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In this edition of Insight’s summer blog, Rohit Wakode talks about splitting his time between research work at Berkeley Labs and UC Berkeley.

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“Morning, young man. How are you today?” said a woman at the cafe.

“Well, tired. I haven’t slept well but a cup of espresso will definitely make my day. How are you doing?” I replied, walking over to my favorite spot in the cafe. The seating was comfortable, lights dim, flowers freshly scattered throughout the cafe and the radio jazz was the perfect music to work to with the hum of quiet whispers of people in the background. I paid and bid her adieu till next time, returning to the patio holding my cup.

So it’s close to six o’clock in the morning. The weather is just how I love it – a bit cold, windy and foggy as always. Just realized that I always see the same people when I come here, which makes me think it’s a bona fide neighborhood hangout. I’m also starting to feel a bit like a local in some respects. Anyways, this is how most of my days here begin – coming early morning to the cafe, skyping with parents and her, acknowledging e-mails, updating my google calendar and heading off to work. Normally I’d take the first shuttle[1] uphill, but I’ve been walking everywhere recently. It feels right to go on foot, thinking about some things[2] with headphones on and going at my own pace. I plan to write this article today, whenever I get some free time.

View from Berkeley Labs - Too foggy

View from Berkeley Labs – Too foggy


Well, I am currently affiliated with Berkeley Lab (LBNL) in the Environment and Energy Technology Division. I am also working with a well known professor in UC Berkeley, whom I met last year at a conference, to develop a working prototype of one of my ideas.

A glovebox at my workplace in Berkeley labs

A glovebox at my workplace in Berkeley labs

Besides the work at Berkeley Lab and UCB, I am also continuing my consulting job here, for which I often travel to Sunnyvale[3]. Most of my work lies in the clean energy production and storage domain (majorly fuel cells and batteries) for outer space applications and transit systems. As is to be expected, the workload is quite high, but more importantly, it is a lot of fun. Though I cannot divulge any more details about my research, I can tell you that it is simultaneously very demanding and enriching. Also, my own group has been backed up by several VCs here and there is a lot of work going on currently. This particularly occupies most of my time.

But how?

No, not via the PT Cell.

So, I was into fuel cell research right from my first year. Actually, I was into it before joining IIT-B. Lots of digging into online science journals, state-of-the-art research at my lab (co-owned by my fellow colleagues), attending conferences and a lot of networking with like-minded researchers has brought me here. Being the ex-head of Alumni Student Mentorship Program – SARC opened more doors for networking with alumni than ever before. Even the Entrepreneurship Cell is doing a good job in providing networking opportunities to students.

Sooner or later, everyone will realize the importance of building a strong professional network. Graduate readers here would know what I am talking about. [pullquote]Sooner or later, everyone will realize the importance of building a strong professional network. Graduate readers here would know what I am talking about. [/pullquote]It may seem a bit difficult to break the ice with an unknown and more experienced person but that is one important skill which I think students should try to pick up while in the Institute. I highly recommend enrolling in the ASMP program[4] if you are wondering how and where to get started. Using rapportive plugin for gmail and maintaining a LinkedIn account (subscribe to premium if you can afford) are a couple of things that could help if used wisely.

How’s Berkeley?

If I were to choose perhaps the best aspect of Berkeley, it would be that the people living here seem extremely attached to their city and really embrace its unique, liberal atmosphere. I consider myself to be fairly liberal too, but the people here take it up to a whole different level. There is also a very strong sense of community, it’s less crowded, multi-cultural, and offers a lot of diverse art and music too. I found Berkeley to be relatively cheaper than San Francisco, which is just a 15 minute drive from my house. Living here is expensive and it’s really hard to find a place near campus with rental less than 800 dollars per month (plus the security deposit). But the wonderful weather here makes up for it. Sunny, yet mildly cold and foggy throughout the year.

View from Baker Beach, San Francisco

View from Baker Beach, San Francisco

Since Berkeley Lab is based on a hill, it offers an excellent view of entire Bay Area. It’s really a nice sight to see. You can see the complete San Francisco City, East Bay Area with Golden Gate Bridge and Oakland Bay Bridge in the background. It is just how they showed it in GTA: San Andreas. Sometimes, the fog swirling around looks like some parts of the hill were on fire.

View from my Lab - Berkeley Marina, Alcatraz and GG Bridge

View from my Lab – Berkeley Marina, Alcatraz and GG Bridge

The public transport system in the city is great and you can take your pick from buses, the underground metro[5] and since people here are more concerned about environment, you can also see a lot of hybrid electric vehicles around – fuel cell buses and a few Model S (Tesla) as well. Biking is very convenient here; the separate biking lane helps to travel faster during peak hours.


Mexican everyday! I just love it. While I can’t explain this love affair, I happily accept it. It tastes so freakin’ good, I tell you. A bit expensive but it’s healthy, so it doesn’t matter much. Sometimes I prefer having flavoured yogurt or fruit juices instead. If you are foodie, then SF/Bay Area is a place you just have to visit someday! San Francisco has some of the greatest food in the world.


I work on weekends if required, but I try to keep them unoccupied. There are conferences to attend sometimes, I flew to DC earlier this month for one – it’s a nice city. Camping in Yosemite National Park is top on my list and I hope to visit there soon. The baker beach of San Francisco is also a nice hangout spot. Just last weekend I was in Los Angeles, the 3D rides at Universal Studios Hollywood were amazing, and I loved the lively Santa Monica Pier and beach. A friend had accompanied and we later headed to Las Vegas. It was fun and walking along the south strip was amazing at night with all the lights!

Las Vegas at night - South strip

Las Vegas at night – South strip

Overall, Berkeley is a great place to wander and wonder. I am loving every bit of my stay and being here long enough to unpack my suitcase thrilled me at first but as much as I have learned about the Bay Area and as cliched as it might sound, I have learned a lot about myself in these two months too. I wish I could put into words all of the incredible moments that I have experienced so far.

P.S. : Started writing early morning and it’s already mid-night now. Glad I am finally done!

[1] It’s a bus service provided to Lab employees with free wifi on-board. The drivers (or say the people in Berkeley) are really respectful and down to earth.
[2] I observed the movement of carbon atoms (on the edge of graphene sheet) myself through an electron microscope couple of days back. Thinking about this, the vastness of our ever-expanding universe and the tininess of humans blows my mind!
[3] One hour drive from Berkeley, based right in the heart of Silicon Valley. Around 60% of the city inmates are Indians.
[4] In no way I am trying to endorse SARC here. Just honest and free advice.
[5] The metro goes underwater through a tube between East Bay and San Francisco. I was a bit uncomfortable while riding it for the first time.

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