My Favorite Professors at UC Davis

UC Davis has an outstanding faculty. Over the last 9 quarters I have had the pleasure of attending the lectures of many great professors. Here I will list some of my favorite lecturers and explain what made their classes exceptional.

Tom Gordon

SAS 30 – Mushrooms, Mold, Society

Tom Gordon was the most engaging, fun professor I have taken at UC Davis. While it’s easy to make lecture fun when the subject is fungi, Tom Gordon elevates his lectures to another level with nonstop fascinating historical examples, peculiar anecdotes, and impeccable comedic timing. I got lucky registering for SAS 30 as a sophomore, as most seats are filled by seniors with earlier pass times looking to take this fairly straightforward, albeit renowned GE.

Despite being predominantly seniors and no participation points, SAS 30 lectures always had surprisingly good attendance – a testament to Dr. Gordon’s ability to engage students. I can say with confidence that this is the only class I have taken with zero stress and no reluctance to go to lecture. Although seemingly not offered in Fall 2018, SAS 30 is usually offered every Fall quarter. On Halloween the quarter I took this course, Dr. Gordon, in full Darth Vader costume, engaged in a lightsaber duel with this TA. The entertainment value of Dr. Gordon’s lectures is better than most TV. Regardless of your initial interest in fungi, you will leave this class with a lasting appreciation for mushrooms and mold.

Siobhan Brady

BIS 183– Functional genomics

Dr. Brady had excellent speaking presence and organization of course materials that student’s can depend upon. Her friendliness and openness to questions resulted in more class participation than I have ever seen for a lecture that size. The papers assigned for reading were interesting, lectures were organized well with citations so I could easily find the papers which she pulled figures and examples from. Jeopardy day was fun, and practice exam material was helpful and relevant. This was simply an excellently instructed course and I highly recommend Dr. Brady to anyone who has the opportunity to a class under her.

Oliver Fiehn

BIS 103 – Bioenergetics and Metabolism

Oliver Fiehn accomplishes the impossible by teaching biochemistry with bubbly enthusiasm. He explains metabolism intuitively by personifying metabolites and enzymes when discussing their pathways. Fiehn has a good sense of humor, was very approachable, and never failed to answer a question. The flow of information was logical and the organization of the course worked really well for me. One thing I appreciated about Dr. Fiehn is that he would release all previous years’ tests as study material. This eliminated the imbalance of study material spread between students because of test-bank resources that only some students might have access to.

Brian Todd

WFC 134 – Herpetology

I am biased here because I am a huge herpetology nerd and was very excited to take this course, but Brian Todd was an excellent professor. Dr. Todd has a great speaking presence and is very clear in his organization and expectations of students. Monotonous parts of lecture describing family after family of frog were broken up with relevant clips from Davis Attenborough. For someone who registered for WFC 134 with high expectations, I was not let down by the quality of Dr. Todd’s lectures.

Phil Ward

BIS 2C – Introduction to Biology: Biodiversity and the Tree of Life

It has been two entire years now since I took BIS 2C and my memory has somewhat faded but I remember Dr. Ward as one of the first professors whose lectures I absolutely loved. What stuck with me most was hearing about his harrowing experience of leaches falling from trees in Australia. The enthusiasm he had for evolution and biodiversity matched my own enthusiasm – which made me excited to attend his lectures.


I have had other great professors at UC Davis that I could have included on this list,  and I am sure there are countless others whose courses I have not taken. These five professors are ones I remember especially, and I highly recommend taking any course under these professors.

Justin Waskowiak
BASC Peer Advisor
4th Year, Genetics and Genomics major


Hiking near Davis

Now that spring is here, hiking enthusiasts are becoming antsy in lecture halls and laboratories everywhere. The perfect weather, the birds, bugs, and scents of trees in full bloom around campus all signal us to go explore the great outdoors …but where? Davis is located in the dull expanse of the central valley amidst countless acres of agricultural land – which leaves very few decent locations to hike in. Nevertheless, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and over my last three years at Davis I have tried to find the best local hikes. There aren’t many, and obviously the further you are willing to travel, the more variety in hiking you can find – but in this blog I will highlight my experiences with the closest hiking spots around Davis.

