This week The (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer is excited to have Tiffany Reardon, associate director for engineering excellence programs in Engineering Student Services. She invites you to explore a few different ways that you can prepare this summer for Berkeley Engineering. Topics include: refreshing your math and other subject skills through test banks and watching Berkeley lectures; learning to code with free online resources; researching professors who will be teaching you and getting familiar with their journal articles and technical writing; exploring student organizations and competition teams; and much more.
LAURA VOGT: Hello and welcome to the (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer. I am your host, Laura Vogt, the Associate Director of Marketing and Communications in the College of Engineering. This week I’m really excited, we’ve invited Tiffany Reardon from Engineering Student Services to join us and talk about this summer and give us some tips for getting ready to be Berkeley Engineers. Hi Tiffany and welcome to the podcast!
TIFFANY REARDON: Hi Laura, thanks so much for having me.
LV: Tiffany, could you please tell us a little about yourself and your roll at ESS?
TR: Absolutely. I am the associate director of engineering excellence programs. And in that role I direct the PREP and T-PREP programs.
LV: Let’s get to what I think is the number one question that students have, what should they be doing this summer, to get ready to be Berkeley engineers?
TR: Okay. That’s an excellent question. So first of all congratulations. Congratulations on your high school graduation or transferring from a community college. You’ve worked really, really hard and I know a lot of students are really, really eager to kind of get started. The first thing I would recommend that you do is just kind of take a look at what you’ve accomplished and really let that sink in. I know that because of the COVID situation a lot of milestones and commencements have been delayed or postponed. But I really want you to really congratulate yourselves on what you’ve achieved, you’ve achieved a lot. And as you prepare and decide what you’re going to do this summer think about what got you here. What things you’re passionate about. What things brought you to Berkeley engineering. Really reflect on those things.
LV: I know students do have a couple different things that they have to do as UC Berkeley students this summer, beginning with their Golden Bear Advising which Kathy and Sharon talked about last week during our podcast. So GBA is really focusing on choosing their fall courses. But I want to know if you have any suggestions for what students could do to get ready for that first semester of classes that they’re taking, like math or physics or chemistry.
TR: Absolutely. I think even when we’re not in an online format and students are thinking about their fall classes I think the inclination is to load up. I just want to say and really stress that when you do your Golden Bear Orientation, if the load looks light, if you’re used to taking seven classes, if the load looks light, your ESS adviser, that you work with in GBA,they know and they have your best interests at heart. They are giving you really good advice. So even if it does look like a light load, it’s not a light load. And if you don’t believe me, you can go to every single class and next to the class it will list the workload. So how many hours is a lecture. How long is a lab. How long are the discussion sections. So you’ll get a sense of that. So as you plan your schedule, you take that into consideration. In terms of preparation, I think that the number one thing you can do is, regardless of what classes you’re taking. I think this is a beautiful opportunity to utilize online resources. As engineering students, I would say 100 percent of you are going to be taking a math class this fall. I think that’s safe to say. Now what math class you choose to take will depend on your AP scores. It will depend on what you and your adviser together come up with. But what you can do in terms of preparation, if you are on the Berkeley Engineering webpage the Tao Beta Pi which is Berkeley engineering honors society. They have a test bank of pretty much every STEM class that you will encounter during your time at Berkeley. Look at those old tests and do a couple problems, right, do a couple of problems for Chem 1A, do a couple of problems for Math 1A, do a couple of problems for Math 1B. See if those questions jump out at you and you’re like – oh I need to brush up on that. That’s a good thing right. That’s a good thing to do this summer versus when you’re actually taking that test in the fall.
LV: Some students might not have taken a math class this year if they had taken everything up to what their high school offered them.
TR: Absolutely. And in addition a lot of students in their senior year, they might have a lighter load or perhaps as a result of the stay at home they’re not in class and so they’re not getting the same intensity if you will. So I think that knowing that and recognizing that that’s a good thing to know now versus later on.
LV: And that’s the same for our transfer students right, the test bank also has some of the higher level classes.
TR: Absolutely, so most of our community college transfer students will take, on the coding side. They’ll either take MATLAB which is E7 or they’ll take CS 61A if they are a EECS transfer student or perhaps CS 61B. You can look at all of those classes in the test banks for previous exams and you can also watch lectures. You can watch lectures, old lectures, that were webcast as well just to kind of get a sense of the material that will be covered.
LV: That’s also a good way to get the different teaching styles that students might encounter here at Berkeley.
