Welcome to the third installment of the Quarantine Diaries series. This week we hear from ERG graduate students (and alumni!) spread across the Sierras; Bellingham, Washington; and Berkeley, California. Learn how they are managing thwarted fieldwork plans, supporting family on the front lines, and expressing gratitude for the company and natural beauty around them.

Sophie Major (fifth-year graduate student)

Tell us a bit about your quarantine situation.
This year was supposed to be a key fieldwork year for me, living in Bellingham and driving up to British Columbia to interview and engage with folks there. When discussions of closing the US-Canada border began, I had to decide which side of the border to remain on, and opted to stay in Bellingham since in-person fieldwork needed to cease immediately anyways. In Bellingham, my quarantine buddies are my partner Froy (ERG alum) and Mr. Cat. The three of us are very comfortable in our cozy little place, and we luckily have some great neighbors that we get to chat with from afar on occasion.

One of the new balancing acts for us is figuring out how to share office and work space. Froy is teaching two courses online this quarter, so when he is teaching I am relegated to the dining table, which for the last couple of weeks has been occupied by in-progress jigsaw puzzles. I've figured out how to coexist with the puzzles, which usually means just working on top of them (and slowly working away at them while I'm video calls).

I have taken up baking recipes from the Cheese Board Collective cookbook, which I was able to snag used online. They give away a lot of their tasty secrets, and our homemade pizzas and baking have been mostly satisfying my Cheese Board cravings. We're also working on a backyard planter garden, starting some vegetable plants from seed. My most time-consuming quarantine activity, which I'm sure is true for a lot of ERGies, is calling and checking in on family regularly. I have eight siblings, many of whom live alone and are very isolated right now, and other family members who are very at-risk or who are essential workers. I try to call one family member every day or two, but even at that pace I can only talk to each of them once or twice a month!

What's a piece of art that captures how you’re feeling today?
This piece of extinction rebellion street art captures my current feelings of political and social motivation.

I've been spending some time the last few weeks thinking about how social change ought to come about and what my role in that ought to look like. Right now I'm mulling over a position that Foucault argues for in his essay "What is Enlightenment?" that I came across yesterday: "we know from experience that the claim to escape from the system of contemporary reality so as to produce the overall programs of another society, of another way of thinking, another culture, another vision of the world, has led only to the return of the most dangerous traditions." Foucault is not arguing against specific projects of social transformation, but rather warning against a self-proclaimed radical project that claims to replace our contemporary reality all at once.

What’s the difference between a weekday and weekend for you?

One of our favorite things to do on the weekend is to get outside to exercise, but we happen to live in an area where the parks and trails are packed on the weekends. We've more or less changed our "weekend" to weekdays, so that we make some time to be outside when it's less crowded. Most of the time, though, there's not much difference between the weekend and weekdays we usually get some work done in the mornings and then get increasingly distracted by other activities as the day progresses.

What’s your information diet these days?
The majority of weekdays I listen to or watch Democracy Now during lunch. Usually I just hear the headlines, but sometimes I'll listen to the whole program if the guests seem particularly interesting. I also read through the New York Times' daily briefing most days, and often check local reddit subs for postings on local news or virus-related hearsay. For many weeks I was checking the local health department websites and the global Worldometer virus statistics everyday, but now I check those only every few days.

How does being a grad student feel right now?
My research is focused on Indigenous political thought, and right now that often feels unimportant given the many pressing day to day challenges Indigenous communities are dealing with. It definitely makes doing research difficult, since Indigenous leadership is often fully occupied by their work to address concerns of public health, economic well-being, education, service provision, legal proceedings to secure rights, and so on. However, I still think my research can offer valuable contributions to ongoing projects of indigenous resistance and epistemic decolonization, so I still feel positive and hopeful about my work.

Stephen Jarvis (fifth-year graduate student)

Tell us a bit about your quarantine situation.
I live on my own in a little in-law cottage in North Berkeley. Definitely feel like not having to navigate the whole housemate/covid situation is a bit of a blessing. It can get a bit lonely sometimes but I'm compensating with an absurd number of video chats with friends and family, many of whom are weathering the storm back in the UK. It's been tough at times being so far away from them, especially because some of my family are particularly affected (my mum works in the NHS and my brother has been going through chemo). Been trying to stay positive though with lots of exercise and walks in the Berkeley hills, which has been a godsend. I can imagine a lot of far worse places to be than Berkeley right now!
What's a song or piece of art that captures how you’re feeling today?

Edvard Munch's "The Scream"? Just kidding, life's not that bad! I've definitely been listening to A LOT of music which has actually been lovely. It's been heartening to see how people have rallied round to support artists that are being hammered right now. Big plug for NTS radio tons of great shows. Today I'm listening to a retrospective of Tatsuro Yamashita so it's sunny J-pop vibes all round. Oh and on the books front, I re-read Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy recently and have been working my way through the sequels now. They still hold up so well, and The Secret Commonwealth was wonderful.

What’s the difference between a weekday and weekend for you? 
What is this weekday/weekend distinction you speak of?

What’s your information diet these days?

Definitely been cutting down on news consumption lately. I check the NYtimes, Guardian and the IHME Covid model once a day but that's it. Also all the podcasts I like are almost all about the coronavirus now so after a while I've stopped listening to most of those too. Only ones I'm still up on are Reply All and the BBC's More or Less.

Do you have any Zoom stories for us?
So sick of Zoom that I am now using other video chat platforms (Google Hangouts, Skype etc.) simply to break the monotony. God that's a sad sentence to write! 

How does being a grad student feel right now?
The first few weeks were a bit hectic as I'm teaching this semester, but that's calmed down now that the semester is finishing up. On the whole though I feel very lucky. Compared to most people my work life hasn't changed very much and I can get on with my research largely uninterrupted. I am going on the job market in the Fall though so that's looking increasingly bleak with all the hiring freezes being announced. It is what it is though so I'm just carrying on as is and we'll see what happens.

Anything else you’d like to share? 
I want to have a party! Can we still do something to celebrate the end of the year and ERG graduation!?

Hilary Yu (fourth-year graduate student)

Tell us a bit about your quarantine situation. 

