An Inside Look at Graduate School

Graduate students in STEM fields share their experiences with Berkeley Connect Math


When asked what they want to do once they graduate, many UC Berkeley undergrads reply “go to graduate school.” As the Spring 2015 semester drew to a close, Berkeley Connect Math invited some graduate students to talk about why they came to Berkeley, their plans for after graduate school, and everything in-between. The panel included Antonio Blanca (Computer Science), Grant Rotskoff (Biophysics), Morgan Weiler (Mathematics), and Qiaochu Yuan (Mathematics). Thomas Scanlon, Berkeley Connect Math faculty director and a member of the graduate admissions committee, facilitated and participated in the insightful discussion.

“How did you decide to do what you do, and to do it here?,” Professor Scanlon asked. For Morgan, graduate school was the obvious choice. “I love my subject, and the only way to do it is to study math,” she said. “Also, Berkeley has a lot of people studying the same thing as I am. That’s really important, to consider who is at the school.” For Qiaochu, however, it took a little longer. “I took a year off. During that time, I realized that I missed research,” she shared. “I chose to come here because there is a lot of collaboration between departments and I didn’t know yet what I wanted to do.” Antonio and Grant both did research as undergraduates, which led them to apply to grad school.

When asked what was great about graduate school, Morgan replied, “As an undergraduate, the goal was to have a good GPA, but in grad school, all these options open up and you have a lot more freedom, but also more responsibilities. It’s amazing and stressful. The strange thing about undergrad is that there is a fixed amount of knowledge, and you are trying to prove that you know it, but in grad school, the goal is to ask your own questions.” All the graduate students agreed that that grad school was definitely fun. “Especially at Berkeley,” Antonio added. A day in a life, according to the panel, included a few meetings with their advisor every week, seminars, and sometimes teaching. “The good thing about grad school is that, other than teaching and seminars (which have set times), it’s all your own time,” Qiaochu said.

The students also touched on honing your personal statement, how to find the right advisor, and how they are paying for grad school. Many of the panelists had fellowships or funding from their department, as well as GSI positions to pay for the rest. As for what to write in your personal statement? Professor Scanlon stressed that he wants to make sure students have an understanding of what they’re getting into. “I want to see some real thought about grad school,” he said.

As the panel concluded, Grant reflected, “I’ve found grad school to be a social space, but in an intellectual way. It is a really satisfying thing. I learn things so much more deeply in grad school, and I like it.”


posted by Katherine Wang

Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant