Reflections on Senior Experiences

by Vivian Liu '2024

What are current seniors up to? This year’s seniors have been through very unique experiences and will be graduating amidst a peculiar time of a pandemic. I sent out a form to seniors with questions pertaining to various categories like general advice, future plans, reflections on experiences in college, reflections on AWE experiences, and simpler for “fun” questions. I also chatted with seniors directly about similar questions and received a total of 27 responses.

Table of Contents


Reflections on AWE experiences

What was your most memorable AWE experience?

How have you been impacted by AWE?

Anything else to add about your AWE experiences?

“Everyone is super sweet and open to helping out! Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions.”

Anonymous

Just for Fun

What was your favorite restaurant/cafe/food place at Berkeley?

What is one word you would use to describe the years you spent at Cal?

What’s a hidden gem (experience, event, place, etc.) you discovered at Berkeley?

“I have a very specific taste when it comes to water fountains on campus so I’m very very particular about water fountains. i think my secret hint is the best water fountain I’ve had on campus is actually in Campbell Hall. In terms of the taste, the temperature, the amount of effort you have to spend to press on the button to get the water out, hands down best water fountain on campus. It’s really cold, it tastes good, you don’t have to bend down too low. I know it’s a really weird recommendation, but I would recommend Campbell Hall’s water fountain. In terms of studying, I personally really like studying at the chemistry library because it’s one of the few libraries with a massage chair there and also it’s really really quiet. I think you have a lot of chemistry PhD students who study there, and so for me, if I go to Moffitt, my friends are at Moffitt, people are talking there usually. I know they have the quiet hall but in general, Moffitt is a very collaborative space but in the chemistry building it’s like quiet, no one is really talking. It is a little bit kind of like sad vibed and because of that I was able to get some of my most productive work done in the chemistry library. When everyone else around me is so focused, I’m like I should be focused too.”

– Ellen Zheng

“Behind the women’s faculty club, there’s a little grove area that’s surrounded by benches and lots of tall plants, and it looks like something that is straight up out of a fairy tale book, especially in midday when the sunlight is coming in just right. I don’t think most people know about it because it’s not on the pathway to any classes but it’s like right in the middle of campus.”

– Swetha Prabakaran

What are your favorite ways to destress? What recommendations do you have for destressing?

“I think one habit developed over my time at Berkeley is I always celebrate at the end of a midterm, whether I did well or not well at all. After a midterm is over, I always either go get some food with friends or get boba or something like that because I can’t imagine taking an exam and going straight into more studying or going back into more work. I think I really learned to take that step back. I think another aspect of that… I think it’s really important to find the time within your schedule to do so because I know it’s really easy to get into a routine of things like you study, you sleep, you eat, go back to study, classes — it’s just this one giant routine that you have to go through for a semester, but taking the random weekend trip or going on a hike or staying and doing a dinner with some friends. I think there are several ways to integrate that zoom out kind of mentality into your daily routine. It kind of breaks up the mundane moments in a student’s life and helps mentally. You’re able to adjust better [mentally].”

– Ellen Zheng

My go-to is probably putting on some good music and that tends to help my mood to relax. Something I find really helpful that I don’t do as much as I should do is going out for a walk. I live in the north part of Berkeley and its really nice to walk around the hills especially evening time around sunset I think being somewhere up high and being able to look out towards the Bay is something I find really relaxing to remember that whatever my stress is at the moment, whatever my problems are, are small compared to the world outside of CS and Berkeley. There is so much more to life than my midterm or CS project of the day.”

– Cara Wolfe

Craziest thing you’ve experienced while at Cal or have seen happen?

What was your funniest or most embarrassing experience during your time at Cal?

