirement plan company match I've seen.
    - Many clubs/organizations to become a part of as well as organized social events throughout the year.
    - Overall: There are so many great opportunities at APL, so you will get out of it what you put into it.

    Cons

    - At times, typical red-tape found in all organizations in defense (however, I believe APL does the best job at mitigating these barriers).

    Advice to Management

    APL is heading in a great direction to back its storied history. Continue to promote innovation in all ways possible!


  2. Helpful (1)

    "Associate Professional Staff I"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory full-time

    Pros

    Exciting projects, passionate and incredibly intelligent employees, and continued education

    Cons

    I can't think of any

  3. "Great environment for a non-traditional career path in science"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Principal Professional Staff in Laurel, MD
    Current Employee - Principal Professional Staff in Laurel, MD
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory full-time (More than 10 years)

    Pros

    Although there are only several dozen scientists among the >6000 employees, JHU/APL provides a great environment for those looking to have a non-traditional career path. The project contributions made by scientists are very applied - often transitioned to end users in the field for immediate operational deployment. While staff in each department/sector may have different experiences, most of my interactions with multi-disciplinary teams have been very positive. Good opportunities for career growth exist, but require some individual effort and creative approaches. Overall, JHU/APL offers a rewarding scientific career for those more interested in meaningful contributions than "fame and fortune."

    Cons

    Because JHU/APL is a government contractor (technically, a University-Affiliated Research Center - UARC), staff are bound by rules such as timekeeping and public release. In our trusted role, supporting various government organizations, staff are required to maintain an unbiased approach and adhere to non-disclosure agreements. Contrary to the traditional scientist approach, publications and conference presentations are not the driving force for career development. Much of the most exciting work is not releasable to the public. Hence, those looking for a spotlight on the national stage or the entrepreneurship excitement of starting their own business will not find a good fit at APL. Similarly, it is not recommended for early career scientists looking for a traditional career path because of the publication limitations.

    Advice to Management

    Continue to foster good communication and interactions among staff.


  4. "More Relaxed than other DoD Contractors"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee

    I worked at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory full-time (More than 5 years)

    Pros

    Matrix based organization so it's easy to transition to different work to explore new fields.

    Cons

    Pay is not based on market rate. They have a strict algorithm they use to determine pay based on years of professional experience and performance. They do not pay outside that band. If you are a hotshot employee or in a field that is fiercely competitive, you will make more elsewhere. They are good for getting some experience and a clearance though.


  5. "Good for retirement-transition but risky for early career"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Professional Staff
    Current Employee - Professional Staff
    Doesn't Recommend
    Positive Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

    I have been working at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory part-time (More than 8 years)

    Pros

    APL offers excellent benefit and flexibility in work/life balance. It allows for parttime work (if you work for more than 50% you get medical and other benefits), and provides for unpaid leaves (even for traveling around the world). As a part of the Johns Hopkins University, staffs have access to the JHU library with its collections and online resources.

    For technical staff, APL is a low-pressure workplace with a rather flat compensation structure. It maintains a collegial work environment. Harsh criticisms are very rare, at least among the rank-and-file staff members.

    At APL, there is no pressure to "climb the ladder." It is perfectly OK to work there for 20, 30 years without any promotion. It is also quite common for low-level managers to step down and go back to technical work. There is no "cut-throat" politics for most of the staffs.

    APL pays much attention to diversity (now termed as inclusion). Although it is still a white-dominating community, minority and women staffs get extra help in recruiting and career advancement. The management is very sensitive to any issue related to discrimination, sexual harassment, or hostile work environment. In addition to the line management and EEO, APL provides an ombudsman service that can guide employees to navigate the system and process.

    Cons

    The accountability is low both at the institution and individual levels. Since APL mostly (with important exceptions in SES and AMDS) produces paper reports that with varying levels of impacts, it is usually not "right" or "wrong", often not even "good" or "not good". For an entry-level staff, it is easy to get complacent and consider himself the "expert", without comparing his work with any competitions. The shock comes when he needs to find a job in the "real world."

    APL pays lip service in innovation and staying at the cutting edge of technological advancement. However, the training investment is pitiful, less than Amazon's warehouse workers on a per-person basis. APL does offer on-site Masters programs, free for the employers. They are starting on-site Ph.D. programs, as well. These programs are great for undergraduate new hires. However, going to conferences, writing journal papers or keeping up with the literature require a lot of initiative and personal investment (i.e., doing things on your own time). Currently, only a small portion of the staffs engage in such activities.

