Brain Like Berkeley

If you’ve ever had the privilege to join us on a campus tour or online visit, you may have heard the abbreviated version of some of Berkeley’s best contributions to the world of science. Whether it’s the mention of our 16 elements on the periodic table or winning a Nobel prize for the discovery of CRISPR gene editing, we as campus ambassadors try to highlight our favorite scientific discoveries for our visitors. However, a regular tour doesn’t have enough time to get into all the facts because UC Berkeley has too rich of a history to even brush the surface. Here I try to outline some of the lesser known, but equally exciting, contributions that Berkeley has made to furthering our understanding of the world.

1. The Calvin Cycle
Melvin Calvin and co-researchers discovered the famous pathway that is an essential part of photosynthesis in plants. By adding radioactive carbon dioxide into a suspension of cells, they were able to trace how carbon distributes itself in the light and dark stages of photosynthesis. I was totally nerding out when I learned of this discovery, years after memorizing the very cycle in my high school biology class!

2. The Wetsuit
As a surfer, I’m so hyped about this 1952 invention by physicist Hugh Bradner, who discovered that neoprene was a suitable fabric for insulation from cold water. While later popularized and commercialized by legendary surfer Jack O’Neill, you can thank Bradner and UC Berkeley for the original idea!

3. Scuba Diving Tanks
On the topic of water sports, chemist John Hildebrand created the pressurized mixture of helium and oxygen that today allows SCUBA divers to descend hundreds of feet under the sea. This 1924 invention allowed divers to explore the depths of the ocean like never before, without experiencing “the bends.” Still today, one of our buildings, Hildebrand Hall, commemorates this iconic man.

4. Berkeley UNIX
Alright don’t quote me on this one because I’m not a computer expert, but Berkeley UNIX was developed by alumni Kenneth Thompson in 1969, essentially starting the revolution of open-source software. A product of Bell Labs (later AT&T and Nokia), this invention became one of the early operating systems in the very beginnings of the computer and tech industry.

5. Influenza and Polio Vaccinations
Remember a world where vaccine wasn’t a daily word that crossed our minds? Well, on top of our many contributions to the race for a COVID-19 vaccine, Berkeley biochemist Wendell Stanley was responsible for both a WWII-era polio vaccine and influenza vaccine. With the UC Virology Laboratory, his research was critical in preparing vaccines and combatting the spread of these viruses. Today, Stanley Hall is named after this revolutionary scientist.

These are some of my favorite discoveries, but even still there are so many other findings, especially beyond the sciences, that UC Berkeley is proud to claim. As a chemistry major at UC Berkeley, I can honestly say that a big draw to the university was my absolute awe when I learned of some of our scientific contributions, and I continue to geek out every time I learn about another one!

For more incredible facts, check out the link where most of these came from and enjoy! https://www.berkeley.edu/about/history-discoveries read more

My Internship Search

I feel like my parents ask me at least twice a week what job I’ll be able to get with my major and what my career goals are. Both of my majors are incredibly broad and not something you see in a lot of fields. In a previous blog post I talked about my decision to become a geography major on top of my Society & Environment major. Truthfully, with a lot of things academic wise and career wise, I just don’t know what I want. I’m the type of person who gets excited about literally anything and everything but I also get bored easily. I chose my majors because I wanted something that would continually be stimulating and changing. It’s great for being in college, but for a career path, it’s a little tricky. How the heck do I apply for internships when I don’t even know what I want? How do I tell interviewers that I simply don’t know where I see myself in five years? My initial reaction has always been uhhhh successful I think? Well I just secured an internship that I am thrilled about for this summer so let me take you on my journey.

I like to describe my extra curricular life at Cal as meandering. I’ve been going from opportunity to opportunity without a ton of direction or plan, jumping on whatever sounds most interesting to me at the time. I’m a motivated person with very general goals of being successful but like I said, I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m the first in my family to go to a top university so I’ve had to navigate it pretty much all on my own. I didn’t come in with a plan of the exact things I wanted to do, but that’s okay!

