My Story So Far Archives
Quick Introduction and Update
It's been a while since I've written a blog for CNR! Most of all, it's a bit weird to say that I'm blogging as an alumni and not as a PAL anymore! I believe most of my blog posts are still on the website, and it's quite fun to read through them and see how life is different now that I'm not officially a student anymore.
My last post as a PAL needs to be updated slightly. Since then, I have found a job as a Laboratory Assistant in Jay Hollilck's lab in PMB. Although I seem to have quite an extensive range of research experiences, this one is quite different from anything I've done before. First of all, I'm working with maize constantly. I was incredibly afraid I was allergic to corn pollen (and I may be slightly), but so far, I've survived. However, the biggest difference from all of my other research experience is that I'm working more on genetics-based questions, trying to figure out how an epigenetic phenomenon called paramutation works in maize. It's really quite fascinating, and I'm enjoying my time working in the fields as well as in the lab.
posted August 29, 2010 10:35 PM
Cutting the cord
..the Umbilical Cord!!!
At my school, KCUMB (Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences), they assign us to an Early Clinical Experience. I got an OB/GYN. I need to get back to studying, however, it was amazing!! I had always been scared off from OB/GYN due to the high malpractice rate, but seeing a kid pop out of the canal? Coolness extreme!
posted January 14, 2010 5:20 PM
What I Gained from CNR
When I first came to UC Berkeley I had no idea what I was doing. I was an out of state student from a suburb in Georgia and I had only visited the campus once before. Like many freshmen, I was enrolled in the College of Letters and Science, intended MCB. I didn’t know much about what classes to take and I just chose some of the pre-med requisite courses somewhat blindly. I was pretty disillusioned throughout my first semester. Constantly going in and out of huge classes of 500+ students made me feel like I was just “going through the motions.”
After getting settled in, I gradually took some more initiative in figuring out what I wanted. Fortunately, I learned about the College of Natural Resources (CNR) from a friend in the Molecular Environmental Biology (MEB) major. After spending time in Mulford Hall and the CNR side of campus, I realized that it offered a lot of the benefits I was looking for. Some of the features of CNR that I found particularly appealing were the smaller size, a greater focus on crafting a personalized major, and opportunities for independent research through the CNR Honors Program. I quickly transferred to CNR to become an MEB major and found new enthusiasm for my college experience.
One additional obligation for me as an out–of-state student was the cost of tuition. My CNR advisor helped me plan my class schedule around my part-time employment and condense my workload such that I was able to complete my degree with an honors thesis in three years. When it came time to find a job, I made use of the resources at the CNR and received a lot of guidance from my thesis mentor. I immediately found that there were many opportunities within my interests that I never knew about. For example, I had always been under the false impression that if I was interested in science then my only options were to either become a doctor or a professor. However, the resources at CNR opened my eyes to opportunities ranging from science policy, administration, conservation, ecology, public health, and medicine.
After graduating I knew I was broadly interested in biomedical research and public health, but I felt I needed professional experience before deciding if I wanted to pursue a graduate or professional degree. I found the perfect post-baccalaureate job in biomedical research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, GA, formally called the Emerging Infectious Disease (EID) Fellowship. I was a competitive applicant to the program primarily because of the independent research experience I gained in the CNR honors program. My project, "The Labellum of Costus (Zingiberales) and the ABC Model of Floral Development," was supported by a grant from CNR's Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) program, and I was able to work closely with a faculty mentor, Professor Chelsea Specht.
Over the past two years I have worked on a number of different projects, each of which contributes directly to global malaria control efforts. One of my projects entails the use of molecular epidemiology to track the prevalence and genetic history of drug resistant malaria-causing parasites in various parts of the world. As part of this project, I have had the privilege of learning powerful molecular techniques and have trained guest researchers from collaborating labs in Pakistan, India, Thailand, Tanzania, Ghana, Nicaragua, Peru, and Brazil.
Another one of my objectives in the lab is to improve low cost malaria diagnostics, since malaria tends to be a problem in economically distressed parts of the world. Last year, I helped develop an instrument for this purpose and traveled to a rural health clinic in India to personally work with local physicians and carry out its first field trial. The data gained from this trial and other techniques that I have optimized in the lab have lead to the development of a quality control system for malaria diagnostics, which we hope to implement throughout East Africa early next year.
Although I feel I have had many opportunities, the learning curve in a professional environment can be slow. It took me two years to really get off the ground and gain the sense of autonomy that I have always sought in my career. Looking back, I feel that my experience at CNR did not just help me get my foot in the door with my first post-baccalaureate job; it also helped me excel in a professional environment.
