The academics at UC Berkeley are top notch. The class size varies considerably. I have had classes with 30 students, and classes with 150 students. The average for my major and my year is probably around 50 students, which is great for the level of quality in the instructors. If you are an underclassmen, you are taking more general education, making the classrooms a lot bigger. The professors won't know your name in these, and unless you raise your hand or visit office hours, you may never speak directly to him or her. In specialized classes, or upperclassmen classes, you will have more of a relationship with your professor, and they will probably know your name. In large to medium classes, you may have discussion sections. Usually there are one or two lectures per week, and then a discussion per week. The discussion is led by a T.A., or what Berkeley students call a G.S.I. (graduate student instructor). These are students in grad school, so oftentimes they are just a bit older than you, who help with the learning by facilitating a discussion of the material. I have had no classes that I disliked here at Cal. Some have been very hard, and some have had unrealistic expectations, but the class itself was great and interesting. My favorite class has probably been Late 18th Century Literature with Professor Sorenson. She is a great teacher and very relatable. Students study often. Being perfectly honest, I do not study as much as I would like to, but I still manage to pull in the grades I want, so I am happy about that. Class participation is common, but it does depend on the professor. Some like to lecture for the full class time, some like to have you talk to the person next to you, some encourage the class to make it a dialogue, and some just take questions after class. Students have intellectual conversations outside of class often. I have overheard many people talking English, philosophy, math, science, etc. Cal students are enthusiastic about learning, even if it is not their major, and they love sharing their ideas with one another. I know I enjoy it. Student at Cal are somewhat competitive. I think competition is more in the curved classes (what I assume to be math and sciences). Me being in the humanities division of the school, things are less competitive but there are still very high standards. My major is English. This is in the College of Letters and Sciences (L&S) within UC Berkeley. I love this major as it allows be to learn about ideas and about people and life. Most of the classes take place in Wheeler Hall. I have never met a student who doesn't like their English Major. I do not spend time with professors outside of class. I don't attend office hours due to my busy schedule, but many people do. I plan on attending some this fall. The education at this school is geared both towards getting a job as well as learning for the sake of enrichment. There are counselors encouraging you to come and talk about career options, and of course there is always enriching learning to do. The professors talk less about jobs, but the counselors make up for it.
Let's talk about the classes. I would caution anyone coming to Berkeley not to take too many units per semester; especially during one's first semester. If your course load is heavy in the math and sciences, I wouldn't suggest taking more than 12 units per semester. Math and science classes are DAMN hard (for engineers anyways), and expect to spend more time in lab-based classes than regular classes. In Berkeley, classes are divided into lectures and discussion sections. Lectures are usually lessons taught by the big-dog professors themselves in lecture halls of several hundred students, whereas discussion sections are taught by graduate students as a requirement for them to graduate (forced labor). The teaching ability of your assigned graduate student instructor (GSI) or professor is highly variable - some will be okay or good, and others will be complete shit. Some GSIs/professors will teach in such way that it is hard to follow what they are doing, do not provide thorough explanations of how to approach all the types of problems you are required to understand (or any of them), or will leave you with more questions than you started out with. Often times, I found it more efficient to just skip class and go straight to 1-on-1 tutoring where I could be taught only what I needed to know directly by "A" students who have already taken the class. HKN honor society's tutoring services were FANTASTIC and they really helped me pass my classes (plus it's free!).
I want to talk a bit about the last two math classes that I took in Berkeley - math 53 and math 54. In my math 53 class, I had a pretty decent professor (Auroux), and in my math 54 class, I had the BEST GSI OF ALL TIME (Peyam Tabrizian). I SWEAR this GSI was AMAZING!!!! The math 54 material was reasonably difficult, but Peyam taught us what we needed to know in a systematic and simple manner; going beyond his call to duty by keeping our attention with lighthearted humor, cake, cookies, and Legend of Zelda references. Peyam busted his ass and clearly cared about his students - compiling "cheat sheets" and having way more study sessions than were required for him to hold for students. The professor decided to throw a curve ball exam and put information that we weren't even told to know (I ended up with a 4% on the final), but Peyam, being the student advocate that he was, noted that the whole class bombed it and convinced the professor to curve it - and I passed the class! Why the professor felt the need to psych all the kids out like that doesn't make much sense to me - I guess that a lot of professors enjoy watching their students panic. In most math of science classes, you won't be as lucky as I was and have such an amazing GSI. Many classes are so hard that you will be doing work for them CONSTANTLY, and your dorm room will begin to resemble that of John Nash while you sit huddled up in the fetal position in the corner of your dorm room rocking back and forth chanting mathematical mantras. One kid in my math 53 class had a mental breakdown during the final exam. I remember it clearly - it was held in the RSF gym. Things were dead quiet as they often are during big exams as students stare at their papers diligently trying to make sense of the problems - then out of nowhere, there was a loud sound - a sound that resembled that of a screaming elephant! One of the kids in the room lost it, and the professor was sent to immediately try to calm him down. By this time, everybody in the room knew what was going on because the kid was REALLY LOUD in a room that was previously so quiet that the two-hundred or so kids in the room could have all easily heard a pen drop. After several minutes, the kid calmed down and stopped screaming, but later during the exam he did it again!
Sometimes I feel like Berkeley classes are all designed to be some way of weeding out students or professors feel obligated to make material unnecessarily difficult in order to live up to the Berkeley name. I could and have learned the EXACT same material from Berkeley at a community college, but in community college, things were much easier to understand – I guess because professors in Berkeley assume that their students will understand anything. A lot of professors did not seem to have an effective teaching style. Let me explain EXACTLY what I mean. Students don't usually readily admit to it, but asking many in person, I often find that students were confused after examples are done or after class (even some of the smartest kids I know). Personally, I do not find many of the concepts very difficult, however, the problem is really in understanding the abstractions. Abstractions are used to communicate, and if students don't fully understand the nature of the abstractions, they won’t understand what is meant to be communicated. In other words, the most difficulty is not inability to understand concepts or lack of effort, but the abstractions used to describe them. Looking up at the board many students see an abstraction that has been described possibly once or twice (and often the abstraction's full nature is not described- is it a constant or a variable? can I manipulate it like this and this? what are the properties that it has? etc.), but it makes many times for a student to develop a cognitive association with the abstraction and the concept behind it. The abstractions themselves are meaningless conventions; delta, tau, theta, arrows, lollipops, series symbols, diagrams, etc. It is the struggle to understand what they are meant to convey in class while the instructor continues on through the problem, often causing them to fall behind and inevitably creating confusion that is the issue. Looking at videos such as PatrickMJT tutorials or KhanAcademy on youtube, complex concepts are taught in such a way that is accessible. Ideas are conveyed in a way that students have an easy cognitive connection between the abstractions/analogies and the concept. For example, it would be more efficient to initially explain to the average adult the concept of interference by making an analogy to ripples in a pond than to use trigonometry (though once the concept is understood, trigonometry can be employed to prove it) because pond ripples are a part of everyday experience and interaction. Oh, and while explaining it using trigonometry, reiterate the relation between the math and the concept at each step. The question is, then: what can be done to combat this? Most GSIs/Professors suggest asking questions whenever students do not understand something to have it clarified and thus eliminate the problem. Asking questions is always good, however, even with this open, students continue to struggle. It is a problem that persists and everybody knows it, even the professors (some professors notice this and to prove it, at the first class have a discussion about asking questions in class, encouraging students not to feel shy asking them, even if they are perceived as "stupid" or "dumb"). The greatest problem is, however, that most of the time, the question is on something that was covered less than five minutes ago or has been mentioned before. Why is this? It takes time to develop mental connections. Perhaps, also, students feel intimidated, and have had several instances where they ask a question and several classmates answer, thus making the student feel as though he/she is not as smart as his/her peers and is looked down upon, or the GSI/Professor simply tells the student "see me later," causing everything that builds upon the misunderstanding to not be communicated. Is this an inevitable problem arising from limited time and complicated material? I do not think so. Reviewing several of PatrickMJT's and KhanAcademy's videos on youtube I quickly realized why so many people watched them; what they were doing differently; how they explained things that many of my GSI's tried to explain in class but in only 10 minutes. The secret is nurturing mental connections between abstractions and concepts while also giving a clear, generalized procedure for approaching all problem types. In both video collections, during each step the teachers re-connected/grounded the students back to reality/everyday experience/easier concepts. There was no ambiguity or guesswork. They reiterated things, and did not just present abstractions, but always said things like "in other words ___" afterwards. Repetition, reiteration, and generalization of procedure. Of course, one cannot expect to go over how to do every single problem, but if students really fully understand the nature of conventions and a general procedure for manipulating/approaching them, there should be no problem. Often times, GSIs/professors do random exercises or problems during class time, which is good, but often times do not give full insight on how to do other problems of the same type (understanding the possible nuances are important). An example of ambiguity stemmed from misunderstood conventions/abstractions would be this: during my math 54 class we learned R notation for spanning space. Now if we have 3 vectors that create a plane, what is R? Most students put R^2. This did not arise from a misunderstanding of concepts, lack of effort, or ability. It really is not hard to understand dimensionality, intersecting planes, and vector spaces. R^N was presented to represent how many dimensions a space had in class. Using that information, it would not be unreasonable to have put R^2 because, indeed, a plane falls under that category. However, the answer was R^3. The convention is that the plane was just a subspace of R^3. If one read about subspaces, perhaps, one would have understood, and indeed they were briefly mentioned, but still the majority of students arrived at the wrong answer. My GSI Peyam was smart enough to anticipate that this misunderstanding could arise, so the full nature of the abstraction R was then understood!! I hope there is a better understanding of where I am coming from, because when I tried to explain this to most teachers/GSIs I often get things like "there simply isn’t enough time" or "well that's just the nature of the material" or "you can't teach every single nuance," etc. It happens all too often, and many professors/GSIs just do not understand why their students are not doing well. It isn't as much applications of the material, it is presenting the material that can be more easily understood by the students through a connection to more familiar topics or simple procedures rather than just a jumble of math (the math is important, but in each step the abstraction must be grounded, otherwise students will be lost, and reminders must be given at each step "in other words, ____" or "this is like." No ambiguity, no skipping of explanation of steps. Instead of that (that is, ambiguity and assumption that a connection has been made), one should say "do this, which basically means ____." On the online forum that some classes in Berkeley use, “Piazza,” I frequently saw other students posting questions such as "can you give an intuitive definition for ____" etc. The problem, again, relates to the fact that the student(s) have not made an intuitive connection between the abstraction ____ and the concept that it is meant to communicate.