I didn’t build my career in a directional way. I got lucky, I worked hard, and recognized when I was putting energy into something I didn’t want to continue with. That’s my biggest advice to you all: make sure that what you’re putting your energy into is actually something you care about and want to continue with. Just because you’ve been doing something for a while doesn’t make it worth your time if you’re not into it anymore. For all of you economists out there, don’t buy into the Sunk Cost Fallacy.

I didn’t put as much effort as I probably should have into getting an internship the summers after my freshman and sophomore year of college. It became an imperative for me this summer to make sure I had something lined up.

So, I started early. First, I had to figure out what I wanted to apply for. Human Resources? Public Relations? Marketing? Sure, why not? I got my resume all gussied up and started applying like crazy. I’d spend hours a day hitting apply to every job in those fields primarily through LinkedIn. But I didn’t get a single interview for months. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Was I applying too early? Maybe. Was I applying for the wrong positions? Perhaps. Was I looking in the wrong spot? Probably not, honestly. The simple answer was something I thought I could overlook: I hadn’t submitted a single cover letter.

For those of you who don’t know, cover letters are supplemental to your resume, essentially outlining why you’re qualified for and why you want a particular position. I’d been dreading writing one because I had no idea how to do it. I was an idiot and forgot that I’m actually really good at writing. I asked my housemate for help and made a few different basic cover letters for different positions.

I’d like to say that it was an immediate fix, that I had the interviews rolling in afterwards. It still took a couple more months of tweaking and changing my tactics before things started happening. I realized I couldn’t rely only on LinkedIn, but had to spread my wings a little further. Handshake and Zip Recruiter ended up being my best friends.  I could not even tell you how many internships I applied to.

I learned very quickly how to do interviews. I’m trained to talk about myself as a campus ambassador, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to do an interview. All it is is telling your story and applying it to their company. I still had no idea how to answer the question “where do you see your career in 5 years?” and just hoped I would get off without getting it.

One thing that really needs to be internalized for anyone applying to internships is that interviews are a two way street: they’re learning about you, and you’re learning about them. I didn’t realize how much that would be the case until I’d done about five interviews. Some companies immediately rubbed me the wrong way. I’m big on punctuality personally and any company that makes me wait more than five minutes past the scheduled interview time automatically gives me a red flag. Three things stood out to me in every interview: don’t drink coffee before an interview (it made me nervous and jittery every time because I was already highly stressed), do your research about the company first, and don’t settle. If you don’t vibe with the company initially, there’s a good chance you won’t enjoy working for them.

My best interview actually didn’t start off super well. It was the end of the day, I’d been working for hours and was generally just pretty tired. Luckily, it was just a phone call and I didn’t have to get dressed up or anything. I took a deep breath, accepted that this might not end up going super well, and took the call. Turns out my interviewer was also tired and had been working all day. Great, already a barrier. But I turned it around, joking about how I was tired any time I stumbled on my words and it honestly created a much better environment than I had expected. It was supposed to be a 15 minute phone call but I had so much fun talking to my interviewer that it turned into 30 minutes. My guard was down, I could just be me, and I ended up getting a second interview with them! It was great!

My second interview, however, was way more pressure and totally the opposite energy. I decided after the first interview that I really really wanted to work for the company and that I was going to do just about anything to make it happen. So no pressure, right? It ended up being two people on a video call, asking me questions that I was prepared for but were much harder than the first one. But, I kept my cool and remembered that I was prepared. And I did get asked what my career goals looked like in five years. I tried so hard to come up with a crafty, cool response about how I was so motivated to do x, y, and z. But I’m a terrible liar and ended up sticking with the truth. I told them, honestly, I’m not so sure. All I know is that I want to be successful and, for me, doing that means being wherever I find I enjoy myself and where I’m most useful. I couldn’t tell them a specific position or even general career field I wanted five years in the future. I just knew I wanted to work hard and explore that for myself. For a moment, I felt a little dumb saying that. But I realized that staying true to myself was way more important than having an answer that I thought they wanted to hear.