For example, CNR helped me cultivate principles of conservation and sustainability in whatever I do. In fact, one of the first major contributions that I made to my lab at the CDC was in optimizing a laboratory technique that I used during my honors thesis. That optimization cut the cost of the technique by over two-fold and will save our lab thousands of dollars in the long run that can go towards valuable research efforts.
Several CNR classes also helped me develop skills in written composition and oral presentation that I now find essential when conveying my work through lab meetings, grants, publications, and conferences. I recently helped write a grant proposal for a $20 million clinical trial in India using skills I first gained at CNR when I wrote a Sponsored Projects for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) grant proposal for my thesis project. On a more abstract level, the culturally and academically diverse environment at CNR prepared me to work with people from all around the world.
If you had asked me what I would have envisioned myself doing in 5 years, back when I started at CNR, I would have never guessed that this is where I would be. I also don’t think my experience at CNR necessarily dictated what I would be doing either. Rather, I feel that CNR gave me the fundamental skills to pursue my personal interests and appreciate the opportunities, instead of fearing the uncertainties, which come with a future that isn’t clearly written out. I look forward to continuing my career in research and my goal is to ultimately investigate host-pathogen interactions in infectious disease as a physician-scientist. I am currently applying to MD/PhD programs and I hope that my future professional training will be as formative as the experience I gained at CNR.
Genetics and Immunology Laboratory
posted October 27, 2009 9:31 AM
Vote Andaman Discoveries for the BBC World Challenge!
Hi CNR Students and Alums,
I started a non-profit in Thailand back in 2005, and it has gone on to do great things. Recently, we were chosen as a finalist for the BBC World Challenge. If you can, please take 30 seconds to vote for us at their website, so we can keep up the good work! The website is The BBC World Challenge.
Our connection to the villages comes from rebuilding our lives together, and our projects focus on the big picture, empowering people to define their own future. This means that, along with responsible tourism, we also support scholarships for 120 kids, reforestation, a community development network, and a lot more. Pardon the spiel if you've already heard it, but it's the real deal.
Winning the World Challenge would mean a lot: the award will underwrite our projects, and the publicity will help us spread our message, which is always a challenge with a miniscule PR budget :) If you are excited by all this, feel free to post this message on your facebook account, blog, or email lists.
With thousands of nominations annually, the World Challenge recognizes innovative business projects that increase investment into the local community and take a responsible approach to the environment in which they are operating. We were chosen by a jury of high-level executives from Shell, BBC World, the World Bank, IUCN, and Newsweek.
So, if you could be so kind as to follow the link and vote for us, it would be of great service to our projects and the people they serve.
Press Release (PDF)
posted October 14, 2009 8:27 AM
Shoutout from Alaska!
Hello alumni from the past, and I mean some time ago. As I near 60 years old, I give myself a chance to see what has changed over the years in Forestry, Plant Pathology, and Entomology I am truly amazed. Many old buddies have retired or are thinking of it and others like me with a second family (X and Y generations) are still going strong, maybe not as strong as they used to. I still get out in the woods in Alaska. This year was busy with felling hazardous trees, doing bark beetle projects, and climbing over downfall. I pride myself in knowing how to put a rudimentary GIS layer together, make what I can out of communicating on facebook and twitter, and sending a letter now and again. Best wishes to the graduates of '72.
Mark E. Schultz
posted October 1, 2009 8:46 PM
From CRS to Chocolate, and so much in between!
A lot has happened since graduating from Cal in 1999. I was one of those re-entry students when I arrived at Cal in 1997 and had been involved with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’ s park restoration program and had also been deeply involved in City College of San Francisco’s biology and ecology departments. At one point I was the college liaison for the Park Service, conducting class presentations in order to entice students to volunteer for restoration activities in the Marin Headlands. It helped that some instructors offered extra credit for such noble activities. Not to mention that views of the city from the Headlands were amazing!
After arriving at Cal, I immersed myself in classes and campus life, enjoying the fact that I did not have to work while going to school full-time-wow what a concept. My two years at Cal went very quickly and I often found myself wishing that I could have been there for the full four years - but I guess there is always graduate school. I was part of the well known CRS program (Conservation and Resource Studies) and was able to construct my own curriculum around my passion at the time, which was wetlands and wetland restoration.
During my last semester, I took a class taught by some outside environmental consultants that focused on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). I liked the fact that the class focused on various aspects of the environmental world, including policy, permitting, planning, and various environmental resource areas.
Upon graduation, I hit the ground running trying to find an entry-level job in the environmental consulting field. I eventually landed a job with a small consulting firm in Oakland that was working closely with the Navy on clean-up activities at various Navy facilities in the Bay Area. I quickly learned that not all environmental consulting was created equal. This particular firm focused on health and risk management-which meant lots of number crunching, something I did not find very interesting. Several months later I left after taking a job with yet another firm, doing more of the type of work I was interested in - my first project included working with US Coast Guard.
