MCB Student Focus

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We sat down with one of our transfer students, Steven Bonsall, who will be graduated last spring, and asked him some questions to find out about coming to Cal as a transfer student, making the transition, why he chose MCB, and his med school plans.


CY: Why did you decide to transfer?

SB:  I was attending San Jose State University. It is a great university that also happens to be right in my backyard, so I was commuting to school every day while still living at home with my parents. Because of that, it felt like nothing more than an extension of high school. I was doing research, but I was missing out on the whole social aspect of college, football games and those sorts of things.  I haven’t missed a single football game since I’ve been here, and I really enjoy that.

CY:  Why did you choose to transfer to Berkeley, in particular?

SB:  The choice was easy because Berkeley is the best public university in the country, but then it is also close to home so I can still easily visit my family.

CY: In addition to attending all the football games, what other experiences have you had as a result of living on campus and being engaged in campus life?

SB:  I’ve also been to a couple of basketball games and I play on an Intramural soccer team, two things made way easier by living on campus.  Living on or near campus makes you feel so much more connected to the University.  It allows you to take part in things as simple as working out at the gym (RSF), something that was a lot tougher to do as a commuter to SJSU.  More than all that, I just feel like living on campus has given me the opportunity to grow a lot.  I’ve matured being on my own. I’m a much more self-sufficient person now. 

CY:  You mentioned you’ve become more self-sufficient and more mature.  Can you give some concrete examples?

SB:  Well, I live on a much tighter budget now, that’s for sure.  I think that I understand the value of a dollar much more now than I did ever before while living at home.  Also, cooking is something that I have definitely developed here, I mean I could do mac-n-cheese at home, but now I can cook a lot more interesting things.  Cooking is something that I never would have done at home. I’m more independent in all aspects of my life.  Part of the reason I opted to stay home and go to SJSU was that I didn’t know if I was ready to be on my own.  I was really close with my family, I’m still close with my family, but I just didn’t know if I was ready to distance myself.

CY:  You said that you attended SJSU in part because you did not want to leave home. Was there something in particular that happened that made you realize you would be OK on your own?

SB:  Really it was just visiting friends that had gone away to school.  I’d go visit them and hang out on campus and see what their lifestyle was like, and see the freedoms they had and I felt that I wanted that, too.  It was that sense of connectedness that my friends had with their universities that I wanted with mine.  I’ve found that connection here at Berkeley, and I’m really thankful for that.

CY: Let’s talk a bit about your transition to Cal. How long did it take to get adjusted to campus life and how did you find your social circle or niche on campus?

SB: I think the adjustment was fairly quick.  You know I was 21 when I moved in so I wasn’t coming in as a freshman, plus I had a week to adjust before classes started.  It was hard at first, just missing home and everything, but I think that is something that everyone goes through. I lived at Foothill my first year. Everyone who lived in my suite became close friends and we did everything together – went to San Francisco together, watched hockey together, and a few of us had football season tickets so we’d attend games together.

CY:  Would you advise transfer students who are coming to Berkeley to live in the dorms their first year?

SB:  I think so, because it definitely connects you more to people that are here.  If you were to just get an apartment and live by yourself, it would be tough to meet people, while if you’re living in the dorms it kind of forces you to meet people, plus it’s a cool experience.

CY:  What was your biggest fear as a transfer student?

SB: My biggest fear was coming in and feeling out of place, feeling like it was going to be really tough to compete.  Berkeley students are so intelligent; I thought I’d be left behind or something.  It was a challenge overcoming that, getting used to a different culture.  People here study a lot more; it keeps you on top of things.

CY:  You have excelled academically at Berkeley. Are you proud of yourself? 

SB: Yeah, I take a great amount of pride in my work.  I’m my biggest critic and I work really hard because otherwise I’d feel as though I sold myself short . So I make sure that I work hard in my classes. It’s nice to see my hard work rewarded at the end of the day.

CY: What kind of support have you had as an undergrad?

SB: I’ve had enormous support from my family – especially from my mom. She’s not the kind of person who’s going to be on your back all the time, shoving school down your throat, but if I’m really stressed about something she’s there to listen or help me see the light at the end of the tunnel. People here are great too. I still keep in touch with many of my roommates from last year.

CY: How much would you say that your network of support has contributed to your success?

SB: A lot. I think it would be really tough to get through University and have no support system.  It’s nice to have that person to talk to and vent to who understands where you’re coming from – definitely plays a large role.

CY: Now are there things that you would say you had to figure out by yourself, that your support system could not help you with?

SB: Definitely.  I think that it’s important to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life without outside influence. Obviously you’ll want to bounce your career plans off of others but really no one can or should make that decision for you other than yourself. 

CY:  Why did you choose MCB as your major, with an emphasis in Neurobiology?

SB:  I was a biology major at SJSU, marine bio actually, and I was interested in trying a different biological discipline at Berkeley.  It really came down to MCB or IB and my decision was made on the basis of the areas of specialization within each department.  MCB won because it offers an emphasis in neurobiology, which I find incredibly fascinating.  I’m intrigued by the inner workings of our brain, neurons, how everything is connected, even from a behavioral standpoint. Most everything about Neuro is interesting to me.

CY: Talk about your career goals. I know that you’re hoping to go to medical school. Have you taken the MCAT?

SB: I took the MCAT over the summer and waited to apply until after I got my scores back. I worry that that may have been a little late to apply. Fortunately, I’ve gotten one interview invitation, and I’m excited about that, but now I’m just waiting to hear back from the rest of the schools.

CY: Would you advise people to do what you did – take the MCAT and apply during the summer between your junior and senior years?

SB: No I would start studying for the MCAT while the basic sciences are fresh in your mind and then take the MCAT the summer between sophomore and junior year.

CY: From a time management perspective, did it work to take the exam during the summer and then get your medical school application in before the fall semester began?

SB: Yeah, the summer is definitely a good time to take the MCAT. Studying for it and studying for your MCB 102 midterm are entirely different experiences.  You have to approach the MCAT differently than your classes.  It’d be best to be able to study all summer and then take it at the end of summer a full year before you plan to apply. That way if you are not happy with your performance you’ll have several opportunities to retake it and then have the entire next summer to apply. 

CY: You’re graduating next semester. Congratulations. What do you hope to accomplish your final semester here?

SB: I hope to continue to do well in classes, but mostly I hope to enjoy the classes I’ll be taking. When it’s all said and done, I’d hate to think back to my final semester here and think about how stressed I was. I’d rather just have fun.

CY: Which classes will you be taking?

SB: A lot of MCB classes. Technically all I need to take is MCB 160L, but I’ll also be taking 165 and 167 because they sound like interesting classes.  I’m enrolled in a geography class right now, too.  I also hope to take a Psychology class, but it’s impossible to get into those classes, at least during Phase I.

CY:  Do you have any final words of advice for other transfer students?

SB:  I know that the competition at Berkeley is tough and that staying competitive here can sometimes seem like an impossible task.  Often times people get caught up in this competition and focus more on what other people know rather than what they know.  I recommend that you focus more on your studies rather than your colleagues’ because at the end of the day all that matters if what you have learned, not what the curve dictates you have learned.  The reality of the situation is that the Chem 1A class here teaches the same exact material that was taught in Chem 1A at your previous institution.  If you concentrate on learning the material instead of worrying about the curve, you will be doing yourself a big favor.