Putah Creek Riparian Reserve


The Arboretum is often recommended as the best, closest place for a relaxing nature walk around UC Davis. It is undeniably the closest, essentially located on campus itself, and it is a great place for a relaxing stroll, but not much else. The arboretum is a relatively short loop of paved trails around a pond that used to be the north fork of Putah Creek. The plant collections are beautiful, but it is heavily landscaped with little resemblance to native riparian wilderness. A lesser known hiking option is South Putah Riparian Reserve, which is just a mile south on Old Davis Road from the arboretum. Unlike the arboretum, South Putah is a fully connected creek maintained in its natural state for research and teaching purposes, and with hiking trails all along. South Putah is full of wildlife to see- my favorite sightings have been river otters, foxes, and California kingsnakes. The creek is large enough for swimming and is frequently fished.

Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area


Another local Davis hiking destination is the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. The Bypass is a huge, 16,600-acre stretch of wetlands located just East of Davis, accessible via I-80 and various Yolo County country roads. The Bypass is flat but its wetlands foster incredible biodiversity, especially migratory birds. For the birdwatchers of Davis, this spot is perfect!

Fremont Weir State Wildlife Area


Another riparian nature reserve near Davis is the Fremont Weir State Wildlife Area. Like South Putah and the Yolo Bypass, Fremont Weir is a mix of grasslands, sparse oak forests, and wetlands. This State Wildlife Area is located on the Sacramento River, but otherwise the scenery is similar to both previously mentioned nature reserves. It is a pretty location, but I felt as though it was not worth the hassle of getting out there when South Putah is so conveniently nearby.

Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve


A personal favorite hiking destination of mine is Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve. Stebbins is a UC Davis reserve on the far south tip of the Berryessa Snow Mountain National monument, a 330,000-acre piece of land declared a national monument in 2015 by President Obama. In the same year, Stebbins was burned extensively by a wildfire, and has been a hot spot (no pun intended) of fire ecology research and teaching since then. Stebbins’ trails actually start along Putah creek, but much further upstream than the arboretum – not very far from where Putah creek exits Lake Berryessa. Sequestered in the canyons of the Mayacamas Mountains, Stebbins’ trails can be steep and cover a lot of elevation changes, which is a nice break from the uniformity of Yolo County. Reaching the top of the ridgeline on the Blue Ridge trail leaves you with a breathtaking view of Lake Berryessa, the surrounding Mayacamas, as well as Yolo County. The enormous size of the wilderness contiguous to Stebbins means that it can support a wide variety of wildlife. Although I haven’t spent enough time there to find much more than newts, skinks, and raptors, Stebbins is reportedly home to black bears, ringtails, and bald eagles.

This is not an exhaustive list of hikes near Davis – just some close spots that I have enjoyed hiking myself. Hopefully in my last year I will discover more fun hiking destinations and get the opportunity to update this blog post. I also hope that in writing this, I have inspired some of you readers to go out and explore!

Justin Waskowiak
BASC Peer Advisor
3rd Year, Genetics and Genomics major

Why UC Davis?

I am from Napa, just an hour West from Davis, so unlike many out of state and even SoCal students, I knew the town of Davis existed before applying to colleges. Additionally, my dad went to Davis, so the University was familiar to me as a good school with a strong biology program. Since I was sure that biology was what I wanted to study, Davis was an obvious option for me. I think that because of this, I was less than excited about going there. It seemed too predictable, safe, and not too much different from my hometown. According to the published freshman profile, I thought I would be a shoo-in based off my high school GPA and SAT scores. To my surprise, I was waitlisted – something I was not too happy about, but because Davis did not excite me too much to begin with, I shrugged off the unexpected “soft-denial” and focused on my out-of-state private school options. I had researched them thoroughly and applied to about 10 different schools across the country with good biology programs. My favorite was Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. I flew to their admitted freshman decision day event with my mom and had a wonderful experience. The campus was small, but beautiful, and I was impressed by the organization of the event and the city of San Antonio.

Shortly after coming home to Napa, I received my acceptance to UC Davis and now had another option to consider. This time I started to think more practically about Davis. On one hand, I was excited about the idea of living in a totally different state on my own, and I really connected with the atmosphere of San Antonio. However, the convenience of living an hour from home was undeniable, especially because I had a sizeable menagerie of exotic animals still living with my parents that I wanted to continue to care for. I would be able to go home for nearly every holiday, and while tuition was comparable, the cost of travelling to and from Texas a few times a year needed consideration. In the end, my decision to attend Davis was a combination of financial reasons, convenience, and some convincing by my high school friends who were attending Davis. While I was not unhappy with my decision, I was not excited about the university in particular.

