During the week, UC Berkeley senior Shams Amin is your typical student, walking down Sproul Hall trying to get to his next data science class. But every weekend, he’s a manager at his family-owned grocery store in Sacramento.
When campus junior Shifa Sabaat is not in class, she’s conducting research at the Clark Lab or organizing a competition for high school students at the Bioengineering Honor Society. Campus senior Pavan Jariwala spends his time trying to advance the transfer student experience through leading the Business Transfer Network of Berkeley.
It is these “outside of the classroom experiences” that make a student well rounded, as well as competitive for companies and graduate schools, according to the Interim Executive Director of the Career Center Sue Harbour.
Exploring “new possibilities” through campus organizations and research
For students like Sabaat, making new friends is what propelled her to join the Bioengineering Honor Society. Not only did Sabaat find the community she was looking for, but she also could further herself academically and professionally in her field of study.
While Sabaat is an active member of the honor society and serves as a research assistant, she noted that her disabilities have made it challenging for her to find a balance between extracurriculars and academics.
“I have certain DSP issues that are inevitably hindering me from being able to do things to the level of students who don’t have my particular issues,” Sabaat said.
Through campus’s Disabled Students’ Program’s TriO Student Support Services, however, Sabaat was able to find people who can relate to her experiences. She added that the organization helped provide her a lot of comfort and advice on different things.
Cameron Sotoodeh, a campus junior studying political economy and public policy, credits her extracurriculars, specifically her roles within the ASUC, with affirming her passion for policy work.
After joining the ASUC eco-office her freshman year, Sotoodeh knew she wanted to work in policy; it gave her the opportunity to do impactful work she sees herself doing in the future.
“After every research position, job or extracurricular I’ve done, I see new possibilities of what I would want to do in that field,” Sotoodeh said. “I don’t really get that from a classroom experience.”
Besides professional and academic development, an important aspect of extracurriculars Sotoodeh emphasized is building community and networking.
Sotoodeh believes that if she didn’t join different organizations on campus, she would not have been able to expand her network.
“If I just stayed in my classes, I would only see the same students and not have as many opportunities to engage with different people,” Sotoodeh said. “Being part of extracurriculars, like my sorority Delta Gamma, the ASUC, Cal Ski Club and Cal Surfrider, allowed me to be friends with such a wide range of people.”
However, many students face difficulties becoming involved in campus organizations. Jariwala expressed his struggle to get into consulting clubs as a transfer student.
Their limited time at UC Berkeley puts immense pressure on transfer students to take advantage of as many extracurriculars as possible, according to Jariwala.
“I got into UC Berkeley as a spring 2020 admit, and I was trying to get into a lot of clubs on campus,” Jariwala said. “Some clubs were just totally not nice to transfer students because we didn’t have that much extracurricular experience.”
Luckily, Jariwala was able to find a great community at the Business Transfer Network of Berkeley, where he currently serves as president. He is passionate about building a platform of change that advances transfer students.
“Two separate lives”: Finding a balance between work and school
After a long week of classes, Amin drives back to Sacramento to run Shams Market. He jumps from ringing items at the register to placing food delivery orders and managing a team of 15 to 20 employees.
“I feel like I live two separate lives,” Amin said. “When I go to Sacramento, I have to completely disregard everything that’s going on in Berkeley. When I’m in Berkeley, I have to try to switch that — even though I still work for my dad remotely in certain ways.”
Similarly, campus junior Dasha Bukovskaya currently works full-time at REI and commutes to campus from Walnut Creek.
As a result, she is unable to actively participate in student life.
“I really wanted to join the rhetoric society and band, but I wasn’t able to because my heart was just tired,” Bukovskaya said. “But I love working at REI so much that I’m planning on staying with the company after I graduate.”
Despite the circumstances preventing Bukovskaya’s participation in campus activities, she’s taken on many personal projects, including a private tutoring business.
In fact, for Bukovskaya, her current lifestyle has many benefits.
“Even if I had the resources to do all of the things I was interested in, I would be burnt out and probably overfill my plate,” Bukovskaya said. “I enjoy the fulfillment. I feel close to home being with my boyfriend and REI group of friends.”
Learning opportunities outside of the classroom
While Amin is currently focused on recruiting for a full-time job after graduation and working at his family’s grocery store, when he first transferred in 2020 he was simultaneously running his family’s business, interning at a startup and engaging in various volunteer efforts.
For Amin, securing an internship at Tarteel was very important in preparation for his career in product management.
“I knew I wanted to do (product management) because I like to work with people,” Amin said. “But I didn’t really know what it was until I really did it. There’s nothing that I can learn in a classroom that can teach me any of these things.”
Amin is not the only one who felt like his extracurricular experience was essential in preparing him for the workforce. Campus alumnus Murtaza Ali discovered his passion for professorship by being a computer science teaching assistant.
Ali graduated from UC Berkeley last year and is currently pursuing his doctorate at the University of Washington. Ali came in as a freshman thinking he wanted to pursue climate science research, but after participating in two research projects, he realized that it wasn’t for him.
“One of the big reasons for extracurriculars is learning what you don’t like,” Ali said.
After taking Computer Science 10 however, Ali discovered his passion for computer science and became a teaching assistant for the course throughout his undergraduate education.
While Ali loved teaching, he noted how time-consuming the role is, particularly in the electrical engineering and computer sciences department due to increased enrollment and lack of sufficient funding.
“It is something that most of the teaching assistants, especially the best ones, really enjoyed doing,” Ali said. “They would be happy to stay extra to help students, but they also couldn’t — and maybe shouldn’t — because there is a lot of your own work that you have to do.”
Despite the time commitment and responsibility that come with balancing extracurriculars with academics, Ali believes achieving this balance is worth pursuing because it’s an important part of the college experience.
“I don’t think there are any drawbacks that make the experience not worth it,” Ali said. “If you are only studying, then you are missing some of the best parts of college.”
“Experiential learning opportunities”: Internships and professional development
Ali emphasized that his research experience and teaching assistantship played an important role in his graduate school application. Sotoodeh believes her involvement in campus organizations and summer internship at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. have helped her acquire the skill set to succeed in her career.
Sotoodeh said her experiences also prepared her for her study abroad at the University of Geneva’s Global Studies Institute, in a city Sotoodeh sees herself living in one day.
Jariwala, who believes it is important to be a well-rounded student, is also a product marketing manager at a student startup called MILLU and a career consultant.
“Recruiters love when people are not just academically focused,” Jariwala said. “It has become a holistic viewpoint where it is not just your GPA anymore, but it is also about what you have been doing outside of studying.”
Harbour from the campus Career Center echoed a similar sentiment. Harbour noted extracurriculars help a student become the well-rounded person employers and graduate schools look for.
However, internships can involve more than short-term professional experience. Harbour defined internships as any “experiential learning opportunities” including research, student clubs and volunteer work.
“I don’t want students to get hung up on the word ‘internship’ and think that if they don’t have three internships by the time they graduate, they won’t get a job,” Harbour said. “Internships are experiential learning opportunities that could be research, community service, a full-time job and more.”
Moreover, Harbour emphasized that communication, teamwork, leadership and technical skills are sought after by employers and can be developed in various ways. She noted the campus Career Center can help students articulate the skills they have from different experiences.
While the professional and academic development gained from extracurricular activities are vital and can offer one a competitive edge in the workforce, pursuing opportunities one is passionate about and building community are just as important.
“I joined the Business Transfer Network of Berkeley because I want to build a platform of change and help transfer students,” Jariwala said. “Companies love seeing people that want to build a platform of change.”