Dec 1, 2016

The founding principle of all the activities of Zdenek and Michaela Bakala is, truly, the courage, which must, according to their belief, always go hand in hand with responsibility.
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François Rivest - report


October 2014 – August 2015




University of California, Berkeley, USA



Bioengineering – Mechanical Engineering



If I had to give only one impression about my stay it would be about the weather. It is summer all year round and you can count the number of rainy days on your fingers. However, that was not the only reason I spent an amazing stay in Berkeley during this year. The University itself is worth the trip. The campus is huge, counting around 40’000 students from all over the world and 350 different programs, from engineering to human sciences, business, and law. Just walking around the campus is great, all the buildings are different. You will find old 19th century ones near brand new modern ones, and crossing small woods on the way passing from pine trees to eucalyptus scents. UC Berkeley is also one of the most prestigious universities in the United-States and in the world. It is not everywhere that you could get a ticket because you parked on a spot reserved for Nobel price laureates.

I came here to do a research project in a lab and thus did not fully experience the American student life-style as I did not have to take any class and was not living on the campus. However, I could feel the energy on the campus and realized how people here are open, friendly, and helpful.

The last great impression I had was the overall entrepreneurial attitude of the people in the Bay Area. Being close to the Silicon Valley, a lot of people have phone app ideas they are working on for instance, and you can easily find support to develop any start-up idea. The global way of thinking and dynamic in the area is really pushing towards innovations. People are less afraid of trying, or on the other side of the game, investing in new projects, than in Europe. 



Once you overcome the trouble of finding a lab and professor who accepts you for your project, you need to plan at least 4 months ahead of your departure to get all the necessary paperwork done to just enter the United-States. That can be summarized by: getting a visa. The rest was easy for me, as I spent 4 months doing an internship near San Francisco just before starting my Master project, I already had a place to live, an health insurance, a bike to commute, and knew the area. 



I had everything set already and it was more like I was just coming back from vacations in Switzerland. After a quick campus orientation and few papers to fill up, I could directly start working on my project in my lab. It took me two weeks to learn the different techniques I needed for my project and I could then work autonomously.



I did not expect rent to be so expensive, but it is at least 50% more expensive than in Switzerland. Moreover, finding a place to live was not easy, lots of people are looking for one, and compared to them, I had no credit report, recommendation letters from previous tenants or contacts to help. I could finally find something 20 minutes away by bike from my work. Be careful when you are looking online for a room, sometimes they ask to pay a deposit in advance and once you arrive to visit, the room does not even exist. It is better to spend a week in a hostel, once you arrive, to find a place to live than to try to rent it from abroad. You can also try to go through university services; the International House has rooms for instance. 



I really like UC Berkeley, the campus is really big and dynamic with the amount of students present.  Moreover, I never saw people actually playing Quidditch before coming here !

The University is surrounded by a lot of restaurants, bars, and shops, and you can taste and find anything you like. I had the choice between 15 places to get lunch just 5 minutes away from my building. If you want to go a bit further, there are a lot a buses and the metro (BART) goes to SF in only 30 minutes where you can enjoy even greater dinners.

You can go to a concert at the Greek Theater, a football game at the stadium or watch a movie in only 15 minutes walks from the center of the campus. There is also a big sport facility for students where you can do anything you like and which organizes outdoor events too. I am only sad I missed the big football game between Berkeley and Stanford. 


There are many ways to get integrated in the campus and city life as there are many clubs and student associations. The association for visiting students also organizes events and social mixers where you can meet other international students. I decided to join a club to improve public speaking and leadership, called Entrepreneurial Toastmasters, part of the international Toastmasters organization and met great friends there. It helped me practice giving speeches in front of people, organize my time, and give feedback to other speakers.

I went many times to San Francisco as there are always things happening there; street fairs, music festivals, exhibitions etc… I also enjoyed several baseball games in Oakland or San Francisco. The AT&T Stadium is worth the trip by itself. Finally I did not miss the opportunity to give a hug to all the Androids during my visit of Google.

During the long week-ends with national holidays, I took the opportunity to explore a bit more of California and went to many amazing places as Yosemite, Muir Woods, Lake Tahoe, Los Angeles, and San Diego to name few. I spent a lot of time hiking and biking. There are so many things to see and do in few hours of driving. I don’t know many places where you can go skiing for a week-end and relax on the beach the next one in only few hours of car.




Thanks to the support of the foundation, I could not only spend 10 enriching months doing my Master project at the University of California at Berkeley, but it gave me the opportunity to pave the way to continue my project as a PhD student there. 

François Rivest - photos

Berkeley Me
Half Dome
Lab Group

© Fondation Zdenek et Michaela Bakala