I found out the next day, which happened to be my 21st birthday, that I didn’t need to interview anymore, that I’d gotten the job. Turns out my honest responses actually made an impact. I accepted the offer right away because I knew from my interactions and my research that I really wanted to be there. I never had to compromise who I was, I was able to have fun with the process, and it turned out to be exactly what I wanted in a summer internship! Fingers crossed to see how it goes, I can’t wait to get started 🙂

 

–Kaelyn (she/her/hers)

32.7157° N, 117.1611° W

 

How to Stay Focused During Quarantine

Taking classes during quarantine is already hard enough…you also want me to stay focused?! This request is absurd for some folks. Today, I’ll show you a few ways in which you can not only stay concentrated in your work or studies for long periods of time, but you can also voluntarily shift your focus at anytime you want.  If you want to see how, then read further! I will show you the steps in which you can do this as simple as possible.

How to Stay Focused in Quarantine
How to Stay Focused in Quarantine

Have you ever just woken up and hit the snooze button because your body and mind feels exhausted? If you said YES, then this is where you must start to reconnect with yourself. In order to stay focused during quarantine, you MUST have a disciplined morning routine that allows your body and mind to be in a peak state throughout the day. A wasted morning will just set you up to be less productive during the day. Many students and individuals in the workforce wake up and automatically use their phone. They swipe until their morning’s gone… read more

The 20 Unit Spring: A Cautionary Tale

I took 20 units this semester. That’s 5 classes total. The minimum amount of units I have to take in L&S is 13. Most students take 16 units. That’s 4 classes.

Before I get into my experiences, I should explain what units mean exactly. The number of units a class is assigned is based off of hours of work needed to put into each class outside of the predetermined lecture and section time. The reason students usually stick to around 16 is because more than that tends to start to be overwhelming and very time consuming, as I now know first hand.

Disclaimer: 20 units is 100% doable. If you want to take an extra class one semester and you’re committed to it and dedicate the time to getting everything done then nothing is stopping you from enrolling. Is 20 units 100% advisable? Probably not. But fear not! I’m here to give you the humanities version of how it goes.

This spring, I chose to enroll in 20 units because I was bored last semester. Spending all day in my house simply was not doing it for me. My entire life was put online, and that really sucked. My solution to this boredom? An extra class. When I was going through the enrollment process last semester I could not for the life of me decide between 2 classes that I really wanted to take. I made pros and cons lists, I flipped a coin, my mind simply could not be made up. In the fall, I was far from academically stimulated. Classes were still kind of weird because of the online adjustment and I was just craving more from my studies.

Fast forward to January and the first week of school. Initially it wasn’t much different than last semester, but then we really shifted into gear. You might be thinking that if you take 6 or 7 classes in high school how can 5 college courses be that much harder than 4. That was me, so young and naïve in November 2020.

As a humanities major, 2 humanities majors actually, all of my homework is essentially reading. Which honestly I love, I’m so dedicated to both philosophy and rhetoric and I knew that they were reading and writing based. But the amount of pages I have to read a week went up by 100. I will say, a large part of the difficulty I’m facing is because the classes I chose are foundational to each of my majors so of course they’re going to have a little bit more work because they’re preparing you for the upper division classes.

The biggest mistake I made was enrolling in 5 classes the same semester I needed to take a class called Phil 100: Methods.

Methods is a class every philosophy major has to go through, and it is not fun. Essentially, it’s a class teaching you how to write a good philosophy paper because it’s very different from a paper you’d write in any other department. This class meets every Wednesday for 2 hours, where we are assigned 20-50 pages of reading and an essay prompt that we have to complete by Sunday 6pm. Did I know I’d be writing an essay every week? No I did not, no one told me. If I could go back with this information I probably wouldn’t have taken 5 classes in the semester where I write an essay every week, but hey, you live and you learn.

