How Teamwork and Friendship Build upon each other

Written by Michael Chai, Edited by Maya Rector

Throughout my term at UC Berkeley and in the Master of Engineering program, my capstone project was undoubtedly where I spent the most of my time and effort. It was an opportunity to work on something that I was truly passionate about; it was also a great relief from the more traditional forms of learning (think homework, midterms, finals, etc.). While all students improve their technical skills and gain a tremendous academic experience by working on a capstone project, I’d like to touch on one aspect of the experience that I feel is just as important — working with your team members and advisers.

Early on in the capstone selection process, students are asked to submit their top choices for projects they would like to work on. Almost all students, myself included, selected projects that they thought were the most interesting and closely-related to their field of study. What we neglected was the fact that choosing a capstone project also meant choosing your team members for the next nine months. Even though it is important to be in a project that you are passionate about, I think it’s equally as important to be with team members that you’d want to be working with for the duration of your M.Eng. program. I personally had overlooked this fact.

However, I was fortunate enough to be placed in a project with two other students that were great teammates who turned into great friends.

Our team for the Point-of- Care Diagnostics for Global Health capstone project consisted of three members: Hui-Ling Koh (BioE’14), Ian Legaspi (IEOR’14), and myself (BioE’14). Although I had never met Ling and Ian before we started the program, we discovered that we actually had a lot in common. Ling and I both attended the same high school, the International School of Beijing, and Ian and I went to UCLA for our undergraduate studies. The three of us also shared an interest in food. Almost all of our team meetings involved exploring the multitude of restaurants in Berkeley and its surrounding areas (Korean BBQ in Oakland is one of our favorites). Above all, we shared a love for Disneyland. One month into our project, we had already made a weekend team-bonding trip to the Happiest Place on Earth. It is fair to say that if you’re willing to spend 15 hours in the car and a whole day running around and lining up for roller coasters with someone, you’re no longer just capstone project team members — you are friends.

Our team made the extra effort to build a relationship with each other outside of school, which definitely paid off and translated into how our capstone team worked as a whole.

Being friends with my team members really made working hard and sometimes going above and beyond much easier for me. Some specific examples I can think of are: running experiments at 1 or 2 AM, attending weekly lab meetings early in the morning, taking turns setting up experiments during spring break, and attending workshops and networking events in San Francisco. It also made me more open to offer and receive criticism, because I knew at the end of the day, they are my friends and have the group’s and my best interest in mind.

As you will learn in the Organizational Behavior class, when you care about someone, you are willing to make compromises for them. Throughout the nine months, conflicts and issues are sure to arise, but when you care for and trust your team members, you will be able to work resolve and through them.

Capstone project members Hui-Ling Koh, Ian Legaspi, myself, and others at Disneyland.

I strongly believe that the M.Eng. program has helped me prepare for the professional world in many ways. Besides improving my technical skills by taking classes at one of the best engineering schools in the world, I have also developed the interpersonal skills that are necessary in any job you will take after graduation. However, what I’m truly grateful for was the chance to meet my capstone team members and all the other wonderful people in the MEng program.

Hui-Ling now works as a R&D Engineer at Teco Diagnostics. Ian works at Connora Technologies as the Director of Operations. Michael works as a Technical Sales Engineer at COMSOL.