“This is really acapella specific. During regular semester and now we do a bunch of gigs where we go sing at events. Back when it was live you had to really know your music and memorize it but sometimes I would just zone out. There have been a couple gigs where I come in sing when I’m not supposed to or forget the lyrics soloing or something and I just go ‘Uh oh.’ I think it’s interesting because with those situations you build a sense for adapting to chaotic situations in a way where even if you mess up you gotta figure out where you are and continue going. There are countless number of times where I messed up in a song. i think it’s helped me be okay with making mistake since I think the first time i made a mistake i was like ‘Oh my god, I’m so sorry’ like I talked to a manager ‘I’m so sorry I fucked up the song’ and they’re like ‘it’s fine, it was pretty funny.’ So i think just doing that continuously made me be able to roll with the punches better overall. Try something out of your comfort zone. It’ll definitely be pretty scary and you’ll embarrass yourself a couple times but you’ll come out the other end for the better hopefully.”

– Amy Hung

“Back when things were in person, I would study at Kresge — Kresge is an engineering library — I would study with my friends in the evening and we would all walk home together at the end of the night. One particular time walking through Sproul late at night, there’s these payphones on Sproul and I was walking with two of my phones and the payphone started ringing out of nowhere. We spent a good time trying to figure out how to answer the payphone because it was ringing, and laughing hysterically because there was two of them and so one fo them would start bringing and my friend would run to one of them, and the other one would start ringing so she would run back to the other payphone and we probably looked really silly running around Sproul at like midnight or something. But that stands out as one of the silliest things we’ve done after a long long night on a CS project… In terms of best memories, definitely some AWE events or things I’ve done with AWE… I’ve been really fortunate to have been on the AWEfficer team — I think five semesters now — and so to help us bond as a team and also to celebrate all the hard work we’ve been doing, we like to do day trips or overnight retreats a couple times a semester and one of them we went to Pacifica for a couple days and we all got up super early one morning to watch the sunset together on the beach and it was freezing cold. That was a really happy memory and we have cute pictures of us all huddled up in blankets, sweatshirts in the morning. Waking up early in the morning, I think for college students, you don’t wake up early unless you have a really good reason to. For me, that reason was really good friends I’ve made with the AWEfficers that I worked with.”

– Cara Wolfe

Myth busting for Cal stereotypes: What stereotypes at Cal do you find are simply not true? What stereotypes are actually true?

Cal stereotype that’s not true: competitive and mean people. Nobody makes it through super tough EECS classes alone. The students here are some of the most collaborative and kind I’ve ever seen. Especially the student TAs who pour their heart and soul into helping other students learn! Cal stereotype that is true: difficult administration. I’ve gone through so many nightmarish administrative experiences where people redirect me in circles, terrible experiences with enrollment, and administrators who go radio silent when you need them the most.”

– Shubha Jagannatha

Favorite place at Berkeley? Favorite place on campus?

Click to zoom in on a circle!

Show us your favorite Cal meme(s) (or brownie points if you make one)


General Advice

What advice would you give for underclassmen and upcoming seniors?

“For underclassmen going through the lower div courses (61A, 61B, 70), your performance in your classes aren’t the same as in high school. An F on a midterm isn’t really an F in college. It’s how you compare to the distribution of scores, and I always said to myself as long as you’re in 1 SD of the mean in either direction, you are completely fine. It is okay to not do as well as you had hoped on an exam. Relax, treat yourself, and remember that your well-being comes first. For upcoming seniors, you’re almost done! Take the classes you want to take, not because industry or other people tell you to take them.”

– Tamara Vilaythong

“I think the most valuable thing I did in college was explore. I spent a lot of time before college developing my skills in a few select areas and college was the first time I had access to so many different avenues of learning on so many different subjects! I spent time in clubs, events, Decals, and courses in a wide array of areas. There’s literally no other time in your life when you’ll have the access to and low stakes in exploring a bunch of different things. Plus, it might help you discover new passions and learn more about yourself in the process.”