TR: Well I’m glad you mentioned that because one of the things that students typically say comes as kind of a surprise is that…I think Berkeley has a notorious thought that there’s a grade deflation and here we are that they’re making it harder. I think it’s the way that you look at, that is that in high school and in community college, you’re presented with the information you and then you’re tested on that information. UC Berkeley your presented information and then typically you are tested on how you would approach a problem. That’s a big difference. Right. So thinking about how you would approach a problem, not just OK I’ve given you the information now recite it back to me. So it’s all about problem solving. And as engineers, all of your natural problem solvers. It’s just a matter of really understanding how your particular professor, their delivery and methodology, and really what they’re asking. I think that’s the number one thing that I see is sometimes students will say – well I don’t really understand what they’re asking. Right. And so really knowing how to break down a problem I think is probably the thing that you learn. And once you get the hang of that, it’s like this aha moment like – oh I get it. OK I understand. And usually probably students come to that probably at the end of their first semester, believe it or not. But I think going into that and knowing that is very helpful.
LV: I know a lot of our students have to do coding, whether they’re brand new to it or they’re brushing up on it. So are there resources that they could get a little bit more of an introduction or that brush up?
TR: Absolutely. I think that this summer would be an amazing opportunity for students to, kind of at their own pace, do coding, do coding online. Now I say at your own pace because I would say that right now you don’t have a Berkeley GPA, you don’t have any GPA. So I’m always an advocate for starting in the fall semester with your courses. If you decide that you want to do some online courses, there’s a lot of online courses that are 100 percent free. One particular resource that I’ve actually had a lot of students tell me that they’ve used is the “Learn to Program” book by Chris Pines, that’s introducing students to Ruby on Rails. And I think that’s a really nice segue into learning to code because it can be done at a self pace. I mean I’ve had Ph.D. students tell me that that’s how they learn to code back when they were just starting college. I’ve had a lot of students that have utilized the summer before beginning Berkeley reading that book and they go into it, and it goes back again with what I mentioned earlier, is knowing what your professor is asking. And it teaches you how to think like a programmer.
Another one if you’re going to be using MATLAB. There’s a great Coursera called Intro to Programming with MATLAB that would be a nice one as well. The issue with MATLAB is it is very time consuming. It’s a very very time consuming class. I wouldn’t advocate taking MATLAB over this summer before you’ve started Berkeley. I think that that would not be a good idea. But if you did a Coursera course, where you do it at your own pace and you do it independently, when you do take the course for real it’ll give you a lot of foundation and you’ll become familiar with how to use MATLAB and with what MATLAB can do.
Another one a lot of our bioengineering students will eventually take, whether it’s MATLAB or Python, they’ll give you the choice. Coursera has a great course called Programming for Everyone which is in Python and that’s a good kind of user friendly segue into Python. Another one that I think would be pretty amazing and useful, from our very own Dan Garcia, who’s a professor at Berkeley. His Beauty and Joy of Computing offered through edX. The thing I like about his class is you really look at the idea of programming. So the creativity, the data, the algorithms, programming and really the global impact. So if you’re looking for a class like – OK, I want to learn Python, that’s not the class to take. You would take maybe one of the other classes I mentioned. But if you really want to learn and discover the global impact and if you really want to understand algorithms and kind of how the internet works, Beauty and Joy of Computing would be a great resource. And he is also a very lively and entertaining professor. So that might be something you’d enjoy as well.
LV: The only one that I’ve heard about that you didn’t mention was the Khan Academy.
TR: Khan Academy is a phenomenal resource as well. So Khan Academy would be a good one. They have a lot of classes as well. I mean they have everything from classes on well-being to learning to code to math to chemistry. They’re another great resource and they are a hundred percent free as well.
LV: So those are all really great things that if you just want to brush up or something or get an introduction to it before you get on campus and they’re all free for you and we’ll have the links to everything about Tiffany just talked about on our website, welcomengineer.berkeley.edu. Can students start learning about the faculty that they’re gonna be interacting with over the summer is, that something that they might want to start looking up?
TR: Absolutely. So what I would do if I were you, is I would look, depending on what major you have been accepted into. I would look at the faculty in your department. I would look at their webpages. I would look at their personal webpages. I’d look at their course webpages. I would look at the research that they’ve done, maybe even read some articles about the research that they’ve done. You want to make a connection with those faculty. Faculty are really there to help you, to support you. A lot of students that I talk with, new students, whether they be community college transfer students or incoming freshmen. Sometimes they don’t know exactly what area of engineering they want to pursue. You might be a mechanical engineer but what does that mean. There’s so many facets of mechanical engineering, you might be into robotics, you might be into aerospace, you might be in the controls. So really those faculty are great resources to kind of give you a glimpse into career options that you might pursue or research areas you might pursue. So I think if you utilize your time over the summer to make a list of faculty. In addition, all of you have faculty advisers. I think faculty advisers aren’t utilized enough by students because they aren’t aware – like oh wait, you mean I I have a faculty adviser that I can go to and talk to. And I think if you utilize your faculty adviser, the best way to do that, is if you have some background information about them and how do you find that out? By the internet.
