Katie Brennan


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Happy Christmas!

I thought I had covered all the basic British holiday features in my recent post- wrong! I went out to Christmas dinner with the lacrosse team (we’re number one in the league!) today and learned a few new things.

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Natural History Museum

I went to the Natural History Museum and was reminded of a widely recognized fact: mini and giant versions of animals are way cooler than the regular sized versions. The natural history museum has the bodies of pygmy: shrews, bats, and marmosets,giant: sloths and armadillos (5 feet tall!), and the very tiny ancestor to the modern horse. An utterly fantastic collection.

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ATTENTION

This weekend was my second to last in London and it was one I was particularly looking forward to because I saved a most special treat. I saved, you guessed it, THE DOCTOR WHO EXPERIENCE. For those of you who have not had the great honor of watching Doctor Who before today, please, do yourself a favor: stop reading and go watch it. Everyone else may continue reading.

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Day trip to Bath

My class was cancelled on Friday, so I jetted (actually, trained) off to the beautiful city of Bath. When I was doing my pre-trip research I was surprised to find that the whole city is classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, but once I got there I was no longer surprised. It totally makes sense that such a beautiful place should be cherished and protected!

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Neuroscience Lab

As an individual with perfectly adequate vision, I’ve been fascinated with the idea of how people with astigmatism, long- and short-sightedness, and color-blindness view the world. This fascination is by no means unique, in fact it’s almost cliché. Many of the people in my class ‘Structure and Function of the Nervous System’ were very excited about our lab on vision this week because it included sections on how those with regular vision can try to perceive the world with astigmatism or color-blindness.

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Graffiti

While at UCL I’ve been doing a lot more walking than I ever do at Caltech. To keep myself entertained on these walks I listen to music and people watch, but my favorite pass time is to spot graffiti. Frequently it’s very obvious (like in the picture below), but there are lots of little pieces higher up on buildings that are easy to miss if you’re not looking for it specifically. London and Paris are both covered in graffiti and some of it is actually very good. Easy to recognize pieces are those by Bansky, Shepard Fairey (of President Obama poster fame), and Space Invader.

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Fall Break in Paris!

On a short fall break from class those of us from Caltech studying at UCL (Megan, Annie, Lei, and I) spent a few days in Paris! It was simply too temptingly close to London to pass up the opportunity! Getting to Paris was simply a matter of a couple hour train ride.

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Biologists have more fun

Lucky for this biology major, on my walk to class everyday I pass the Grant Museum of Zoology, home to 67,000 animal specimens. It’s a curious, curious place. I popped in the other day and this is what I saw:

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Academic style

For those of you curious about the academic experience of UCL, this entry will compare and contrast work at UCL with work at Caltech. While schoolwork should add up to the same number of hours (roughly, each class should require nine hours of work per week), the way those hours are spent at Caltech versus UCL is demonstrably different: Sets vs. no sets: At Caltech most of my classes assign a weekly set or quiz. The sets are usually very difficult, requiring most of the time allotted to them and frequently more. But the weekly assignments are all well and good because it means the course material is being applied. At UCL I don’t have weekly sets, quizzes, or even midterm exams! With the exception of one essay due this week, I only have final exams and essays. The lack of weekly deadlines really takes the pressure and urgency out of school. Without those sets, I spend most of my time reading. To keep focused during all that reading I need to listen to a lot of music and move every couple of hours from library to coffee shop to library to coffee shop. The reading is a is less stressful than weekly assignments and a very welcome change. Of course, there is always the temptation to put off the reading because it’s a really sunny day and Regent’s Park is only a ten minute walk away…but then I just remember that it’s impossible to cram a term into the night before a final and, suddenly, my feet are leading me up the library steps! Collaboration vs. solo work (and it’s social implications): When I work on a set at Tech part of that time is spent with classmates. We collaborate most on the hardest questions, but even for less difficult questions it’s good to have a sounding board for answers in progress. Collaboration on sets is rarely strictly business. Get a group of college students together in a room together for six hours and you are bound to get goofiness, especially as you approach 3AM. Collaboration is a very simple way for academic life to become social life. At UCL, however, my social life is stricly my social life. Conversations with friends here are rarely academic in nature. It’s certainly a change from the social dynamic at Tech, but it’s an enjoyable kind of change.

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Ancient Egypt in London

I’m taking “Ancient Egypt in London” as a course this term. It is certainly a class I wouldn’t be able to take at Caltech. It is a reading intensive course that aims to strip away long held misconceptions about Egypt. Amazingly, lecture is in the British Museum! The opportunity to have lectures in the Egyptian galleries is such a treat. We spent the first lecture in a room dedicated to pre-dynastic Egypt (roughly 4000-3100 BC) looking at burials, pottery, cosmetic palettes, and tools. In pre-dynastic Egypt there were no mummies, no sarcophagi, mostly just bodies buried in the sand with a small number of clay or stone pots containing goods. The graves are very sparse compared to the later extravagant tombs of pharaohs.

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Sport, the British way

Then, on the train back to London, I learned of a few more UCL traditions. For each game, the team votes a “man” and a “wanker.” The man is essentially the game’s MVP, while the wanker is either the clumsiest, ditzy-est or LeastVP. It seemed too mean to vote someone wanker, so I nominated myself. Luckily, though I did not get it! Otherwise I would be required to wash the whole team’s smelly uniforms! Gross.

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Primatology, what's that?

If you were to throw a party and you could only invite people from one major, which major would you pick? Correct answer: biology.

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Going out on a school night?!

(https://www.lunch.com/reviews/product/UserReview-The_Lion_King_musical_-1394517-11121-The_Lion_Roars_On_Broadway.html)

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Day trips around London

Classes at UCL begin in earnest on Monday. Before then my fellow study abroad students and I have been doing seriously fun sightseeing around London! Thus far, the biggest perk of living in London, a city with amazing public transportation, is the ability to quickly and easily travel all around! In the last week Megan, a junior, and I have had the opportunity to travel to Oxford University, Windsor Castle, Eton College, and Camden Market! The day trip we took to Oxford was so enjoyable we’ve made plans to repeat the trip! I was impressed by the age and beauty of London, but that’s because I hadn’t yet seen Oxford.

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Arriving in London

Traveling the world is so important to me that as a high school senior I applied only to colleges with study abroad programs. Four years later, I’m finally taking advantage of Caltech’s awesome study abroad opportunities! I’m spending this term at University College London (UCL), “London’s Global University.” I’ve been in London a week now and both the city and the university are amazing! If you’re at all interested in potentially studying abroad in college, Caltech is a great place to make it happen. The Study Abroad office, https://fasa.caltech.edu/StudyAbroad.shtml, is staffed by people who are very accessible, helpful, and encouraging.

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