Berkeley Connect

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The Berkeley Connect program opens up the extraordinary resources of the university to you: the extraordinary students on our campus. By joining, you will become part of a community of like-minded faculty, mentors, and students that will provide a supportive environment in which to exchange and discuss ideas and goals. Berkeley Connect will help you to make the most of your time at the university as you learn more about the major in Physics. We’re excited to get to know you!

Message from the Director

Berkeley Connect is a mentoring program within the physics department that is accepting undergraduate students at all levels. The goals of the program are to help students develop understanding, community, and career preparedness that goes beyond what traditional courses provide. Interactions with graduate students and faculty will play a large role throughout the semester. You will participate in small-group meetings, facilitated by a physics graduate student, that will include:

  • Visits to research labs on campus and at the national labs to talk to faculty, scientists, and grad students
  • Preparing students for a broad range of career trajectories including ones outside of academia
  • Discussions of science in the news and science and society
  • Resources for finding research opportunities on campus, REUs, internships
  • Developing skills that will make you an attractive candidate for undergraduate research
  • Exploration of the idea of scientific models
  • Building a community of physics student scientists

Berkeley Connect is offered as a 1-credit course that is designed to be very low workload but have large benefits for undergraduates.

Professor Matt Pyle

Faculty Director, Berkeley Connect in Physics

Program Description

Berkeley Connect links undergraduate students with experienced mentors in Physics. These mentors lead small groups of 10-20 students in regular meetings; they also meet with students one-on-one to provide guidance and advice. The core of the Berkeley Connect program is a one-credit, pass-fail course that is designed to create a community of students with similar intellectual interests. There is no homework associated with Berkeley Connect: no exams, no papers, no quizzes. Instead, small group meetings focus on sharing ideas and learning new skills within the Physics major as a way to foster friendships and provide a supportive intellectual community for Berkeley undergraduates.The only requirement for joining Berkeley Connect in Physics is that you have an interest in the field of study. You do not have to be a major in order to participate! Undeclared freshmen and sophomores are welcome, along with entering junior transfers and juniors and seniors who have declared the major.

Every semester, Berkeley Connect sponsors a wide range of activities and events for participating students.  They include:

  • small-group meetings led by your mentor;
  • one-on-one meetings with your mentor;
  • special events, including informal lectures by professors and guest speakers, and panels on career options, graduate school admissions, and other topics;
  • and visits to Berkeley resources.

At the heart of Berkeley Connect is the relationship between you and your mentor. The Berkeley Connect mentors are advanced graduate students or recent PhDs in Physics, who are chosen both for their demonstrated commitment to undergraduates and for their scholarly achievement. They are dedicated to providing the kind of close-knit community and one-on-one attention that can be hard to find at a large university.

When you sign up for Berkeley Connect, you will join one of several small groups of participants in Physics. Your small group will be led by your mentor, and will meet every other week during the semester for an hour-long dinner discussion sessions. Discussions will focus on key intellectual issues within Physics as well as key skills you need to succeed in the major. Above all, the small groups will focus on building connections among students, so that each group becomes a supportive community for all participants.

You will also meet with your mentor one-on-one at least twice during the semester, once to get acquainted, and a second time just before Tele-Bears, to discuss your plans for completing your major. Your mentor also has office hours every other week, during which you are free to show up and ask questions, talk over your day or your week, discuss what you are learning in class, or just have an informal conversation.


Matt Pyle received a  B.S. in Physics (2001) and B.E. in Aerospace Engineering (2002) from the University of Notre Dame, and a Ph.D. in Physics from Stanford University (2012). Subsequently, he crossed the bay and was a post-doctoral researcher at Berkeley. He joined the Berkeley Physics faculty as the Garland Assistant Professor in 2015. He describes his research interests this way:

“Many of the questions that we would like to ask about the nature of the universe today, for example ‘could dark matter be composed of particles with mass less than that of a proton?,’ are simply impossible to answer with present technology. My goal is to develop these new detector technologies and then employ it to find answers to these questions. Currently, my group is focused on optimizing the design of massive low temperature calorimeters for the SuperCDMS low mass experiment as well as for other nuclear physics applications (primarily neutrinoless double beta decay).”

Berkeley Connect Mentors

Elizabeth Donoway is a PhD candidate in Physics.

Where did you grow up?

Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Where did you go to college and what was your major?

I attended Cornell University and majored in Physics.

How would you describe your research in a sentence or two?

I study how electronic, magnetic, and quantum properties of materials collectively behave to create emergent phenomena that characterize exotic phases of matter.

Jamie SimonJamie Simon is a PhD candidate in Physics.

Where did you grow up?

Reston, Virginia.

Where did you go to college and what was your major?

Virginia Tech, where I studied physics and mechanical engineering.

How would you describe your research in a sentence or two?

I’m trying to use ideas and tools from theoretical physics to solve mysteries about machine learning systems that are too complicated to understand with brute-force math.

Liz WildenhainLiz Wildenhain is a PhD candidate in Physics.

Where did you grow up?

In the suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA.

Where did you go to college and what was your major?

I attended the University of Notre Dame where I majored in physics and philosophy.

How would you describe your research in a sentence or two?

Our group studies how gravity is connected to quantum information, which is the study of the “information” contained in a system described by quantum mechanics. This involves theorizing about black holes on the quantum mechanical level, the relationship between energy and information, and other related topics.

Semester Activities

1. Course Schedule
(See below for general event details)

Week Dates Section  General Events Reminders
1 Aug 26 – Aug 28
2 Aug 31 – Sep 4 Orientation (9/3 @5pm)
3 Sep 8 – Sep 11 1) Making the Most of Your Berkeley Experience Professor Office Hours
4 Sep 14 – Sep 18 No Section One-on-one meetings this week!
5 Sep 21 – Sep 25 2) What Makes an Activity Science?

6 Sep 28 – Oct 2 No Section
7 Oct 5- Oct 9 3) Mentor’s Research 
8 Oct 12-Oct 16 No Section Virtual Lab Tours Starting
9 Oct 19- Oct 23 4) Science and Ethics
10 Oct 26-Oct 30 No Section
11 Nov 2- Nov 6 5)
12 Nov 9-Nov 13 No Section One-on-ones this week!
13 Nov 16- Nov 20 6) Physics in Unexpected Places One-on-ones this week!
14 Nov 23- Nov 27 No Section
15 Nov 30-Dec 4 7) Conclusion
RRR week Dec. 7-11

General Event Details:

  • Click on the links in the above schedule for more information about a specific event.
  • To receive credit for a general event you must write and submit  a reflection on the event within 2 weeks of the date that the event occurred. To submit:
    • in bCourses go to “assignments”, click on the event you attended and write down a short paragraph with your impressions from the event. You just need a few sentences with, for instance, some things you learned, were surprised by, agreed/disagreed with, etc… (there is no need to write an essay here).

2. Faculty and Mentors’ Contact Information


3. Section Location and Times

4. Course Requirements

  • Attend Section
    • Acceptable reasons for an excused absence are medical reasons or emergencies, for instance. (Not review sessions, last-minute homework, etc.)
    • 1 unexcused absence: okay
    • 2 unexcused absences: must make up with an additional general event/lab tour
    • 3 unexcused absences: no pass
  • Attend 4 general events or lab tours
  • Meet with mentor for 2 one-on-one meetings
  • Complete Course Survey

5. Course goals and outcomes

5.1  Goals

Combine the resources of a major research university with the intellectual atmosphere and the close-knit community of a liberal arts college

Meaningful conversations about Science, Physics and Society

Making explicit the “hidden curriculum” (e.g., intellectual habits—striving to understand deeply, critical thinking, links to other concepts, orders of magnitudes, mathematical representations etc.—) that we expect our students to pick up through their formal courses

Engaging Berkeley Connect students in a learning community and getting them involved in the various activities of the Department: Research, Teaching, Public Service

Provide support and mentorship through their peers, the Fellows and Department Faculty.