To make things clear, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest (thank you for listening), I don’t regret my decision to take 20 units. Sure it’s a lot of work but I feel like I’m in college again which I haven’t felt for a while. Maybe it’s a destructive coping mechanism for dealing with the fact that I’ve spent 3.5 of my 5 semesters here online, but I’m no psychology major.

In all seriousness, I’m half way through my 20 unit semester and I’m feeling good. If you’re interested in doing the same one day, I would probably tell you to only do it if you absolutely need to and to look into each class you want to take in that time so you’re not too overwhelmed. I stand by my sentiment that it’s 100% doable, just don’t rush into it head first like I did.

Would I have done this if we were in person like nothing had ever gone wrong? Absolutely not. With extracurriculars and friends and free time I would not want to tack on a 5th class. To emphasize: I made this decision because of the lack of stuff in my day to day life. I’m filling an academic void in my heart that can really only be filled by the philosophy library in Moses Hall. For the time being, I’ve thrown myself into more rhetoric than I ever thought I could handle in one semester. In a way, it’s empowering to be succeeding despite the hurdles 5 classes present in trying to get good grades.

If you don’t see a post from me ever again, know that I drowned in assigned reading and essays, but I went down with a fight.

On the falsehood of Berkeley’s Toxic Academic Stereotype: a Philosophy Student’s Take

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know about the stereotypes surrounding Berkeley students. I was so afraid to be surrounded by hyper competitive people who would do anything to come out on top, tearing others down for their own personal gain. And I was met by the opposite. The people I met were the most genuine and helpful individuals I had ever gotten to work with. Any plea for help was met by an overwhelmingly positive response and that stereotype I was once frightened by melted away.

Whenever I was asked about the academic atmosphere here, I could confidently say that it was a gross misrepresentation to call Berkeley students cutthroat, at least in my experience. Unfortunately I can’t say that anymore.

This past semester I took a logic class and I was very afraid of it. Logic is the closest I as a philosophy major will ever get to doing math (which I already am fully incapable of doing) so I knew it was going to be so unbelievably difficult for me. Lucky for me this huge study group was formed after day one and I recognized a few people from other classes I was in so I had my way in. I made some new friends and I was getting all the help that I needed. And as was good.

For a while.

Over the course of the semester, one person rose up to lead all the study sessions and help everyone else. To set the scene, about 4 people understood the material and everyone else had no clue what was going on. Our study sessions turned in to mini lectures, where this one person would teach everyone else. Everyone was profiting from this situation, which is why it was so confusing when they stopped. This person stopped hosting study sessions, they stopped talking in our group chat, they stopped answering questions, they just dropped off the face of the earth. And it was infuriating. I remember being so mad, we were in a particularly difficult unit and they were ignoring everyone, I would ask a question and they would either not answer at all or blatantly change the topic. Slowly the chat died and everyone went their separate ways trying to figure out how to pass this class on their own after depending on this person who had made it clear from the beginning that they would help us through this class.

I didn’t even know people like this could exist. To me it seemed like such a heartless act I couldn’t comprehend where they were coming from or why they decided to abandon us like this. They were never pressured into leading sessions, everyone was very adamant that they take care of themselves and put themselves first and make sure that their academics were taken care of before the rest of ours. And they never complained, they always offered up their help it was never demanded of them, we were friends.

There I was face to face with the Berkeley student stereotype. But it’s ok. I didn’t need that toxicity in my life and it was because of them that I met some really awesome people. The philosophy tutoring program was overrun by my fellow students so I couldn’t get help there, so I turned to my classmates. I found myself in a group of 5 people who were mad at the circumstances but wanted to succeed anyways. Without that person gate keeping the help everyone needed, I never would of met my new friends who actually care about me. As the semester comes to a close the only reason I’ll pass this class is because of those 4 other students who were willing to help.

