I chose Berkeley because I imagined myself immersed in a politically active intellectual culture by day and being a coffee house free spirit by night. I was not disappointed. Right away, I got swept up in protests over departmental hiring and AGSE's struggle for recognition. Tense confrontations with professors were followed by tense support sessions with other professors. Mental gymnastics in Burawoy's seminars were mixed in with singing 'union carols' on the picket line. In our spare time, my cohortniks and I were discussing Marx and complaining about the department over cheap beer and pizza.
Berkeley's lassez-faire approach to mentoring let me explore a topic about which no one in the department was really able to guide me (culture and national identity in Uzbekistan). For better or worse, one can be a student at Berkeley without being a student of Berkeley. Other sociologists who want to understand my 'niche' wonder in what way am I a student of Ann or Michael. Though I don't always use the tools they gave me (often to my detriment!), they are in my kit.
I can't yet narrate a brilliant career trajectory upon which I was launched by Berkeley, but maybe that's the point. I have taught here and there. I publish my work here and there. I get most of the grants I apply for. And I continue to look for projects based not on carving out an alcove for myself in some well-established niche, but based on what is interesting to me and what is useful for the people I study. I came into Berkeley with a personality that pushed me to plunge into new territory and, to Berkeley's credit, I left Berkeley the same way.