I've been in transit recently - I was in the field and determining where it would make sense to end up sheltering in place - and have been feeling a bit like I'm still catching up on figuring out a proper routine and how best to be productive! Although I'm aiming for a more structured routine whilst self-isolating, I find myself having bursts of activity around 1-3am and though it feels like the current scenario would make a semi-nocturnal routine more feasible than normal, I'll probably try to avoid it for now!

What's a book or song or movie or piece of art that captures how you’re feeling today?
My desktop wallpaper has been Rodin's "The Thinker," which I think has been apropos for most days recently. I'd also say Marcus Aurelius's Meditations. Aside from works of art though, my partner has a cat and I find myself better understanding his very matter-of-fact appreciation of the simple amusements that one can find at home (but I will nevertheless forgo crawling into the hamper).

What’s the difference between a weekday and weekend for you? 
I definitely agree with Ariel about the sleeping-in difference between weekdays and weekends. I also try to let myself take longer walks over the weekends (for a bit of reflection and exercise!) and maybe delve into a new recipe or two. My sister recently set up a weekly family hangout that falls on Sunday evenings for me, and that has been a nice way to wrap up the weekend and transition to the week.

What’s your information diet these days?
I've been watching the BBC news to get better coverage of international events, and have also been making use of the NYT (and WSJ) campus subscriptions for grad students. I also keep updated with local news sources on circumstances in the areas where I've been doing field research.

Do you have any Zoom stories for us? 
My laptop's webcam is what they call a nose-cam (it's located at the bottom of my laptop screen) but at my normal laptop screen angle it doesn't quite capture the nose either. Instead it shows a scary view of monster-sized hands and a chin (and sometimes the rare sighting of a mouth or nose).

Upon discovering that hosts/co-hosts can rename individuals in a Zoom meeting, we've had some fun and creative nicknaming, and a point when everyone in one meeting ended up with the same name.

How does being a grad student feel right now?

A mix of a lot of things – concerns about circumstances in so many places which make it difficult for many communities to adopt the measures that are being recommended at this time; these concerns get compounded by seeing the prioritization of where resources go when an epidemic becomes a global pandemic; worries about dissertation ideas and original plans for field research, and trying to adapt to the uncertainty that we all find ourselves in, whether we are grad students or not, by considering what contingency plans might be necessary and feasible. There's also attempting to manage all of these feelings productively and trying to focus on concrete things that can be done (I've found myself getting lost trying to think through multiple contingency plans, at the cost of forgetting that there are many other productive things to engage in!).

I also feel gratitude for all the support and understanding that has come from so many different people during this time. And I'm working to remember to take a step back and keep the human concerns of this time in perspective, even though it's easy to get mired down in worrying about the academic and professional implications. One thing that has been particularly inspiring is the sense of community and solidarity that has emerged and endured, even as places have gone into lockdown and people have had to physically isolate themselves.

Anything else you'd like to share?
I have to give a huge shout-out and heartfelt thanks to Kay – she was there for me every step of the way when I was in the field and figuring out what to do, and it made all the difference.

Micah Elias (2nd year), Phillippe Phanivong (4th year), Tzipora Wagner (2nd year), Anna Yip (1st year)

Tell us a bit about your quarantine situation.
We are some of the lucky ones. Right now Phillippe, Tzipora, Anna, and Micah are happily sheltering with Sascha von Meier and her husband Mike in Bishop, on the east side of the Sierras. We were all originally planning on coming up for a few days during spring break, then shelter in place happened and here we are, six weeks later! We have a pretty precious East Side ERG family situation – Anna and Micah cook dinner, Tzipora and Phillippe clean up, and Sascha and Mike pay the mortgage.

We have celebrated two birthdays in the past six weeks. Anna celebrated hers by running the inaugural Hapa Half Marathon, from Sascha’s house to South Lake (1400 feet in elevation gain), up a small random dirt road to round out the 13 miles, and back to Sascha’s. Phillippe celebrated his birthday with a whiskey tasting on Zoom – he got five sample bottles sent to the him through a store holding a special event. We all celebrated Passover together as well, which added an exciting additional layer of complexity to cooking for six people. 
Although we were all planning on climbing while up here, the sheriff has threatened to ticket anyone climbing. We solved that problem by putting an anchor in the rafter of the house to practice ascending a rope and rappelling past a knot. We also discovered a big rock in the backyard that can be bouldered if you put your mind to it. It has been dubbed Brock (boulder + rock) and has informally become part of the family. It’s like an outside cat that doesn’t need to be fed. The perfect pet. 

We have been here long enough that the weather has changed and we’ve become comfortable farting around each other. The cooks have been asked to cut out meat, dairy, simple carbs, added sugar, carrots, bananas, as well as minimize shopping trips to once a week. So, beans?


What’s the difference between a weekday and weekend for you?
When it was snowing, weekdays often included circuit training in the living room, which has turned into runs and bike rides. Weekends now consist of longer runs, longer bike rides, and a blessed relief from Zoom. Tzipora also makes sourdough on Sundays, that’s a highlight.


Weekends also lead to unfettered time to play games and do puzzles. Anna and Micah have almost mastered the collaborative card game, Hanabi, while Sascha and Tzipora have achieved double digit NYT crossword puzzle streaks. Micah even got a word. Radii. A real ringer.

Weekends are also a time to make sure we stay looking sharp. Micah practicing his barbering skills on Phillippe, and on himself, with different levels of success.

What’s your information diet these days?
For pandemic-related news, Phillippe provides daily updates on Covid cases in the county at dinner. As this was being written, Phillippe excitedly shared that the county has come out with demographic-specific data. It is reminiscent of kids opening presents on Christmas morning, except different.  

To help remind ourselves of the good things in life, we have been sharing something each person is grateful for at dinner. It has been daily reminder that we are lucky to have each other, our health, and a beautiful place to call home.

Do you have any Zoom stories for us?
Having so many Zoom meetings in the same house has been interesting, we often Zoom into the same meeting from different rooms because no one wants to get up. But when we do go to meetings as a group, we have the small audio-visual studio that Phillippe brought with him, including a camera with tripod, mic with tripod, and four-way headphone splitter. He puts the tripod for the mic on a piece of foam to minimize unwanted noise from the mouse. For those of you who know Phillippe well, this does not surprise you.

However, even with all of our gear and planning, issues arise. Today, Tzipora’s family got together for their weekly happy hour using her Zoom link. However, she sent out the same link for her lab presentation. When she signed on to begin her presentation, she saw her parents and siblings, sharing a virtual drink, waiting for the rest of the family. Tzipora quickly pushed them out, but not before her mom said, “good lucky, baby, hope it goes great. Love you” in front of the lab group. Nice ice breaker at least. Oh, and one of Anna’s students changed their background to a photo of Anna they found online and got a good laugh from everyone, including Anna. Nothing too juicy however.

How does being a grad student feel right now?
Although it is easy to feel like school or work is irrelevant during this time, we all feel extremely lucky and privileged to in a beautiful place surrounded by amazing people. Our daily gratitude practice is a great reminder how blessed we are to have each other. 


We're back with Part 2 of our Quarantine Diaries series! This week, we share stories from both students and staff in the ERG community. Read on for reflections on parenting, advising, and being global health researcher in the age of COVID-19.

Sangcheol Moon, first-year graduate student

Tell us a bit about your quarantine situation.
I'm still in the University Village staying with my two kids. My husband had been here with us but he returned to Korea now (he's in 2-week mandatory self-quarantine mode in Seoul). He came here for the birthdays of the kids (both were born in late March) but to our disappointment obviously, we canceled the birthday party... Yes, it's crazy being 24/7 with 2 kiddos while I have so much zoom zoom zoom.

What I liked the most about living in this amazing community, UC Village, was that I could arrange a lot of play dates.... but there’s no such thing anymore. So I try to take my kids bike-riding outside the apartment often.
I usually use Amazon Fresh for grocery shopping (Normally I make an order after kids go to bed, and I get FRESH grocery bags on my doorstep in the morning and finish organizing everything before the kids wake up.) But Amazon Fresh delivery is broken, Wholefoods delivery is broken! Sometimes on a very lucky day, if I click the check-out button right at the moment the clock hand changes to the next day (12:00), I get a spot. But that rarely happens. And I find many items are missing when delivered due to unavailability at the moment of delivery. I promised to make a Korean-style tofu dish for the kids, but I had to tell them, Mommy doesn't have tofu today  😌

Ha. Home-lunch. Everyday. The hardest part.

And.. Ah. homeschooling. 😰  I respect teachers for being so kind, so inclusive, and so patient.  

What's a show that captures how you’re feeling today?
Not exactly for this question, but I recently finished watching "Anne with an E" on Netflix. And I find myself having feelings like 'magical', 'wonderful' from very small or near things that have always been there.

What’s your information diet these days?
As I'm disturbed every 2 minutes, I don't actually need to worry about how to 'diet'. Rather, I should always worry about whether I'm following the news properly or not. When I finally have some my-own-time, sometimes I try to follow the trend skimming today's main news section, but soon I feel exhausted and just end up hovering on Netflix or the free (by luck of COVID) Berlin Phil archive 😌

Peeping mom’s zoom time...

What’s the difference between a weekday and weekend for you?
Weekday: more Zoom (more candies for the kids, asking them not to attack me while I'm on Zoom)
Weekend: less Zoom (fewer candies)

Ariel Chu, work-study student

Tell us about your quarantine situation.
As a work-study assistant for ERG, it's so boring not being able to greet students by the front desk or interacting with other people in general. I miss being in the office, but I'm sure this is applicable to many other ERG staff and students as well!

What song captures how you're feeling today?
"Are You Bored Yet?" by Clairo is a perfect capture of my mood these days, especially 10 minutes into doing my assignments.

What's the difference between a weekday and weekend for you? There's only one difference between weekdays and weekends for me at this point. On weekdays, I sleep in and feel guilty about it. On weekends, I sleep in and feel less guilty about it.

How does being a student feel right now?
As a freshman, I was so excited to close off my first year of college with an exciting semester! Unfortunately, that is simply no longer possible. My heart goes out to the seniors, however, as I'm sure they've put over thousands of hours into school and extra-curriculars to receive a formal graduation, only to have coronavirus cancel plans.

Megan Amaral, Manager

Tell us a bit about your quarantine situation.

My quarantine “pod” includes me, my husband, my daughter and our au pair from Spain. We are fortunate to live near a large, natural park overlooking the bay in Pt. Richmond. Having this extra space and nature has made the quarantine much more palatable. Until recently, we had spent time only with each other. Delta, who is now 2.5 was increasingly troubled by the lack of social interaction.
- “I’m sad.”
- “Why, Delta?”
- “I don’t see kids.”
Last weekend we merged with another family to create a “mega-pod” so their three toddlers can play with ours. Delta is over the moon.

What's a book that captures how you’re feeling today?
Well, A Handmaid's Tale comes to mind first, but not because it is an accurate reflection of my life right now--just a few elements. Our au pair and I started watching the series just when shelter in place began. We noticed right away that the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in a house had some similarities for COVID-19 life. The similarities sorta end there.

What’s the difference between a weekday and weekend for you?
This is actually pretty much the same as my pre-COVID life. Weekends are when I am not doing my UC Berkeley job and spending full days with my family. I get plenty of quality time with my daughter: walks, gardening, making crafts, reading books, and cooking together. I do these with our au pair often too. We all clean the house and work on indoor and outdoor projects. When I report for work Monday-Friday, I get set up in my temporary office in our RV around 8:30 and leave around 5:30, only taking a quick lunch. Again, pretty much my old schedule, but without the commute.

What’s your information diet these days?
KQED and NPR radio in the morning and occasionally following news links during the day. I’ve found myself reading a disproportionate amount of Wired articles.

Do you have any Zoom stories for us?
I was on a Zoom call a couple weeks ago. It was a campus leadership update call, so I was just listening, on mute, no video. I was going to run right after it ended, so started to put on my running clothes. Halfway through changing in front of my computer I realized that my camera was still pointed at me and for a second I couldn’t remember if I had turned off my video. (Yikes!) I had. (Whew!)

