Browsing articles in "Compass People"

Behind the Scenes: Part 2

Feb 28, 2013   //   by Jacob   //   Blog, Compass People  //  No Comments

This is the second in a continuing series on real world skills that volunteers have developed through working with Compass. Read the first post here, written by Nathan and Josiah about technical aspects of managing a large and dynamic group, like creating a website and coordinating the server and mailing lists. In this post, I’ll talk a bit about fundraising.

The last couple of years I’ve been working to help raise funds to support all of the programs Compass runs. This has proceeded along a few fronts. First, we have applied for several grants. Some of these grants have been to national or local charitable organizations who fit in with our mission of supporting innovative science education and diversity in the sciences. Others were to various “in-house” programs at Berkeley that have funds to support student groups, new classes, etc.

Writing grants is a long and detail-oriented process. Aside from the obvious — potential funding for Compass — the main benefit for me personally has been that each grant application forces you to crystalize in writing exactly why Compass exists and how it is beneficial for the various populations it serves. Compass is amorphous and a bit of a moving target, and so these thought exercises provide valuable clarification.

Another important source of funds has been our summer fundraiser, in which we’ve asked friends and family of Compass to chip in a little bit to keep our summer program running. Josh Shiode and Nicole Carlson organized the original fundraiser in 2011, and I helped to carry on the work last year. Initially, I was not at all comfortable directly asking — or begging, some might say — for money. But once I mentally reframed the fundraiser as merely describing the merits of Compass to potential donors, I became much more comfortable with the work. The fundraising process has also been useful for the organization, as we now have a scalable system for keeping track of our contacts and donations, largely thanks to Josiah.

All in all, I’m proud to have done my bit to help keep Compass moving, and the main reason I’m involved is because I think Compass is valuable and important. But it’s also personally rewarding, and developing these kinds of skills is one of the reasons why.

Behind the Scenes: Part 1

Feb 11, 2013   //   by Nathan   //   Blog, Compass People  //  2 Comments

By Nathaniel Roth and Josiah Schwab.

Nathan writes:

I’m a graduate student in the Berkeley physics department, and I’ve been part of Compass since the summer of 2010. One aspect of Compass that all of us are very proud of is the fact that our organization is run almost entirely by students. This includes not just our classroom activities and social events, but all of the administrative and logistical tasks to keep a community with hundreds of members organized. This is the first in a series of blog posts in which Compass volunteers will talk about some of the skills they have learned outside of the classroom and the lab as they have worked behind the scenes to keep Compass awesome.

For example, Compass maintains its own web server to handle tasks such as hosting the website and managing the organization’s mailing lists. The most valuable non-pedagogical skills I have learned during my time in Compass have been related to web server administration.

During the Fall of 2011, the Compass technology team made a decision to rebuild the server installation from scratch to improve its sustainability. This was no small task, and at the time, I had virtually no experience in anything like it. For instance, I barely knew what Apache was, the core software at the heart of many servers including our own. Fortunately, I was in the company of talented volunteers such as Allen Rabinovich, Joel Corbo, Josiah Schwab, and Abhimat Gautam; I learned a great deal through their example.

Over the course of several weekends, the five of us huddled together with our laptops and plugged the software together piece by piece. Allen, Joel and Josiah showed me how Apache is configured and how to debug common some common problems that might arise. Josiah took the lead on installing the program Mailman to manage our email lists, a task that was far more intricate than I had imagined. Abhimat spearheaded the wordpress installation that powers our website, using a theme that Allen worked hard to optimize for us. I was tasked with re-assembling our organization’s wiki (powered by FOSwiki, All of these tasks were inter-related to varying degrees, and in the true Compass spirit, we worked together, learning by doing.

Josiah writes:

I’m also a graduate student in the Berkeley physics department, and I’ve been part of Compass since 2010. As Compass has grown, we have had to deal with new data in new ways. One of the major changes has been our transition to a funding model that has a large donor base. A big part of fundraising is making sure that we have thanked our donors and that we are able to keep them up-to-date with the activities of Compass (for example, by mailing them our newsletter). During the 2012 summer fundraising campaign, we decided that we needed a better way to keep track of those who have donated to Compass.

We wanted to move to a centralized donation-tracking system that we could use for many years to come. I constructed a simple web-based application that helps us to manage this information. This gave me a chance to try out the Python-based web framework Django. This was my first time seriously using Django and not only did I learn a lot, but I had a lot of fun. Nathan helped out by writing a python function that would parse the automated emails we receive when donations are received and would pass this information along to the database. The second generation of this system is currently under development and will allow us to keep better contact with our alumni.

