Name: Denny Cha (Alum)
Major: MCB – Cell & Developmental Biology (Medical Biology & Physiology)
Graduation Date: May 2016
“I was part of an organization called VHIO (Volunteer Health Interpreters Organization) on campus. What they do is they reach out to underserved community where people have difficulty getting health care access mainly because of language and cultural barriers. While specifically working with Korean immigrants in the Bay Area, I perceived that there’s a lack of resources out there to help them. This really made me consider working in the healthcare field in order to help them receive the services they need. A lot of them actually have health insurances, but they don’t know how to utilize them. I want to be at the front line to help them out. For me, this was the big motivation that has led me to pursue medicine.”
“A process of applying to medical schools was much more intense than I had expected. I took a gap year because I didn’t want to rush myself. I am not a type of person who can multitask so I didn’t think I could manage academics, med school applications, and interviews all at the same time. Even so, I still think I rushed too much. My personal statement did not turn out as good as I wished it to be regardless of how much efforts and time I had put into it. No matter what, I wasn’t too happy with it. It requires a lot of time commitment. It took about a month and a half or maybe two to write my personal statement. I was slow on my first step, jotting down general ideas of what I wanted to write about for the first two weeks. For the remaining four weeks, I solely focused on writing and revising. I think it’s very important for pre-med students to keep in mind that you are really ready before applying to medical schools.”
“I think the really hard part is that there’s no right formula to get into a medical school. They look at each applicant in a different way, considering their backgrounds and many other factors. Application process is not fast; it will be a long process. I encourage pre-med students to be really persistent and not give up. If you are really passionate about medicine, you should go for it. It may take some time but you should really be persistent. Give your best. That’s all I have been doing for the past four years in Berkeley. Don’t be discouraged, but overcome it!”
*If you would like to read about Denny’s advice on letters of recommendation, please continue reading.*
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Name: Catherine Bordel
Profession: Lecturer of Physics 8A & 8B (Physics Dept. at UCB)
“I grew up in France, so I did all my education in France until I came to US to do postdoc. I didn’t have other experiences of what it’s like in other countries. It tends to be very general and open there after high school, so I followed that type of trajectory where you can go in many different directions like engineering, math, physics, and computer science. All those were possible for me, so it took me some time to figure out what I wanted to do. But it was not unusual at all. It’s actually very unusual, I think, that students would decide from their first year in college what exactly they want to do. Maybe that’s just a cultural difference.”
“After my third year in college, I had the opportunity to do a research internship in a lab. It was a project we all had to do as undergraduates; we spent half a day in one of the labs on campus once a week. We had a list of professors willing to take undergraduate students. I picked a spectrometry lab, which is actually far from what I did afterward. But it was a really nice first introduction to research, and the way of approaching problems was very interesting. I worked with a graduate student who was very experienced. I did some of the experiments with her and attended some scientific discussions as well. Although I couldn’t really understand anything and didn’t know what they were talking about, it was still a very nice experience to be able to work in a lab.”
“At the end of my fourth year, I had another great opportunity to be part of this special program where I could spend six months in another country for a research internship. I worked in the lab full time in the Netherlands. This experience was like magic! Although the prior research experience in the spectrometry lab developed within me a passion to continue research and pursue a career as a physicist, it was not until this time that I really confirmed what exactly I wanted to do. That was when I discovered magnetism, the field of research I am currently working on.”
*If you would like to learn more about Professor Bordel, please continue reading.* Continue reading “Professor Bordel”
Name: Gian Garriga, Ph.D.
Profession: Neurobiology Researcher and Professor (MCB Department at UCB)
“I am more of a developmental biologist. It’s interesting to study the development from a single cell into a complete organism, especially how the nervous system is put together into incredibly complex networks. When I started out, people didn’t know much about nervous system development, but it is now a much more established field.”
How did you decide to become a Bio 1AL Professor amongst other professions related to your field?
“I was always interested in science as a kid, so I studied biology when I was an undergraduate. But I didn’t really enjoy my undergraduate experience and didn’t want to be in school anymore once I graduated. So I did what I have been doing since high school and became a roofing contractor for a few years. I think I wasn’t mature enough at the time coming out of high school. I probably should have taken a time off before going off to college.
By luck and accident, I ended up going to graduate school and worked with an outstanding scientist. As a graduate student, I was trained in biochemistry and molecular biology, but changed fields as a postdoc, working in a developmental biology lab that used genetics to approach the problem of how the C. elegans nervous system developed. That’s when I started working on the problems that I work on now. Initially, I was mostly interested in research, and I still am. However, as time has gone on, I’ve become just as interested in teaching. I took on Biology 1A Lab with the goal of making it simpler. With Professor Terry Machen, we have simplified the materials and changed some of the labs to help students crystallize what they learn in Bio 1A lecture as well as to teach them experimental biology techniques.”
Name: Lewis J. Feldman
Profession: Professor of Plant and Root Development (Plant & Microbial Biology Dept. at UCB)
“Students tend to think that it is a one way street, where the faculty simply lecture the students. That, in fact, is a mistake because it is a two way street, where the faculty also feeds off of the students. If you want a good experience in a class, you should come to the lectures. This is a problem in Bio 1B because it is a webcasted 8 a.m. course. Currently, only about 20% of the students attend. That has an impact on some faculty because they feel they are not appreciated after working very hard to present the topic. It diminishes their regard and respect for the students as well. It changes their attitudes towards their lectures and class itself, and also how serious they want to be. I believe that the students can help the faculty do a good job by simply attending lectures. For some faculty, much of their existence is invested in the presentation and the students getting something out of it.”