Now that I have that out of my system, let me talk a bit about exams. In Berkeley, midterms and finals are a big deal. The first time I heard the word "midterm" I though to myself "oh! I know what that is! It's the one other exam besides the final that you take right in the middle of the semester! That's why it's called 'mid' - 'term!'" Sounds self-explanatory right? Well it wasn't long before I realized that most classes had like three different "midterms" and then a final! What the hell?? Some students prefer having more exams instead of one exam in the middle of the term and then one final, but the word "midterm" is sort of misleading and in Berkeley is generally used to refer to any sort of exam of significant importance. I found that everyone in Berkeley was almost always studying for some "big test" that they had in a class. Try to remember back to a time when you had a really big psyched-up exam for a class that you needed to crunch for - now imagine having to be in that anxious stressed-out state all the time, realizing that you have some "big exam" like every two weeks! I remember before my breakup early in the semester, my ex visited me in Berkeley, and I wanted to make sure that she had a nice Halloween. I found that it was impossible to find anything to do on Halloween!! EVERYBODY was studying for finals and virtually nobody had costumes or parties of any sort - there weren't any major decorations outside of the dorms! (not to mention I had to bring her back to my 3 person dorm room, which was not fun). Some exams are more straight-forward than others, but many professors like to be tricky. I remember that during the campus-wide "bomb-threat," many professors were so hardcore that they didn't cancel their exam that day, putting their students in possible danger.
All right, so with all those hard engineering classes, I was really looking forward to some humanities classes for a more "well-rounded" experience and to help hone my personal expression and creativity. I looked through the list and saw some politically based classes (yuck!), religious based classes (everything except Judeo-Christian), and a few gems like film and music. Film and music fill up IMMEDIATELY because all of the kids that go to Berkeley probably want something fun that they are interested in and want a break from the political atmosphere. I wasn't fortunate enough to get film or music, but I did manage to get into theater R1A. You are probably thinking that in a class called "theater" one would learn about Shakespeare? How about plays, musicals, performances, dances, acting, scripts, symbolism, and the human condition? WRONG. It turns out that GSIs run R1 classes and have free reign over the entire curriculum - so basically a class could be labeled "The Great Works of Shakespeare," and a GSI teaching the class could be like "nope, I feel like teaching a class on the history of the Soviet Union." Essentially, that is exactly what happened. The class was about racism in America and we learned about court cases the entire time. My question is WHY THE FUCK would you even give students a choice if they don't even learn anything that they signed up for? For any other service that people pay for, if someone tried to pull something like that, the customer would get their money back and it would be labeled false advertising. Well not at Berkeley! In that class I could really feel the animosity towards white Christians (the "oppressors") - one time in the class one girl commented calling them "those white Protestant prudes!" Coming from a primarily white conservative Christian background, I really did not feel too welcome. In spite of what many people in Berkeley assume about those coming from such a backround, I'm a very open-minded person, am not racist or a bigot, I don't hate gays, do not watch Fox News, and am not a Republican that only cares about getting money at the expense of others. My family didn't even live in America during the slavery/Jim Crow Era - my father is an immigrant from Canada!! It's really no secret that there is generally a sort of anti-Christian sentiment in Berkeley. One day I was just walking through the halls of the Dwinelle building, and there were posters put up everywhere claiming that lifelong monogamy was only an institution put up by the Catholic Church as a means to control people (I'm not Catholic - but still - wtf?).
Next semester I looked through the list and couldn't really find anything open that I was too interested in again, so I decided to try "theater R1B." Can't go wrong twice, right? Well the material seemed more relevant at least - it was about the history of modern dance. I didn't mind that at all - hey! This is where all the girls were at! Out of the entire class I was the only straight guy in the class (and there was only one other guy besides me). The girls in the class seemed a bit busy and up-tight, but I did manage to get to know some. The class did have some political undertones - namely to do with dances depicting communism/socialism, but it wasn't too bad. I did my work diligently and aced everything - going to office hours and having discussions with the GSI frequently to make sure that I was on track. We were assigned a final paper, and I discussed my rough draft with the GSI multiple times and she was okay with where I was going - it appeared that I was going to ace the class and get a well-deserved gpa boost! I went to check my final grade in the class after the end of the semester, and my jaw dropped. She gave me a "D-!" I couldn't believe it! I thought that it was an error, so I emailed her, but she replied telling me that it was not an error! She said...well, let me just look back into my emails and paraphrase what she wrote:
"I am sorry if your final grade took you by surprise. Unfortunately, the grade is accurate. While you demonstrated your understanding of my comments on your outline and draft in your paragraph on edits for the final paper, you failed to implement these suggestions in your paper. Your analysis of "interpellation" was the only moment when your paper tried to address the content of our R1B. Still here the discussion fell short of critical engagement. Unfortunately, as I explained explicitly in office hours, a passing paper must adequately illustrate that the research process was conducted for our class. Additionally, we were not able to hone the organization and development of the paper since the specific focus of the argument changed drastically with each draft. Your grade is significantly low because the final paper grade is based not only on the final product, but also on the lead up assignments. I understand the peripheral and intended connections between your paper argument and class material from your presentation and our conversations. Still, the paper does not demonstrate the type of argument that I explained would be appropriate for our class. I hope that this feedback is useful for the future."
Well, to put it bluntly, this was all bovine turkus. I followed the instructions to a "tee," went to office hours to verify my progress and to go over my rough draft, and definitely demonstrated what she calls "critical engagement." At this point I was livid, so I wrote a very lengthy reply email back to her explaining why she was wrong and that I wanted to contest my grade. It's a shame that I had to resort to spending a couple of hours compiling my thoughts into such a monstrosity of an email back to her, but hey, that's Berkeley for you:
"I would like to contest my grade. I feel that I did follow what was required and suggestions made during office hours. When I first began the assignment, I was presented with the problem of finding a topic. Of course, as a non- theater major, I was pleased that in the papers you gave out during class describing the assignment, you stated that it was okay to pick a topic that was not explicitly about theater or dance, but could be related to the class (you gave examples such as an essay on history, etc.).
I needed to begin research, and was reassured in class when you said that initially that it was okay that we did not know exactly what to write about yet, but to begin looking. I took the route of politics, as that is something that I was passionate about and really felt an urge to research it. You emphasized that writing the paper was a process and that you expected our central claims and arguments to change several times before completion of the final draft. I felt that the research I was doing was acceptable because you explicitly stated to research something that I felt passionate about, and in the first couple of classes, even went so far as to ask students what they felt like researching and said that each was acceptable (even things like computer science or biology) as long as it was somehow relatable to the course.
Meanwhile, in the time leading up to actually writing the paper, I did all assignments required and received full credit (maybe a point off here or there) and met with you several times in office hours, following your suggestions and asking questions as necessary. After writing my central claims and arguments (early on), I received feedback from you and decided to follow your advice to meet with you in office hours. Your comments indicated that you felt that my paper was too broad, I did not support my claims, and that my topic was not relatable to this course. I spoke with you regarding this, and clarified my three original points, all about the modern bipolar political system and how it is a problem to society. You explicitly stated in class that we did not have to support our claims in the central claims and arguments assignment. I explained in office hours that, as with discussions we had in class, we see that what society sees as acceptable is very dynamic. The individual effects culture, yet the individual is also partially a creation of culture. In my original claims, I discussed the way that industry and technology effected the equilibrium and how the political parties rose to power, and that it was very different than was originally intended.