    Management proclamations notwithstanding, carrier development support at APL is challenging. Since there is no real objective measurement of one's ability and productivity and the management has no accountability when they make the wrong promotion, carrier advancement at APL has more to do with personal relationship than with technical excellence. If you are not recognized as a "rising star" by your manager, you can be stuck with what you are doing today for the next five or ten years, even if you do a great job and all project leads like you. Theoretically, all managerial positions are open to anyone who applies, and all applicants go through the interview process. However, more and more positions are given to those who are enrolled in the "leadership rotation" program, where members are assigned to a leadership position for 6 months without formal competition. Such experience gives them a great advantage when they compete for the permanent appointments. However, the rotation program is by nomination from your manager only, instead of open competition. If you are not the lucky ones slated for the "fast lane", you won't get much help in terms of mentoring, guidance, and championing from anyone to advance your carrier.

    Advice to Management

    APL has a great heritage and occupies a unique place in the defense industry. However, without proper investment in human capital, it is on its way to becoming just another contractor.


  6. Helpful (2)

    "Good if starting out"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Associate Professional Staff I in Laurel, MD
    Current Employee - Associate Professional Staff I in Laurel, MD
    Recommends
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory full-time (More than 3 years)

    Pros

    Good PTO and sick time, benefits are pretty good, as the Johns Hopkins hospital doctors are all in network for the most part. Very smart people working here, and free degree from JHU. Flexible schedules.

    Cons

    Some older staff get stuck in a rut of working here and aren't helpful. Many reorganizations, hard to keep straight where you fall in the lab.


  7. Helpful (1)

    "I Think I'm a Lifer"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Software Engineer in Baltimore, MD
    Current Employee - Software Engineer in Baltimore, MD
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory full-time (More than 3 years)

    Pros

    I don't think I can ever leave the Lab; I can't imagine another place that I could work that would be better in any way compared to APL. There are so many opportunities for growth at the Lab and with the technical work, I am constantly challenged with hard problems. Because the Lab is so large, there is a lot of movement internally; so let's say you feel like your management was stagnant and there wasn't any upwards growth, you can apply to another position in another area of the Lab and get new opportunities. I've met several people at the Lab who decided to leave because of wanting higher salaries, but were gone for less than a year and wanted to come back, I know several parents that work at the lab, and the work life balance is unparalleled. AND THE BENEFITS. I didn't realize how amazing they were until I was telling my girlfriend about them and she compared my benefits to all 10+ benefit packages other places she's worked had. As an out lesbian, the fact that I can be out and not have it affect my work relationships is something I never expected or dreamed of. There is an LGBTQ+ group at the Lab who gets money to host many events during Pride month, which are all very inclusive. The director of the Lab even comes and supports the Pride events, during and outside of work hours! Besides events, there are other things the Lab does that makes it a place that everyone feels comfortable working at, including non-binary and transgender staff; for example there is a policy to gender neutral bathrooms in all renovations and new buildings on campus. As a default, the technical work is very interesting and it has direct impact on our national defense and aiding our allies. Overall APL is an incredible place to work and I am so lucky to have found my dream job.

    Cons

    The only con is that we need to fill out a timecard for the time we spend working on different budgets. This makes it difficult to want to do activities that are work-related and important, but do not have a budget. I understand that this is necessary because APL is a government contractor.

  8. "Hidden Gem"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Systems Administrator in Laurel, MD
    Current Employee - Systems Administrator in Laurel, MD
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    I have been working at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory full-time (Less than a year)

    Pros

    APL is a wonderful place to work. They care about their employees and emphasize a work-life balance that isn't just lip service. The benefits are some of the best I have heard of and there is a lot of opportunity for growth if you work hard and make a good name for yourself.

    Cons

    Timesheets are a pain and you have to constantly dole out in small increments what you are doing. There is a lot of overhead here here I feel like you're spending one hour of each day to recap the other seven between timesheets, budget codes, and entering tasks.

    Advice to Management

    I'm pleased with management. I hope they continue to reward hard workers.


  9. Helpful (1)

    "Great Place to Work"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Senior Professional Staff in Laurel, MD
    Current Employee - Senior Professional Staff in Laurel, MD
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory full-time (Less than a year)

    Pros

    Benefits are very good. Vacation and sick leave, retirement plans, and health plans are are at or above the standards of similar employers in the area. Good working atmosphere, non-profit academic facility ensures that profits are reinvested in tool and employees, not shareholders.

    Cons

    Academic environment places high emphasis on level of education, and also the lack of strict hierarchy found in similar institutions makes open communication even more essential to progress.


  10. Helpful (1)

    "I love working at APL!"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Electrical Engineer in Laurel, MD
    Current Employee - Electrical Engineer in Laurel, MD
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory full-time (More than 3 years)

    Pros

    Did an internship in college, loved it so much I have worked here for 4 years and counting. Benefits and work-life balance are extraordinary. My co-workers are the best most inspiring and intelligent people. I would highly recommend working here for all experience levels. The work is challenging, interesting and fun. I get to work on amazing space missions, which has been my dream since I was a kid. It is in the APL culture to be innovative and professional.

    Cons

    no cons, no good lunch options


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