This story isn’t about shaming the one person who decided to screw over everyone else, it’s not worth it. The moral of the story is that there’s always going to be people like that out there. There’s always going to be misleading people that thrive off of praise and putting other people down, power grabs like this aren’t exclusive to our school. It’s about choosing to be better than that. I surrounded myself with people who want to watch their friends succeed alongside themselves and that’s what I will continue to do.

As a philosophy student, I can’t say this is what it’s always like. Not everyone is going to look like that cutthroat stereotype, the majority of students here are caring and want to watch you succeed. When I was faced with this situation it was hard but I made it out because I chose to be better than that. I made some great new friends because we chose to be better than that.

Knowledge is meant to be shared, that’s why we’re all here and in the end, that is what will happen.

How to be Successful as an Out of State Cal Student

How can I be successful at Cal as an Out of State Student? It’s always difficult coming to a new foreign area and fitting right in. What are some things you can take advantage of prior to coming to Cal as well as in your first few weeks? If you’re curious, then you’re in the right spot! I’ll tell you all the strategies you need to successfully kick off your 1st year at UC Berkeley.

How to be Successful as an Out of State Cal Student

THINGS TO DO PRIOR TO COMING TO UC BERKELEY:

Once you receive your acceptance letter from Cal, you should think about the field of interest you want to pursue during your undergraduate years. For me, since my passion was in the sciences, I decided to pursue a major in Molecular Cell Biology. For many other students, you probably won’t know until you take your classes. That’s totally fine! You can spend your entire first year just learning about yourself and the type of subjects that interest you. However, I do suggest that you look back on your high school (if you’re an incoming freshman) or community college (if you’re a transfer) years and see what class you were the most passionate about! Knowing this information will give you a head start and pave a clear path for your 4 years at Cal. read more

Adulting 101: Living in Berkeley

It may surprise you to know that unlike many other colleges, Berkeley students typically only stay their first year in the on-campus dorms. Because of the school’s special situation within the city of Berkeley, many upperclassmen choose to live in on-campus or even private apartment style housing. I never would have expected to find myself living with 13 of my closest friends this year, but with the conclusion of this semester, I have really taken some time to reflect on what makes or breaks a successful household.  So here’s my list of do’s and don’ts for living off campus!

Do: establish community. When choosing, roommates and housemates it’s important to think about what kind of dynamic you want to have in your home. When I moved in with my housemates, most of them were acquaintances that I had hung out with a couple times a month, but didn’t know well. But putting time into doing things together, from making late night pancakes or mopping the floors together, really helped us to solidify our relationship. Whether you end up living with friends or with complete strangers, it’s always good to remember that these are the people you’ll be sharing your time, and your common spaces with.

Don’t: forget ground rules. Now that you’ve gotten to know your housemates, it may be easy to fall into a carefree routine them. Even during quarantine, I spent my first couple of months spending quality time with my housemates by watching movies at home, celebrating birthdays, and having game nights. But every household has to figure out the major responsibilities: rent, utilities, cooking, and cleaning. Figuring out “who’s doing what” and  “how much” each person has to do can be an uncomfortable conversation to have, but having an open and clear line of communication will prevent problems down the line.

Do: work together. From sharing space to buying house items, getting to know what works best with your household is always a learning process. I was lucky enough to live with several seniors who already spent a few years getting to know the ropes of living independently, but even so,  moving from a dorm to an apartment is a big shift. There’s no longer a resident assistant to open your doors when you lock yourself out, there are no pre-made meals for you in the cafeteria, and there is no one to clean up social spaces.  While I’ve tried doing everything on my own, I’ve found that reaching out and pooling together our combined knowledge usually solves problems much quicker than alone. At the end of the day, you and your housemates are in it together, so make the best of your situation!

What I love about Berkeley is that it challenges each student to not only grow in academics but grow as adults. Each student here has the opportunity to explore what it means to live on our own and to become more responsible and knowledge people.