At the point that I wrote my original claims and arguments, all that I knew was that it had to be somehow related to the class, but was not aware how specific I had to be in relating to the class (I find that humanity teachers are often very different in their expectations. For example, one english teacher might be more flexible in what he/she considers as "relatable"). After you clarified instruction later on, I followed exactly what you said. To make sure that I was on track and to follow your advice as closely as I could, I met with you once again in office hours about my rough draft. You expressed that I should change the direction of my paper to better frame it in terms of the class. We discussed centering the paper around Ralph Nader's run for president, and how his use of spectacle was used to tactically convey his political message. This is directly related to the class, and is the central argument of my paper. I explained this in the paragraph that I appended to my final paper in which you explained that we could include. I was very pleased, because everything fit into place and I was confident that I was doing as I was required because you stated in office hours that this was acceptable and after my presentation expressed that you initially had worries but that the point I made about Ralph Nader definitely fulfilled the requirement.
Your claim that the only time my paper addressed the topics in R1B was one mention of "interpellation" has me feel that you made a very cursory evaluation of my paper. I do not just mention "interpellation." The central claim of my paper (as described in the first paragraph of my essay) was that Ralph Nader's spectacle of running for president was to tactically induce the interpellation. Not only does this topic directly relate to the course, but you also said it would be acceptable. Close reading of my essay reveals that I did address the concerns you expressed, such as me not having as many citations as I should. I added many more citations, brought new research to the table to back my claims, and framed my paper in terms of this course, even explicitly using key terms in class to write my thesis. In my paper, I go further than this, and also include discussion of the relationship between an individual and institutions and the equilibrium/cycle between the two, and even go so far as to pointedly remark that "the presidential debates can be regarded as a performance, much like dance" when explaining why it was so critical for Nader to have participated in them.
You claim that my paper failed to reach "criticality," yet I followed the very techniques I was told I should follow in class. I used your means and methods and developed a very original and critical claim. Why would Ralph Nader run for president and not for Senator? Don't you think he would have won a Senatorial race or other smaller race? These are very pointed questions I had to ask myself, illustrating criticality and real analysis of the situation. There was a reason that he ran for president, and it wasn't all just to win. It's very interesting, and came to this conclusion after watching many hours of recorded interviews. I had a large variety of sources including historical documents, documentaries, interviews, books, statistics, and websites. I copied and pasted, rearranged my drafts, met with you in office hours, visited the library, watched videos, looked for something I was passionate about, checked tables of contents of books to see if they would be useful, and definitely followed your advice in class for research methods. I definitely did follow the research process and writing process you described in class. I really don't see how I missed "criticality," and especially don't see how I could have missed it causing my grade to drop as drastically as it did to a "D-."
My argument was pointed and illustrated a very intelligent argument that related directly to the class. As before-mentioned, this was that:
1.) The bipolar political system of today has several problems including inaccurate representation, conflicting interests, and political "myopia" (narrow- mindedness)
2.) Ralph Nader recognized this and ran for president as a publicity stunt (made a spectacle) in order to raise awareness and cause people to question the bipolar institution (interpellation). Like in the dance value duality I described in class, Ralph Nader's spectacle had communicative value. He was trying to convey a political message through simply running.
The fact that you missed all of these and made a claim that I was negligent in following your requirements makes me feel as if you did not read my paper as closely as you should have and also makes me feel somewhat insulted because I worked very hard on this paper and in the class, faithfully coming to office hours, participating in discussions, and bringing arguments and points to the table (such as virtuosity, the dance value duality, questioning dances, etc.). A "D-" indicates that I am a negligent student; a real "slacker," not caring about his work. For a class in which you told students the first week not to take the class "pass/no pass" because you would be very generous with grades, frankly, a "D-," one step away from an outright fail, is humiliating.
Testament to the fact that I do not simply disregard instructions or neglect to follow instructions are right in my final paper and years of good English grades (even last year in my R1A class with _____ who you have mentioned is one of your peers). I apologize for the longevity of this email and if the tone of it appears to be of anger or frustration, but I assure you that isn't what I intended. I hope you understand, something like this makes me feel somewhat flustered. I hope you have a nice summer and reconsider my grade in light of what I have said.
See you next year (maybe?)
She replied back and basically told me that I was right and that she was wrong, but that the best she could do was raise my grade up to a "C+." On top of all the work that I already had, I really didn't have much more energy to argue and try to convince her that I deserved a higher grade (you can see now why - it takes an essay in itself just to convince the GSI to do her job and grade my paper). I was satisfied that I didn't have the "D-," so I accepted it. My problem with a lot of these humanities-type classes is that the grading system for papers is so subjective - based on how the instructor "feels" about the paper and how much it "flows" and how "strong" the critical analysis is. It's all really relative.
My third semester at Berkeley I once again looked through the list of humanities classes, and once again couldn't get into film or music. I had to choose from the list of classes that I wasn't too interested in. I chose a class from the politically-related bunch - ethnic studies - another class about racism in America. I'm not denying that there has been racism in the past and there probably is a lot of racism going on today, but my problem was that I really wanted a break from everyone putting the world's problems on my shoulders (as a college kid just trying to figure out who I was, I had enough problems of my own!) and having it drilled into my head so much and so often. I recognized the extremely biased political atmosphere again - the professor tended to spout his political opinions during class. I feel like there is a sort of unwritten Berkeley ideology that you are expected to conform to, and if you don't conform to it, everyone will make sure you know it. I remember in the discussion section of that class, the GSI was glorifying the "Black Panther" ideology of separation of the "white and black" cultures (against cooperation and for segregation - otherwise known as black nationalism), and was talking about Martin Luther King as well. I raised my hand and posed a comment/question; "wait a second - I thought that MLK was an activist that supported integration and cooperation of whites and blacks together?" The GSI, who often glared at students during the lecture sections for making comments that were against the Berkeley norm darted back saying; "I think that you have a misunderstanding of MLK's teachings."
Wait a second... *I* am misunderstanding MLK's teachings?? Excuse me??? I have listened to MLK's speeches and read many of his writings, and it is clear to me that he was for integration and cooperation of the whites and the blacks, and did not subscribe to the same ideology that Malcolm X promoted. In fact, the two were often at odds - Malcolm X emphasized the need to develop and cultivate a black culture and to separate from white society (segregate), while did not emphasize the need for cultural differences and instead taught a message of universal brotherhood, cooperation, and integration of blacks into white society. What is interesting is that actually, later in Malcolm X's life, he changed his whole political outlook and attitude and came to support the mixing of the races and an ideology more similar to MLK's.
The professor for that class, like professors in a few other classes that I took, made us purchase some of his own writings (great way for them to make money and feel good about themselves). A friend of mine said that in his humanities class, he was forced to watch homoerotic scenes from a movie. In another class on religion, they teach the doctrine that all religions are false and ultimately a result of psychological insecurities. I know this because at one of the print shops, I picked up the study guide for the class and read through it while I was bored waiting in line. The theory sounds sort of reasonable, but ultimately is not a concrete theory and only a hypothesis - I don't really think that it is appropriate at a supposedly secular unbias institution to be claiming that atheism is correct, and that we know for certain that all religious beliefs are false.
One night I returned back to the dorms and attended a "Hall Ass" meeting (it's what they abbreviate for "Hall Association" which I was a member of). We all played a game where we would write a confession on a piece of paper that we wanted to let out, but want to let out anonymously. I wrote something silly, then we all turned in our papers where the host read out each paper individually. Most of them were pretty silly confessions, like mine, but then she read one that someone had wrote that sounded just like I had written it myself; "I just chose Berkeley for the name - I don't really like it here." I knew that I wasn't alone. I started trying to devise "escape plans" - I was literally slowly losing my mind. I looked into studying abroad to escape Berkeley, but it turned out to be sort of expensive and the options for my major were places like Australia or Vietnam, none of which I was particularly interested in (it would have been nice if somewhere like Japan or Europe were offered). I could feel my brain chemistry slowly changing. I developed insomnia, started experiencing anxiety and panic attacks, and, much to my horror, one day after obsessing about finals, all of my emotions shut off completely - I could no longer feel happiness or sadness - empathy or pleasure. It was like a "light switch" controlling my humanity just flipped off - I became a zombie. I lost my libido, I could not be moved by a sad event or movie - I could no longer feel anything - I became numb. I could no longer feel a "release" after crying or enjoy music. I was no longer interested in anything but getting out of Berkeley.
I began to panic. What was happening to me?! I began to do some research. Was it Post-Traumatic Stress? Generalized Anxiety Disorder? Schizophrenia? Major Depressive Disorder? All I knew was at that point, I needed help, and fast. I was advised to go to the "Tang Center," but I really didn't want to wait, had read not-so-good reviews about it, didn't have the energy to trek all the way across campus early in the morning, and just needed out immediately. I called up my parents and told them to make the 8 hour drive to pick me up - it was a mental emergency. They picked me up, and I vowed never to return to that place. I thought that I was done with Berkeley, and that I would just cut my losses and that everything would be okay. I was wrong.
