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PhD in City and Regional Planning

Abigail Cochran

I drove to Berkeley in August 2014 to start the Master of City Planning (MCP) degree program. I had come from Tucson, Arizona, my hometown, fresh out of undergrad. My parents accompanied me, hauling my few belongings behind the family car in a small U-Haul trailer. After making a clumsy exit off State Route 24 towards College Avenue, the trailer detached from its hitch and came skidding to a halt (very fortunately, not into the back of our car or obstructing the path of immediate oncoming traffic). I remember noticing the wildflowers growing out of the road’s soft shoulder.

I had arrived. Shaken, but resolved to start my life in California. Several drivers stopped to assist my family with resecuring the trailer; the first of countless acts of kindness and generosity that I would witness from neighbors, friends, and peers in the years to come. When people back home in the Desert Southwest asked what it was like in Berkeley, I told them earnestly, “It’s the land of friends and flowers.”

Two years later, I faced another transition. I was completing the MCP program, but felt my graduate education wasn’t quite over. I applied to the PhD in City and Regional Planning at Cal and to other planning programs around the country. I was admitted to several schools, including Cal. My final decision was one best articulated by The Clash, “Should I stay or should I go?” I posed this question to a faculty member at another California school who wisely recommended that if I felt I had more to learn, more to do at UC Berkeley, that I ought to stay.

I surely felt I did, and so I stayed. I continued to learn and grow as a scholar, as a friend, and as a member of the CED and larger University community. I developed a research agenda studying the travel behavior of people with disabilities in the city where the disability rights movement began. I drew inspiration from my brilliant, passionate peers, no matter how disparate our interests. Supportive instructors, mentors, and advisors offered guidance when I needed it most.

And then it ended rather abruptly, much like my first drive into town. While finishing during the pandemic was difficult, I was comforted, always, by the wildflowers that grew outside my windows. And by the community—the land of friends and flowers—that I had grown into.

As I reflect on my time at CED, I know that if someone asked again today whether I felt I had more to learn, more to do at UC Berkeley, the answer would still be yes. This is why I know I will never be too far removed from Cal, regardless of whether, at least for now, I go.