Last week, I was in Hawaii on the joint Rob Phillips
(Caltech)/Steve Quake (Stanford) lab retreat.
Every morning and evening, one principal investigator of some lab and
several graduate students/postdocs/three undergraduates talked about their
research. Afternoons were unscheduled,
The graduate students in Rob’s lab spent their afternoons
exploring Hawaii. Sometimes, I joined
Here, I’m getting ready to kayak.Kayaking
is very fun when you capsize, and even more fun when you have to paddle away as fast as you can from a huge, honking cruise ship.
One day, we ate lunch on the rocks overlooking this view before a hike.
Sometimes, I didn’t join the graduate students on their
afternoon excursions. The sad truth is
that problem sets don’t disappear just because you don’t want to do them. On Thursday, when I finally finished my
differential equations problem set at 4:30 PM, I grabbed my bathing suit to hit
the beach before evening talks– and then it started raining. Irony can be absolutely horrible.(I swam anyway.)
To be fair, this lab retreat was not just a paid vacation to
Hawaii. Everyone spent nearly five hours
every day learning biophysics, and I heard about research that made my eyes pop. One of my favorite talks: UCLA Professor
Shimon Weiss explained how anyone with a simple 100x objective brightfield
microscope, a CCD camera, and his SOFI algorithm could increase their
microscope’s resolution from 1 micron to below 100 nanometers. (Prefrosh with brightfield microscopes in
your basement, this means you!)
Listening to other people talk about their research was fun.Quotable quotes from the talks include:
“That’s very easy to do. Well, with a lot of money that’s very easy to do.”
“As a theorist doing experiments, I only do experiments that are useful. What’s not useful is two data points.” – Dave Van Valen, a graduate student in Rob’s group, explaining why he spent many hours doing essentially the same experiment over and over and over again.
Talking about my own
research? Not as easy as listening.
On Friday, as the last speaker of the entire conference, I told
larger-than-life professors and postdocs and graduate students about what I did last summer. Literally. That was scary. I was the youngest person there (except for
the children of the other researchers.)I had never talked about my research in front of more than five
people. Worse, my research is pretty
firmly physics, and not even biologically relevant.(My research is yet another analysis of the dynamics of the two-state system using Maximum Caliber, paper coming soon!) Would anyone understand what I was
saying? Would anyone
Luckily, half of the “biologists” there had
majored in physics as undergraduates. So my talk turned out just fine, although one person pointed out that “the two-state system has been solved six ways from Sunday.” That’s very true.
I never thought I’d be so unhappy to get back to Southern California, but as one
of the hotel staff explained, SoCal has “nasty” weather compared to
Hawaii. Brrr, it’s 60 degrees here!
Almost a year ago now, I was just about to start my first Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) at JPL. NASA had sent out an email to all of their summer interns containing a social media template to announce that we had been selected as NASA interns. Excited to show my NASA pride, I posted it on my Instagram story, unaware of what would come out of this small action.
Hey hey! We’re starting a series where I walk you through my best finds for food and drinks in the Pasadena region, and in the LA metropolitan area. Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, if you will (although, for copyright reasons we can’t call it that). As you explore your college options, I firmly believe that food and location are more important than your high school guidance counselor may lead you to believe. And I’m here to share my best finds from my time at Caltech with you.
Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to intern at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) under the mentorship of senior research technologist Dr. Xiaoqing Pi. Dr. Pi’s guidance and mentorship has been instrumental to the development and success of my internship at JPL, where I use machine-learning to enhance the accuracy and integrity of navigation and communication signals. In addition to helping me develop an understanding of atmospheric and ionospheric remote sensing and machine-learning, Dr. Pi has often offered his insights on how to improve my researching skills. Dr. Pi was generous enough to take the time to answer a few questions regarding his research and advice for future student interns. I believe many students can benefit from some of the lessons that he has taught me:
The transition period to remote learning was a very uncertain time, especially for research and the Caltech Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) program. Many hands-on projects had to pivot at the last minute to facilitate off-campus contributions. However, many Techers were able to take advantage of the research opportunities offered at Caltech and JPL to make the best out of remote learning and research. To paint a picture, I’ve interviewed a few talented Techers for some insight on what researching from home looks like for them.