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UC Berkeley professors share their favorite summer memories

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JUNE 06, 2019

Editor’s note: These responses have edited lightly for clarity.

How have UC Berkeley professors spent their favorite summers? Some traveled through Europe by train before attending graduate school, some went kayaking in the estuaries during their free time while teaching a course in a marine biology lab — and some spent a summer in high school studying calculus. Read on to find out what campus faculty have done during their most memorable summers.


Jeroen Dewulf, German

When I was in college, I used to work as a travel guide during the summer. My most memorable experience was undoubtedly a trip to Brazil, including a visit to the Amazon rainforest. We arrived there during the peak of the dry season, when the Amazon River is up to 30 feet lower than usual. This meant that we could only do part of the trip to our resort by boat and then had to continue the journey on canoes. Because of this, we were told to leave our heavy suitcases in the city of Manaus and to take only hand luggage with us. Due to the hassle of having to separate the luggage, our boat left with several hours of delay. By the time we arrived at the spot where the canoes were waiting, it was dark already, pitch dark. With flashlights, I had to help my group members, some of them in their late 70s, into the canoes when suddenly a thunderstorm broke out, with terrible lightening and torrential rainfall. Almost by miracle, we all made it safely to the resort. The following day, we learned about the piranhas, and were told that they are particularly dangerous when the river is low and food is scarce. It made that night an even more memorable experience, when instead of developing a career that one day would bring me to Berkeley, I had almost ended up in the stomach of a piranha.


Larry Hyman, linguistics

Certainly a special summer was the one I spent between my sophomore and junior years in a two-month language course in Lüneburg, Germany, where I went after doing a study abroad year in Bordeaux. I was in a middle-level (“Mittelstufe”) German class with students from Spain, Finland, Norway, Egypt, Ghana, Scotland, French-speaking Switzerland, and the United States. There I discovered a congenial way to “study” a foreign language and have lots of fun at the same time: With my classmates, we’d go out to cafés, restaurants and taverns, talking, laughing, discussing politics and playing chess. Since our common language was German, rather than limiting ourselves to the Schulz-Griesbach textbook, we were able to “practice” and improve our language skills in a natural, warm and friendly environment. At the end of my two months, I wasn’t sure if my German hadn’t become better than my French. I stayed in touch with several of my summer friends for quite a while afterward.


Marla Feller, molecular and cell biology

One of my greatest memories was playing in the Ultimate Frisbee finals in the summer of 1991  held in Madison, Wisconsin. We lost to UC Santa Barbara in the finals. But it was our first time qualifying for the tournament.

The name of our team at the time was The Rhythm Method and our cheer was “timing is everything.”

I believe I was one of the founding members of the UC Berkeley’s women’s Ultimate team, starting in 1988. I was a doctoral student in the physics department, and I played on their intramural ultimate team for several years. The team consisted of women from all over campus — graduate students from the Joint Medical Program, the Business School, and myself — as well as undergraduates from a variety of disciplines. We spent two long seasons mostly losing.  

Then in the 1990-91 season, and with an infusion of talent from the women’s soccer team, we pulled together a strong enough team to qualify for the national tournament, which was held in Madison, Wisconsin. Much to our amazement, we marched through the first day of the  tournament with no losses. Berkeley had never sent a team to nationals so we were unknown. … On day two, we met Cornell in the semifinals, and after an incredibly hard-fought game, we pulled out a victory. The finals were against our archnemesis UC Santa Barbara, basically the team we had lost to all year.

It was by far the biggest crowd we had ever seen. I also remember it was incredibly windy, making Ultimate a difficult game to play. We went up 4-0. And then everything completely fell apart. … Eventually we lost the game in quite an ugly fashion.

The impact of this season on my life is hard to underestimate. It was an absolutely thrilling experience and a great athletic achievement. The women on that team (who went on the be doctors, administrators, geologists and professors) are still my best friends. The confidence it gave me spilled over into my professional life. When I felt intimidated by some science colleague, I would simply remind myself that this guy probably didn’t know how to throw a forehand. The revolution that has happened in women’s sports — the U.S. soccer team, the WNBA — has been wonderful to watch, and I can’t help but think that our little Ultimate team helped make that happen.


Achilles Speliotopoulos, physics

Two memories stand out. … They are both extremely nerdy.

It was the summer between the 11th grade and the 12th grade. I was a 15-year-old who thought very highly of his own abilities, even though I had not actually demonstrated these abilities in any way. So, I decided to see just how good I was. I took my sister’s calculus book — she also went to Cal, and she took Math 1A and 1B at Cal — and decided to see if I could teach myself calculus. Pretty soon I became so fixated on the material that for the next month or so, I would wake up in the morning, go to my desk, open the book and start doing problems for the next 8-10 hours or so, stopping only to eat. I’d then go to sleep, and the process was repeated the next day. I would try to do if not all, then most of the odd number questions in each section before moving on. By the end of the month or so, I had gone through most of the material in Math 1A and 1B.

