Physics Panel on Undergraduate Life

Berkeley undergraduates and graduates talk about everything from balancing life and work to co-op living in physics panel

SONY DSCFrom left: Nick Kellar, Sophia Elia, Arielle Little, Rebecca Jolitz

Mentorship is what this program is all about, and it was evident in the panel of undergraduates and graduates who came to speak to the Berkeley Connect in Physics students on February 21, 2014. Invited to speak to the students were 1st year grad student Arielle Little, recent graduate Nick Kellar, and undergraduate students Rebecca Jolitz and Sophia Elia, who provided a diverse and engaging overview of the undergraduate and graduate physics experience at Cal.

When asked what strategies and attitudes helped them cope with the competitiveness of the Berkeley physics program, the panel had much to say. “Opportunities come from a broad vision,” Rebecca said, urging students to be open, while Arielle advised students to “ask for what they want,” talk to people about their experiences, and ask for advice if they are unsure of their path. Nick agreed, adding that while challenging, he found that the Berkeley physics community is “definitely very willing to explain things to you” and encouraged students to seek help from their peers. As to how these students balance their busy schedule and fun? “Be sure to make time for yourself to do other things you like,” Arielle advised (and others agreed!). It can be as simple as Starcraft with friends, as Rebecca notes, or remembering to sleep enough. “Sleep is a wonderful thing,” Sophia said. Nick also encouraged students to take courses outside their major and to do what works for them, instead of comparing themselves to others.

The panelists also shared information about their own physics communities. Rebecca, who is president of Society of Physics Students, describes it as the “nexus to other clubs and opportunities.” The Society hosts lots of different events, including faculty lunches, lab tours, and speaker events. Sophia is involved in Society for Women in the Physical Sciences, an organization run by female graduate students to support women and minorities in the field of physics. “You don’t have to be a woman to join!” Sophia told the students, who afterwards said she aimed to “decrease the gap between men and women in physics.” Nick meanwhile plugged co-op life, adding that he had many good friends living in co-ops during his undergraduate career. “I didn’t see that turn coming,” the moderator noted before asking if anyone had any more questions on co-op living. And students did!

After sharing their research experiences with Berkeley Connect students, they advised them about how to get a research position of their own. “Be persistent and talk to professors,” Sophia urged. And don’t feel intimidated, either, says the panel. “Generally, you don’t have to know everything up front. Sometimes you have to learn on the fly. Don’t discount yourself right off the bat. Willingness to learn is often a great asset.” Rebecca said. Nick agreed. “You can take a ton of physics classes, and the first day in lab, you’ll still be confused. There is always a learning curve. Never feel like you don’t deserve to be there.”

The panel then opened the floor for student questions, ranging from more on co-op life to colloquiums to graduate admissions. A few valuable tips? The panel suggests using the physics library and never giving up. “We have a physics library, and not a lot of people use it. You can audit graduate courses if you’re interested in them. Or audit other classes you’re interested in. Finally, don’t sell yourself short.” Well said!


posted by Katherine Wang
Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant