The Experience that Made Me a Professor


“Did you have one experience that made you realize you wanted to become a professor?” Three Sociology professors recently spoke with Berkeley Connect students about the moment they realized they wanted to pursue a career in academia.

Professor Cristina Mora began as an undergraduate student at Cal in 1998, the first in her family to go to college. “I was scared to leave my hometown in LA,” she recalled. “But I came with a sense of purpose.”

Starting college, she thought she wanted to be a high school principal and return to LA to help out the underprivileged schools where she grew up. However, she learned from her experience serving as a tutor that teaching middle and high school students wasn’t for her.

A defining experience was a realization Mora had during a class she took her junior year, “Sociology of Gender.” Generally, she was not prone to raising her hand in class. But one day, as the students in the course discussed inequality, it occurred to Mora that there was a pattern of who spoke up in class. Very few women of color were participating in discussions. “I realized that I wasn’t taking the chance to speak up that I had been given,” she explained.

From then on, Mora made a vow to herself not to stay silent. She made an effort to raise her hand in class every day, starting with this one course, and then branching out to others as well. This was an important turning point in Mora’s undergraduate experience. As a result, “It became logical for me to jump from wanting to own a space in class to wanting to own a space in discourse.” And so, she chose to become a professor.

Professor and Department Chair Mara Loveman had quite a contrasting tale to tell. She grew up in a very white, middle-class neighborhood in San Diego. While she had a happy childhood, Loveman explained, “I was always thinking, ‘How can I get out of here?’” When she was 15, she spent a year abroad as an exchange student in Argentina. She absolutely loved it—she enjoyed the travel, the autonomy and the independence.

When Loveman was an undergrad at UC Berkeley, she decided to travel abroad again. She studied in Brazil, and had a particularly memorable experience in a class she took there. In discussions about race relations, Loveman became fascinated by how races were defined in different societies. “I realized I wanted to spend my life trying to answer these questions,” she recalled.

When she graduated from Cal, Loveman was debating how to choose between her different interests. A professor she met with told her, “Do sociology – then you don’t have to choose.” Loveman did just that, and was able to combine her many interests into one broad field.

Professor Cybelle Fox grew up in a tiny rural village in French Canada, with parents who were American hippies. Like Loveman, she knew she wanted to travel far away from home. As an undergraduate at UCSD, she studied history and economics, without taking a single sociology class.

Upon graduating, Fox moved to New York City and started working for a nonprofit. At her job, she did research on family homelessness, and collected the data to convince policymakers that change was necessary. “I loved doing research on important social problems,” said Fox. She loved her job, but, she explained, “I wanted to learn more, update my research skills, and gain more independence at work.” Therefore, she decided to apply to grad school for sociology, and the rest is history.

Students see professors as expert authorities; it’s hard to remember that there was ever a time when they were not professors. Berkeley Connect students got the chance to hear how three professors from very different backgrounds started out as undergraduates just like them and went on to become the scholars and teachers they are today.

Posted by Madeline Wells, Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant