My Academic Journey

Hello New Bruin!

Congratulations on your admission to UCLA! We are so excited to have you. My name is Claribel Charway. I am a fourth-year Neuroscience major and Biomedical Research minor. I feel incredibly fortunate to have spent the last four years building an inclusive and supportive community here.

I was very nervous coming into my first year at UCLA. I was worried about making friends, having roommates I had never met and, most importantly, tackling my coursework. I chose my major because I wanted to study something that would challenge me academically. During my high school biology classes, I found myself very fascinated by the brain and wanted to always know more about why and how it works. When I found out I got into UCLA for my major, my previous curiosity and excitement turned into fear. I was concerned that I would not be as capable or knowledgeable as my classmates.

During New Student Orientation, I was matched up with other neuroscience students. We were able to discuss why we chose the major and what we hoped to gain from it. I was very relieved to find out that I was not the only one that knew very little about the field. We signed up for classes and before I knew it, I was standing in the court of sciences waiting for my first class ever at UCLA- General Chemistry. To say that this class kicked my butt is an understatement. For the first time in my academic career, I felt like I couldn’t do it. The concepts felt too hard to understand and I began to question if I was really cut out for UCLA. I was the first student out of the lecture hall after my first chemistry midterm, not because I aced the exam quickly but because I got too nervous and rushed out. As I sat on the grass next to the Tongva steps I had to remind myself that I got in for a reason and I wasn’t going to let this hurdle stop me.

I began looking into the resources UCLA offered to support students on their academic journey. I signed up for tutoring through the Academic Advancement Program (AAP) and also began chemistry workshop classes through my honors program. Before I knew it, I was actually able not only understand the material but was also able to find other students that were experiencing the same crisis. Having that support allowed me to not just do well in my classes but also enjoy them. Every quarter since then, I have both participated in tutoring sessions and have had the privilege to lead my own organic chemistry workshops.

If you had told freshman year Claribel that she would be where I am now, she would not believe it. I thought that my academic journey would be one I had to venture through alone, but that is far from the truth. UCLA is truly focused on the academic experience of each and every student. More often than not, you are not the only person facing the same kind of academic challenges. From counselors to major advisors to student learning assistants, there are a multitude of people eager to help you reach whatever goals you have.

I came to UCLA with the sole intention to pursue a career in medicine. I knew that I was going to be “premed” and take the traditional path that would get me into medical school. As a HHMI Pathways for Success scholar, I was required to take a research class in which I had to conduct and present an independent research project. I didn’t think too much of the class initially because I ‘knew’ that research wasn’t my end goal. This mindset was quickly transformed upon entering the lab. I fell head over heels for research. I enjoyed being able to figure out the puzzle pieces that made up whatever scientific problem was placed before me. In this case, it was figuring out the heat resistance of a mutated strain of yeast. I learned how to write a grant proposal and present my findings to my peers. My previous “I’m going to be a doctor no matter what” turned into “I do not know what I want to be but I am excited to find out.”

That class allowed me to broaden my focus and consider all the possible careers that I could explore with my major. Per the recommendation of an advisor, I applied for the biomedical research minor and got in. The program has allowed me to participate in neurobiology research at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. I have also had the opportunity to take really cool classes in public health, journal club, and biomedical ethics.

As I wrap up my academic career at UCLA, I am proud to say that I still don’t know what I want to do (for sure). I now say this with pride and hope. While I am not certain that I will pursue either the medical or research route, I have full confidence in the foundation UCLA has given me. My academic experience has been far more fulfilling than I anticipated thanks to my fellow Bruins and mentors that have encouraged me every step of the way.

As you begin your academic journey at UCLA, I hope you go in with an open mind. Understand that there are so many people here rooting for you and ready to give you the guidance you need. I have full faith that you will make the most of this experience. Congratulations once again!

All the Best,


Photo of Claribel on campus wearing a white shirt and black blazer.