I finally got to act like a tourist this weekend! It seems a bit odd, but turns out I spent most of my first two weeks trying to settle in and living like a normal uni student instead of going sightseeing and doing all the touristy stuff. Earlier this week a girl I befriended at the airport in London invited me on a day tour of the highlands, so I thought, sure why not? Our tour guide / driver for the day was hilarious and had a serious case of DSL aka Deep Scottish Love. You could definitely tell he knew what he was talking about, and truly loves this country. The main attraction for the day was visiting the Loch Ness, home to the mythical Loch Ness monster, Nessie. The loch itself was incredibly beautiful. The awesome part was Nessie even rose up and said hi to us while we were admiring the scenery!!
… okay just kidding. We didn’t see Nessie. There are people who 100% believe she’s real though and research the loch year round trying to find her. The highlight of my day wasn’t the loch though, ironically. It was getting to see Highland Cows (or as they pronounce it, heilan coos). They are seriously the cutest cows ever. My friend and I were probably the only two people on the tour group who were extremely excited about this… but we actually got to feed Hamish and Heather, the two cows!! :D
I’m really glad I went on the day tour even on such short notice… it was my first taste of Scotland outside of the busy smoke filled streets of Edinburgh, and I’m definitely starting to understand what my tour guide meant by DSL… (:
With 45 Nobel Laureates on its Faculty Roster, it’s not surprising that research is an integral part of the Caltech undergraduate experience. One of the programs that promotes such research is the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF). There is no minimum knowledge or experience required to participate in a Caltech SURF. In fact, students can participate in a SURF as soon as the summer after their freshman year. It is not difficult to get a SURF. All you need to do is find a mentor who is working in an area of research that interests you and willing to mentor you through a research project. The mentor can work in a Caltech lab, at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), or at another participating institution. Once you find a mentor, you work together to write a project proposal that you later send to the SURF office for review and approval. About 98% of the SURF proposals get approved. This fellowship is a great way to explore various fields of research and obtain real, hands-on experience where you get to apply the theoretical knowledge you’ve learned in class. Not only do you get to work and learn alongside your mentor, but you also get compensated for your time. The length of the SURF is ten weeks, and it starts at the beginning of the summer. However, it is not uncommon for many students at Caltech to continue their research project throughout the academic school year.
Like many students at Caltech, I suffer from a slight boba addiction, where side effects may include over caffeination, minor sugar highs, and of course, a large toll on one’s wallet. This addiction is not helped by the fact that there are at least three boba shops within walking distance of campus. So, after an entire term’s worth of boba runs, I came back from winter break with a new year’s epiphany: it was time to get a job. Rather than try to curb my addiction, I decided to find a way to subsidize it.
Research at Caltech looks different for every student, and can often vary term by term. As a chemistry major, my course requirements are on the lighter side for a Caltech major, and many chemistry majors take advantage of the lighter course load to join research groups. This can be whenever the student wants, but many people join labs during their freshman or sophomore years. Some may work in one lab only, and some may switch between labs during the course of their undergraduate studies, depending on if their interests change.
SURF, short for Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, is a quintessential experience for any Caltech student. It is a widely accessible research fellowship for Caltech students that funds your proposed research for one summer term. While many of my classmates did their first SURF the summer after their freshman year, I sent in my first application to the program as a sophomore. As a CS major, I was trying to chase meaningful work that intersected computation with the field of neuroscience. I ended up doing a SURF at the Stanford School of Medicine that first year, studying hand gestures in children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Since then, I’ve been working in the research space of applying computational analyses to ASD.