Workaholics Anonymous

Hello everyone. I’m Karla Bernardo, and I’m a workaholic.

(Hi Karla.)

With graduate school admissions becoming increasingly more difficult, students jockey to become the model student with a 4.0 GPA, all the while conducting research in a STEM lab, publishing scientific journal papers, working multiple jobs to pay off student loans, having dynamic extracurricular activities, participating in leadership, and if applicable, struggling through a personal experience that has all the while made you a stronger person. If you happen to cure cancer along the way, congratulations. The admissions office may just consider you as a competitive applicant.

As a result of this perpetual fear that there is so much uncertainty shrouding my chances of fulfilling my endeavor to be a PhD student in neuropharmacology, I too have fallen into the trap that this aforementioned image is what I must attain. But trying to balance 21 technical course units, 2 research labs, an honors thesis, a job, and a personal life has proven to be tremendously stressful. It is difficult — but not impossible — to excel in every task you decide to take on. There will be times when you may want to break down and cry. But prioritization and perseverance will be your two best friends. Based on my personal experiences, I have developed the following list of advice for current and future students who find themselves working ceaselessly in hopes that they may have a fighting chance to fulfill their academic and professional dreams.

  1. Network with professors as soon as possible. If you are an incoming freshman, do not hesitate to send personal emails reaching out to professors whose research interests you. Your youth is more of a benefit than a detriment. More often than not, research groups prefer to have younger undergraduate interns who are willing to stay their entire college duration with them; training someone early, only for he or she to continue yielding positive work for a longer period of time, is worth investing in. As busy as professors often are, sometimes you have to be a little stubborn and bug them until they notice you. They may not have an opening in their lab for you to be a research intern the moment you ask them, but if you continue to foster that relationship, you may find that they have other connections that will help you take advantage of currently existing opportunities.
  2. Befriend your mentors. Graduate students are super cool, and if graduate school is your primary goal, who better to learn about the application process than from actual students who made it in? They’ll tell you the things they did right, the things they wish they could have changed as an undergraduate, and the research grants that undergraduate students don’t even think of applying for.
  3. Do as much research as you can on a particular lab, and when you find one you love and have successfully integrated yourself into that research group, stick with it. As a freshman, I stuck with the first lab I became a part of because of the exposure it gave me; however, as marine biology is not my main field of interest, it is much wiser for me to finish up my work with that research group as soon as possible, and instead, focus on my projects in my current neuro-specific group. There are multiple amazing research groups within the UC Santa Barbara campus alone, but if you find yourself hopping from lab to lab due to sheer curiosity to expand your horizons, you are less able to produce thorough (and perhaps ground-breaking) results in a single field. To reiterate, focus as much time as you can to a single lab rather than dividing your time such that the labs you work in only benefit from a fraction of the amount of your total work.
  4. Take GEs that satisfy three requirements at one time. If you aren’t trying to graduate a year early like I plan to, you have a little more leeway to take GEs that actually interest you. If you are pressed for time, however, there are certain Chicano Studies and Comparative Literature courses that are an absolute lifesaver.
  5. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If you don’t think you can give your 100% to biology, biology lab, physics, physics lab, organic chemistry, and organic chemistry lab all in the same quarter, don’t do it. Definitely consider summer school for your more difficult courses. It pays itself off to be successful in organic chemistry lab during the summer than to be slightly above mediocre during the school year. If taking summer courses posits a threat to that awesome summer internship you just acquired, speak with an advisor to reconsider some options for you regarding whether or not you should graduate after x number of years.
  6. Keep applying to scholarships. Although this process is not as stressed as it was during high school, there are plenty of scholarships open to undergraduates. Trust me, receiving a scholarship for being a good student — which you essentially have to be anyway — is a much preferred method of financial support than having to work additional hours on top of your already busy schedule.
  7. Keep a calendar. Take advantage of every second of every minute of every hour of every day you have. Prioritize what you feel is necessary to accomplish in a given day, but do not overload your daily goal to the point that you cannot achieve any of those goals. Start small if you must. “Monday I will power through my chemistry homework. Tuesday I will work in lab for five hours. Wednesday I will go to the gym, have lunch with friends, and study for math.” Keep your tasks doable.
  8. Please, please, please take care of your personal relationships. Your family and friends may think you’ve fallen off the face of the earth or gone off the grid if your only focus is your work. Drowning in work is difficult enough. Trying to overcome the heap of work without a support system will drive you mad. Whether or not your friends, family members, or significant other can help you with your goals, knowing that they will be there for you to cheer you on is enough motivation to keep going.
  9. Take care of yourself. Exercise to release the endorphins and mitigate the tension in your shoulders. You’ve got this. Take a breather. We are all rooting for you.

Say Goodbye to Procrastimonster!

