Berkeley Connect in Physics

The Berkeley Connect program opens up the extraordinary resources of the university to you: the extraordinary students on our campus. By joining, you will become part of a community of like-minded faculty, mentors, and students that will provide a supportive environment in which to exchange and discuss ideas and goals. Berkeley Connect will help you to make the most of your time at the university as you learn more about the major in Physics. We’re excited to get to know you!

Message from the Director

Benjamin SafdiBerkeley Connect is a mentoring program within the physics department that is accepting undergraduate students at all levels. The goals of the program are to help students develop understanding, community, and career preparedness that goes beyond what traditional courses provide. Interactions with graduate students and faculty will play a large role throughout the semester. You will participate in small-group meetings, facilitated by a physics graduate student, that will include:

  • Visits to research labs on campus and at the national labs to talk to faculty, scientists, and grad students
  • Preparing students for a broad range of career trajectories including ones outside of academia
  • Discussions of science in the news and science and society
  • Resources for finding research opportunities on campus, REUs, internships
  • Developing skills that will make you an attractive candidate for undergraduate research
  • Exploration of the idea of scientific models
  • Building a community of physics student scientists

Berkeley Connect is offered as a 1-credit course that is designed to be very low workload but have large benefits for undergraduates.

Benjamin Safdi
Faculty Director, Berkeley Connect in Physics

Program Description

Berkeley Connect links undergraduate students with experienced mentors in Physics. These mentors lead small groups of 10-20 students in regular meetings; they also meet with students one-on-one to provide guidance and advice. The core of the Berkeley Connect program is a one-credit, pass-fail course that is designed to create a community of students with similar intellectual interests. There is no homework associated with Berkeley Connect: no exams, no papers, no quizzes Instead, small group meetings focus on sharing ideas and learning new skills within the Physics major as a way to foster friendships and provide a supportive intellectual community for Berkeley undergraduates. The only requirement for joining Berkeley Connect in Physics is that you have an interest in the field of study. You do not have to be a major in order to participate! Undeclared freshmen and sophomores are welcome, along with entering junior transfers and juniors and seniors who have declared the major.

Every semester, Berkeley Connect sponsors a wide range of activities and events for participating studentsThey include:

  • small-group meetings led by your mentor;
  • one-on-one meetings with your mentor;
  • special events, including informal lectures by professors and guest speakers, and panels on career options, graduate school admissions, and other topics;
  • and visits to Berkeley resources.

At the heart of Berkeley Connect is the relationship between you and your mentor. The Berkeley Connect mentors are advanced graduate students or recent PhDs in Physics, who are chosen both for their demonstrated commitment to undergraduates and for their scholarly achievement. They are dedicated to providing the kind of close-knit community and one-on-one attention that can be hard to find at a large university.

When you sign up for Berkeley Connect, you will join one of several small groups of participants in Physics. Your small group will be led by your mentor, and will meet every other week during the semester for an hour-long discussion session. Discussions will focus on key intellectual issues within Physics as well as key skills you need to succeed in the major. Above all, the small groups will focus on building connections among students, so that each group becomes a supportive community for all participants.

You will meet with your mentor one-on-one at least twice during the semester, to talk about anything you choose related to your academic life—questions you have, challenges you are facing, resources you are seeking, goals you are seeking to achieve. Your mentor will also hold open mentoring hours throughout the semester, during which you are free to show up and continue these conversations, or just check in.


Benjamin SafdiBenjamin Safdi received his undergraduate degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder, a Master of Advanced Study from Cambridge University, as a Churchill Scholar, and his PhD from Princeton University in 2014. He was then a Pappalardo Fellow in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology until 2017, when he started as an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Dr. Safdi moved to LBNL in 2020 and then to UC Berkeley, where he is currently an assistant professor, in 2021. He received the Department of Energy Early Career Award in 2018 and the IUPAP C11 Young Scientist Prize in Particles and Fields in 2020. Dr. Safdi is a theoretical particle physicist focused on understanding the microscopic nature of dark matter.

Berkeley Connect Mentors

Elise LePage is a PhD candidate in Physics.

Where did you grow up?

Longmeadow, MA

Where did you go to college and what was your major?

Hamilton College, physics and mathematics

How would you describe your research in a sentence or two?

I use quantum field theory and string theory to discover new results in mathematics, and I use these results to deepen our understanding of quantum field theory. Right now, I'm working on using topological string theory to define and calculate new knot invariants.

Ben Concepcion is a PhD candidate in Physics.

Image of a young man with dark hair wearing a red plaid shirt making a quirky face.

Where did you grow up?

Virginia, USA

Where did you go to college and what was your major?

George Mason University, Math/Physics

How would you describe your research in a sentence or two?

I study gravity, and try to make it make sense with the rest of physics, especially quantum mechanics.

Image of young Asian scholar wearing black rimmed glasses and a black long-sleeved t-shirt and hair in a pony tail.

Where did you grow up?

South Korea

Where did you go to college and what was your major?

University of Washington, Physics

How would you describe your research in a sentence or two?

Searching for evidence of dark matter in astrophysical observations.

Semester Activities

During a semester in Berkeley Connect in Physics, you will participate in one-on-one conversations with your mentor, small-group discussions, special events and field trips.

Recent discussion topics have included:

  • Subfields of physics today
  • Physics all around you
  • Communicating physics
  • Making the most of your time at UC Berkeley

Berkeley Connect discussion sessions are informal and interactive, with time allowed for students to check in, talk about their experiences on campus, and reflect on current events that create the context for their academic studies.

Recent special events and field trips have included:

  • Meet a Physics Professor
  • Alumni Career Panel: What Can You Do with a Degree in Physics?
  • Guided tour of a physics research lab

How to Sign Up

To sign up, enroll in a Berkeley Connect section when course registration opens.  To participate in Berkeley Connect in Physics, you enroll in a section of Physics 98BC (primarily for freshmen and sophomores) or 198BC (primarily for juniors and seniors). Both are offered for one unit, taken on a Pass/Not Pass basis. Participation is NOT restricted to declared majors.

You may enroll in Berkeley Connect more than once (some students choose to participate for a full year by enrolling in both the fall and spring semesters), and you may enroll through more than one department. You may NOT enroll in more than two sections of Berkeley Connect in one semester, or enroll in more than one section in the same department in the same semester.

Contact Us

Please see our FAQs. If you have additional questions about Berkeley Connect in Physics, please contact: Ben Safdi, 

You can also contact the central Berkeley Connect office  at or (510)664-4182.

Links & Resources