– Shubha Jagannatha

“When I went through my freshman/sophomore year, I didn’t really pay attention to my classes or when registration time came around I just panicked everytime, every semester, and I just took whatever classes my friends were doing. I would say that is a plus of being in EECS. There is a pretty clear path drawn out for you. If you only want to take CS classes you start with 61A, B, C, and then like upper divs. Although there is some wiggle room there, I think I just mostly stuck to doing my requirements instead of actually looking at the full catalog of classes. So something I really wish I did more of is just really looking through the catalog of classes offered in IEOR or like data science or maybe even some more in-depth sociology classes because I really enjoyed that when I took one class in freshman year. But I just never gave myself the space to do that. I just wish I took the CS classes a little bit slowly. It is kind of hard to balance that with taking the classes at the same time as your friend because obviously you want to know people in your classes. I would definitely say I wish I explored more classes outside of the EE/CS department. In terms of career hunting/growth, summer after freshman year, I don’t think I put too much effort into recruiting or didn’t take it seriously or didn’t get into any positions. So I tutored for 61A and took CS70 over summer instead. I think that was a super fun experience, just getting to know people who are really getting into the Berkeley CS community. Over the summer, the classes are so much more fast paced and smaller that I feel like it really helped me become better friends with some people. After that, summer after my sophomore year, I was burnt out from the summer because CS70 and teaching was a lot and so I completely forgot or did not have the energy to do recruiting in the fall, and then March rolled around and I was like, ‘Oh shit, I should probably do something.’ So I did all my recruiting in Spring semester and it was definitely a super stressful time where I did not know what was going on. At the end I had two companies I was interviewing for but I did not know how to navigate offer deadlines and I kind of panicked and asked people to extend deadlines and I ended up not getting an offer because I think they got a bit annoyed with all the emails I was sending. But eventually I was able to get a position and I started over the summer. It was’t a super big name company and it wasn’t known to be a tech company I interned at. People know of them but they don’t necessarily think of tech… [didn’t hear]. So that was one of the things I was worried about approaching the following summer… I actually had really good time at my internship because I was able to talk to a lot of non CS people. There were a lot of PhD students doing biotech research and that kind of stuff. I guess from that I just learned a lot about other industries and how tech can really tie together so many different things. The summer after I was definitely worried about not having anything huge on my resume. I think I poured a lot of my time into projects and teaching. I think they really like seeing teaching or some sort of volunteer work on there related to CS because I feel like in order for a person to teach a topic well, you have to understand what the misconceptions might be, all the little tips and tricks of certain topics. I think that’s what really helped me out in terms of building my resume. I used resources from clubs like AWE and other clubs that were doing resume reviews. I think that really helped but it’s mostly just pushing myself to just put myself out there, have zero expectations, and not be afraid of feeling basically”

– Amy Hung

“If I think back on what my favorite memories have been these past three and a half years, none of it is midterm scores or project grades. It’s the things I’ve done with friends and the cool projects and events I’ve gotten to plan and lead in AWE and other clubs I’ve been a part of. If I could tell my freshman self, obviously grades are important and you want to do a good job and make the academic part of your education worthwhile, but my advice would be to take advantage of the other cool opportunities that Berkeley provides and being in the Bay Area provides. Those day trips into San Francisco are really fun or just remembering to get out of the library on the weekend and stuff too.”

– Cara Wolfe

“I think my number one recommendation would be to find balance with everything which I know is really hard to do. I feel like college is one giant balancing act and I think the reason why I say this is I talk to some people like so many of my close friends who excel academically. These are the people who get A+’s in every CS class they take and they’re super academically driven, they study really really hard, one of them graduated already, and I talked to them recently, reflecting on his CS career at Cal, and he said, even though he did really well on his classes, something that he regrets was not being more social because looking back on it now, it didn’t really matter that he did so extremely well academically because the aspect he gave up on was his social life at Cal and then there’s the other extreme of that where people party a lot and they’re always socializing so they’re not focused on their academics as much. I think one of the hardest things to do as a student is to find a balance between everything. I know it’s hard but it’s possible. That’s the one thing I would recommend to freshmen is to try to find that balance if you can and to be honest with yourself about where you are because I think for my friend who did really well academically but didn’t do well with his social life, he said at the time, he wasn’t really honest with himself. He was like it doesn’t really matter, I just need to do well in my classes. It wasn’t until years later that he was more honest with himself then he realized social life is something really important.”