To start off, who wouldn’t want there to be 25 hours in a day, 8 days in a week, or even 6 weeks in a month. However, we all know it’s impossible, or else why would I even want to write about it?

We all live a busy life, but we never regret it. Why? Because we love what we do!

Still, sometimes you get frustrated because of too many things all demanding your time and energy at the same time. We are all human and we all get tired at some point and this is where the art of balancing and time managing skills comes in.

Even if I personally haven’t finished my undergrad studies yet, I think one of the things that we learn in college (and actually take away with us after graduation) is how to manage time wisely. We only got so little time and so much we want to do, it becomes imperative that we fully utilize every moment we have.

This became more and more important to me personally as I add more things to my everyday schedule. Take research as an example, I started doing research with Dr. Foltz this past summer when I wasn’t taking any classes. I was able to go in almost every day. When fall quarter first started, everything rushed in at once, including all my classes (especially second year bio major), volunteer work as well as two jobs on top of research. At first I was a bit overwhelmed but I told myself I don’t want to quit or spend less time on any one of them because I love every single of them!

So, I would like to share a trick that I personally have found helpful, which is to create a to-do list. And it is not just a list of everything you need to, but also taking into considering of priority and deadlines. Paper or electronic is fine – there are even apps that can create a nice-looking to-do list if you are the kind of person that only do things when they are listed in a visually pleasant fashion. I personally like using a paper one simply because I enjoy the feeling of crossing off something. Reminders are also really helpful. I have had times where I would tell myself to remember to do something after class (maybe make a phone call) and it wouldn’t be until the next time I have that class where I would ask myself did I have a call that I need to make?

As to the most common symptom of procrastination, I think there is no better way than to just do it. JUST DO IT! Once you made the decision that you will do it later, you become a victim of Procrastimonster automatically.

To be able to manage time wisely is one piece of art that really takes time to master. Procrastimonster still attacks me sometimes but I think as long as we always try our best and learn from the mistakes. Similar to the idea of trials and errors, I would try some time managing tricks and if it doesn’t work, I try something else. Eventually, we know what works best for each of our own individual schedule and can really enjoy what we are doing!


The Calm Before The Storm

Summer… How I longed for it’s coming during the academic year. It’s because during summer, as an undergraduate researcher, I could focus more energy towards making research progress instead of expending it on course loads, club duties, and the common stressors of everyday life. This summer, I had been fortunate enough to be involved in the Summer Training Academy for Researchers in the Sciences (STARS) program at the University of California, San Diego, through my participation in the University of California Leadership Excellence through Advanced DegreeS (UCLEADS) program. The transition from Santa Barbara to San Diego was smooth, as both had world class researchers, a beautiful campus surrounded by a breathtaking beach, and good, warm sun. Besides the recreational activities, which was fuel to work extra hard for the beauty that life had to offer, I was able to work on a project which could potentially make an impact.

I had been accepted into Professor Ratneshwar Lal’s group in the bioengineering department working on micro- and nano-scale vehicles for drug delivery for the duration of the program. My research involved designing a hierarchical template and fabricating a nano-janus particle which could be used for drug delivery. Micro- and nano-scale particles are of interest because of their tendency to accumulate within inflamed regions of the body. Furthermore, the nano-particles can accumulate without being noticed by P-glycoprotein, the protein that is responsible for multi-drug resistance. We were able to fabricate nano-particles as small as 200 nm, which is small enough to cross the blood brain barrier.

With the end of my summer research program came the calm before the storm. The brief moment of tranquility before the hair-pulling commotion which is graduate school applications. The fun is over now, it’s time to get serious. Step one was to study and sit for the graduate record examination (GRE). This was difficult in itself, because I felt that an exam which primarily measured the speed of which someone can do simple maths, or know ambiguous vocabulary words was irrelevant to graduate school success. Regardless, it had to be done. Once preparation began, it was simple enough to continue until exam day came. Afterwards, checking that box on my graduate school applications to-do list was a great relief alone.

gre meme

Step one was over, and many steps remained: the statement of purpose, contacting potential faculty advisers, the application itself… but those are only the physical steps. There is one step that will continue until the very end. That step is the step where all applicants wonder-am I good enough, am I reaching too high, and why do I even bother?


Even though these thoughts linger on our minds, we proceed anyways, with slivers of hope to see the words “congratulations” in an official letter of acceptance. It’s in these words that we reconcile with ourselves and break into our happy dance. It’s these words that make every moment of unrest that was involved in the graduate school application worthwhile.

Images courtesy of:–BHGdaZlonNR9Qe5RdYPU7JTOJEwpaghbN-T4UNbWBK1Y,, and

Finding a Research Position as a Gaucho

A question that has probably been asked by many students, particularly undergraduate students, is “how do I find a research position?” The process of finding a lab position itself contains many important steps that identify and help you make sure the lab you are about to join matches you interests and even personalities. On the other hand, mindlessly joining a lab without considering what you really want as well as what the lab offers can really waste not only your time but also the time of the people from the lab.

The first step in this process, even before looking for potential labs, is to make sure that you know what research is about and it is something you are interested in doing. Sometimes when a person is asked why he/she wants to do research, the answer would surprisingly be, “oh, I don’t know, my friends are doing it.” Or even, “cuz’ it will look good on my resume.” This sometimes indicates that the person does not know what he/she is getting himself/herself into. Even if the person can successfully obtain a lab position at the end, chances are he/she would not be too happy about his/her time in the lab. On the other hand, it can be very rewarding if a person knows what he/she wants and successfully finds a lab that suits his/her interests and personalities. This, of course, requires some time, but the reward is very worth the effort, based on many researchers’ experience.

Next, once you find out research is something you would want to spend time on, whether it is because you have talked to researchers or if you have had certain background or reasons, the next thing is to identify your interests and connect with faculties that are doing the research you are interested about. This can be done either through looking up the professors’ websites or discussing the research topics with the professors directly. Oftentimes talking to the professors directly can be more helpful because of a couple reasons. One is because the website might not always reflect the most up-to-date, accurate information. In fact, if you even want to start your own independent project, talking to the professor is always more useful. Another reason is that even the website might be able to offer a lot of information, having a direct communication with the professor might be more helpful since there are many things that online information cannot offer. For example, what if you find out you actually don’t enjoy having chats with this particular professor after all? However, this is also another reason why you should talk to the professors even if you don’t feel like it. Sometimes you might end up liking the professor so much that you change your mind

There are still many things that can be discussed about when it comes to finding yourself a lab position. However, I think the most important thing is to do what you love. If you don’t like something, don’t do it (even if all of your friends are doing it). Being persistent is also crucial (but not overly persistent – you don’t want to find yourself making enemies with professors.) Lastly, let your passion guide you and you will enjoy whatever it is that you are doing.

How to Get Involved in Research

Whenever I tell any of my friends or peers that I am working in a lab, the first question they ask is how I got a position. It seems that for people who aren’t a part of any of the internships that CSEP offers have a really hard time finding a lab. However, I have helped a handful of my friends find research positions this past year and I thought that if anyone scrolling through this website some help finding a lab, I should offer my experience in getting myself and others involved in research.

I was incredibly fortunate to have been thrust into the research world before I even started classes at UCSB. During the end of my senior year, I had applied for SIMS, the summer institute of math and science, (another wonderful program run by CSEP) and by some stroke of luck I was accepted. After the crazy two weeks of SIMS, I couldn’t help but be upset that my time in the lab was over. Not knowing whether it was appropriate or not, two weeks after SIMS had ended, I messaged the graduate student who was my mentor and asked him if I could continue helping him in the lab. Again, by some stroke of luck, Eric Terry of the Rothman and Meinhart labs accepted me and I began working in the lab during any free time that I had. By my winter and spring quarter, I was working a solid 15 hours a week in the lab as well as being a full time student, which I found to be a bit too much to juggle with all of my challenging classes. Then another wonderful opportunity arose and I was accepted into the EUREKA program where I was free to do nothing but research all day long! After this amazing program is over, I plan on working again in the lab during school, just maybe not as many hours per week.

There are a great deal of people who are equally as interested in research, but did not find themselves in such amazing research programs as I did. A lot of people think it’s impossible to get a research position without CSEP, but to them I say “you are dead wrong!”. I’ve been in a member of a sorority for the past year and since joining I have gotten three of my sisters into labs and I am very confident to say that there are tons of opportunities for lab positions even if you have no prior lab experience! The first thing that I did to help my friends get research positions was to help them make a resume and cover letter. Before you even think of starting of getting into a lab, you must prepare yourself by having a CV, resume, and cover letter handy in case you’re asked for one. Now some of my friends were lucky to have been taking classes from a professor that they wanted to work for. This is probably the easiest way to get a position because office hours is the perfect way to introduce yourself to a PI and let him know personally that you are interested in his work. While one of my friends got into a lab this way, another one simply emailed a ton of graduate students and post docs on campus that she found through Google. Even though this seems like a wasted effort, adding a couple sentences of how you are passionate about their specific project, which you can find by googling the lab, can get a response out of them, which is exactly what happened for my friend.

Hopefully this has given some hope to any of you who are not apart of some kind of research program and feared that getting a lab position was far out of their reach. Whether you are lucky enough to be guided into research or you go looking for it yourself on the internet, UCSB is such an amazing research school with endless opportunities and it would be a shame if every student on campus didn’t take advantage of it!