It’s Thursday night and you’re trying to finish one of the two sets you have due tomorrow. You’ve been grinding at the set for a few hours and things have actually been going pretty well, but then you get stuck.
That’s fine, just skip to the next problem and it’ll be fine.
“Using your results from the last problem…”
This has happened to me countless times at Caltech, but that shouldn’t scare you! There are tons of resources at Caltech that make this situation much less frequent or frightening.
The biggest resource I go to is always collaborating with my peers. Every class I’ve taken has allowed some form of collaboration on the homeworks and typically they are designed to be worked on in a group. I can probably count on one hand the number of sets I’ve worked on totally isolated (and I think it might be 0). Especially when it comes to frosh core classes, everyone is talking the same classes and has the same homework so it is incredibly easy to find other students to work with.
The next group I go to is upperclassmen and Dean’s tutors. Upperclassmen have taken all your classes and know all your material, so they are incredibly helpful and supportive. My biggest worry was that my simple questions were a nuisance to them since time is very valuable to most Caltech students. But that’s not the case! The Dean’s office hires and pays tons of upperclassmen to work as Dean’s tutors and answer any and all questions.
Dean’s tutors are a great flexible resource since the job ranges from helping you through part of a problem you got stuck on up to more structured, study/review sessions. While I typically just asked for help from the upperclassmen who lived in my hallway, there’s also a list of them on the Dean’s office website to reach out to them as well. I may have (shamelessly) stolen the photo from the admissions website, but the staged photo is pretty representative of what it’s like to work in a House.
Plus there are the more typical Office Hours with TA’s and professors that are a great opportunity to ask questions about the class material or homework. These will be 1 or 2 hour sessions where the instructors are available to answer any and all questions you may have. This is a great chance to ask clarifying questions about the material or get hints about how to start some of the homework problems. Some of the larger classes will also have recitations where you get into groups of 15-20 people to review what you went over in the lecture.
While grinding through homework sets can be tough at times, it’s a lot of fun as well. I can vividly remember a night when there were about 5 of us working on a physics set until about 4 am and we got bored. So naturally, we decided to go get donuts. After eating our donuts and watching the sunrise, we looked at our mostly finished set and went to bed on our sugar-filled stomachs.