How does working in academia feel right now?
I feel very fortunate to work here. Being part of a university right now has helped me to: 1) keep my job; 2) stay well-informed with communications from an institution that values science; 3) be of service to others during a crisis; 4) develop deeper relationships with colleagues and students; and 5) see social and environmental challenges from new angles.

Kay Burns, Graduate Student Advisor

Tell us about your quarantine situation.
I am working from home, with lots of zoom meetings and cooking projects. My partner is stuck in Belfast with a cancelled flight so I'm on my own. Luckily I have great neighbors and we chat across our little one-block-long street and sometimes have distanced happy hours on our porches.

What are some songs or poems that capture how you're feeling today?
"Get Me Through December"  by Natalie MacMaster

"Dancing" by Robert Hass
The radio clicks on—it’s poor swollen America,
Up already and busy selling the exhausting obligation
Of happiness...

"The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

What’s the difference between a weekday and weekend for you?
On the weekends I feel more isolated and restless, thinking about wanting to get outside and connect to people. During the week I'm pretty busy so time goes by faster.

What’s your information diet these days?
NY Times, SF Chronicle, MSNBC, Slate, KQED, KPFA

How does working in academia feel right now?
I am a student advisor - and now my work feels fruitless and frustrating. I am all about supporting the students -- and so it is not surprising but I feel like I'm constantly letting people down and not doing enough.

Anything else you’d like to share?
I miss the ERG community terribly! This period really does remind us how much our community is worth, and how much the individuals in our life matter.

Yoshika Crider, fifth-year graduate student

Tell us a bit about your quarantine situation.
I'm sheltering-in-place in my cozy studio apartment in Berkeley. I live close to campus, so it's very quiet!

What's a piece of art that captures how you’re feeling today?
The other day my friend sent me this comic by Liz Climo, one of my favorite illustrators. I'm really trying not to be the alligator, but sometimes it happens.

What’s the difference between a weekday and weekend for you?
Sometimes there's not much of a difference these days... But, it has become more important to establish a routine. I like to have projects on the weekends, like a crafty thing to tackle or an interesting thing to bake, so I have a distraction from work or the news. I'm totally loving the loaf recipes Salma has shared on the ERG slack cooking channel.

Weekend COVID craft project

Essential employees spotted on a walk near home
What’s your information diet these days?
I check the NYT and the SF Chronicle coronavirus live updates page probably too much. I listen to The Daily or Up First podcast every morning. And I have some incredible friends who are directly involved with public health efforts or treating patients, and I learn so much from them. But I also logged back on to Twitter for maybe the first time in 8 years. I know Twitter has a terrible reputation, but that's where a lot of the fast-coming COVID-19 research results are being shared now. For example, I follow a researcher whose lab is running filtration efficiency tests for mask materials and posting really informative graphs as soon as experiments are done. It's pretty amazing how fast research is being shared. And this is unfortunately also a time when expert voices are being silenced, so Twitter has been great because it lets me go directly to medical and public health experts. I also get email updates from several of the health journals that are publishing coronavirus study results, so I skim those too.

How does being a grad student feel right now?
I guess I have mixed feelings. I work in global health, which as a field feels especially important now. For the last two summers, I've GSI'd for a global health class, and one of the lectures is about flu pandemics. Students found it interesting, but their point of reference was maybe the movie Contagion. The material will feel really different when I teach again this summer. My international fieldwork wrapped up in December, so I feel really fortunate that I'm not having to make contingency plans for my dissertation. But, I worry a lot about health system capacity in the places where I work. Overall though, I feel really supported. And I appreciated so much the article that Phillippe shared from the Chronicles of Higher Ed, pushing against productivity pressure right now. There have been times during my grad student career when I've been totally unproductive, and it's all been okay.

Anything else you’d like to share?
I'm so impressed by how creative and resourceful ERGies are. A virtual talent show and auction? Such an amazing idea. I'm really looking forward to that and to seeing everyone again.


A slice of quarantine life, courtesy of Isa Ferrall

It's been nearly a month since the Bay Area began to shelter-in-place. Since then, ERGies have spread all across the world in efforts to keep themselves and their communities safe. None of this is easy, but we're all doing our best to stay in good health and high spirits in this unprecedented time. Keeping up with friends and family feels more important than ever. So, Life@ERG is catching up with ERGies near and far to learn about their quarantine experiences and share them with YOU! This week, we hear from Michelle Sims, first-year student; Isa Ferrall, fourth-year student; Duncan Callaway, ERG faculty member; Edem Yevoo, first-year student; and Salma Elmallah, third-year student.

Tell us a bit about your quarantine situation:

I live in a group house in Elmwood with my partner and some other folks. Initially I had considered going back to my parent's place in Southern CA for a couple weeks once everything was moved online, but ultimately decided to stay in Berkeley. My housemates make great quarantine company-- we've had mid-day yoga breaks together, movie nights, and game nights with a side of pina coladas. My partner and I have been trying out some new recipes, going for runs, and wandering up in the Berkeley fire trails to catch some sunsets. Despite many peoples' advice to put real clothes on, I've been rotating through every pair of sweats that I own. (Michelle)

I am in a shared home of 5 people. Luckily we all get along well and have enough space to spread out. I am loving our outdoor porch right now. The toughest part has been figuring out an internet situation that doesn't momentarily crash on people ever 10 minutes. (Isa)

I'm home with my elementary school-aged kids and my wife Meredith, who also teaches at Berkeley. We're homeschooling our kids at the same time we're teaching undergrads and grads. We've managed to find a lot of silver linings, including more free time to play board games, exercise together, and a deeper understanding of how terrific our kids' teachers are. (Duncan)

I am currently living in the International House and planning to stay here till the end of May while the virus is being contained. The building managers have set in place restrictions for residents including staying in our rooms as much as possible, closing down communal spaces that might encourage gatherings, and suggesting mask use when outside the room. The cafeteria allows for take out allowing 10 residents in at a time and enforcing social distancing policies within the house. (Edem)

Right now I'm at my parents' place in Canada, and since I came from another country I had to do an actual 14 day quarantine (as in staying 2 meters away from people and not sharing common space with anyone). So I'm just in my childhood bedroom, where I will be for 4 more days. Before that I did a couple weeks of sheltering in place with my housemate in Berkeley, and after this I'll just be sheltering in place in Edmonton with my parents and my little brother. (Salma)

What’s your information diet these days?

