About the Inclusive Excellence in Quals Prep Program

The Inclusive Excellence in Quals Preparation (IEQP) program aims to prepare graduate students for their qualifying exam by building a sense of community, providing a support system, and creating an environment where students feel valued and capable of achieving their goals.

Program Components

In 2015, the National Science Foundation Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (NSF AGEP) California Alliance conducted a wide-ranging survey of graduate students across STEM. (Fisher et al., 2019) The goal was to pinpoint ways to improve the success of PhD students, and eventually increase diversity in STEM leadership positions. Survey results showed that minority students, who felt less prepared than their peers, were most likely to excell if they felt that they were prepared for their graduate courses, accepted by their colleagues, and enrolled in a structured PhD program. Furthermore, authors found that feeling accepted in STEM mitigates feelings of distress, and leads to higher perceived success and higher subjective well-being.

The IEQP Program will prepare students for success in graduate school and beyond by helping them prepare for their qualifying exam and building a community of support.

Curriculum Map

Curriculum Map Description Map describing the structural components of the Inclusive Excellence in Quals Prep program. Graduate students preparing to take their qualifying exam, referred to as mentees, are represented by a circle at the center of the map and lines radiating from that circle connect with the 11 components of the program. These are split into an academic component, a social component, and a whole community to support mentees. The academic component includes (1) workshops that focus on wellness and skills to aid the mentees during their qualifying exam preparation, and (2) practice exams where mentees practice presenting their research proposal. The social component includes (1) a kickoff event at the beginning of the program to get to know each other, (2) coffee hours where mentees discuss wellness and academics with their mentor, (3) monthly mentee dinners where mentees get to know each other and build community, and (4) a celebration at the end of the program to celebrate the mentees’ accomplishments. The community is composed of (1) program directors who ensure that the program provides all the tools and support that the mentees need, (2) invited speakers that include UC Berkeley professors and professionals who lead workshops in their areas of expertise, (3) faculty advisors who provide support for program directors, mentors and mentees, (4) mentors who provide one-on-one mentorship for mentees, and (5) graduate student panelists that provide insight into preparing for the qualifying exam.

Program Directors

headshot of Zoila Álvarez-Aponte

Zoila Álvarez-Aponte


Zoila Álvarez-Aponte is a third year Ph.D. candidate in the Plant and Microbial Biology Department at UC Berkeley. She obtained her B.S. in Industrial Biotechnology from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez in 2019. Her research in the laboratory of Dr. Michiko Taga focuses on using corrinoids, the family of cofactors that includes vitamin B12, as model nutrients to understand how soil microbes interact with each other. In her spare time, Zoila enjoys traveling, trying new foods, salsa dancing, and hanging out with her dog Maya.

headshot Amanda Gonzalez-Segarra

Amanda Gonzalez-Segarra


Amanda Gonzalez-Segarra is a Ph.D. candidate in the Molecular and Cell Biology Department at UC Berkeley. She obtained a B.S. from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras in Molecular and Cell Biology in 2017. As an undergraduate, Amanda was a MARC Scholar and an Amgen Scholar and studied the motor nervous system of the sea cucumber in the laboratory of Dr. Gracía-Arrarás. Her graduate studies in the laboratory of Dr. Kristin Scott focus on elucidating how hunger and thirst are coordinated by the nervous system to drive feeding in Drosophila melanogaster. In her spare time Amanda likes to take care of her houseplants, go on hikes with her dog, and dance flamenco.