First off, there were a few things that I found inconsiderate surrounding my mental breakdown and departure - they would not mail me the packages that I could not pick up in Berkeley after leaving (not even my roommate could get them for me), I was told that even with a doctor's note it could not be considered a "medical leave" or "medical absence" unless I had visited the Tang Center before leaving, and I could not get a refund for housing, meal points, or tuition even though it was basically the beginning of the semester. I didn't really care about all that stuff at the time though. I felt like Brer Rabbit just narrowly escaping the clutches of Brer Fox, and was glad to just be home again.
I didn't return home as the same person. Much to my surprise, the insomnia, panic attacks, anxiety, and numbness persisted, even though all of my stress was gone, and I was not upset about anything. I wasn’t still thinking about my ex and wasn’t down on myself for leaving. My parents didn't really understand much about mental illness at the time, so they just assumed that I needed to "snap out of it" or "stop thinking negatively" or that the reason I was feeling numb was because I was "repressing my emotions to prevent pain." I didn't really understand what was happening to me either, so I tried my best. I started exercising a bunch, went out with friends, and tried thinking positive. Things just kept getting worse. I started to feel intensely nauseous getting out of the house, and stopped sleeping completely. I had panic attacks out of nowhere for no reason at all (like I was not panicking about anything, just all of the sudden, my body started feeling extremely uncomfortably panicky and I felt like I was going to die or something). I begged my parents to take me to the hospital because I was extremely tired, but was unable to sleep. They would not listen and told me that I was just getting all anxious over nothing and to go to bed. I threatened to call an ambulance if they did not take me in, and they got upset, calling me "crazy." They eventually did take me, probably because they honestly did believe that I had gone crazy, and they were afraid. I went to the ER because one panic attack rendered me unable to walk and I almost passed out. In the ER they tried to calm me down. They took my vital signs and checked my blood levels of this and that. The doc said that it looked like my body was under massive stress and also said that my electrolytes were very low (I wasn't eating enough). I told the doc about my experience at Berkeley and that I hadn't slept in three days, and he sent in a special team to evaluate me. They asked if I wanted to be taken in to a "facility." I was desperate to get better, so I reluctantly agreed. I told dad that if we did not have enough money to pay for the ambulance or the stay at the facility, to sell my car to pay for it. "We might have to" he said.
While I waited, in the ER they gave me some valium to try and help knock me out. It didn't work. They then tried some other benzodiazepine. Much to the nurses' amazement, it didn't work either. An ambulance then drove me to the mental health facility in Los Angeles. I was feeling so loopy from lack of sleep and a bit afraid of where I was going - images of mental hospitals in movies flashed through my mind. It would be another day before they would give me a double dose of Klonopin to finally knock me out. There I was, the most level-headed, reasonable, happy, sane person that you might ever know, now in the loony bin fighting for his own sanity. I woke up in a whitewashed tiled room with two beds. I tried to introduce myself to my roommate, but he was just silent - almost as if he had no idea what I was saying. He just sat there playing with a pony doll. A nurse came in and talked to him, telling him that if he didn't start taking his pills, he would be in there a lot longer, to which he was just silent again. I walked out of my room into the hallway where residents of the facility were allowed to go. There were tons of strange people there - one lady was locked in a room screaming at the top of her lungs like someone was ripping her intestines out - banging on the door. Others seemed to have other quirks like pretending to be a ninja or having difficulty understanding things. What I didn't know was that the hospital was sectioned into different units, and that patients were placed in the appropriate unit depending on how severely "crazy" or how self-sufficient/rational they were. I was put in the "craziest" unit initially, but they then later moved me to the "sanest" unit. I asked the nurses what was going on with me and if I would get better and things like that. I couldn't really get any satisfying answers, but I was told that I would see a psych doctor pretty soon. The doctor that I saw asked me a bunch of questions and I told her my story and about my symptoms. By this time I already knew that my diagnosis was "Major Depressive Disorder." "Ah, Berkeley - we get a lot of people from there." She said. While I was at Berkeley I heard about rumors of kids committing suicide and things like that they put engineering kids on lower floors so that they don't jump out of windows and that high places are barred-up to prevent jumping. I wouldn't doubt it now.
She tried me on three different medications, all of which did not seem to do all that much. I spent my time trying to get to know the other people in the bin - they seemed mostly normal, except for circumstantial problems and occasionally suicidality. I was chatting with some people in the facility one night when all of the sudden over the intercom everybody heard some sort of alert. I can't remember exactly what it was they said, but I think it was "code blue." Someone was having a psychotic break in the middle of the unit. I was horrified! He had to be restrained and claimed that everyone was trying to kill him and that the red crosses in the hospital symbolized some sort of conspiracy. After a few weeks, I returned home, and some things slowly started to get better over the next few months. The panic attacks stopped, I wasn't feeling so anxious, and I could sleep again at night. Not everything went back to normal, though. A few months down the road, my moods started to dip severely low and I went nearly catatonic. Before this, I still felt completely numb/flat/zombielike, so it's not like I got better and then relapsed. I was hospitalized a second time. This time, I was in the bin at Northridge. I didn't like it as much as the one in LA personally, but it doesn't really matter, because I was just there to get better. I met a girl who was also there who had become psychotically depressed after going to Berkeley. She told me that she was a mathematics major. I was there for a short amount of time and then discharged with some new meds.
I never did get better. I still feel emotionally numb. I've tried therapy, every supplement known to man, changing career paths, seeing friends, exercise, tons of different medications (SNRIs, SSRIs, NRIs, Dopamine Agonists, Atypical Antipsychotics, Wellbutrin, Psychostimulants, MAOIs, Tricyclics, etc). Most haven't done anything at all - some worked a small amount, but only for a very short period of time, and some prevented my moods from dipping, but didn't ever *lift* my baseline mood up to its normal euthymic levels, leaving me still flat and emotionally numb. I cannot bond with anybody romantically anymore and have no libido. I feel like my creativity is damaged, my personality has changed, and I sometimes wonder if I will ever be the same happy-go-lucky guy that I was again. They call this numb sort of state "anhedonia" and "emotional blunting."
I have one more shot at getting myself back again - electroconvulsive therapy (otherwise known as "electroshock treatments"). Ironically, in Berkeley, there were tons of protests that aimed at trying to abolish this treatment based on ignorant beliefs about it as some sort of torture treatment or punishment used in the wards to "keep patients under control." Not nowadays. If they had succeeded, there might have been no more hope for me at all.
So I regard going to Berkeley as "my Vietnam." It was time to cut my losses and quit the losing battle. One thing a doctor told me seems to ring true; "you won't be successful in anything you do unless you are happy." So let's evaluate the aftermath and what I am left with. I now have a large student debt, a disabling mental disorder that is not going away that severely diminishes my quality of life, and a stain on my academic record. Would you believe that the semester that I left Berkeley, the average gpa for all students with my major was 2.5? That is ridiculous, especially since you need like a 3.0 to get most internships. It's almost like Berkeley just doesn't care about the majority of it's student population. My gpa upon leaving was 2.3 - not bad for all the shit that I was going through. I tried to transfer to another UC, but they would not accept me on the grounds that "I could apply, but just to be competitive in the applicant pool, I needed at least a 3.0." Wow, that's pretty harsh - even after explaining my situation in detail. Next, I tried applying to local colleges - the ones that desperately wanted me to attend them right out of high school. They snubbed their noses up at me too. I tried getting a job at Lowe's, and when the interviewer saw that my gpa was 2.3, he asked "what happened??" I tried to explain. I didn't get the job. It's humiliating and will probably prevent me from being really competitive at getting into grad school. It's like a curse that doesn't leave me. I am currently going to community college to try and transfer to a CSU school, though I am sort of wasting a lot of time because CSUs will not accept credits from classes that you got a C- in, I already have over 70 units (CSUs will only allow 70 units to transfer), and now that I am a transfer college student instead of a student out of high school, I have to take a bunch of unrelated general ed classes that I would not have had to take if I was applying for college coming straight out of high school (things like speech).
Well what did I gain from going to Berkeley? I guess I learned how to take the 100th derivative of a function, how to program in an inefficient and now defunct programming language (scheme) utilizing inefficient algorithms (recursion) to accomplish useless tasks like making a text-based card game or a metacircular evaluator, I learned some trivia about the civil rights movement, communism, political extremism, and racism, and I learned how to do epsilon-delta proofs (which it turns out, don't actually prove anything, but rather just formally restate something that is already known). I'm really glad I left because if I had continued going to Berkeley I would have left way worse off without any practical knowledge to help me enter the workforce whatsoever. I really worked my ass off, and for it I am in much worse shape than when I began. I'm really being honest when I say that I am currently learning more useful information at community college than I ever learned at UC Berkeley. It's cheaper down here, easier, more laid back, less up-tight and political, the weather is perfect, I have my family and friends down here, and there are plenty of potential partners. Sometimes I wonder how people can convince themselves that they really do love going to Berkeley.