After endlessly getting distracted by coronavirus news initially, I've restricted myself to 15 minutes of news briefs in the morning. (Michelle)

Well I start my days by scrolling through Instagram, Twitter, and the ERG Slack memes channel until I can't anymore. So there's that. I also read the NY Times daily newsletter. I think I mostly get information from my more-informed friends sending me things. (Salma)

Most of my information diet is based on podcasts and occasionally reading news articles summaries from the NY Times. (Edem)

I'm completely saturated! I scan headlines, but that's mostly it. (Duncan)

What’s the difference between a weekday and weekend for you?

I don't set an alarm on the weekends, and I try to take at least one full day off during the weekend for no work. One of our housemates started making pizza dough on saturday mornings for everyone, so we bake the pizzas Saturday night and then watch a movie together after. We are in the middle of the Before Sunrise / Before Sunset / Before Midnight series. (Isa)

I take time off on the weekends, and my kids don't have to do schoolwork. (Duncan)

The biggest difference is that I take most of the weekend time to enjoy relaxing activities. Anywhere from listening to a lot of music, video games (Fifa!), staying away from most academic work, and spending most of the time virtually connecting with friends and family throughout the weekend. (Edem)


Do you have any Zoom stories for us?

I convinced my supervisor to hold up her cute puppy throughout a work meeting. Which was the closest I could to petting her dog so that was very exciting. (Edem)

I participated in a 50 person zoom Passover Seder with my boyfriend's family! With a significant contingent of grandparents, there were definitely some funny technical issues. The cousin who was organizing everything is a middle school teacher, so she was able to coordinate everyone well and with patience! (Isa)

Someone tried to zoom-bomb my group meeting last week. I'd set up a waiting room and they left when I asked who they were. (Duncan)

What's a book or song or movie or piece of art that captures how you’re feeling today?

The Persistence of Memory, by Salvador Dali (Michelle)

Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose. The book chronicles a family living through failure, isolation and independence in the frontier west. The term in the title derives from mining, and refers to the steepest angle a material can be piled to without slumping. I love the idea because it exemplifies beauty and order embedded in disorder. My life is always sitting at its own angle of repose, and the current situation strengthens that belief. (Duncan)

Hmmmm. This is a very good question! "Never Ending" by Rihanna has been both calming and devastating in a way that feels right. Obviously it's not about a pandemic but it is about loss and disconnection. On another note, on day 9 of my quarantine I tried to learn TikTok dances. They were all too hard for me but I think I will always think of my quarantine whenever I hear "Say So" by Doja Cat. (Salma)

A book that comes to mind is Walden by Henry David Thoreau. It is rather encouraging to me in the current situation of physical isolation and encourages me to pursue ways to feel productive and motivated to better myself in this strange period by learning new skills, appreciating art such as music, movies and documentaries, and getting comfortable with being by oneself for long periods. (Edem)


How does academia/being a grad student/working in your field of study feel right now?

It feels like a LOT of time on Zoom and in front of a computer! But it's also nice to have the support network of my fellow grad students in these strange times. (Michelle)

The issues that I was working on felt a lot more important 2 months ago than they do now. In addition to all of the other distractions, deadlines flying by, and stressful situations, it is hard to grapple with the fact that what I am working on matters a lot less than I thought it did. In addition I am trying to finish my quals during all of this. I was expecting to not participate in social activities and be dealing with my stress over this spring. Now it just is for multiple reasons. (Isa)

As of now it feels detached but I have found it quite productive in that the current situation has allowed me to reflect on my current trajectory as a grad student and to create a plan for what I want that experience to be going forward. (Edem)

I think for the most part, things have been business as usual - expectations for classes and research and work don't seem to have changed really, which in itself is weird because the world and my state of mind feel so different. There's always a thought in the back of my mind that's like, I don't know what the world will be like after this, or how long we'll be waiting for there to be an 'after COVID', that it's hard to do the same work I was doing before in the same way that I was doing it. I think in general I've detached myself a bit from productivity - like I'm still doing work, but I don't keep the same detailed weekly to-do lists that I used to. (Salma)

I feel fortunate that my job is flexible. Honestly my job isn't all that different from normal -- except that I have a lot less time to do it and that I miss being face to face with students and colleagues. (Duncan)

Anything else you’d like to share?

I highly recommend the BBC's 1995 Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth as a wholesome, 6 hr distraction from whatever you want to get away from. (Isa)

Stay well, friends!! (Michelle)

I would like to send a big shout out of appreciation to the ERG community because I still feel as close as I was to ERG without having to see everyone in-person. (Edem)

Come back next week for more quarantine stories from ERGies!


The shining faces of the ERG community

Hello there! This blog post, written by a group of ERG students, contains advice that we often give to prospective ERG applicants and that we wish we’d heard when we applied for graduate school. This reflects our own impression of the application process, not necessarily the views of the admissions committee. We hope it’s helpful to read some thoughts from people who have been through this process themselves.

Please give it a read if you’re thinking of applying to ERG. If you have lingering questions that are not answered by this blog post, feel free to reach out to current students who have listed their contact information.

ERG’s Graduate Student Advisor Kay Burns is also available for questions about the program or admissions process; you can reach her at erggrad@berkeley.edu.

While many current students are happy to chat and answer questions, please note that we are not able to read or edit application materials such as the statement of purpose and the personal history statement.

Knowing if ERG is right for you

Am I a strong ERG applicant?
Admissions is a dynamic process in any graduate program. It depends on funding, research directions, professor availability, cohort mix, and other factors that can all vary from year to year. So even higher-qualified candidates who fit well with ERG may not be selected in certain years. Read through this FAQ, however, to understand some of the ERG community’s values and expectations.