– Ellen Zheng

“In terms of deciding what you want to do, I think that’s really hard. Like for me, I came in wanting to do EE but I completely switched to CS after a year. I think you really have to think about what you like and make sure you join clubs you’re interested in. I think that’s really important like if you’re interested in design, find a design club or take a decal and that’s kind of how I figured out what I wanted to do through decals and club… In terms of balancing your life, I feel like it’s important to have certain people you can rely on, so finding friends in your major or even outside your major is very important. I did that through clubs like I’m on a dance team so that was really helpful and we used to hang out and that’s also why exercise is really fun for me. So finding what you’re interested in and the easiest way is to just join a club or a team… Obviously, people are going to be really smart, so don’t worry about that. If you’re ever struggling, go to office hours and talk to the TAs. I’ve spent a lot of time in office hours, I basically live there for a year or so, but the TAs are very helpful, and not that many people go.”

-Esha Madhekar

What advice would you give for underclassmen on applying for internships? For scholarships?

“As an underclassman, it might initially be daunting to apply for internships, but don’t be afraid to keep applying! Every interview is good practice, and every application is a step closer to your dream job. Many larger companies also have internship programs geared specifically for underclassmen, which are really cool opportunities to gain some industry experience. Try to take advantage of unique opportunities to connect with companies and recruiters, such as tech talks, infosessions, and meet-and-greets, such as AWE Breaktimes. You’ll be able to make new connections, learn more about which companies are a great fit for your interests, and even learn more about different career paths and roles that you didn’t know about before.”

-Alyssa Lau

“When you’re applying to internships, quantity > quality! If you only apply to companies that you’ve heard of before, then not only will you miss out on great opportunities at cool companies, but you’ll also be in a difficult situation if you happen to get rejected. When you’re just starting out, always apply to as many companies as possible as early as possible and then choose among your options. Applying early is also super valuable since interviews and offers are given on a rolling basis so the longer you wait, the more likely it is for a company to have already filled all of their spots.”

– Anonymous

“I think my tolerance for failure has grown with each consecutive year. Getting an internship is hard, particularly when you’re in your early years in college. People rarely talk about their failures. I’ve certainly failed plenty with recruitment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come out of an interview feeling like I’ve just embarrassed myself. My biggest advice is to shoot your shot and continue to persist, regardless of the feelings of doubt and weariness you may feel from the recruitment process. When you stop trying, failure is guaranteed. When you continue to persist, there’s always a chance that opportunity will come your way. Even though I’ve had plenty of failure amidst the past 4 recruitment cycles I’ve been though, all of that served a purpose. I learned so much from every mistake I made. 4 years later, I feel more comfortable with handling ambiguity, much more sure of my abilities as an engineer, and much more confident in myself.”

– Shubha Jagannatha

“Apply for everything even if you don’t think you’re ‘ready’ for it. Don’t say no to an opportunity prematurely. Just apply, try it out, and if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay, but at least make sure you give everything a try.” “There’s this great statistic where men will apply to a job if they only have 60% of the top qualifications but women will wait until they have 100%. Apply to the thing if you think if you think you’re interested in it and if you think it will be a good experience for you. Just apply anyway. And the worst thing that happens if they say no.”

– Swetha Prabakaran

What advice would you give for searching for a career?

“The way we go about our careers is fundamentally changing (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/20/opinion/covid-education-work.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage). Especially in tech where new developments make knowledge rapidly obsolete, constant learning and change is becoming a new normal. It’s possible to have many careers with many different roles in your life. The linear ‘ladder climbing’ career is becoming old school! I think this is a very exciting time to be alive because that means the possibilities you have, especially with a background in technology, are nearly limitless. I would say, optimize for learning, not optionality. Taking on a role because it ‘keeps the most options open’ can be a dangerous mentality long term. It prevents you from taking risks and possibly pursuing your true passions when the opportunities arise.”

– Shubha Jagannatha

What is something you now know that you wish you knew earlier in college?