Fast forward several years and I found myself feeling unchallenged creatively; much of consulting work includes reviewing documents written by specialists in other fields (e.g. traffic specialists, geologists, hydrologists, etc) and incorporating that information into a document that will ultimately be used by lawmakers to approve or deny a project.
I ultimately figured out that I needed to find something creative in order to balance out the more cerebral part of my life. I started baking, something I used to do when I was a kid, in the kitchen with my grandmother. I also started taking classes in baking thinking that I might want to become a pastry chef. Somewhere along the way, I also began incorporating chocolate into the recipes and was constantly asked by friends to provide the chocolate desserts for their special events.
posted September 23, 2009 10:15 PM
The Adjustments of The Real World
I just finished the second week at my very first “real” post-undergraduate job. I work as a Health/Hospital Lab Tech for UCLA’s lab in Brentwood, and though I was prepared for the transition to the real world from an academic one to be difficult, I was still surprised from the needed adjustment. Don’t get me wrong, I’m eternally grateful for having my job in this hire-frozen economy, and even more grateful that I’m working in the health and science field as a recently graduated student. The opportunity is amazing, though the adjustments were hard to settle. The hardest thing to adjust was my sleeping schedule. Gone are the days that I could stay up until 1am and be late for my 8am class.
My schedule is as follows in the lab:
At 7am, which is when work starts, I organize urine, stool, and critical fluid-streaked media plates in numerical order as each patient is assigned a number, and each specimen from the same patient is assigned a number. These plates are to be “processed” and the Clinical Lab Scientists record the findings into the computerized health system.I then dilute urine solutions and run them in the Vitek machine, which reads cards placed into the solution made and prints a report for the clinical lab scientists.
UCLA is known for making their own MIC (microdilution) trays, which are used for inoculations. The trays are kept frozen at negative 70 degrees and take 30 minutes to thaw out before we can use them, so I take a count of all the needed trays of different types before my lunch break to give them time to thaw. After lunch break, I dilute all the specimen solutions in tween water, invert the tubes, and then run the MIC machine until 4 pm.
The second hardest adjustment is the 40-hour week. By Friday, I feel like I’ve run miles up and down the Big C trail. On my first week especially, I was nostalgic for the days when Thursday nights were the start of my weekend; Fridays seem to last forever before work ends these days. There have been days where it’s felt like med school was so out of reach, days where I wonder what I am doing and why exactly I am where I am. Those days are rough, especially after working for 8 hours, and being stuck in traffic for 2. But despite these hard adjustments, I’m still very much grateful as I’m learning new techniques and gaining clinical experience for my application. The key now is to stay highly motivated and to save, save, save. I try to remind myself that all of this is part of a journey toward a dream I’m not willing to let go of, and am more than willing to work hard for.
I met a friend on the second day of work, and after realizing we had similar goals (He wants to go to vet school) he told me, “We’ll remind each other about our goals every day from now on. Especially on days we’re extremely tired.”
Each time I pass him in the halls of our lab or run into him in the elevator, he says “What’s up, future med student!” And I reply with “Hey there future vet student!” as well as a big smile on my face for the rest of the day. Well until I hit the 405 at 4pm anyway.
Shoutout from Utah!
Thanks to all of you who have posted your thoughts and comments on this blog. Your enthusiasm for your chosen fields is contagious! I'm particularly impressed by those of you who have such clear focus about your direction. I never had such clarity, but my life has become a series of miraculous and wonderful experiences nonetheless.
On my final day of work at Golden Gate fields (my first post-graduation job -- hey, the economy was tough back in '92 too!) I took a mental snapshot of the postcard outside my window -- boats on the bay, golden gate, etc, and said goodbye. It feels like yesterday, but this week marks the 15 year anniversary of my departure from living the good life in California--something I swore would never sacrifice. The next day I bought a rusty pickup truck and moved to Utah, where I worked as a biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources for a few years.
posted August 3, 2009 9:37 PM
I've recently graduated with a NutriSci Physiology and Metabolism degree from Cal and found this blog to be a great opportunity to share the adventures and triumphs as an alumni. I had this freshman fantasy in which I'd announce to the world that I'd be going to a top medical school in the nation-after finding some type of cure for diabetes of course- and I'd invite every one I know to the white coat ceremony. (These daydreams tended to happen in Organic Chem lecture, at 8 am) But alas, sometimes, things don't go exactly as planned, or the way you plan them in your decaffeineted, sleep-deprived mind.