I’m in my last year of undergrad. Should I apply to ERG?
Most ERG students have at least two years of post-college experience before they start, but some of us do come in straight out of undergrad. For many of us, having that post-college experience, whether it be in research, industry, NGOs, government, consulting, or something else, helped us figure out why we wanted to go to grad school and what we could do with a graduate degree. That said, it’s completely possible that you’ve been able to answer these questions for yourself without post-undergrad experience. So if you feel like your undergraduate degree gave you experience beyond coursework, and that graduate school is the right next step for you, then go for it! If you’re not sure, maybe you’ll find that a year or two (or more) away from school will help you decide.

Post-college experience can also help guide you once you’re in graduate school, especially in a program like ERG where students tend to work on applied research questions. Experience outside of an academic setting often informs the approaches we take in our research. ERG as a graduate program has a pretty open, self-directed structure, and it is well-suited to those that have clearer goals or intentions.

I’ve been out of school for a long time. Should I apply to ERG?
Yes! Many students come to ERG after long and/or varied careers. You will have many people who can help with your transition, from current students to our alumni network. ERG research strives to be solution-oriented using interdisciplinary approaches toward a variety of social and environmental challenges. Your real-world experience with complex, “wicked” problems will be an asset in both your application and your time at ERG.

I don’t have an academic research background. Is that a problem?
No! Both applied and academic experiences are valued at ERG. Focus your application on what you have learned⁠—both in terms of skills as well as perspective⁠—from your background.  If you feel like there are gaps in your experiences, talk about how ERG could provide an opportunity for you to round out your expertise.

I don’t have a technical[/economics/social science/…] background. Is that a problem?
No! Very few students have experience in all of the disciplines, and the ERG curriculum is built so that you can get an interdisciplinary academic experience even if you haven’t had a chance to do that in your educational career thus far. You can think of ERG as an opportunity to fill in those knowledge gaps, and focus your application on the experiences and questions that have led you to explore interdisciplinary approaches. While having some prior engagement with technical or math-heavy subjects may be useful for our quantitative course requirements, we believe those with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences will bring a fresh perspective and find success in our curriculum.

Should I apply for the Master’s or PhD?
If you’re interested in gaining new applied research skills across different disciplines, the Master’s is a good option. If there are larger research questions that you’re interested in exploring that would extend beyond a year-long project, you should consider the PhD. The Master’s program is more structured than the PhD, although it’s still very flexible compared to many other Master’s programs. Both programs have a research component, but because the Master’s program is more time constrained your research project will necessarily be less involved than if you had done the PhD.

Are prospective PhDs expected to have published before they apply?
It’s definitely not an expectation! There’s a wide range in how much opportunity prospective students have had to do research and/or publish before graduate school. If you have had research experience it’s often useful to include something about it in your statements. If you haven’t, don’t let that stop you from applying if you otherwise think that you and ERG may be a good fit for each other.

The application process


How should I approach the statement of purpose?
You may have already looked at these links, but just in case, the ERG website and the Berkeley Graduate Division provide some guidance on what should be in the statement of purpose.

One way to break down the statement of purpose is by answering the following three questions:
  1. Why graduate school? Why now? Everyone will have a different mix of reasons, but the best statements do include all parts of you, not just work experience or education.
  2. What do you hope to do while in grad school? Gain new skills? Explore new research? Be specific about what knowledge you want to gain and/or contribute in your time as a graduate student.
  3. Why ERG specifically? How is ERG a good fit for you, and you, a good fit for ERG?

Another resource that we’ve found helpful is this guide, by Professor Eve Ewing at the University of Chicago, which gives a clear model for how to write a statement of purpose. It’s directed at prospective humanities and social science PhD students, but the advice is widely useful.

How should I approach the personal history statement?
As a general rule, the personal history statement should not be a guide through your CV. This is the part in your application where you showcase who you are through what you have done, observed, and reflected on (i.e. action-oriented sentences as opposed to passive). Demonstrating an appreciation for interdisciplinarity (e.g. social science/humanities and STEM) is valued at ERG.

How should I prepare for the GRE?
Take a couple free GRE tests online and see what areas you need improvement on. Work through some free internet tutorials that focus on those areas. Also, do some everyday practice, e.g. for math calculate your own restaurant or shopping bills everyday or for English download a GRE-level vocabulary app on your phone. The GRE primarily tests your skills and speed on a narrow range of specific types of questions, so practice, practice, practice!

ERG has a balanced view of the GRE’s effectiveness in predicting success in grad school; the admissions committee will look at your scores in combination with your GPA/transcripts and your letters of recommendation to get a better picture of you.

My undergrad GPA isn’t what I want it to be. What should I do?
ERG values experiences as well as academic accomplishments. If you think your grades in certain courses don't reflect your strength in a subject, focus your personal statement on what does! If you feel like you need to explain your GPA (e.g. life happened and you had to withdraw for a semester and this lowered your GPA), you can do so in your personal statement.

How important are the recommendations?
Recommendations are important elements of your ERG application. Choose recommenders who showcase you in the best light. It might be helpful to ask each of your recommenders to focus on different elements of your resume, experiences, and achievements. Recommenders who can provide personally observed, concrete examples of your qualifications and accomplishments are best. At least one of your recommenders must be an academic, but the others may be drawn from your professional life.

Life at ERG


How do students fund their degree?
This very much varies from student to student, but a majority of students fund their degree through one or a combination of the following ways:
  • Working as a graduate student researcher (GSR) or graduate student instructor (GSI). These are positions that you would find after getting your acceptance, and involve working anywhere from 10-20 hours per week during the school year. If you work at least 10 hours per week, your tuition and most fees are covered through a fee remission and you receive a stipend. More details on GSR/GSI appointments can be found here.
  • Fellowships or grants. These are generally more geared towards PhD students “who are domestic U.S. citizens, Permanent Residents, or qualified ‘dreamers’ through CA AB540”, although there are some opportunities for Master’s and international students. UC Berkeley has some fellowships for entering students that you can apply for as you apply to ERG.

How do international students fund their degree?
It’s really hard to generalize international student funding situations because they’re so particular to different countries of citizenship and fields of study. However, funding is generally more limited for international students because many (but not all) fellowships are for U.S. citizens or permanent residents only. However, international students can work as GSRs or GSIs, which will cover in-state fees. For now, one thing that any prospective international student can do before they’re admitted is look for funding sources in their home countries. For more information specific to international applicants, the Berkeley International Office is a good resource.