5.2.  Learning outcomes

Active participation in learning and consolidation of intellectual habits of a scholar

Ability to integrate what is learned in formal courses into a broad view of Science, Physics and Society

Clear view of career options and steps to be taken in the following years

Active engagement in the department: Research, Teaching, Outreach

Ability to take advantages of mentoring opportunities: Berkeley Connect Fellows, Faculty, peers

Strong sense of belonging and enthusiasm for Science/Physics.

5.3.   Quantitative outcomes

Significant changes on surveys gauging attitude towards science

Increased participation in research, teaching and outreach

Increase in the number of majors, in particular for underrepresented student categories and reduction of dropout rates.

Increase in grad schools admissions, teaching positions and industry jobs.

6. Overarching theme for this semester: Bias and Systematics in Science

Of course, as a scientist one hopes to make a revolutionary discovery. Can this hope which drives us as scientists also blind us and push us to act in unscientific ways? How can we as scientists protect ourselves from the negative effects of this hope.

7. Course Description

Roughly every other week, the students will meet in 50 minutes  “sections” of 15- 20 people with a Berkeley Connect fellow. These sections will be on Wednesday through Thursday between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m .  Meals will be provided. The typical format of a section will be 10’ check in (how things are going?) and 40’ of discussions on the theme of the section, in a mix of smaller group discussions and general discussion. There will not be lecturing by the Fellow, nor homework, but typically less than half hour readings will be suggested to prepare for the class. Section attendance is compulsory (apart from medical reasons) and attendance will be taken. There are currently 2 sections for lower division students, and 2 for upper division .

The alternating weeks will be devoted to panel discussions, local visits, and participation once a semester in departmental colloquium or public lecture. To accommodate the diversity of schedules, we will have panel discussions usually alternating between , Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays 4-5pm or 5-6pm. These events will be open to the whole department. Berkeley Connect Students will be required to attend in person at least 4 of such events (the Scientist Panel and Social Thursday Feb 14 4-5:30 pm) and to review the webcast if they cannot after the panels/seminar. Attendance will be taken! Visits will be organized through Doodle polls.

Berkeley Connect students will be required to meet one-on-one with Fellows twice a semester.

Once the list of department colloquia or special seminars is known, we will choose one that we will advise Berkeley Students to attend.


To find sections in the upcoming semester, search the Schedule of Classes for Physics 98BC (for first-year and sophomores) or 198BC (for juniors and seniors).To help you meet other students who share your experiences and perspectives, Berkeley Connect sections are designated as lower division (first-year students and sophomores), new junior transfers, and upper division (juniors and seniors), but you can enroll in any section that fits your schedule and credit requirements.

How to Sign Up

To participate in Berkeley Connect in Physics, you enroll in a designated section of Physics 98BC or 198BC (one unit, taken on a Pass/Not Pass basis). Many students chose to enroll for more than one semester. Participation is NOT restricted to declared majors.To sign up, enroll in a Berkeley Connect section when course registration opens.  Please see the Berkeley Connect sections listed above under “Schedule.”

**Read the schedule notes carefully—different sections are designated as primarily for lower-division (freshmen and sophomores), upper-division (juniors and seniors), or junior transfer students.

If you are interested in participating in Berkeley Connect, but course registration is not currently open, you can join the Berkeley Connect Mailing List, and you will be sent more details when the next semester’s information becomes available.

Contact Us

Please see our FAQs. If you have additional questions about Berkeley Connect in Physics, please contact: Bernard Sadoulet, Faculty Director,

You can also contact the central Berkeley Connect office  at or (510)664-4182.

Links & Resources