“I also think it’s important that you do not feel reluctant about going up and talking to the faculty members even if it seems intimidating. When I go to office hours, maybe 50 students out of the class of 700 regularly come. Some faculty even get angry – they see 20% of the class coming to lectures each day, and then they find 90% of the class at their review session right before midterms. This makes the faculty feel like the students are only there for the answers and not really there for the material. There are some really good professors here at Berkeley, and it’s a shame not to experience that while you are here.”
You’ve stressed the importance of attending lectures regularly. From your own experience as an undergraduate, what other advice would you like to give to the students?
“I think it is really good for students to have a gap year. By being away from academics for a while, it gives you a chance to reassess your goals in the absence of all the surrounding peer pressure and to try out different things. I think a gap year, a time to go out and do something different, helps you solidify in your mind whether you really want to go into this field and gives you a chance to try something you maybe thought about but didn’t have time for while in college.”
*If you would like to learn more about Professor Feldman, particularly his research, please continue reading.*
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Name: Andrew Pastor
Year: Senior (Transfer)
Major: Molecular and Environmental Biology
“I am a proud transfer student from Mt. San Antonio College, a community college in Walnut, California. I did not plan on going to community college but a mix of family and financial circumstances as well as needing some more time to figure out what I wanted to do made it the absolute best option at the time. Although I wasn’t super happy to be missing out on what I perceived to be the ‘college experience’, I very quickly realized how lucky I was. It became pretty clear to me that as long as you’re surrounded by people who care there is always amazing potential for personal growth. It wasn’t always easy balancing a full schedule of classes and work throughout my two years at Mt. SAC but it was always worth it. So, when I got to Berkeley and they told me ‘Here’s some money. Now you don’t have to work,’ I knew there was no excuse for me not to soak up as much as possible. I was definitely nervous but I was so ready for Berkeley and I wasn’t going to shy away from diving into the community.”
“I’ve always remembered warnings from one of my professors telling me how hard it’d be up here. Cal has definitely pushed me pretty hard as a pre-health student; it even made me question if I really wanted to follow this path. But all of these challenges made me stronger in my commitment and Cal ended up shaping me in a way that makes me pretty excited with where I’m headed. As long as you know why you want to pursue something, everything else comes naturally. I’ve grabbed as many opportunities as I could during my time here from researching to teaching a DeCal to volunteering with a free clinic to playing with Cal Raijin Taiko. It’s been an awesome ride. What I’ve found makes it possible for me to manage and enjoy my time is being involved in things that make me feel fulfilled in some way. Sometimes, we’ve got to stretch for that feeling, I think, but it’s super important to remember why you’re spending your time the way you are, especially because it’s so limited. Not just for a line on the resume, hopefully, but to actually become a better human being. Always remembering where I came from, what I am a part of now, and what I am working towards keeps me moving forward.”
*If you would like to learn more about Andrew, particularly his research interest, please continue reading. His research is mainly focused on reproductive health issues.*
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Name: Divya Seth
Major: MCB – Cell & Developmental Biology
What extracurriculars are you involved with on campus?
“I am currently in KDSAP, which is the Kidney Disease Screening and Awareness Program. Last semester, we had our first kidney screening. We went to Fremont and provided free kidney screenings for a local church and their community. It was really rewarding to see how much of an impact we were able to have on the community just by a day of work. We were able to identify people who were on the track to getting kidney disease. It was amazing to see how one day of work has the potential to change somebody’s life. Kidney disease is one of those diseases that don’t show symptoms until very last stages, so it’s important to seek medical help while the disease can still be controlled. By learning about their kidney health and overall health, the people we served were able to seek the medical attention that they needed, and make changes to their lifestyles to improve their health.”
You seem to have found your place as a pre-med student now. How did you feel when you first entered Cal as an intended MCB major?
“When I walked into Cal my freshman year, I wish I knew that although pre-med is daunting, it is definitely doable. I think I got caught up in the daunting aspect of it and didn’t really reach out until my sophomore year. There are many support systems on campus such as the SLC and other academic and social organizations that students can reach out to. It’s really important to balance your life, not only academically, but also socially so that you can remain sane while pursuing medicine, or any career for that matter.”
“I find the most support amongst my friends here at Cal, and of course, my family back home. Without these people, I can say that I wouldn’t be where I am. As a student, you will definitely have ups and downs, and it’s important to remain grounded so that you can move forward despite the hardships you face.”
Name: Chae Rhim Lee
Major: MCB – Immunology
“Since I am from a low-income family, it was hard for me to meet a doctor or any kind of specialist when I got sick, so I wanted to be a doctor who can be there for people who can’t afford medical expenses. I think that’s how it started out. Then, I realized I’m good at science, so I was like, ‘why not?’”
“Because my family couldn’t afford to visit a doctor that often, I saw the importance of having a good immune system. There were people around me who had eczema and I myself have had asthma. I saw the importance of immunology because it is the front line of preventing most diseases.”
“I think there was big pressure on me to do well in school and go into the professional field because my family immigrated from Korea for my sister’s and my education. It was either a lawyer or doctor. But I realized I don’t like confronting or criticizing other people, so lawyer was definitely out of option for me. I just thought the medical field really interested me because my dad had a very bad immune system. He would always have stomach issues and catch a cold multiple times in a year. But when he started taking probiotic tablets, his health got a lot better. He hasn’t even caught a cold once in a year. After that, I saw the importance of having a good immune system and maintaining that balance in your body for you to not get sick as much. So I think that’s the field I want to explore and and do more research on.”