To what degree can students tailor their studies/projects to their interests?
A great amount compared to other graduate programs. Though there is some structure in the 2-year Master's (as outlined on the ERG website), there is still a lot of flexibility within that structure. There is even more freedom for those who go on to the PhD. For some, there may be too much flexibility and it might feel like they're not getting enough direction. But, for others who want to build their own program, it can be great.

How long does the PhD take?
It varies! PhDs in different disciplinary fields can already vary quite a bit in length, with STEM-oriented programs often finishing faster than those in the humanities or social sciences. It’s hard to predict the length for any given person and/or course of study, but ERG students whose academic projects lean towards any of these disciplines may see their PhD unfold in a similar timeframe. That said, ERGies take many different paths through the PhD: some do fieldwork, some change or expand their academic area(s) of study, some come in with well-focused projects intent on finishing relatively quickly, while some work part- (or even full-!) time for portions of their time at ERG. This is a good question to ask other ERGies whose paths might look similar to the one(s) you are considering, and also your prospective academic adviser once you’ve been accepted.

Can I hold on to my current job/business and study at ERG at the same time? Can I study part time or remotely?
ERGies have done all of these things! You’ll have to work with ERG to figure out how this might work for you and how it could impact your time here. It can be easier to add this kind of flexibility as a PhD student further along in the program, rather than early on in your time here. But keep in mind: ERG may be willing to work with you to offer flexibility as it makes sense for a particular situation, but these are not typical tracks through the program and there are some limits to how much can be accommodated. For example, you can’t complete the program while being fully (or even mostly) remote for its duration.

Is the program really demanding? Will I have any work-life balance?
The answer to this question is very particular to how you work and approach graduate school, as well as what your commitments are outside of school. However, what we can tell you is that there are definitely a lot of opportunities within ERG and on campus to be social or active or otherwise have balance. Many of us have spouses, pets, or families, and ERG tends to be very supportive of balancing the rigors of graduate school with the importance of self-care and personal relationships. There is much less of an emphasis on maintaining a high GPA in grad school than there is in undergrad (though you do still need to maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher), and there’s a fair amount of flexibility within ERG to choose to take a lower courseload, so we hope those factors tip the scale a little bit in favor of the life part of work-life balance.

How do you say “ERG”?
Most of us in the Energy and Resources Group do not call it “the E.R.G.” We just call it ERG (without the “the”). It rhymes with Pittsburgh, Luxembourg, and Zuckerberg. And it also rhymes with blurg — a slang term that the Urban Dictionary defines as a “Versatile expression of confusion, annoyance, anger, boredome [sic], or surprise.” An “erg” is actually a unit of energy. People strongly associated with ERG are called “ERGies.”

Thanks to Anna Brockway, Salma Elmallah, Anaya Hall, Chris Hyun, Veronica Jacome, Seigi Karasaki, Nik Lollo, Gauthami Penakalapati, Jenny Rempel for putting together this guide!


[Isa Ferrall, ERG Graduate Student; Jonathan Lee, ERG Graduate Student; and Jordan Freitas, Assistant Professor at Loyola Marymount University]

Every day, 300,000 people are being connected to electricity through efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 7): “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.” For them, new access to electricity comes with a host of new data harvesting by electricity meters, appliances, and payment tracking. Unfortunately, this data is typically collected ad hoc and shared in a bespoke manner or not at all, with concerns about privacy and provenance taking a back seat to increasing electricity service. However, lack of attention to data management practices around SDG 7 is slowing progress and creating potential problems down the line.

Source:    Alex Radelich via Unsplash
Connection to electricity often also means new connections to sensors, data collection, and privacy concerns.
Source: Alex Radelich via Unsplash

Effective practices aren’t only about protecting the privacy of individual end users of electricity. There is potential to create real value through systematic data collection and expanding access to more stakeholders, and improvements require considering the position of each. We recently coauthored a freely available review article in a special issue of the Proceedings of the IEEE on energy access, describing 1) the stakeholders involved in the data ecosystem of SDG 7, 2) the types of data at play and how they are being used (or not used), 3) potential value and risks of sharing these to each stakeholder group, and 4) data management principles to incorporate moving forward. We lay out a framework that we hope can be a foundation for initiatives to engage stakeholders in responsible and effective data sharing.

The key stakeholders we identify are electricity users, micro-utilities (mini-grids and solar-home-system providers), macro-utilities (national or regional), governments, development institutions (e.g. the World Bank, United Nations Development Program, Sustainable Energy for All, or national aid agencies), and researchers. We group the types of data as technical (electricity usage, system and product performance), financial (transaction records and costs of service), or demographic (income, cultural affiliation, etc.).

The risks and values to sharing depend not only on the type of data, but who it is about, who is gaining access to it, and privacy mechanisms that are put in place. In the full paper, we explore these combinations and provide detail about the different possibilities and current practices. Through that exercise, we identified areas for mutually beneficial data sharing, others that require careful navigation of tensions, and those where risks outweigh potential values. We found that a common and open platform for sharing technical data can enable efficiency in a number of areas, such as utilities providing better data access to end users to promote energy literacy and efficient use, and aggregating larger consumption data sets for better demand prediction. We surveyed a group of different stakeholders at a 2018 workshop in Nairobi on Decentralized Energy Solutions for East Africa and the Role of Research, and some of the responses illustrated areas with more tension:

  • Micro- and macro-utilities sharing performance and cost data can increase competition leading to better quality service with fair pricing for users, but current market leaders may lose their competitive advantage
  • Government and development institutions will have better reporting capabilities, but contradictions between promises and performance may be revealed
  • Researchers can discover key insights and contribute to public education, but may risk using data that was improperly collected or poorly-documented

Our analysis suggests that fewer benefits are likely to be realized from sharing detailed – even anonymous – financial data of users without increased legal protections. Codesign of data sharing practices and platforms among all stakeholders is crucial to expanding access, realizing benefits, and mitigating risks. These discussions also need to be held in the context of changing regulatory landscapes and utility business models, so that data sharing practices can enable forward-looking goals and are not overly restricted by the needs of today.