Depending on the concentration of study, classes vary from large lectures of 250 students to small classes of 10. Students do study a lot and academics are considered rigorous in every discipline taught here. A unique aspect of Berkeley are the student-taught classes called DeCals. I taught a class for credit on Harry Potter for two semesters, where grades were based on attendance and participation in discussion and activities--including Quidditch! I've taken interesting and engaging classes at Cal on Islam, and especially in my major (Media Studies). Professors are accessible outside of class, and most big lectures have graduate student instructors for smaller group discussions. Education at Cal is based on learning theory and material, and not so much geared toward preparing students for the workforce.
There is a wide range of class sizes, from small five person seminars to eight hundred person lecture halls. This implies that the class size dictates familiarity with the professors, and it does. The best way to get to know a professor is to attend his/her office hours. My favorite class was LGBT 145: Queer History. It was truly illuminating to experience a subset of individuals who I had no idea about whatsoever. Students study depending on their academic interests and activities outside of class. Also, natural ability has to be taken into account. Class participation varies as well; it all depends on the individuals. You will see, however, participation increasing with seniority. Students are INDEED competitive. Watch out!
At such a big school, most classes are very large so you don't usually get to know the professor personally. However, each class has GSI's (Graduate Student Instructors) who grade your papers and lead discussion. To me, this is the best of both worlds. In lecture you can sit back, take notes, and not have to worry about asking a stupid question or making an insightful comment. In discussion, you get the opportunity to ask as many stupid questions as you want because the class sizes are much smaller (usually 10-20 people) and the GSI's are friendly and approachable. Classes are difficult at Berkeley so students really put in the extra effort to earn decent grades. Study parties and discussions outside the classroom are common as well as visiting office hours to ask questions one-on-one with your professors and GSI's. While every student is required to take some boring, basic classes, Berkeley has a really unique program: DeCal. DeCals are classes that are planned and taught by students. Some classes offered are Knitting 101, Mad Men, NBC Comedy Night Done Right, Magic the Gathering, and Speed-Rubix-Cube. They are usually 1-2 units, require minimal work, and are a great way to meet people with similar interests. I'm an English major and am personally involved in a DeCal called Berkeley Fiction Review. Each year we publish an anthology of short stories and get submissions from across the country. It's a great way to get real publishing experience while earning units. I also met many of my friends in the class because there were so many English majors. Unlike a traditional class, where you sit through a lecture, we were able to talk about stories in small groups and get to know each other in a more casual setting.
Berkeley is hard. And extremely competitive. Everyone here is so brilliant. Part of me loves that I'm constantly surrounded by geniuses. Being surrounded by smart hardworking people has really pushed me to work hard and to think on a much higher level. But at the same time, Berkeley really humbles you. Most of the students at Berkeley were the smartest kids at their high school. At Berkeley, you just feel dumb. And your gpa will take a serious blow if you don't have what it takes to keep up at this school. A lot of students, including myself, suffer from the harsh grading system and competitiveness. Right now, my gpa is a 3.2. But i KNOW that if I had gone to an easy state school I would have at least a 3.7. This makes it difficult when applying for jobs, grad school, etc. Because someone from a much easier school will have a much better gpa, and as a result they will be picked over me. I think that Berkeley's reputation carries you a long way. Admissions people know Berkeley is tough, but this can only take you so far. If you are a pre med student don't go to Berkeley. Just don't do it. Your life will be a living hell. My original goal was to major in English, and also be pre med (since pre med isn't technically a major at Cal). But I had to quit my premed classes because they were killing me.
All that said, Berkeley really prepares you. While your low Berkeley gpa may give you problems getting a job or getting into grad school, once you step into the real world you will realize how smart you are compared to other people. For example, my boyfriend is an Electrical Engineering major at Cal. His gpa is a 2.7. This past summer he had an internship at NASA where he worked with students from other great schools. One student that he shared a cubicle with went to M.I.T. and apparently did not know anything. My boyfriend had to coach her through her work the entire summer.
While I caution any Engineers or future doctors, if you are planning on majoring in any humanity then Berkeley is great! It's still really hard, but a lot less competitive and cut throat. I love the English major. The factually is seriously brilliant. In fact, Berkeley is well known for their top English department. I have thoroughly enjoyed every single one of my english professors. If you put in enough effort you can definitely come out with A's in english classes. I tend to slack a little bit and i have mostly b's and b+'s.
The professors and GSIs (graduate student instructors) are almost always amazing. The GSIs (who lead discussion sections and many smaller lower division classes) are often better teachers than the professors because they tend to be more eager to please. The academics are very challenging and tend to make Berkeley students competitive and self-preserving, but I found in my majors (Anthropology and French) it was fairly easy to get A's or A -'s. Class participation ranges from very high to very low, depending on the effectiveness of the instructor. I enjoyed my French classes (never more than 18 students to an instructor, always a professor not a GSI in upper division) much more than many of my Anthropology classes, but that is probably mostly because I prefer French to Anthropology. No matter what subject, most professors are very passionate about their subject and know exactly what they are doing, but there are the occasional experimental classes where the professors tend to slack off. You have to be motivated in order to get research or other educational opportunities. No one will hold your hand in any way at Berkeley.
The academics at Cal are phenomenal; but it is still a large public university. That means large class sizes, impersonal lecture, and grades from teaching assistants called grad student instructors or grad student readers instead of from your professor. Budget cuts are a factor as far as the availability of certain courses and space within them, however, once in a course, you will often find yourself impressed by the resources that a world-renowned university can offer. A school's reputation will gain for its students things that a budget never could. Celebrity guest speakers, fantastic libraries, and professors who are very well-known in their fields have more than made up for the budget crisis for me. I personally prefer the large class sizes because I like a lecture-based education in which group work and class discussion will play much less of a role. While the GSI's and GSR's can be somewhat unreliable graders, I have had absolutely no problem showing up at the professor's office hour, making my case, and having any unfair grades adjusted. While sometimes an inconvenience, this gives you rare opportunities for face time with the faculty that can build extremely valuable connections that will open doors for your during your time at Cal and after. Cal's academics are by far my favorite part of the university. So far the major benefits far outweigh any minor drawbacks, and in light of that, I haven't found them important enough to notice yet. Also, Dead Week is amazing. Not all schools have it. It's a week-long break in between the last day of class and finals week intended to give students a much-needed opportunity to decompress and cram without the hindrance of deadlines or due dates.
The academics are the best part about Berkeley. Go to your lectures and your discussions and you can really get a lot out of it. It's important to find a major that you're interested in, and once you do study for the material, not to pass a test (though that's sometimes unavoidable). Whether or not the professors seem like real people who you can interact with and who know your name is up to you. If you sit up front during lecture and attend one or two office hours, it's really not that hard to get to know your professors. I'm a molecular and cell biology major with an emphasis in neurobiology. This major has a lot of prerequisites, and I'm just now getting into my upper divisions in my junior year. That said, I feel like my lower-division classes have given me a good basis, and I'm excited to start on my upper-divs.
Berkeley is highly competitive and it is a healthy type of competition that really encourages people to compete and excel. However, being at such a large public university means there would be less access to Professors, which really isn't an issue as most would say. For example, our largest auditorium fits 500+ people, but everyone who needs to speak to their instructors, will get to speak to the instructors because all faculty make themselves very available. I can think of one exception, which is Mr. Robert Reich, our awesome celebrity professor. Although he does not hold office hours like regular professors, he does spend an additional voluntary 30 minutes every lecture to answer questions from students. Those who need their questions answered stay to listen to Reich. The Berkeley faculty is highly recognized in their respective fields. In the past, I had professors who served the past presidents. I had one class canceled because the professor, Christina Romer, decided to serve as Obama's economic advisor. I had a professor, Fae Myenne Ng, who is a well-known and well-respected Asian American writer and taught me lessons that I will keep with me my whole life. Next semester, I will be taking a fun course "Physics and Music" with Professor Saul Perlmutter, the 2011 Nobel Laureate in Physics. After graduation, you can take this education with you anywhere, whether you'd like to just learn for learning or to get a job.
The academics are challenging and exhausting, but I would feel cheated if they were anything less. The course loads are heavy and require a lot of outside time to complete but the whole experience teaches you a lot about time management. Once a student gets into the upper division classes geared toward your major classes become more intimate and the class sizes decrease and there is more of a one on one environment. I am an English major and I cannot say enough positive things about the department. There hasn't been a single upper division English class that I did not enjoy and all of the professors I have had have been intellectually stimulating and entirely helpful.