LV: Do you think it would be good for students to put together a resumé or to begin building a LinkedIn profile before they get here?
TR: So LinkedIn really is a catch all for many things. Certainly for internships, if you’re interested in getting internships, LinkedIn. I always tell the students to update their LinkedIn. All of you should update your LinkedIn because you have a big change which is that you’re a Berkeley Engineer. So I would update that. You should have a photo, you should have some of your achievements outlined on your LinkedIn, you should connect with other people, you should connect with Berkeley Engineering to hear about some of the amazing things our faculty and students are doing, you should utilize the time this summer to have your LinkedIn be something that you want to showcase right. Simply having a LinkedIn doesn’t really do much but you want to have things on there that really talk about what you’re doing and that are aligned with your goals and what you want to do. In addition, every single student should start working on your resumé. For the community college students in particular you have four semesters, five semesters, until you’re going to be looking for full-time work or graduate school. So really putting together all the accomplishments that you’ve done. The Career Center has some amazing templates that we can put links to. I really like the templates because they actually have templates that include how you would list community college experience. In addition, they also highlight the difference between a resumé and a CV. So a CV would be more of a research oriented resumé. And they have some very nice templates. I think they have some very nice templates and they also have some great wording that you can use to kind of describe what you’ve done.
LV: The Career Center starts recruitment or the job fairs pretty much right off the bat don’t they?
TR: They do. They have a career conference that as far as I know is before the semester begins?
LV: I think it’s the first Friday of the semester this year. We’re doing it online.
TR: So the first Friday. So that means that as soon as you are taking classes. So it’s better to prepare for that now, versus getting your resume together like the first week of school,that would be kind of hectic. Also sometimes students will tell me – Well I don’t have anything to put on my resume. I can guarantee you, every single person that is a newly admitted student, that is not true. And if you don’t believe me, go back and look at your UC application because you had to put on your UC application, you had to put honors and awards, you had to put extra curricular, you had to put work experience. You had to put all of those things. All of those things on there are things that you should be celebrating and putting on your resume. Even if it’s things…now sometimes students will say – well, that’s not related to engineering. It doesn’t matter, if you were in the band in high school. I can’t tell you how many students I’ve known that have been in the band in high school and I can tell you that those skills that you’ve acquired through things like being in a band or being in Model U.N. or being in the Key Club or being in other clubs, which might not on the surface seem like they’re engineering related, they really are. In addition, community college students, I have had a lot of community college students that have done service in the military. So you want to list that and especially I’ve had students that had previous military experience and have gotten internships like almost immediately. So you want to highlight those skills and no one’s going to know those skills unless you put it out there on your resume.
LV: Awesome. One of the ones that I was thinking about if we’re doing research over the summer is should they start looking at student organizations and competition teams to see what’s out there?
TR: I think in engineering we probably have about 90 student organizations, as a whole in the University I think we have like 1,200. So looking at those as well, you can find those on the Engineering Student Services webpage. There’s competition teams, there’s consulting clubs, there’s chapters of national engineering associations, such as ASCE, ASME, there is also affinity organizations, cultural organizations, you name it. So I would look and see and look into only two. I would say one or two, because you don’t want to overcommit yourself but one or two I think that would be good. And also if you don’t see one that is interesting…in the future maybe that’s something to aspire to. Definitely not your first semester. I’d be very surprised if you couldn’t find something. We have a pretty wide array of opportunities.
LV: And do you think there’s such a thing as being over prepared? How do you suggest that the students this summer stay balanced in what they’re doing?
TR: I don’t think there’s any thing of being over prepared. There’s definitely burnt out and you don’t want to burn yourself out. I think with anything and I think that if I have the pleasure of working with any student listening, which I hope I do, you’re going to hear me say this a lot: under commit and over deliver. I would rather see a student maybe work on their resumé and LinkedIn over the summer. And maybe read the Chris Pine book. Do those two things and do them very well versus those students that might be very eager and do a laundry list of things that we recommend and not really fully do all of them. So pick one or two things that you’re going to pursue, stick with it and do it well. I think that this summer is an opportunity to focus on these things. And again I can’t stress enough to really reflect on your goal setting is really important and also utilize social media to utilize things like this podcast to get more information. There’s no harm in being well informed.
LV: Well thank you so much for coming today and sharing with our all these fantastic resources with our students.
TR: Thank you. My pleasure
LV: And thank you everyone for tuning in to the (Not So) Secret Guide to Being a Berkeley Engineer. I look forward to podcasting with you throughout the summer, bye.