We are actively continuing this work with a series of in-depth stakeholder interviews to contribute more primary data about perceptions. Please email Isa Ferrall, Jonathan Lee, and/or Jordan Freitas for more information on how to get involved or to participate in interviews.

This article was originally posted on the blog of the Thematic Research Network on Data and Statistics (TReNDS) - an initiative of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) that leverages the data revolution to support the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.


[Sara Mulhauser, Director (BERC) Berkeley Cleantech University Prize, ERG graduate student]

Prior to ERG, I developed installation sites for distributed power generation products on behalf of a clean tech start-up. It was there that I came to appreciate the complexity of the energy industry, and understand that we will need to learn how to commercialize innovative technologies within such highly regulated environments if we want to tackle global climate change.

Research and development in the electric power industry is notoriously underfunded -- pharmaceuticals, information technology, and semiconductor firms spend between 15% and 20% of revenues on R&D, whereas electric firms spend less than 0.25% of revenue on R&D – but there is no guarantee of impact even after a scientific or technological breakthrough. There is still the matter of commercialization. A lot of functioning, important technologies die either in the pre-commercial gap (never find venture funding) or in the valley of death.

Berkeley Haas Business School’s Cleantech to Market (C2M) class provides free consulting to clean technology firms to help them through this journey from R&D to commercialization. Its goals are to prevent promising ideas from dying in the pre-commercial gap, and to train an interdisciplinary group of students to evaluate and pitch these technologies – valuable skills for their lives after graduate school.

Technology Commercialization Process - from C2M information slides.

So how does C2M work?

The class is only offered in the fall, but preparations for it start early in the year. The C2M directors spend the first few months of each year vetting technology groups (mostly early-stage companies, sometimes not-yet-companies) for an appropriate fit. In the spring, they start the application process with the students. Many of the students that apply are Haas MBAs, but they strongly encourage students from other disciplines like engineering, hard science, and policy to apply.

C2M first selects “team leads” from the pool of Haas MBA students. These team leads then select team members from the pool of class applicants. It is part NFL rookie draft, part medical residency program matching. You rank which technologies you are interested in working on. Team leads review your resume and statement and determine what kinds of skills they’ll need on their project. The selection process takes place over the summer.

My C2M Experience

Last year, I was matched into a team of four MBAs and one chemistry PhD to support a company developing a new kind of heat exchanger. Heat exchangers are critical pieces within a lot of technologies that we take for granted every day, so even incremental improvements to their efficiency can yield tremendous GHG emissions reductions.

The Rocky Mountain Institute and others have joined a coalition and set out a global challenge to improve efficiency of cooling options, the Global Cooling Prize.

Once the fall semester started, we got to work very quickly. We first learned as much as we could about heat exchangers, both technically, and where they fit into various markets. Then we questioned our client’s assumptions about their pathway to commercialization. We brainstormed every possible use of heat exchangers, what performance metrics were most important to them, and systematically evaluated how our technology’s innovation added value to that industry. We came up with multiple criteria for evaluation, then used that to narrow our search of potential fits.

C2M team brainstorming markets and metrics with which to evaluate markets.

Heat exchanger market evaluation

Once we arrived at a handful of highest potential industries and applications, we set about the hard work of understanding these industries in great depth and quantifying the value add. We learned how to use techonomic models to do this, but we also learned a lot from directly interviewing dozens of industry professionals. This was an incredibly chaotic time with lots of information flowing in. Our six team members divided and conquered the monumental tasks, and somehow magically arrived at the end with great information and strong ideas about how our client might find success. Since the heat exchanger company had a good strategy for approaching their first market (US window air conditioning), we focused on their second and third markets, which they would also need. We ended up suggesting emerging market air conditioning and small-scale data center cooling, because both are underserved by current products on the market and have tremendous growth potential.

I pulled from my training in the dual ERG/MPP degree program during this process. I used back-of-the-envelope calculations and other skills from ER102 and ER200 to parse technical information. I applied skills from the policy curriculum to understand regulatory and policy drivers of markets.
I learned a lot from my teammates; it was an incredibly collaborative environment. Team leads get an additional unit in the course, because they must also dedicate time to steering the ship and learning how to be effective managers of high-output teams. They get a crash course in some of the best professional performance and management coaching, and I was incredibly impressed with how quickly they put it to effective use. I’d easily trade my team lead (who is many years my junior) for any number of bosses I’ve had in professional settings.

At the end of the semester, we produced a lengthy and professional market assessment report, and gave a twenty minute pitch in a formal setting to industry professionals at the C2M Symposium. Symposium attendees often go on to become funders of the technologies, and, as such, they ask very difficult questions after presentations. We practiced for weeks to refine our presentation, including the graphics, the speaking performance, our answers to anticipated questions. We ran it so many times, each of us knew our five minute pieces as well as any politician knows their stump speech. And our research was so comprehensive, we knew we could answer almost any question (we also practiced another important political/professional skill – how to pivot when you don’t know, or like, the real answer!).

C2M Presentation

Welcome to my TED talk on small-scale data center cooling.

We tied with another team for the Game Changer Award, for the technology with the most potential for global impact. We were especially proud of this award, because our competitors had some amazing technologies and presentations, and, well, it can be challenging to make heat exchangers exciting.

We tie for the crowd-voted "Game Changer". My husband attended and did not vote for my team, but I’m not bitter about that.

Why do C2M?

In the end, this was one of the most time-intensive courses I’ve taken in my graduate program, but also one of the most personally and professional rewarding. C2M gets great reviews, and justifiably brags about them. As someone who has been out in the commercial space for many years, I can attest that the skills you learn in the class are the ones required in the field. This is a phenomenal way to practice them, and you will end up creating some great industry relationships. I also got a better understanding of what it takes to go from early- to late-stage start-up, and learned so many interesting things about the other technologies my classmates were serving along the way.

This is a major commitment, but if you think you may benefit by having something like this under your belt, I highly recommend considering applying for the 2019 C2M. This is one important way for people with our kinds of skills to help make much-needed technology a reality, and you get so much out of it in the process.

We only had to wear suits once.

C2M is holding an information session on Tuesday, April 2nd, 12:30 - 1:30pm at Haas N470. 

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