 

 

 

Guest Speakers: A Silver Lining in the Cloud


Online learning has its pitfalls, its challenges, and its benefits. My younger sister, for instance, is grateful for the online semester because she now has the opportunity to take all of her “weeder” courses at UCLA online with open notes. Generally it’s been a bit of a struggle for me. I miss connecting with classmates and professors and all that comes with it. The hustle and bustle of pushing past someone to get to your seat, the smell of coffee wafting through the classroom, even the over eager freshmen answering every question the professor asks are all small details I never thought I’d miss. I’d give anything to go back, so it’s been an ongoing process to find silver linings throughout all of this.

The one incredible thing about an online semester is that it, by its very nature, connects everyone to a global community. Professor Desiree Fields, who teaches my technological geography class, took full advantage of that fact this year. Several of our readings have come from scholars all across the world and almost every week we got to speak to at least one of them. Berkeley already has renowned faculty and a reputation that brings in people thrilled to talk to the students here. During in person classes, it just wasn’t always possible because they’d be in New York or China or elsewhere. Now, with the online semester, we’re able to connect with just about anyone from any corner of the world: all we have to do is ask!

My favorite guest speakers came just a couple weeks ago when we were discussing the idea of carceral geographies (prison geographies). This is a field that has a lot of contention and a lot of personal stake attached to it. Joining us in the classroom were Dr. Chris Gilliard and Dr. Brian J Jefferson, both of whom had written groundbreaking work on the topic. Simply through reading their work, I was astonished and had my world view challenged. When they came in to talk to us, it didn’t end up being a lecture from them, as I had thought it would be. Instead, it was a dialogue between all of us students, my professor, and the two scholars. We engaged with each other, challenging the ways in which we all thought and pushing towards a greater understanding. We talked about the consequences of prison surveillance and how urban spaces are more readily surveilled, which pushes former criminals to rural spaces. They asked us questions about California and Prop 25, which recently was on the state ballot. It was nothing short of astonishing.

Now, it’s not like guest speakers are anything new at UC Berkeley. Berkeley professors often bring in their colleagues or industry folks to talk about their work. But never before had I seen it be so consistent or reach such a global level. Engaging with scholars outside your geographic area used to be a huge ordeal but now it’s as easy as them clicking on a link and popping in. It’s a lesson that should be taken beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. We have these online tools at our disposal that make it so easy to engage in dialogue to push forward academic thought. I’m thrilled that I have been able to be apart of this and hope that this engagement will continue beyond the forced online realm and into the future. read more

DOs and DON’Ts as a Cal Pre-Med Student

What should you DO and DON’T DO as a Cal Pre-Med Student? If you’re curious, then you’re in the right spot! In order to be successful in your path to medical school while attending  UC Berkeley, then you will need to establish certain habits that you may or may not already have.

DOs and DON'Ts as a Cal Pre-Med Student
DOs and DON’Ts as a Cal Pre-Med Student

Before we dive into the DOs and DON’Ts of being a Cal Pre-Med, take some time to jot down a few ideas of your own. What do you think you should DO in these 4 years to be successful as an academic student? What do you think you should totally AVOID during these 4 years? Now, match your ideas to this guide and see how much of them align! read more

More than the map: What it really means to study Human Geography

When I tell people that I’m planning to major in Human Geography, they tend to respond in a few different ways. The most common, “Oh that’s so cool! I don’t know too many people who study that.” The second response starts out like the first, but after it’s sunk in for a few minutes, a perplexed look crosses their face and they ask me, “So can you just clarify what exactly Geography is?” And the last, my personal favorite, “Wow, I loved learning where all the countries are on the map when I was in elementary school!” I bite my tongue when I hear this — refraining from responding by asking if they really think I’m spending four years and an entire college tuition on memorizing maps — and try to remind myself that Human Geography is a unique major, so it’s not their fault they haven’t heard of it. read more