In other words, I had learned the mechanics of calculus, but really didn’t understand the mathematics behind it. I only learned that after taking AP Physics BC the next year.

The second memory was the summer after I graduated from Cal. I was going to start graduate school in the fall, also at Cal, and I decided that I would clean up my room. So, naturally I threw away four years’ worth of homework sets from all the classes I took while an undergraduate. Everything was fine until that August, when I went into the physics department at Cal and found out that as a newly admitted grad student I had to take preliminary examinations. And these examinations would cover the material I was expected to have learned as an undergraduate. In other words, it covered precisely the material that I threw away just a couple of months before. I spent a month going back and redoing the problems I did as a undergraduate.


David Robinson, business

My most memorable summer was when, as a British undergraduate, I stumbled on a research internship at Texas Christian. Now that was in the days when there were just a few 707s flying from London to JFK each day.

I took the Greyhound bus four days to get to Texas. But everyone was so kind and welcoming. I came back the next year and have lived in America ever since!

Of course now when I go “home” I can take a direct flight from Oakland.


David Ackerly, integrative biology

I spent a year after college as an intern on a forest fragmentation research project in the Amazon. It was an amazing experience, and given how hot it is in the Amazon, I think the entire year counts as one long summer. It was my first time becoming really comfortable working in another language, and the work I did set the stage for research I conducted as a doctoral student, and continue to do today: studying forest dynamics here in California. If you’re thinking about heading to graduate school, try to take some time off first!


Dacher Keltner, psychology

I think my favorite summer memory was the summer before college. I worked in the Sierra foothills at a “fruit shed.” My job was to dump boxes of plums onto a conveyor belt, where they were then sorted for whether they were good to box, or had worms and had to be thrown out.  There was something pure about the physical labor and the mini community of friends working in the fruit shed. I would bike or run to work through the foothills near my home. And after work, my friends and I would go to the American River or Yuba River and swim in the wilds of the river. I felt young and free.


Alex Filippenko, astronomy

Right after graduating from college, I spent two months traveling through Europe alone, just before starting graduate school at Caltech. It was an amazing experience and gave me a great break from my full-time studies. I had a Eurail Youth Pass that allowed me to travel nearly everywhere by train, and I generally stayed in inexpensive youth hostels. I saw the main sites in Paris, Rome, Munich and other major cities, but I also spent substantial time in the countryside and mountainous regions, enjoying nature and rejuvenating my spirits. But late one night, I got off the train at a small town in what was then Yugoslavia, yet there turned out to be no space available in the local hotel. Not thinking that I had any good options, I rolled out my sleeping bag in a tomato patch and spent the night. Unfortunately, there may have been pesticides on the leaves, because I became violently ill on the train the next day (I’ll spare you the details!). I checked into the first available hotel at the next stop and slept for the next 24 hours, not knowing whether I would ever wake up! That was a pretty yucky time in what was otherwise a fantastic trip.


Sofia Villas-Boas, agricultural and resource economics

My favorite summer memory during college in Portugal was going to my favorite beach, Praia do Guincho, with my family. It is located west of Lisbon and is beautiful and windy in the afternoon almost every day — it’s a place that grounded me. There was a magical week every year where the wind did not come and the water was like a swimming pool, with no waves, and we could stay until sunset taking advantage of that magical week.


Richard Harland, molecular and cell biology

My highlight summers were around 2002-06 when the whole family would take up residence in an old house on eel pond in Woods Hole for six weeks, while I was co-directing the embryology course at the Marine Biological Laboratory. It was a mix of intense science at the lab, beach time on Cape Cod and kayaking in the estuaries. Highlights were trips to the Atlantic coast beaches, followed by swimming in the kettle ponds and stopping for fish ‘n’ chips on the way home. And we had cookouts with fresh fish and lobsters, where one could get to know scientific colleagues, and see what makes them tick outside the lab. There was an apple tree outside the house that produced little inedible apples, which my sons used to play baseball, though one time, my younger son beaned a visiting Harvard professor on the head. She shook her head and continued talking — very graceful.


Shobhana Stoyanov, statistics

My undergraduate summers were in Delhi, and as I didn’t go away to college but commuted from home, all it meant was that we didn’t go to class for a couple of months. I remember one summer though, I think it was 1988, when my friend and I decided that we were going to try to earn some money. We got a job selling fax machines and fax paper. It was pretty awful to go from office to office in the blistering Delhi summers trying to convince people that they really needed this particular fax machine. We were hot, dusty and tired, and I discovered that I had no talent for convincing people to buy something. My friend wasn’t very good either, but perhaps she saw an opportunity there — she went on to a very successful career in the advertising industry, doing media research, not directly in sales though. We didn’t even manage to sell one ream of paper. The worst part of it was that, completely confident in our 19-year old selves, we had agreed to be paid solely on commission. So we made no money. It was a learning experience, and I had a lot of fun with my friend. … I remember that summer fondly.

Olivia Jerram is the managing editor. Contact her at [email protected].

JUNE 06, 2019

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