There is this strange, often-encountered myth of the crotchety tenured professor who disdains the obligation to teach that his research grants demand; but my experiences in the English and Linguistics departments say otherwise. Granted, these are not the departments that typically come to mind when one thinks of "research", but I can only speak from my experiences. Each professor I have ever had knows me by name, and is always available during their office hours--and oftentimes beyond, at request. I even have friends who frequently have lunch or dinner with their professors. The only downside is that a professor can be so popular that the line to visit with them stretches down the hall. Professors in the English department even have poetry readings at their own home, inviting students from Berkeley and nearby universities to read. The Linguistics department is so small and intimate, that they post a photo of each undergraduate on the wall in the department's hallway, across from the PhD candidates and professors. While Berkeley is rigorous, it is no special challenge to the student who is passionate and excited about their subject of interest. The sort of academic discipline required is the same kind needed for admittance anyway; as corny as it sounds, the only limitation is yourself, and judging by the number of available texts across UC Berkeley's many libraries, chances are you'll tire out long before the school's resources do.
berkeley is huge. your professor will not know your name. it doesnt mean you cant try though. attend office hours if getting to know your professor is your goal. on days where there are no tests coming up, they are usually pretty empty. stock up on brownie points then. itll do you good when rec letters come around. to sum up berkeley classes in one word? rapage. dont underestimate the classes here, the tests are not high school style where the answer is obvious tests here, especially in classes like chem1a, will challenge you and force you to know every bit about the material in order to get an A. there are also sometimes quotas to the number of people who are allowed to get A's. UGBA10? only 25% of the class is allowed to get A's. if more than 25% deserve A's, they will curve it so that only 25% will. welcome to berkeley.
Student life at Berkeley is a matter of survival. The tenured professors know that they cannot be fired, and that their salary increases depend primarily on their research (number of scholarly publications), so they focus on research at the expense of teaching. Classes are largely a waste of everyone’s time – shoddily taught and painful to endure. In the Mechanical Engineering Department, one professor did not want to be bothered in office hours, so he rebuked students who came by to ask questions. After a midterm exam, he called his students his “worst ever”. To avoid correcting exams, this professor threatened to fail half the class, causing half the class to drop the course. Another prof took a different approach – he gave everybody A’s because he did not want to correct any homework, projects, or reports. He never returned an assignment or test or anything. This was a disappointment to those who came to Berkeley to be taught by the best in their fields and to receive their feedback. The truth is that the professors cannot be bothered to do their jobs. They do not care about their students. To them, students are a distraction from their research. Note: If you are interested in UC Berkeley for graduate school, then beware of the bait and switch! Science and engineering students may receive admissions letters with promises of financial support -- only to arrive and have the support disappear. Then you are stuck on your own without funding, and it is too late to transfer to another university. They have got you! This happens regularly. It will take you several additional semesters or even years to complete your degree because you will be an indentured servant (graduate student instructor). In addition, if you already have a Masters Degree from somewhere else and want to do a PhD at UC Berkeley, then UC Berkeley may not recognize your Masters. It varies by department. You may be permitted to transfer in two classes from elsewhere, but it takes 7 or 8 classes for a Masters, so transferring to UC Berkeley midstream adds on one or two more years to your PhD. (Advice: finish your PhD at your current institution and if you really want to come to Berkeley, then do a postdoc. But really, you’ll be better off elsewhere.)
As I said before, the science classes are cutthroat, and the advising is not that great.
I am part of the English department, and it truly is about learning for the glory of learning. I have no idea what I am going to do career wise, but I love going to class. I have not had a professor who isn't perfectly happy to return e-mails, talk to me out of class, or give advice. Furthermore, oftentimes I feel like I am at the foot of the master during lectures. In fact, I feel that I get so much out of lectures, that I have begun to dislike discussion groups.
I hate to stereotype, but it does differ depending on your major. MCB (molecular cell biology), engineers, and hard sciences will most likely work quite a bit harder than social science or humanities majors. Business majors (pejoratively referred to as "Haasholes" in reference to the Haas business school) can be amorally cutthroat at times. Engineers often don't see the light of day for weeks. However, I still say Berkeley is the place with the most intelligent professors and students I've had the pleasure of meeting, all across the board. Definitely the right place to study if you enjoy discussing moral relativity on the bus or the consequences of the Fed's latest interest rate change.
The professors are knowledgeable and (mostly) helpful. Some of the difficult classes (stats, for instance) were made manageable by forming study groups. They really saved my butt. In the GSE, students were not terribly competitive, except that funding decisions were based on what the professors thought of your efforts each year. Knowing that your best friend was competing with you for a small pool of grant money was depressing. But I have to say that I have met many graduates of other graduate education programs who did not learn nearly as much as we did. Part of the reason is that there is no undergraduate education major, so the GSE students had research assistantships, not teaching assistantships. We learned so much by doing real research. Of course, if you're planning on a career in academia, this is a bit of a disadvantage because you've never taught a college-level class. However, my fellow students managed this by teaching as adjuncts at the many local colleges that train teachers. The downside is that the normative time to graduate from the doctoral program was 6 years! That's a long time to be in school, especially if you're making it partly on loans.
My favorite class was probably Modern Jewish History. My least favorite class was a freshman seminar on the concept of love in Russian literature...with the worst, retired-Navy officer, crotchedy professor. Students study a lot. I mean, I would see students already in the library, studying, during the first few days of classes. This totally affects the social climate, too. There tends to be a small window of time at the beginning of each semester when people don't have much work...after that week or so, there's usually a constant tide of essays and exams and a lot of studying going on. I found that many UC Berkeley students don't necessarily have intellectual conversations outside of class, but I think it all depends on who you hang out with (ahem, German & Rhetoric double-majors). I knew many people who seemed uninterested in talking about things they might talk about in class outside of class - they wanted a break from classes. That said, I tended to have a lot of "intellectual" conversations with people in my "off-time". Your relationship with a certain professor depends on the type of class you're taking - if it is a seminar or smallish course (with +/- 30 students), the professor is likely to learn your name, though it depends on the professor and on your effort to get to know the professor (through going to office hours, participating in class, etc.). Aside from office hours, I never spent time with professors outside of class...In fact, seeing my professors outside of class, walking on campus or around Berkeley, was totally mindblowing to me and almost a celeb-sighting experience. Whether your education at UC Berkeley is geared toward getting a job or learning for its own sake is dependent on what you study, though I'd say that the larger emphasis is probably on learning for its own sake. Overall, Berkeley is a "choose your own adventure" place - academically and socially. If you're an Electrical Engineering major, I imagine that your education is somewhat geared toward getting a job. I, however, majored in Art History, and the education I received was largely devoted to learning for its own sake; the practical skills I learned were practical in academia. Basically, if you major in the Humanities at Berkeley (and to some extent, the Social Sciences as well), your education could be considered geared toward getting a job if that job were becoming a professor/researcher, or doing something dealing largely with content (writing, editing, teaching, etc.).
My favorite classes are MCB 150, Immunology; MCB 62 Drug and the brain; Optometry 10, the eye and vision.
My suggestion: always look up the list of the recommended classes before you register. The book tilted "Resource: a reference guide for new Berkeley students" helped a lot.
Well its considered the #1 public university in the country by most recent polls, so right there you know that is going to be tough. Generally the science and math classes are the most challenging during my experience, but despite the amount of student here, most professors are not aiming towards maintaining a curve. If you work hard and do your reading, its not THAT bad.
at such a big school it is hard to get to know your professors on a personal basis, it is really up to the students to attend office hours and get to know them one on one. I however have taken the initiative to get to know my peace and conflict studies professor. first of al i loved her class, i even took another class my second semester because she was teaching it. i honestly never missed one of her classes. Peace and Conflict Studies 10 has changed my life, as cliche as that sounds. you really learn about the world issues, some of which i had no idea were going on. i think everyone should take this class, it is very unique and not many schools have this major.
Since the classes can be large, especially for general requirement courses, students have to make an effort to get to know their professor. Fortunately, they are very approachable. The reason for having a few professors to many students seems to be that you'll be getting instruction from some of the smartest people in their field. As an EECS major, I find that students help each other out a lot. Old exams, courses/professor ratings, and peer tutoring are all available from student organizations, so it's always possible to get more out of a class if you put in the work.
Ethnic Studies is an amazing department, which will open your eyes to a different view on the world. My favorite class has been ES 101B: Humanities Methods in Ethnic Studies. The class has enabled me to rethink my perception of the world. In my experience UC Berkeley students love to have intellectual conversations and relate their lectures to their real lives. But it is not in a way where you feel obligated to have something "intellegent" to say. It is in a way where you are constantly learning from your peers and appreciate the new knowledges you recieve. It some cases students can be competitive. This is a competitve school that has competitive majors. It is an environment where one may sometimes question their place and feel like they have to justify their intellegence. It is important to remember that everyone belongs here and that everyone has worked hard to make it here regardless of how you make an argument or if you make struggle with certain readings.
I once heard from a student of UCSB whose ex-girlfriend attended Berkeley "When I would visit her, everyone was like studying on the weekends... it was super quiet, not like here [in IV]" That was before I came to Berkeley, and when I came here I came to find out that it held to be pretty true. No, not everyone is always studying on the weekends but it isnt uncommon for people to stay in some nights during the weekend to catch up on studying and reading. During Finals week Berkeley is literally dead... and the libraries which are open 24hrs during that time are packed.
