The journey through a roller coaster called Berkeley

by Rijul Mediratta, edited by Maya Rector

It was March 10, 2017. I vividly recall receiving an admissions email saying, “Congratulations! Our admissions committee has enthusiastically recommended you for admission to the Berkeley MEng (IEOR) program.” In that moment, I knew that my fate was sealed. I had applied to a number of universities in the United States for my graduate studies and UC Berkeley was among the best in the lot.

My admissions email from UC Berkeley.

At the time, I was in Singapore working at my first job after completing my undergraduate degree. This offer letter meant that I had to make a choice — continue working in the country I had called home for seven years, or leave my home to venture out to a different country to gain new experiences. I chose the latter.

After months of excitement, enthusiastic preparation, and attending the summer webinars planned by the student services team, I was sitting in Dan Himelstein’s Organizational Behavior for Engineers fall bootcamp class at 10:50am at the Goldman School of Public Policy on August 15, 2017. “Man, I made it to Berkeley,” I thought, smiling.

“Man, I made it to Berkeley,” I thought, smiling.
My Cal1Card — look at the happiness on my face!

I even took a photo of my Cal1Card because I was so excited to be a part of one of the most reputed universities in the world. In my next class on R&D Tech Management and Ethics with Lee Fleming, I felt honored to be learning from an ex-Harvard Business School professor. These feelings of pride, happiness, and optimism were my sources of inspiration while doing the case readings every night for the bootcamp classes. Did I mention that we didn’t get the weekend off during the fall bootcamp? MEng was living up to its name of “intense, one-year curriculum.” This was just the beginning.

Being a part of the Industrial Engineering and Operations Research field, I was required to take two courses on Optimization and Probability. I opted for another one on Production Planning since I was keen on learning Supply Chain Management. These were just the technical courses. I had finance, communications, and a capstone project on my plate too. Now, the last time I had studied with these many courses and projects on my hand was in May 2014 during undergrad. Three years later, the course load seemed unbearable. The level of teaching and the amount of homework was so stressful that I could not focus well on any of the subjects. In the words of my previous boss, “the workload of the MEng program had overwhelmed me.” I wanted to leave.

Once things started getting out of hand, I went and talked to Megan, the student services advisor. She calmed me down and suggested that I visit the Tang Center for counseling. I went and had a walk-in session with the doctor on duty. Both these sessions with Megan and the doctor were cathartic and helped me clear things up. I was counseled by Beth, the director of academic services, as well. She told me a line I’ll never forget — “It is because of this very intensity and rigor of Berkeley that all your seniors and alumni are well respected and doing well in their careers.”

During these eventful times, I talked for hours and hours with my family, friends, and colleagues about how Berkeley was too much to handle. They all said the same thing — “hang in there, you can do it”. Drawing inspiration from my supporters, I took Berkeley as a challenge and vowed to not the let the thought of escaping the place come into my brain. I dropped the extra technical course on Production Planning and things started looking better. Since probability was not my forte, I utilized office hours with Prof Xin effectively and she was supportive beyond words. I worked many tireless nights (I am not a morning person at all) to finish one homework assignment after the other, along with preparing for exams.

Final project submission of the Fall semester!

In November 2017, I had midterms/finals every single week, be it for the leadership courses, the business courses, or the technical ones. The moment I submitted my final Optimization Analytics report was an unforgettable one. I vanished from Berkeley after that for 2 weeks of vacation in the US.

By the time the spring semester came around, I had more or less figured out how the courses at Berkeley work and knew what to expect during winter bootcamp. I enjoyed the modules on Industry Analysis and Marketing. The readings taught me that the non-technical aspects of technology such as marketing, finance, organizational behavior, industry reports, are as crucial as the technology itself.

The technical courses I took in the spring were both on Machine Learning — one taught python, and the other R. As mentioned before, I was keen on learning Supply Chain Management, but supply chain was nowhere to be found on my transcript. It was probably for the best. Berkeley, with its close proximity to Silicon Valley gave me a solid foundation on the hot topics of data analytics, machine learning, and operations research.

Berkeley, with its close proximity to Silicon Valley gave me a solid foundation on the hot topics of data analytics, machine learning, and operations research.
Neural network graph done by yours truly in Tensorflow.

The Master of Engineering degree offers a taste of how demanding and rewarding a year at Berkeley can be. You will learn technical skills, the business side of things, effective communication skills, and apply all these in the yearlong capstone project. You will face challenges at school, in the job market, and in your personal life. There will be joyous occasions as well — networking events, parties, cruises, and dinners. Just persevere and enjoy the journey. As Ellen DeGeneres famously said, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” As I write this, I know that the person that came to Berkeley in August 2017 has undergone a massive positive transformation and the Berkeley roller coaster ride was necessary to make me who I am today.

The Berkeley roller coaster ride was necessary to make me who I am today.
Celebrating after our final project submission at Berkeley!