Why UC Davis?

First and foremost, I would like to say congratulations on being accepted to UC Davis! I am sure you may have some anxiousness about the road ahead, but remember that you have earned these opportunities for yourself through hard work and dedication. In honor of Decision Day, I will share with you all my story of how I ended up at UC Davis.

In being asked to consider why I chose Davis, I had to really take myself back to my senior year of high school, which was a strange time all around. With college just on the horizon, I dealt with a lot of complex feelings about the path before me. Choosing where in the world you want to go to grow academically and develop yourself as a person is truly not an easy task and I vividly remember how this weighed on me. I remember feeling it was such an impossible decision to make, yet so many people take this step and move away for school. How is it normal to leave all that you have known for the first 18 years of your life, just like that? While it might sound a bit dramatic, these were my authentic feelings at the time.

Another aspect that made it such a difficult predicament is how I felt so many options were available to me. I worked especially hard in high school in order to receive better grades and thus better scholarship offers, as I did not want to limit myself due to finances. Additionally, as an L.A. native, I applied to mostly schools within California and a handful of out-of-state universities. In the end, I felt deeply split between two UCs: Santa Barbara and Davis.

The Varsity Theater at night in Downtown Davis

I know, this story might seem rather anticlimactic in hindsight, as we know where I ended up in the end, but at the time I was unbelievably torn. I had visited Davis in years prior when seeing a family friend who was an alumnus and employee of the university. I remember how quickly the town and the campus grew on me. The deep greens that Southern California largely lacks and the overall feel of the town resonated with me deeply. We went on a campus tour, saw a movie at the Varsity Theater downtown, and walked next door for some gelato and people watching. It’s a small yet crystal clear memory that was very impactful to me. However, I still had my doubts and the distance was also quite daunting, as Davis was 400 miles from my family, friends, and home.

Now on the other hand, there was UC Santa Barbara. UCSB seemed like a pretty perfect location — far enough from home where I could establish myself and have enough distance to do so, but close enough where I could take weekend trips home when needed. Also, I had received a great scholarship offer from them which, to a lot of people in my life, seemed like a telltale sign that I would commit to UCSB. This new feeling of expectation only worked to further complicate my feelings.

I remembered talking to my sister, who seemed like one of the only people who could see that Davis held a special place in my heart. I told her how one of the hardest parts of this decision was that I felt I could really build a place for myself at either school. I knew that I was quite adaptable, and I could envision these two different lives for myself. These talks with my sister gave way to a new perspective that explained why I felt so torn — this decision bottled down to whether I would be true to myself or go along with what was expected of me. This crossroad marked a pivotal moment that would affect me more than anyone in the long run, so why was I so concerned with other people’s feelings? I knew then that, if I were to choose UCSB, I would likely feel some sort of guilt for not listening to my gut.

While moving north and settling in took some time, Davis quickly began to seem like home. I remember feeling myself becoming part of Davis and starting to establish 

The Davis Arboretum in fall

friendships with people from all over the world. Every time I had a gap between classes during my first fall quarter, I would bike through downtown Davis and allow myself to get lost so that I could learn the layout, see what’s there, and eventually know Davis like the back of my hand. Even in difficult times, as I stressed about choosing a major for instance, I felt grounded and supported by the campus community.

For me, choosing to go to Davis came down to a matter of principle and heart, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. As my own college experience comes to a close, I would like to offer a word of advice to all incoming students, from one human to another. As you take this leap into higher education, I hope that you remember to take chances, ask for help when needed, and always lead with your heart.

PETRA SILVERMAN
BASC PEER ADVISOR
4TH YEAR – EVOLUTION, ECOLOGY, AND BIODIVERSITY + SPANISH MAJOR

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Founding Your Path: An Interview with Dr. Graham Coop

Welcome back, Aggies! Winter quarter is now in full swing, bringing tons of rain along with it. As we tend to spend a bit more time indoors in winter, it is often a great time for planning ahead and reflecting on the opportunities and paths before us. In our reflecting, it is likely that many of us will experience some frustration and uncertainty in  choosing career and life paths; whether it be about our academics, research, internships, or other long-term plans. While the internet might help in building a pros and cons list (the logical side of decision making), ultimately we have to choose our paths from our heart (what FEELS right). In order to shed some light on the prospect of choosing our own paths, I decided to interview Dr. Graham Coop, a Professor from the Center for Population Biology here at Davis. I chose to interview Dr. Coop in an attempt to capture the journey that led him to a career that he is clearly passionate about (If you have the opportunity to take one of his evolution/genetics classes, you’ll see what I mean).


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Dr. Graham Coop
https://biology.ucdavis.edu/people/graham-coop

I asked Dr. Coop to start with his high school years, inquiring about what interests he had back then. To my surprise, Dr. Coop replied, “I didn’t particularly like what we’d call ‘secondary school’ in the UK. I wasn’t particularly good at it… and I wasn’t even totally sure I was going to go to university. I didn’t get particularly good grades and I barely made it into my safety school.” In the end however, he attended the University of Reading and decided to study physics.

