Summer at Caltech is a very interesting time. Although
Caltech is on a quarter system, we only have three quarters per year, each ten
weeks long. The fourth quarter is the summer quarter and is about 14 weeks
long. Caltech makes a point of not teaching any classes (except for a
limited-seating scientific writing course) during the summer term and
discourages Techers from taking courses at other universities. This is because a
key feature of Caltech is its research, and summer is expected to be a time when
Techers get their hands dirty in some real science with no excuse that they are
too busy with schoolwork.
This makes Techer summer schedules very different. Many of
us end up in “9-5” job atmospheres which feel quite strange at first. However,
some Techers realize soon enough that such a schedule is not only efficient for
work (because while you’re at work, you know you’re working), but also forces
open a window of time to do other things. Coming straight out of the school
year, some are at a loss for what to do with this free time but after the first
few weeks, the summer campus falls into a fairly regular rhythm as SURFers
figure out what to do afterhours.
This is my third summer in Pasadena and having spent the
previous two summers in a relatively passive mode, exploring mostly the local
charms of Pasadena, I promised myself that this summer I would explore as much
as possible on the weekends. So, Monday through Friday I stayed on campus and
worked. I’d often see the clock strike 10pm in a study room of the library.
However, on weekends I was rewarded with plenty of adventures. Every weekend of
this summer was its own chapter in a book of my life. Before I go into detail
about my weekend adventures (which may take several posts), let me first give a
brief summary of them.
Weekend 1: drove up to the Bay Area to see my boyfriend and
spent the weekend with him seeing San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Cruz, and
Weekend 2: went to the nearby desert called Joshua Tree with
a Caltech club to do some skywatching – see one of the previous posts.
Caltech kids in the desert.
Weekend 3: got a head start on this weekend by leaving on
Thursday (after July 4). My boyfriend Rasmus, his friend from school, and I
roadtripped to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon via the Hoover Dam, all in four days.
The stories we gathered from this short trip, however, are worth much much more
than four days.
The beginning of a crazy roadtrip.
Vegas, Baby! ;)
The Hoover Dam.
The Bellagio in Las Vegas.
Weekend 4: flew up to the Bay Area to run a half marathon in
the hills North of the Golden Gate. I knew this would be a hard race, but I didn’t
realize it would be that bad until I was half a mile into it. This was the “Golden
Gate Trail Run” from the Coastal Trail Runs series. I ran 13.1 miles on trails
in the hills with a total elevation gain of 2,420’. In some places, the trail
was almost too narrow for one person. At some points it was impossible to run
so everyone speed-walked up the mountains and at some points the downhills were
so steep that everyone was freefalling and some people were screaming. It was
quite something. However, I finished with a very good time – at least one that
I am proud of. The course record for women is about 1:50 and I ran the course
in 2:04! It was great to have my parents and close friends cheering me at the
finish. After the race, I spent some time at home and then spent the rest of
the weekend with a friend in San Jose.
Weekends 5-7: these were a mix of me going up to San Joseto see Rasmus, him coming down to LA, and us both going camping in theSierra Mountains near Tahoe with my parents. I’m a huge fan of camping andhiking, as are my parents, and we have a family tradition of going up to asmall village called Bear Valley and camping out by a nearby alpine lakeevery summer. It’s a beautiful place with great nature.
Weekend 8-10: these again were a mix of various trips and of
being tourists with Rasmus and his folks. Weekend 10 marked the official end of
the SURF period.
During one of the last weeks of SURF, I got a pleasant
surprise when my Professor asked if I would like to do my Senior Thesis with
him, more or less continuing – or working off of – the SURF project. I had been
planning to ask him this myself when he approached me with the offer! I am
quite happy about this, as I not only already know what to expect of my Thesis,
but I can also start working on it!
Although SURF is over, I am still on campus because I am
running for the Caltech Cross Country team and our Preseason practices just started.
Until school begins, we practice twice a day – once at 7am and once at 4pm. It’s
a bit brutal, especially after a break from running and in the heat but I have
time during the day to sort out Senior-related business (wish me luck!!!), do
research work, and get a head start on preparing for my last school year at
It’s been quite a whirlwind of a summer and it isn’t over
yet! I sense that the coming schoolyear will be at least just as exciting, so I
am bracing myself for it. A few lessons that I will carry over from this summer
are to do sincerely what I love to do and to do it well, to follow my gut, and
to go all out at whatever I choose to do. I know it sounds very cliché, but having
started to think seriously about what I want my life to be like after college,
I’ve realized that it is now time to actually go out and do the things I have
always dreamed about. The first big step is to find what you want to do, next
you need to keep faith, and finally you have to actually go and do it, and
Caltech does a fair job of preparing you for these steps.
So, stay posted for more details about some of the weekends
I’ve outlined as well as for more current updates on my late-summer adventures!
This summer I had the incredible opportunity to do a 10-week internship at Gilead Sciences in Foster City, CA. For those unfamiliar, Gilead Sciences, Inc. is a research-based biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development, and commercialization of innovative medicines.
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.