Irving Huerta graduated during the pandemic and was able to find a job right away. Erika Estrada transferred to UC Davis and loved it so much she is back completing a Ph.D. on campus. Blog student editor Abigail Loomis talked to these first-generation students, who shared their insights on how to succeed at college and beyond.
Food Science and Technology Ph.D. student
Biological Sciences B.S., UC Davis '16
Food Science M.S., Virginia Tech '19
Sacramento County Assistant Planner
Political Science and Sustainable Environmental Design B.A., UC Davis '20
Charting Your Own Course
Before attending UC Davis, I was in community college. I knew I was interested in microbiology, but when I came to UC Davis, there were so many different paths I could choose from! The sheer amount and diversity of courses, research and volunteer opportunities really helped me figure out what I wanted to focus on.
Sometimes people come into college thinking, “OK, I’m gonna be a doctor!” But then maybe you take human anatomy and think, “Oh no, this is horrible!” Or you volunteer at the UC Davis Medical Center and realize it isn’t the path for you. I decided I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in food science and safety after working in a lab on campus during my senior year. Students can really experiment with different careers and research opportunities to find what is best for them.
Ten years ago I arrived alone in the U.S. with nothing but a dream. Now I am proud to call myself a scientist, a Ph.D. student and a mentor. My family, while loving and supportive, never imagined I would become a scientist. To be honest, neither did I." Read more of Erika Estrada’s personal story on our first-generation student stories website.
Finding Job Opportunities
UC Davis really helped me when it came to getting a head start on my professional life and getting a job straight out of college, due to the sheer amount of information about internships and work experience made available to students. There is definitely a focus on getting experience both inside and outside the classroom. If I were to pursue something like a master's degree, I think I would be comfortable doing so just because I have that experience already under my belt from taking some graduate-level classes.
Department advisors often send out emails about different internship and employment opportunities in the Davis area, which is a great way to look into different career paths related to your major and get work experience. At events like the career fair, I was able to talk directly to a lot of different companies and people who were currently working in the field I was interested in. That helped me build the connections and experience needed to find a job after graduation.
I graduated in the middle of a pandemic with two degrees in hand, and my dream job as an urban planner. I could not be more proud of how far I have come. If I made it this far, I know that you can too!" Read more of Irving Huerta’s personal story on our first-generation student stories website.
It is hard for transfers to make friends because when we come here we only have two years and we have to graduate and move on. We don't have that freshman undergrad experience where you stay at the dorms and meet new people and build connections. I loved going to the tutoring centers, not only because of the academic support, but because they helped me form a sense of community. I think I wouldn't be where I am today without them.
Having that sense of community was very important for my undergrad success, and I was able to find that through the tutoring centers and the McNair Scholars Program. Then, when I came back to UC Davis for my Ph.D., I was able to meet other graduate students from different colleges through the Graduate Student Association. We had coffee and donuts on Fridays, and it felt great to be able to make connections and learn about all the interesting research on campus.
Creating a Bright Future
Transitioning from college to working as an urban planner felt pretty natural for me. The experience I gained during my time as an undergrad really gave me a good foundation for my career, and I feel like everything right now is aligning perfectly for me. In the future, I see myself staying on my career path and moving up the ladder career-wise. I think a lot of that has to do with what I was able to achieve at Davis in terms of education, internships, and building professional skills and connections.
I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities I’ve had here at UC Davis, and I am excited about what the future holds. I love the Ph.D. program and, once I’m done, my plan is to become a professor, ideally at a community college. I want to focus on teaching because I have encountered so many good mentors who believed in me and pushed me to become a scientist, so I want to pay it forward! There is a program called Professors for the Future for graduate students who want to go into academia and teaching, so the resources are there for the taking.