 

In reflecting upon his undergraduate years and transition to college, Dr. Coop continued, “I think it was nice for me to be somewhere different … there are points in your life where you get to change the sort of groups of people you’re hanging out with, and you sort of move to a group of people who don’t know you and don’t have expectations of you … that was really important for me.” While the overall undergraduate experience seemed positive, Dr. Coop distinctly remembered struggling during his first year of his undergraduate experience.  At this point, he and I shared experiences regarding the difficulties that come along with the first year adjustment period. Around the end of his first year, he met with a faculty mentor, where he resolved to try working harder in his academics. In describing this first major turning point, Dr. Coop exclaimed,  “I don’t know what happened, but something clicked and I started to do better.” By graduation, he had one of the highest marks in his class.

During his undergraduate years, he had initially wanted to become a Physicist, though in hindsight, Coop admits to not fully realizing what all a career as a Physicist would entail. While doing some soul searching, he had a conversation about career paths with one of his physics professors. Coop expressed having interest in mathematics and computers, but he was not certain in which career path he could apply these skills to. It was in talking to his professor that Coop slightly changed course as he began considering the realm of biology. As a result of his aptitudes, the professor recommended that he look into mathematical biology, as there are so many complex problems within biology that require mathematical analysis in order to solve them.

That discussion with his physics professor had one of the most profound impacts on his career.  As Dr. Coop recalled, “That was just really wonderful advice and something which really changed the direction I was going in when I’d never really thought about it before.”  Having already been intrigued by biological concepts, such as evolution, Coop became excited to continue developing new skills and apply the knowledge he gained in his undergraduate studies. He went on to receive his PhD in Statistical Genetics at the University of Oxford; then he continued as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago in Human Genetics. From there, he was accepted as a professor here at UC Davis.

In reflecting upon his story, it was clear to see how some of the most important moments of growth occurred with the help of university faculty and professors. Coop expressed how important it was for him to talk with people who helped him see where he could apply his skills and interests. When I asked Dr. Coop what advice he had for students after reflecting back on his own experiences, he wanted to encourage students to “think broadly” about what they want to do, be open to different paths that come their way, and to take advantage of diverse or unexpected opportunities. People often get caught up with having a linear academic plan leading to a precise career, not wanting to stray from their intended path or explore other routes. Coop explained that there are numerous ways for people to create fulfilling journeys and exciting career opportunities to apply their diverse skills. Undoubtedly, having  an open mind was an integral component in each step of the way along his life journey.

When I asked for any final words of wisdom he had for Davis undergraduates, he paused for a moment and stated the following:

“Try to be brave about trying new things when you’re at university … It’s a good time to learn to push yourself and figure out where your limits are. You have the room to actually explore what you want to do … It’s a really valuable time to do that. You’ll probably find that your comfort zone is a lot broader than you think it is when you actually start stepping outside of it.”

One of the fundamental messages I took from my interview with Dr. Coop was about how nonlinear and nonconventional our paths truly are. I hope that this interview offers you a unique perspective, helps you to embrace some of the change and uncertainty of your college years, and inspires you to take chances as you establish your own path.

Petra Silverman
BASC Peer Advisor
4th Year – Evolution, Ecology, and Biodiversity + Spanish 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

Why Major In Evolution, Ecology & Biodiversity?

When asking students what they like about Biology, most talk about the human body: its physiology, anatomy, metabolism and diseases. Sure, individual health is important and quite fascinating. However, personal well-being is also largely influenced by the environment in which we share with other humans, animals, and plants. This network of interdependence and biodiversity is built upon the foundation of a healthy ecosystem. As we are beginning to see an increasing number of warning signs, our society needs scientists (you) who can understand the big picture and steer us away from catastrophe.

In short, Biodiversity is inclusive of both ecological diversity and species diversity. It would make sense then to say that Biodiversity should be important to us for more than just for an aesthetic reason. Each species of vegetation and each creature has a niche and plays a vital role in the circle of life. Plant, insect, and animal species depend upon one another for necessities like food, shelter, oxygen, and soil enrichment. Many of the processes that result from these interactions offer priceless services for humans for free. In fact, an estimated 40% of world trade is based on biological products or processes!

A discussion of Ecology cannot be had without Evolution, and vice-versa. Evolution results in organisms that are best-suited to survive and reproduce in a given environment. Put it another way, ecological pressures and conditions choose the direction of evolution via natural selection.  How does knowledge of evolution relate to our lives? Not surprisingly, the emergence of antibiotic-resistant organisms is a textbook example of natural selection. Patients infected with a diverse population of bacteria are given an antibiotic that wipes out almost all the bacteria. However, if someone feels better and doesn’t finish the full prescription, bacteria left behind become resistant to the drug. Survivors then become the nuclei of a new, resistant population. Understanding this evolutionary process is an important focus of modern public health due to the increased presence of drug resistant bacteria in our hospitals.

A student working towards getting a Evolution, Ecology and Biodiversity (EEB) degree would have a broad exposure to the fundamentals of biology and chemistry, similar to students in other Biology-related disciplines. The distinction lies in the flexibility of the program in designing a journey uniquely fitted to your needs. EEB students get to explore how biology relates to life processes — an incredibly diverse topic that includes everything from physiological mechanisms to interactions between organisms to the creation and maintenance of ecosystems and diversity. What are you waiting for? Make an appointment with an adviser today and find out more!

Wilson Ng
Peer Adviser, Biology Academic Success Center
B.S. Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Class of 2015