7:30 AM: Take BART to San Francisco International Airport - transit time, 1.5 hours. (for the non-Bay Area natives, BART = Bay Area Rapid Transit. As ridden by Will Smith inThe Pursuit of Happyness, aged forward a few decades, and unlike wine, not improved with time.)
10:50 AM: Embark on United flight to Chicago O’Hare Airport - transit time, 4 hours.
5:00 PM: Disembark, hurriedly race to connection to Munich.
6:05 PM: Embark on United flight to Munich International Airport - transit time, 9 hours.
9:50 AM: Disembark, find taxi to residence.
My day in a nutshell, stripped of weekday commuter-packed public transit, sketchy airport WiFi, stale pressurized airplane cabins, and mediocre airline food for your reading pleasure and convenience. I’m sure that most of you have ridden airplanes before, so I’ll summarize the more salient highlights.
Easily the most exciting part of my trip was getting to use the newfangled TSA Pre boarding program. I only began noticing these a few months ago, but today was my lucky day: the all-powerful random number generator chose me for the TSA Pre line. And what a joy it was! The usual 20-30 minutes in a packed line, in which I would be forced to take off my jacket, shoes, and belt (hoping my pants don’t slip off) and put all my items in bins in a panic, done away with. Instead, a leisurely 5 minute journey, where I felt almost guilty for passing so easily. It makes one feel almost warmly towards the TSA, before one remembers the golden days before modern airport security.
The subsequent 4 hour flight to Chicago was uneventful, punctuated only by a delay in boarding my connecting flight to Munich due to the fact that the “seat covers on the airplane were so soiled that we had to take time to replace them” (as quoted by the United Airlines representative). Not really sure what that implies, so I’ll leave that to your imagination. Then the boarding, and the 9 hour flight. Thank goodness for airplane movies.
Munich airport customs. The line was as long as it looks.
My first impression of Munich interntional airport:*wow, this place is really clean*. The well-run, almost sterile feeling was eliminated as soon as I entered customs, naturally. Taking my place at the end of the line, I waited some 30 odd minutes as a horde of Americans on vacation/Germans back from vacation slowly passed the border. Following that, the institute sent me a taxi driver to drop me off at my new place, and we exchanged some laboured conversation, with him peppering his heavily accented English with German and me struggling to understand both. It was a 30 minute drive from the airport to Garching, the town where I'm living - a drive tripled in duration due to the sudden failing of the driver's GPS, but at this point I was so tired that it really didn't matter anymore. The route was quite scenic, though.
It was really fun reading signs in kilometers and failing at unit conversions.
I'm a bit too jetlagged right now to really say much more, so I'll conclude this post - next time: where I'm living, where I'm working, and whereabouts I'll be exploring!
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.