The Sweet Life of Undergraduate Research

Nov 6, 2012   //   by Gloria Lee   //   Blog, Compass People  //  No Comments

I was introduced to research by my very own Compass mentor Anna Zaniewski. It just so happened that my interests in physics matched her research area, so the summer after my freshman year, I started volunteering in Professor Alex Zettl’s lab and helping Anna make solar cells. I was hooked! I loved getting my hands dirty and seeing classroom theories work in real life. I only had one introductory physics class under my belt at the time, but was assured that it’s totally cool to be a non-expert going into a new project. The whole point of undergraduate research is to be introduced to a lab environment and learn some new and interesting science. Like Anna mentions in her blog post, the graduate students you will be working with expect you to ask lots of questions, so ask and learn away!

While I continue to work in Professor Zettl’s lab during the school year, I also participated in research opportunities at other universities during the summer peut on se procurer du viagra sans ordonnance. The Cal Energy Corps took me to Hong Kong to research plastic solar cells, and as a National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network REU student, I worked at UT Austin making a tiny microphone. These experiences were eye-opening, both inside the lab and out. Not only did I get to throw myself into research projects and learn about topics I had never even heard of before, I also got to interact with an amazing cohort of mentors and peers and explore some fabulous cities. I would highly recommend applying to summer research programs if you’re interested in: seeing what grad school is like, experiencing the research environment at another university, traveling and summer-vacationing and cool-people-meeting and cutting-edge-science-learning all at once. Many programs offer paid summer internships (the ones I participated in covered transportation and housing in addition to providing a stipend), and they often hold a capstone conference or poster session at the end where you can gain valuable experience in presenting your research.

Being an undergraduate researcher has been and still is a rewarding adventure. I feel so lucky to have incredible mentors and intriguing projects that inspire me to continue doing research in the future. I think if you’re open to different projects and patient with yourself in the lab, undergraduate research can be a really neat experience.

Finding your way into and around a lab

Oct 25, 2012   //   by Anna Zaniewski   //   Blog, Compass People  //  No Comments

I started doing physics research as an undergraduate at West Virginia University. I was fortunate enough to be recruited to a plasma physics lab, where I worked on space plasma physics. I spent one summer at Los Alamos National Lab, and another summer at the Maria Mitchel Observatory, where I worked on an astronomy project. These experiences gave me a deepened understanding of physics, and helped to propel me towards grad school at Berkeley. Though the research path I chose in grad school, nanoscale physics, is different from my undergrad research projects, I appreciate having tried different kinds of research. Physics is such a basic science that a lot of the physics that applies to space plasmas also applies to nanoscale objects.

One of the most rewarding aspects of being a physics student is doing physics research. Oftentimes, crazy stuff that you learn in classes only makes sense for the first time when encountered in the lab. Participating in research can help you decide if you want to go to grad school, and if you do, the research experience will help you to have a stronger application. In order to find research projects as an undergrad, however, you will have to be comfortable being a self advocate.

The best way of starting the process of finding a research position is to talk to as many professors and grad students as you can. Go to your professors’ and GSIs’ office hours, and after getting your homework questions answered, ask about their research. If you know any other grad students, start conversations with them about research. You can also go talk to professors you don’t have a class with- most will make an appointment to talk with you and will be happy to talk about the research in their labs. Experimentalists in particular often need students to help out on small projects, but if you have coding skills then you might also have luck approaching the theorists. Don’t be discouraged if you email professors and don’t get a response- there could be many reasons why you don’t get an email reply. Talking with professors in person is often more productive.

Have an open mind about the kind of research projects you’d be willing to take on, since it can be hard to know what kind of research you like until you have a bit more experience.

Expect that when you’re working on your projects in the lab that you will work most closely with a grad student, but don’t be afraid to talk to the research group professor, and participate in group meetings. Building a good relationship with your research professor is important. Another important skill for undergraduate researchers to have is the willingness to ask questions. Grad students expect that their undergrad students will have questions, and the only way to grow as a researcher is to ask those questions. And if you make mistakes, remember that it’s ok. Everybody does. Sometimes good science can come from “mistakes”.

Finally, like Compass, consider the research group a community. Try to get to know this lab community, and take your place as a young researcher.