“Academics are important, but they’re not everything. Study hard but also keep an open mind when it comes to clubs, side projects, research, teaching, etc. It’s important to maintain your GPA but also when you’re applying to jobs or programs, the classes that you’ve taken won’t be what makes you stand out from the crowd. Also, explore as much as possible both in tech and outside of it. Berkeley has so many amazing classes and clubs that are not CS related, and you’ll miss out on them if you obsess over only doing things for your resume. Who knows, you might stumble across a fascinating DeCal, meet a new group of friends, or discover a non-technical passion!”

– Selina Feng

Is there any other advice you would like to add that didn’t fit above?

“Question everything and be ok with not knowing the answer.”

Michelle Mao

“Berkeley can definitely be really challenging but it is awesome how many people there are who want to help, from classmates to course staff to counsellors and many more. I wish I had more often taken the first step to ask for help instead of being stressed by myself. It is so important to prioritize health and wellbeing although it can be hard to actually do this.”

Meghana Bharadwaj

Reflections on Experiences in College

What is your favorite memory of college and why is it your favorite?

“This might sound crazy, but some of my favorite memories are from my 7:30am work shift at the Doe and Moffitt libraries. If I woke up and left my house at a good time, then the mornings were so calm. I loved walking on campus while the sun rose over the Campanile with soft, pink clouds behind it. Once I got to Doe library, I’d go upstairs to the fourth floor break room and eat my breakfast. I’d then sit out on the balcony in the cool morning air and drink tea while enjoying views of campus below and the Golden Gate Bridge way in the distance. Once the time came, I’d go sit at my desk downstairs and open the doors of Doe. I’d usually only stay there until mid-morning, so I’d get some homework done, talk to employees I know, and greet people as they come in. Berkeley in the mornings is truly the gift that keeps giving. I miss that a lot now that campus is mostly empty.”

– Rachel Gregory

What was your greatest challenge in college, and how did you overcome it?

“I had zero CS background and suddenly I was thrown to CS61A. I know CS61A might not be the most difficult class for many people here. For me, It was brutal. Imposter syndrome was real. I could not even go to my discussion session or lab session since I could not even see other classmates’ faces. I felt like a failure so badly. How I overcame? Ironically, I put a lot of effort to take care of myself than studying itself. I tried really hard to accept everyone has different background and resources and not to compare myself to others. It took me a little more than 1 year until I finally felt comfortable about myself again. As I was focusing on my mental health, my academic performance slowly got better too. Then I realized it was all about believing in myself. Berkeley is hard. But we are chosen for a reason. We all are capable as long as we are resilient.”

“I think when I first came in to college, I was struggling a lot with impostor syndrome. I’ve done a bit of computer science in high school but still considered myself pretty inexperienced when I came into Berkeley and 61A was a challenge like academically but also in encounters and microaggressions from classmates. I doubted myself a lot initially, especially if I wasn’t understanding some computer science concept as quickly as people around me. That was one of the reasons why having AWE and CSKickstart was really important to me. To be able to talk to other people who had felt similarly or talk to mentors as to how they were able to develop that confidence in their abilities. That really helped me. I think impostor syndrome is not something you ever fully overcome. But now as a senior, I can look back and say I know that I deserve to be here and I belong here and I’m really confident in my abilities now. I think that’s a big transformation as to where I was three years ago. I’m proud of that. In terms of leadership-wise, definitely running/leading organizations at the scale that Berkeley operates at was something I never anticipated coming in, so that’s been another really large area of growth for me. So many different opportunities that I’ve had while leading these different organizations, so one thing I was involved with for a couple years was engineering for kids which organizes a summit for several hundred local elementary school, middle school students from under-resourced schools to come participate in different engineering activities, which is really fun for the students and for Berkeley students to get to help lead the engineering activities and besides all the organization, the logistics, and the planning that went into it, one of the things was standing on a stage in front of one of the Dwinelle and speaking to several hundred parents and students and there’s been a lot of different public speaking things but that stands out as one of them, being in front of that many people. Being involved in different student organizations has given me a platform to develop these really strong leadership skills and public speaking and communicational skills.”