I found that the idea that you are just a number in large lectures is not true... I've been in classes with over 200 students and then there where classes where there were only 30 or 50 students. Usually with large classes you have an extra section where you meet once a week outside of lecture in a graduate student lead discussion which for the most part have always been a great complement to course lectures and quite beneficial. Since these students are UC grad students they can be a wealth of information, easier to talk to (than really busy professors), very accessible and very intelligent.
But i have found that many professors can also be very approachable. I had a health problem my first semester and I was surprised at how compassionate and understanding my professors and GSI's were. They were very accomodating and I was so relieved.
While some professors clearly are not approachable and seem quite involved in their research rather than teaching, I found that for the most part this was the exception rather than the rule.
Too damn hard. Undergrads are so competitive. Classes are usually huge, at least the intros. But its not that bad, as office hours are plentiful and easy to come by.
I feel that it is difficult to get to know my professors especially I am taking mostly intro and lower div classes right now (many have hundreds of students). For example, I depend heavily on my math GSI to understand concepts. Class participation is common only in classes/discussions with 30 students or less. The students are fairly competitive and it doesn't help that the student body is huge. The academic requirements are very fair and I like how it encourages students to explore other areas.
we're extremely lucky to be amongst some of the top experts in their fields. EVERYTHING from biology to women's studies to astronomy to asian studies - we have professors and researchers that other people read about right at our fingertips.
the classes are a bit large to have the professors really get to know who you are, but if you visit office hours, the professors seem to want to get to know you. My favorite class is McNamara's Art 8: Intro to visual thinking. This class offers an availability for students to increase their creative thinking in ways they haven't thought about before. it's a fun class where people get to know each other and appreciate everyone for who they are. you learn a lot about different students on the campus.
I am a double major in mass communications and linguistics - the mass comm professors know me by name, whereas the linguistics professors do not. I've taken many great classes and many horrible classes. The best so far have been Music 27 (taught by Scott Foglesong in the Extension program), Ling 100 (Line Mikkelsen), History 7B (Leon Litwack), Journalism 141 (Tom Goldstein) and Ling 130 (Andrew Garrett). The worst have been Anthro 3 (taught by Gisele Bousquet in the Extension program) and Ling 115 (Larry Hyman). Students do study, but it's ridiculous for me to estimate exactly how much other students study. I know that I prioritize my schoolwork, as do my roommates. I will say that I think students establish study habits early on, and that patterns their performance throughout their career at Berkeley. In other words, once a partyer, always a partyer. I can account for the fact that my friends and I pursue academic interests outside of class, but we have fun, too. And, yes, students can be fiercely competitive. I think it depends on the major - and the ambition of the students. If a student is using their education to get a job, then they can be very competitive. If they are learning for the sake of learning, the fire is pretty low.
I felt extremely satisfied with the education I received at Berkeley. Though some class sizes are huge (I think my largest class had 650 students), there are smaller discussion sections that give you the chance to ask all your questions -- and all my professors made substantial time for their students. Especially in your junior and senior year, as you start to focus your studies, classes routinely have only 10 or 12 students.
I felt challenged in nearly every class I took -- as an English major, especially, I routinely had a 1000 pages of reading a week -- but, in the end, I felt like I grew a lot intellectually and the sometimes painfully stressful workload was all worth it.
That said, there was certainly some grade inflation -- some classes are easier than others, so it's possible to sort of inflate your own GPA by choosing easy stuff. Or to make your life hellish by choosing tough professors and classes.
My major (chemical engineering) is pretty small. We all know each other and help each other all the time. Every one studies a lot, so it's tough to keep up, but it's fun. Most of the professors and gsi's are great; I've only had one professor (out of five so far) and one gsi (out of ten so far) in ChemE that I were mediocre, as opposed to fantastic.
I am double majoring in Conservation and Resources Studies, and Molecular and Cell Biology. In my biology classes I find that students are competitive and study really hard. These students do not have intellectual conversations outside of class, and they are usually Asian. In my CRS classes, students are less competitive, they're usually pretty chill. These classes are undoubtedly my favorite; they have given me chance to learn something I, on the premed track, would normally have not. Coming from a strictly science background, it has been eye-opening to study the social aspects of what I thought would be a science-heavy major. It has also introduced me to people completely different from what I am used to. I find that in the CRS major, and in many Berkeley classes in general, students are taught to challenge the institutional norms, and that many of these institutions, including even the UC Regents, have not been looking out for our best interests.
Pretty big classes. Usually kinda hard. I feel like I learn a lot.
My professors have all been pretty great. Some of them aren't the best teachers, but almost all of them care about their students and want to do what they can to help students learn. One of my professors even met with my study group at the dining hall and offered to attend any student-organized review session for his class. But my favorite professor would probably have to be Dr. David Henkin of the History department, if I were forced to choose. He's so personable, and you can tell he really cares about his students. He makes an effort to learn everyone's name, and will remember you if you never spoke in class or went to his office hours. I also loved the two courses I took with him. The first was a cultural history of Broadway and NYC, and the second was a history of antebellum America. He always delves into really interesting popular culture and assigns interesting primary source readings. GSIs (Graduate Student Instructors) are more of a mixed bag. Some are really nice and helpful. Some are nice, but not very helpful. Some are arrogant assholes AND they don't offer useful help. I've liked my GSIs, though. Most of them identify with us undergrads pretty well, and one even gave me a day's extension for my final paper just because I asked for it. The History department is definitely geared toward historical research rather than getting you a job. The courses aren't even certified for accaptence into teaching credential programs, and you have to take subject tests before applying to a credential program. Many history undergraduates go on to grad school or law school. It's a pretty acedemic environment, and I've had my fair share of intellectual conversations outside of the classroom setting. Office hours and tutorial sessions can be really useful if you can force yourself to go to them...which I generally didn't. But most of my professors encouraged students to discuss things with them at office hours. As many of them have mentioned, they have to be there regardless of whether or not students come, so they'd rather just have students come.
-Professors usually only know a student's name if the class is small (15-20 people) or if they frequently attend office hours or ask a lot of questions in lecture.
-My favorite class ever was a reading seminar, History 103: the Sixties. I loved it because it was a small class, 15 people, and all we did was read a book a week and discuss it for two hours. It was actually a lot of work, and the paper assignments were challenging, but I loved the material. It was led by a professor, Professor Frydl (one of my favorites, and I feel like I really got to know her and my fellow students because the class was so small. I still go to that professor for advice in other classes.
-Worst class ever: American Studies 101: The Atomic Age with Prof. Christine Palmer. The topic sounds interesting, but the reading material was odd and the lectures disorganized. The professor did not rely information well, and the assignments were very confusing. I found Professor highly incompetent and, above all that, very rude in office hours.
-Students study a lot. I mean, a lot. I use my weekend to get a bulk of my homework done, rather than relax, and I feel guilty when I am not doing homework or something productive.
-Class participation is common, and required, if the class is small. Other than that, participation is always limited to a hand-full of students who ask questions in lectures.
-UC Berkeley students definitely have intellectual conversations outside of class, at least I know my friends and I do!
-Competitiveness depends on the major. Hard sciences and engineering, yes, humanities and social sciences, not so much. Those in humanities and social sciences usually don't have to worry about a grading curve, and students in these classes are usually more friendly and eager to help each other.
-The most unique class I have taken is actually a class I took over summer: The social history of the US. The professor was a visiting professor from SF state and incorporated field trips and interesting projects into the class that made it very enjoyable.
-The history department is great. Leah, the history adviser is always very friendly, helpful and available. There are always so many interesting classes offered I find it hard to decide upon which ones I want to take! The history requirements are not too terrible, but most history classes require a lot of reading and fairly good writing skills. The department also offers great events like speakers or workshops, and Leah always sends email updates of these events or job opportunities. What turns most people away from the history major is the required research seminar where students have to produce a 35-120 page thesis in a semester. I am in the class right now, and it is a lot of work, but I am learning a lot and I am really enjoying exploring a topic in such depth.
-I only spend time with my professors outside of class when I go to office hours.
-UC Berkeley's academic requirements are reasonable.
-For me, I feel like my education has been geared towards learning for its own sake. However, in the process I realize I have gained excellent writing and analytical skills. Plus, going away to college has made me a more independent and confident person.
