Fiona: Challenges even before leaving the motherland (and why it’s totally worth it)

Greetings from the Bear territory, y’all!

I see that a lot of essential topics have already been discussed so I will not talk about them but I can really only stress that you should have a read through the other blog posts to get an understanding of the expectations you need to have. When it came to deciding what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it, the posts have been incredibly helpful as pretty much all organisatory things have been covered! Harvey’s advice on preparing for classes is also very useful, my classes are exactly the same (relatively large workloads, no recordings, no tech allowed, expectation to participate, etc).

A very excited me on the day before Golden Bear Orientation in front of the Sather Gate.

Anyhow, since I am the first BioSci student to go to Berkeley from UoA I have come across a pretty unique challenge that I wasn’t adequately prepared for so I have decided to share some insights on to other BioSci students that are considering applying for Cal. Please bear (haha) with me whilst we encounter a slighter drier topic than I had anticipated in my first blog post: organising the academics. This is including me having to worry whether I am even going to be able to go until about 4 weeks before my departure! But fear not, like my undergrad advisor said during tear-filled meetings with me; “just keep going, I promise you it’ll all be worth it in the end!”

A quick snap of part of campus, we often need to walk from one end to the other between classes and I easily get 10000 steps each day just from attending my classes!

Now here is the tea: Bio classes at Berkeley are either solely theory or solely practical and, since practical classes (labs) are a requirement for all students, the seats are reserved for the specific majors, no exceptions. However, UoA doesn’t approve Bio courses as equivalent unless there’s some kind of lab involved during the exchange as at UoA, all Bio courses have a theory and a practical component. Unfortunately without a UoA full-time course load, the exchange doesn’t get its final approval from our faculty. I quickly saw my dream of having intellectually stimulating conversations with Jennifer Doudna (the co-inventor of CRISPR-Cas 9) vanish into thin air, especially after being rejected for concessions by 2 lecturers at Berkeley and desperately running between UoA’s Bio and 360 departments for literal weeks. After many emails with UoA Bio and various lecturers at Berkeley, I finally found a Microbiology lecturer that was happy to have me in his lab. Everything fell into place very suddenly and a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.

A meme shown during Golden Bear Orientation. You’ll see what this means when you get here 😉 (GO BEARS!)

Now to the present time and a slightly more delightful topic, classes here at Cal! The variety and very odd specificity of classes was what interested me in Berkeley in the first place and I was not disappointed. I have one class that is literally about only Microbial Genomics and Genetics and another one on Bacterial Pathogenesis! Whilst I sometimes feel a bit behind, no student or teacher seems to be getting tired of any of my questions so I’m learning a lot just by asking follow-up questions all the time. What’s even better is that everyone seems to love Microbiology just as much as I do! It’s easy making conversation with people when they like hearing random fun facts about local bacteria. It has been very enjoyable nerding out with people and learning from them, especially since a lot of the students have student jobs in real labs and have lots of interesting stories to share. Getting involved in the labs and conducting research is a very normal thing here and students from all levels and backgrounds can participate. I myself am very excited to be able to have a project lined up and will finish the blog post with a promise to keep y’all updated about the project!

Sciencey regards… and GO BEARS!!

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