– Cara Wolfe

“So background about myself, I joined acapella immediately, like first semester of freshman year, which is a bit interesting because it is really great to find a group of friends. But throughout freshman and sophomore year, acapella took up my entire life because it took up so much time. And at that same time, I was really struggling with getting into CS clubs and just like basing — I don’t know if self-worth is the right word for that but just like worthiness I guess of being in EECS major or CS but not being in a CS club. Basing my self-worth based on whether or not I was in a CS club whether it’s consulting or side projects. That was kind of like the rougher things of my first half of college where I thought i was doing well in classes. I was able to have friends but not necessarily within CS too much. I wasn’t super involved in AWE back then either. I think more recently in junior and senior year it was a lot of a transition of kind of figuring out new circles that I wanted to become a bigger part of and just have more of a network/connection with the CS [community] and AWE has been a great place to do that and really find a community.”

– Amy Hung

“Self doubt! It’s an ongoing process which I’m still overcoming. I had a lot of very strong beliefs about what I was and wasn’t capable of coming into college. Turns out, a lot of these beliefs were wrong! Nobody is immune to unconscious bias and after 4 years, I realize that I unfairly judge myself more than other people probably judge me. The way I battle this challenge is by pushing myself to try out things I believe I’m bad at or unqualified for. I can tell you, I’ve surprised myself many times! Each time is a wake up call that I probably underestimate what I’m capable of. For many women and minorities, this is commonly the case.”

– Shubha Jagannatha

What is the most important thing you have learned about yourself in college?

“It’s easy to be depressing and sad but I learned that I can have the energy and positive attitude that if I keep carrying that forward, I can have a voice and not have those feelings. For Cal, I think it’s really easy to sink down that hole but if I just talk to my friend or do somethings that make me happy once in a while, I can just always remain in that positive, energetic mindset. I think that was really important for me to learn because in the beginning I was always sad like I wasn’t sure what to do. I learned I can be happy, have a good time at Cal, as long as I balanced out my life.”

– Esha Madhekar

What is your favorite class you took in college? Do you have any recommendations?

If you could go back in time, what is one thing you would redo in college?

What was your proudest accomplishment during college?

What misconceptions, if any, do you think people have about college? What do you want more people to be aware of?

Any other reflections you have that didn’t fit into the above categories?

“Just because a class is ‘hard,’ it doesn’t mean you won’t like it. If the material speaks to you, sign up for the class. Also, there are two types of hard classes: classes that have challenging material and those that are badly structured.”

Alexandra Stassinopoulos

Future Plans

What plans do you have after graduation? (searching for job, grad school, break, etc.)

“I’ll start work next September, but I’m graduating early, so I’m going to have a really nice ~9 month break. I haven’t had longer than a 5 week break off of school or work since coming to Berkeley, so I’m really looking forward to it! I’m going to, of course, relax a lot, but I also have a lot of plans to fill that time. I’m planning on studying a lot of topics that I don’t know much about like public policy, economics, sociology, chemistry, physics, and biology. I want to review papers from CS grad courses, since I would have taken a few of those this spring if I hadn’t graduated early. I also want to perfect my Chinese, Hindi, and Spanish since I know a bit of each. Most of all, I want to spend a lot of time reading and writing since those are two things I used to spend a lot of time doing before coming to college. I think taking breaks in life is really important, and would encourage others to take a break before starting work if they’re able to!”

– Rachel Gregory

“Originally I was 100% set on working after graduating and then the pandemic happened and now things are just more uncertain. So for a while, I was like maybe I will go to grad school now even though I didn’t really have any plans to do so. I had to really be honest with myself like ‘Do you even want to go to grad school?’ Then I realized no, at this point I’m not really sure this is the right timing for me. So I’m currently in the recruiting process and my intention hopefully is to work after I graduate.”

– Ellen Zheng

Where do you see yourself a year from now? Two years from now?

About the Author

Vivian is currently a freshman student intending to major in computer science and data science. She enjoys trying out new skincare products, baking, and drawing in her free time.

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