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

Berkeley 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.

Professor Matt Pyle

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 students.  They 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 dinner discussion sessions. 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 also meet with your mentor one-on-one at least twice during the semester, once to get acquainted, and a second time just before Tele-Bears, to discuss your plans for completing your major. Your mentor also has office hours every other week, during which you are free to show up and ask questions, talk over your day or your week, discuss what you are learning in class, or just have an informal conversation.


Matt Pyle received a  B.S. in Physics (2001) and B.E. in Aerospace Engineering (2002) from the University of Notre Dame, and a Ph.D. in Physics from Stanford University (2012). Subsequently, he crossed the bay and was a post-doctoral researcher at Berkeley. He joined the Berkeley Physics faculty as the Garland Assistant Professor in 2015. He describes his research interests this way:

“Many of the questions that we would like to ask about the nature of the universe today, for example ‘could dark matter be composed of particles with mass less than that of a proton?,’ are simply impossible to answer with present technology. My goal is to develop these new detector technologies and then employ it to find answers to these questions. Currently, my group is focused on optimizing the design of massive low temperature calorimeters for the SuperCDMS low mass experiment as well as for other nuclear physics applications (primarily neutrinoless double beta decay).”

Berkeley Connect Mentors

Elizabeth Donoway is a PhD candidate in Physics.

Where did you grow up?

Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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

I attended Cornell University and majored in Physics.

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

I study how electronic, magnetic, and quantum properties of materials collectively behave to create emergent phenomena that characterize exotic phases of matter.

Jamie SimonJamie Simon is a PhD candidate in Physics.

Where did you grow up?

Reston, Virginia.

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

Virginia Tech, where I studied physics and mechanical engineering.

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

I’m trying to use ideas and tools from theoretical physics to solve mysteries about machine learning systems that are too complicated to understand with brute-force math.

Liz WildenhainLiz Wildenhain is a PhD candidate in Physics.

Where did you grow up?

In the suburbs of Pittsburgh, PA.

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

I attended the University of Notre Dame where I majored in physics and philosophy.

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

Our group studies how gravity is connected to quantum information, which is the study of the “information” contained in a system described by quantum mechanics. This involves theorizing about black holes on the quantum mechanical level, the relationship between energy and information, and other related topics.

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:

  • Sub-fields 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