Berkeley, as well as any other public institution, is known for intimidating class sizes and large student to professor ratios. Of course this comes with the good and the bad. The good? Sleeping in lecture does not constitute embarrassment in front of the other 499 students in class. The bad? Falling asleep and not paying attention to the professor could really put a damper on your academic edge. Since lecture style teaching is a huge part of the college learning experience, it is generally hard to avoid large 500 person lectures, especially with science and math courses. However, for those who prefer learning in smaller groups with a greater focus on the students, many lectures run concurrently with discussion groups. These discussion groups are usually a required component of the course, and are run by graduate student instructors (GSIs) who supply complimentary information and give students the chance to receive one-on-one attention. Furthermore, these discussion groups offset the large lectures and provide students with a more intimate learning environment. For the students who are really struggling with a certain class, there are a great number of tutoring centers available on campus and in the residential halls which are open five days a week for drop-in tutoring. Besides these resources, office hours are great opportunities for students to interact with GSIs and get help with difficult concepts. Professors hold office hours as well, which give students a chance to converse with them about research opportunities or issues they may be having with the class. Many people wrongly assume that professors at Berkeley are largely detached from their students (or from the rest of the world in general), but this is entirely false. Although Berkeley is mainly a research institution, many professors genuinely care about their students, and are willing to take time out of his/her research to ensure the success of students who are truly willing to learn. Not only have I been pleased with the quality of the professors here at Berkeley, I have also found the required coursework to be exciting and rewarding. As a freshman intended for a Molecular and Cell Biology and Business Administration simultaneous degree, I am part of the College of Letters and Science, the largest college on campus. This college awards Bachelors of Arts degrees to its students, whether they are science majors or history majors. Although many science majors are disgruntled by this, and would prefer to take more specialized courses in lieu of the nine required breadth courses, I believe that taking breadth courses is a great opportunity for students to become more knowledgeable in fields outside of their own, and to promote appreciation for the other majors offered on campus. The required breadth courses are more than just a wonderful way for those uncertain about their career paths to explore a variety of other majors. They are also a way for the College of Letters and Science to balance learning to gain experience for a job and learning just for the sake of learning. In effect, a Berkeley degree prepares students for more than just a career and provides students with a standard of achievement and academic experience hard to find anywhere else. This sentiment, which is echoed by many Berkeley alumni who are currently working or in graduate school, goes to show that Berkeley truly prepares its students for life outside of college.
Some instructor know your name if you make it known and go to office hours! students study all the time it's mandatory. studying your heart out will at least give a B. Students are extremely competive, if not, it won't be called UC Berkeley right? I think the American Cultures (AC classes) should be forced upon students, so they can learn about other cultures. Some students (white students) graduate from Cal, not knowing a thing about another culture than they're own. That sucks. If we can learn about Marx and Plato, we can learn about Cesar Chavez and Malcolm X, they all had philosophies right?
Personally, no, the professors do not know me. I should go to office hours more. If you go consistently (which is in fact really helpful), then they will get to know you. Although I'm an Engineer, the best class I had was probably History 162B, taught by David Wetzel. If you want to get passionately yelled at about how Napoleon Bonaparte was an INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL, then take this class. It's awesome. I hated Physics 105 with a passion. Never been quite so bored with a class or a teacher before. That in turn made it hard, and when you don't understand the material, it becomes more boring. A deadly cycle. I study every day except Fridays (maybe). I'm pretty sure a large portion of the student body studies five days a week. --- Intellectual conversations are fairly common, but people don't run around saying, "Hey man, let's have an intellectual conversation." If you're curious and thoughtful, you'll probably end up having an intellectual conversation at some point along the way. Surprisingly, the atmosphere isn't as competitive as you'd think. --- --- --- The Engineering requirements are pretty stringent, and if you don't push yourself, you'll probably end up following the exact path that they have planned out for you. That is, there are a lot of required classes, and if you plan on taking three per semester, you're probably not going to end up taking any classes by choice. The education at UC Berkeley isn't geared either way per se. I'd say that your personal approach determines whether you're learning to get a job or just for the sake of learning.
My favorite class was (of course) one of the introductory CS classes taught by a professor who is, in my opinion, the best teacher ever. Despite the huge size of the class, my effort to be noticed did not go unrecognized and he quickly learned my name. Now, just one year later I have a close relationship with that professor and I am now his TA for that class. However, it's not all roses at Berkeley. I came to this campus planning on studying Physics, but after 4 semesters of mediocre to awful professors I had to give up and turn to CS where the teachers cared about the kids and didn't give tests where the students averaged below 30%.
One of my favorite classes was an English Senior seminar. It was one of my last classes before graduation, too-- but anyway, it was a serious challenge, and I think it's because of that challenge, and that class, that I am a viable candidate for graduate school, if I choose to pursue it.
I entered Cal as a Bioengineer, but almost immediately felt a bit out of place. It was very restrictive and I felt obligated to follow the pre-specified engineering course path. I felt rushed and without time, which is a crazy notion given that it was my first semester. The vibe just didn't fit right and the engineering advisors were horrible. Then I had the opportunity to take Chemistry 4b, an absolutely amazing class. By far the best chemistry class I have taken. This class led me to switch to Chemistry. For a while this is what I wanted to do, but after a couple years of bad teachers, lackluster students, and bad research experience, I decided to switch. The final switch was to computer science. It's a great place to be. Everyone is extremely passionate about the material, and very friendly to one another. I've made many friends from my classes, which was a rarity in my other courses. Also, the teachers are very approachable and extremely knowledgeable. I guess all of this passion and excitement comes from the fact that CS doesn't feel like a dead science. We learn about concepts that are only a couple of years old. We hear stories about people who are still alive. We create things. Its a very empowering field. Though, there are problems with computer science. There is a clear and dangerous lack of girls in the department. So, if you're a girl and if you can see past the false CS stereotypes and the social stigmas of girls in a "man's" world, you should consider computer science. As with all majors be prepared to work very hard. This may not be the case with certain humanities classes, but I don't have the authority to comment on that.
For the most part, professors don't know my name because I'm usually in a class of 100+. My favorite class was ME 104 (Dynamics) with Benson Tongue; he's a funny, great lecturer. My least favorite class had to have been E 45 (Materials Science). The subject matter was too boring for me. Students' studying times vary. Some don't study at all for their tests (*cough* humanities *cough*), and others sleep in the library (*cough* pre-med *cough*). Class participation is common in discussion sections, not so much in lecture. Yes, students do have intellectual conversations outside of class, but that depends on your friends, too. Most of the people I know aren't that competitive, but I'm not in a very competitive major (eg, MCB or business). My major (mechanical engineering) is awesome. We build stuff that moves. Car? Can't have one without ME. Computer heat sink? Can't have one without ME. Fifty-story tall mech? Still working on it. There are a lot of academic requirements. It's a bit daunting at first, but you'll whittle it down. A lot of the education seems like it's learning for its own sake: lots of theory, less hands-on application.
The professors will not know your name unless you are in a small major, in a small upper division course, or have stalked them. My favorite class was Organic Chemistry. It was at 8am, and it was long, difficult, and competitive. It really (3A and 3B) gave me a grasp on the limits of my mind and work ethic. If you can survive it, you are on your way to being tough enough for anything. I recommend it for anyone. Honestly, I do not think that I hated any class in Berkeley. My reasons for not liking classes were usually stupid, like too much reading or not liking the professor. Really, I cannot criticize the superb quality of the education I received here. My Rhetoric Department is tiny. It is intimate. Professors will stop you in the halls to talk. They love your ideas and will polish your thoughts with you. If you need a mentor, you will find one, always. Of course, there are some people there that are distinctly arrogant to the point of evil. I won't name any names, but if they are using Heideggerian methods to dissect texts, chances are that you are being taught by Satan. Stick to their classes, however, as they are the most rigorous and enlightening members of the Rhetoric faculty. Just don't expect a good grade.
It is definitely a school that is learning for learning's sake. However, some majors (Sciences, business) are definitely marketable in the field. You should do your research, but know that liberal arts will often lead to joblessness if you did not make connections. UC Berkeley students talk about intellectual matters so much, that after a few years they learn to think for themselves, and begin to engage in them selectively, rather than spewing useless opinions at anyone who'd listen. Also, the students are competitive in some, but not all majors. Do your research, there is no guideline. In non competitive majors, the students are still really dedicated to their work, so you should study if you want their respect.
For the most part, professors exert a great deal of effort to get to know the students' names. It's a matter of the student wanting their name to be known. Contributing to class discussions or providing constructive feedback to professors are ways of building a relationship with the professors. There's also the up-side of not HAVING to be known by the professor to get a good grade. You can pick and choose which classes to have your name known in and which to engage with the material in other ways.
My favorite class was with professor Gregor. He didn't know my name because it was a lecture size of 300 students on Revolutions of the 20th century. His expertise and passion for the subject matter was obvious and although harsh at times, he had the deep respect of the students from day one. Learned a lot, was definitely challenged, and had fun in his class.
Class participation is definitely common. Some students feel their thoughts contribute to the trajectory of the course and are excited to participate.
Students of berkeley are taught to think critically about everything so intellectual conversation is inevitable in and outside of the classroom.
My classes are not curved so student competition is less obvious and necessary. The general feeling is that all of us student's are in it together.
I'm a double major in political science and theater, dance, performance studies. Both of my majors are cutting edge in the field and i love the level of excellence within the faculty.
There's always the option to spend time with professors outside of class but I personally choose not to.
I would say that Berkeley's academic requirements are definitely reasonable.
Education at berkeley is geared towards learning and building critical thinkers and leaders for the world. My departments are not interested in having its student's make the most money in the field. It's about pursuing whatever is of interest to the student.
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