After recently having graduated with a physics and astrophysics degree at the University of California, Berkeley, I can finally fulfill a long-awaited desire to write down a reflection of my college experiences with some sort of satisfying completeness. In writing this reflection, I hope to achieve two broad goals: (1) to view my experiences with respect to some overarching lessons in summary of how I have developed as both a researcher and a person, and (2) to provide some anecdotal advice and expectations for students hoping to follow a similar path through undergraduate.
As for the former point, when looking back over a significant chapter of one’s life, a question begs to be asked: “what was it all for?” I find that it can be incredibly rewarding to try to understand what exactly there was to be gleaned out of a personal experience, mistake, or struggle. Under a composition of such meditations, I can hope to learn precisely how my overall college experience has shaped me from the shy, anxious freshman to the graduating senior today.
As for the latter point, when making big decisions in one’s life, one often hopes to optimize over the space of all possible futures. In practice, I have learned that the closest thing one can do to this is to learn from the experiences of mentoring figures. I would characterize my experiences at Berkeley as overwhelmingly positive, but I also must emphasize that this is only one of many perspectives, with a unique combination of privileges and struggles which surely differs from person to person.
Over the years, after every semester/summer, I have attempted to succinctly capture the overarching “lesson” within a single word. This is, of course, extremely reductive, perhaps overly so at times, but I think that such a summarizing “term” can provide some useful context for further insights. For the purposes of actually writing down my experiences, it also yields a very convenient partition of this essay in some vaguely coherent fashion. Sometimes the summarizing term is academic, reflecting some scientific theme, and other times it is a more general lesson about how I interact with others and view the world that I live in.
I started my journey at Berkeley in the fall of 2016, unsure of what to expect.Continue reading