Among the many things I've learned at Cal, I've learned that it's acceptable to be unconventional. With that said, instead of having found a cure for diabetes (without a lack for trying, mind you!), I'm taking a year/year and a half "off", as I study for MCATs, and find ways to give back to my community while working locally to save up for a dream that's still very much embedded in my heart. And though I can't offer you a front row seat to my white coat ceremony (just yet!), what I can offer is a view in this transitional phase as a Cal alum, in an adventure that's frightening and exciting, and lessons that we can learn together at the same time. Not to mention the lessons I've learned while I was there such as to NOT take more than 2 labs per semester! So, I hope you stay tuned.
As of right now, I'm in the long process of signing paper work to finally start my position at UCLA's lab, and I'm so excited and grateful to have been given such a position.
For those of you looking for scientific or lab based jobs after graduation, or as an in-between job before any professional school, I've learned in my experience that it helps if you have lab experience: assays, administrative, the works! Your colorful experience in multiple lab settings is beneficial. One of the best ways to get research and lab work is to go to a professor that's done research in things your interested in, knock on their door, and politely ask to be free labor. Your enthusiasm about the material will set you apart. There are also multiple research program opportunities on campus such as URAP that you can take advantage of, so put yourself out there!
Like I said, for many of us, the adventure starts right now-whether it be looking for a job, applying to graduate/professional school, or even if you're just trying to figure out telebears as a freshman, I'm glad we're here together. I can't tell you how excited I am to be able to share with you the ups and downs of this post undergraduate life, and to hear your stories and lessons as well!
Environmental Law via CRS
After graduation (CRS, '99), I worked for Governor Davis for a year doing environmental legislation and land use work. Realizing that I enjoyed working with environmental issues at the state government level but that I was too far from my own native state, I returned to New York for law school at Pace Law School. Pace has one of the best environmental law programs in the country, and it was a great fit for me. Surprisingly, I was the first Cal grad to come through the school.
I've been with the New York State Attorney General's office for four years now, in the Environmental Protection Bureau. My job pulls on my science background, as I work with hazardous waste remediation issues, and also the policy background which was part of my curriculum in CRS. If anyone out there is considering a career in environmental law, I'd be happy to chat about it!
posted June 13, 2009 8:33 PM
From ES to Oxford
Hello interested blog readers. I was asked to give a quick profile of what I've done since graduating.
- Environmental Sciences, graduated 2001.
- Absolutely loved the major, especially the combination of different sciences to tackle interesting questions of societal relevance.
- Active member (and President) in ESSA. Designed the first ESSA shirt.
- Favorite class: Jim Kirchner's stats class.
posted June 9, 2009 11:46 AM
37 years at Cal and Still Chasing Bugs
Most of my youth was spent is Minneapolis, Minnesota. However, I also have roots in California; my mother was born in Los Angeles. I remember those long train rides back and forth during summer to visit grand parents. Yes, I spent many summers in Fresno, and winters in Minneapolis. Now you can appreciate why I live in the Bay Area, great weather!
In 1968, a high school counselor in Minneapolis told me I was not good enough to go to college. Never being one to blindly accept a single opinion, I asked what was the best university in the country. I was told Berkeley! I had no idea where Berkeley was, but defiantly said, “I will go there.”
posted October 22, 2008 3:25 PM
I never imagined what a degree in CNR would lead to in my career!
All through my youth I had a passion for the natural sciences and I wanted to follow it in college. During my first two years at Cal I took the prerequisite courses for Biology major, which were just about the same as for any science degree. When trying to decide on what major to declare I looked within the life sciences and earth sciences departments and within the College of Natural Resources (CNR). What attracted me to CNR was the opportunity to learn in a small class setting and have more contact with the professors, and be associated with the college that through its programs was studying the science issues of the day; like the energy crisis, food safety and security and environmental degradation and pollution. Sound familiar! I chose the Soils and Plant Nutrition major because of its overlap with both the life and earth sciences. So in 1977 I graduated from UC Berkeley with a B.S degree in Soils and Plant Nutrition from the College of Natural Resources.
How did my years at Berkeley prepare me for the future? Besides the courses within the major, like soil classification, soil chemistry, soil microbiology, and plant physiology and biochemistry, I was able to take courses in geology, forest influences and forest soils, ecology, botany, mycology and ag economics. All of the courses included classroom lectures and either lab or field work or both.
One of the best courses offered in the department was a summer field course. Over a six week quarter, UC Berkeley and UC Davis professors covered the study of soils within many of the environments of California for students from both schools. The major offered opportunities for independent study where I worked on the impacts of fluoridated water on the environment in conjunction with the Sierra Club, and the issue of herbicide usage in the Viet Nam war. I conducted trials in the Oxford Tract greenhouse and I worked at the Oxford Tract organic garden. Because of the close contacts with the department and its professors we could access their latest analytical equipment for our work and study. I even found time to work at the US Forest Service Labs in Berkeley and had a small landscaping business in the community. It was a great time to be a student at Berkeley.
posted July 14, 2008 3:34 PM