My outlook on Davis changed dramatically once I started to get to know the school and the city better. The more time I spent exploring Davis, attending classes, and meeting new friends, the more I learned to love the school and the happier I became that I chose Davis over Trinity or any other school. This trend continued and in my 3 years at Davis I have never regretted choosing UCD. Not only do I appreciate the city of Davis more than I ever thought I could, but with more time I spend here, I also appreciate the time I get to spend with my parents in Napa. Like most graduating high schoolers, I was ready for a change in atmosphere and sought independence from my parents and from my hometown. Now that I have that independence, I value the time I get with my parents – the support, free meals, and of course being able to see my dog and cat way more than I ever would have living in a far-away state. The quality and diversity of courses, magnitude of on-campus research, and a wonderful girl I met in the dorms are all more reasons I am glad I chose Davis over other schools.

In summary, I was apprehensive and never sure of my decision until I got to Davis and started experiencing the Aggie experience, and since then I have never looked back.

Justin Waskowiak
BASC Peer Advisor
3rd Year, Genetics and Genomics major


Campus Food

Boasting the largest of the UC campuses, one would think that UCD would be hard-pressed to provide adequate dining opportunities for its ever-expanding population and across its sprawling campus. Yet, as I will highlight in this article, UCD has many excellent dining choices, whether you are looking for a full meal, a quick snack between lectures, or a cup of coffee before your morning lab.

Residence Hall Dining Commons


This is the most familiar dining option for students who lived in the residence halls. The dining commons are all-you-can-eat cafeteria style buildings located in each of the three residents halls.  Each DC includes eight mini-restaurants, which each offer a couple of choices on any given day. Vegetarian and vegan options are always available. The menus change daily, and you can see the menus from each DC on the housing website. In addition to hot meals, the DC (almost) always stocks ice cream, cereal, and fruit. It has been a couple years since I have been there, but late night (~9PM-12AM) was always the most happening time at the DC, when fresh-baked cookies are available in addition to pizza and other late-night munchies.

For students without a meal plan or AggieCash: fear not! The DC accepts cash and card too.

Residential Markets

Nearby each DC is a market that offers typical convenience store snacks and drinks, in addition to smoothies, caffeinated shakes, and grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, and more. The markets also stock basic first aid, personal care, and hygiene products if you are in need of something and on campus. The residential markets’ hours vary slightly depending on the residential area, and all hours can be found on the student housing website.

The Gunrock


Once named the Gunrock Pub, and the only place on campus to crack a cold one, “The Gunrock” is now a dry establishment, but it still has a mouth-watering menu. The Gunrock offers a sit-down restaurant environment with the convenience of being located centrally on campus in the Silo. The Gunrock accepts reservations, which is helpful for planning lunch with friends or making sure you make it to class on time.

The Silo


In addition to The Gunrock, the Silo is home to several other restaurants. Spokes Grill offers burgers, fries, and shakes. La Crepe offers authentic French crepes, and is run by the same owner of the Crepe Bistro, a very popular restaurant downtown that closed after suffering damages in a fire. Once famous for its french onion soup as well as crepes, Davis localwiki describes La Crepe as a “small rendition of what the Crepe Bistro used to be, minus the soup”. The Silo also houses a Peet’s coffee, and a selection of grab-n-go meals.


As all UCD students know, the construction and renovations on campus seem never-ending, but sometimes they result in new eateries that open under the radar of most of us. Most recently, the Silo Market opened, featuring a new made-to-order pizza place and a sandwich deli. The Silo Market otherwise is similar to the residential markets, offering soft drinks, candy, and snacks, although with more variety.

ASUCD Coffee House

Located on the North quad, the Coffee House is one of the most popular eating spaces on campus. It has a selection of student-staffed restaurants, including pizza, TexMex, bagels, sandwiches, and more. Of course coffee and baked goods are available.


In addition to the eponymous Coffee House, there are places to get coffee all over campus. There are Peet’s in the Silo, the ARC, and outside King Hall. My favorite coffee stop on campus, however, is Bio Brew. Bio Brew is located on the 1st floor in the Science Laboratory Building, just inside on the North side. Just next door, you will find BASC! Stop by and say hello to a peer advisor!

Scrubs cafe

If you find yourself hungry but you are all the way in the Health Sciences district, there is no need to walk 40 miles to the Silo for a sandwich. The Scrubs cafe is conveniently located on Garrod drive next to Vet Med Student Services, and serves coffee, breakfast, and lunch items.


Food Trucks

UC Davis is visited daily by a caravan of food trucks of different styles, which take up residence at various spots around campus. The most food trucks can be found lined up outside the Silo next to the Bike Barn. Other locations are between Science Lab Building and Storer Hall, outside the Mondavi center, and by Medical Sciences in the Health Science district. Shah’s Halal is a campus favorite, but I suggest trying them all. My personal favorite are the fish tacos from Azteca Street Tacos. Food truck schedules and locations can be found online.


Hopefully you are hungry now after reading this. Go out and try some new UCD cuisine!

Justin Waskowiak
BASC Peer Advisor
3rd Year: Evolution, Ecology, & Biodiversity major

Plant Facilities of UC Davis

I am an Evolution, Ecology, and Biodiversity major and a huge biology nerd with a special passion for herpetology, but before going through the BIS 2C labs – tracing plant evolution from bryophytes through monocots, and studying the adaptations of the miraculous plant world – I had never bothered giving plants much thought. My eyes were opened as a 2nd year when I took BIS 2C. I am now a plant enthusiast almost as much as I am a snake enthusiast, and I credit UC Davis and our incredible plant facilities and collections on campus to sparking my interest. Here are a few of the many plant facilities that UC Davis has to offer.

The Arboretum

Probably the most popular plant exhibit on campus – the Arboretum is a long stretch of gardens, plant collections, and paved walkways along the pond where the North fork of Putah Creek historically flowed. Among their plant collections include the Shields Oak Grove on the West side of the Arboretum, with an astounding diversity of large oak species, and the T. Elliot Weier Redwood Grove, a perfect spot for a nicely shaded picnic near the Southeast side of campus. The Arboretum is lined with plant collections from around the world, including South American, Mediterranean, South West U.S.A./Mexican, East Asian, and California foothill collections. The Arboretum is open to the public all day, all week, and all year and seasonally holds plant sales. Last year I bought my first carnivorous plant at the Arboretum plant sales!

Plant Conservatory

Most of us are probably aware of the greenhouse on top of the Science Laboratory Building, but have you been inside? Did you know that the Science Lab greenhouse is just the start of what the UC Davis Plant Conservatory has to offer? The Plant Conservatory runs a lot of the campus’s plant propagation needs, including preparing divisions for the Arboretum plant sales. In addition to the Science Lab Building greenhouse, the Conservatory operates several greenhouses with an astounding collection of tropical and arid plants located behind Storer Hall. The greenhouses operated by the Plant Conservatory are open to the public for drop in hours during the day as well as guided tours – check the Center for Plant Diversity website for more information.

Center for Plant Diversity Herbarium

In addition to the Plant Conservatory greenhouses, the Center for Plant Diversity provides a great resource for researchers, amateur plant biologists, or anyone with a curiosity for plant identification. The Herbarium is a repository of over 300,000 preserved plant samples and lengthy species keys managed by UC Davis resident plant identification experts. You can take samples to the Herbarium for accurate identification, free of charge for the first 5 times each year. The Herbarium is now located in the Science Laboratory Building on the first floor, right next to the Biology Academic Success Center!

Other plant resources

The CAES greenhouses, west of campus by the stadium, are available to rent space through a simple google form.

The Plant Conservatory’s controlled environment facilities serve as an incredibly helpful research tool to plant, agriculture, and environmental sciences among others. These state-of-the-art climate controlled chambers are available to rent monthly.

Hopefully attending a school with such a strong reputation in agriculture and plant biology will instill in you an interest for plants like it did me. It’s a great time to start learn how to garden or pick up some interesting house plants. Here are my indoor plants I’ve collected since taking BIS 2C:

Justin Waskowiak
BASC Peer Advisor
Third Year: Evolution, Ecology, and Biodiversity