The importance of backup plans: Finding myself in a 3D printer


The other day, I was in the CITRIS Invention Lab playing the hits of the ‘80s over the speaker system as I worked on my final project for Design Innovations 22, one of my summer classes. While I was finagling a set of motors and battery packs into a jerry-built frame, Talking Head’s 1980 hit “Once in a Lifetime” emerged from the depths of my playlist.

I was bobbing my head to Brian Eno’s opening beats and grooving my way through David Byrne’s first verse until he got to its last line: “And you may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’ ”

Almost involuntarily, my head jerked up from the table I had taken over in the back of the lab. Eyes drooping from the late nights I had spent modeling my project on Fusion 360, I peered over the pile of prints I had messed up and the bucket of batteries and jumper wires I had squirreled away over the past few weeks. This summer, I chose to spend dozens of hours in this lab, away from sunlight and natural air circulation. But in the last few weeks of the course, I had never once really thought to myself what it was that kept me coming back to that little room in the basement of Sutardja Dai Hall.

I had joked that taking this design course was just the next step to me becoming my interior designer mother. I even once described it to a person as a glorified continuation of my crafting past. But to be honest, taking this class was really just me grabbing at another one of my backup plans.

When I came to UC Berkeley, I was an intended molecular and cell biology major. I liked my biology and chemistry courses in high school and never really thought twice about what I’d be doing in college.

But about two months into my first semester at UC Berkeley, there was no doubt in my mind that I had to get as far away from the MCB department as possible. I was behind in the chemistry prep course I was taking. I was drowning in flash cards with this esoteric vocab word and that obscure piece of jargon. And on top of all this, I couldn’t understand my Math 1A GSI’s accent — a biweekly struggle that brought me to tears in the Evans Hall bathroom because I just couldn’t understand the applications of differentiation.

I realized that despite how much I waxed poetic in my admissions essays about my love for molecules, cells and biology, the thought of pursuing a degree in this field made me panic. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew that balancing equations, fighting with GSIs for partial credit and endless problem sets weren’t going to be in my future.

All of a sudden, I had no plan. And in my panicked state, in the middle of my freshman year, I just decided to sign up for everything. I figured that if I just tried every extracurricular on campus, one or two were bound to stick.

So I joined AFX Dance and The Daily Californian. I worked as a barista at the Peet’s Coffee on Shattuck Avenue and checked IDs at the Open Computing Facility in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union. I dabbled in graphic design one spring and spent the next summer learning to throw pottery. I enrolled in DeCals on topics from scientific journalism to the war on drugs. I even did fieldwork at a Catholic elementary school in Oakland and took an art history course on virtual reality.

I wasn’t expecting to become a hip-hop dancing, philanthropic Renaissance man — I really just wanted to find my niche. Of course, only a fraction of these ventures were successes. I realized AFX wasn’t an Asian heritage dance group and we quickly parted ways. I got tired of making vector images of the Campanile and decided graphic design groups on campus weren’t really for me. And after a semester, I realized scientific journalism wasn’t my calling.

But slowly, as many of these extracurriculars became lost in the passing semesters, I discovered which of these ventures turned into things I really cared about.

When I first came to UC Berkeley, I never thought I’d develop a preference for one laser-cutting machine over another. I didn’t think I’d pass up trivia nights to try and fit in a few more 3D prints at 9 p.m. or develop early-onset carpal tunnel syndrome from CAD-ing on a Microsoft Surface tablet trackpad. But alas, here I am, sweating in a basement, missing out on the summer sun, putting my 50th or 60th hour into a plastic car and loving every moment of it.

I’m glad I’ve had backup plans. Not just because I hated crunching numbers and making flash cards, but because it helped me understand a little more of who I was. Through all these different iterations of myself, whether it was rehearsing on Sproul Plaza or serving lattes, I came a little closer to who it is that I want to be.

Contact Annalise Kamegawa at [email protected].