academics

Reflections: My Favorite Classes

Four weeks before graduation! While I’m looking forward to the summer and all the fun it promises, I’m also reflecting on my undergraduate experience over the past few years. This is a blog about my favorite classes during my time here, some expected and others less so. As a Computer Science major, no CS classes actually make my final cut, but my top three favorite classes all fall into the realm of Neuroscience, my other primary academic interest.

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culture

Being a Caltech Athlete

As I write this blog, I’m sitting on a grassy knoll on Pomona-Pitzer’s campus. It’s the last match of my final season of tennis here at Caltech. It’s definitely a bittersweet feeling to be done with my college tennis career (unless I decide to use my final year of NCAA eligibility, granted to athletes affected by the COVID-19 pandemic). Being a part of the women’s tennis team here has been a defining part of my identity and where I met my community on campus. In this blog, I want to discuss a bit of the process of becoming an NCAA athlete, the Caltech experience of handling schoolwork and a sport, and my take on how it affected my growth here.

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academics

Humanities at Caltech

I remember being a junior in HS and my APCS partner, Brooke, had just gotten accepted into Caltech. She was looking at the course catalog for humanities courses during class (instead of working on our project) and shaking her head at the offerings. When May rolled around, she told me part of the reason she didn’t choose to go to Caltech was how the humanities courses seemed to be “too scientific,” with classes that integrated history with quantum physics, etc. A year later, when I was in the same situation, I decided to matriculate to Caltech for its strong STEM offerings, but felt some anxiety about how my love of the humanities would be fed during my four years of undergraduate education.

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academics

Interactions with Professors

One of the most well-known benefits of being a Caltech student is the infamous 3:1 student to faculty ratio, which implies a personalized, interactive undergraduate experience with world-class research scientists. It was a primary reason why I chose Caltech above other schools as a high school senior. Now as my time at Caltech comes to a close, I can reflect back on my interactions with different professors and consider if this 3:1 ratio really “lives up to the hype.” I believe the answer is yes.

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clubs local

Socal College Poker Tournament

On the weekend of April 16th, my friends and I participated in the first ever Southern California College Poker Tournament! The tournament was for college students in the SoCal area with a $0 buy-in that doubled as a recruiting event for quant and finance firms. A senior friend of mine (Vanessa, a fellow blogger) put together a team of five girls who had no interest in being recruited and just wanted to have fun playing poker.

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culture local

Emily's 626/SGV Recs #3: Little Tokyo

Little Tokyo is a bit far from Caltech, but a fun LA experience overall, especially for anyone who likes Japanese food and/or culture.

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academics

Ranking Courses at Caltech

Below I have ranked all of the classes I took over 8 terms at Caltech. I ranked based on my overall enjoyment of the course, which depended on my interest in the subject, the quality of course, and the various topics/projects covered. The courses in the middle I did not have strong feelings for and had a hard time justifying their position besides gut feeling, so I did not provide reasoning for those.

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culture local

Emily's 626/SGV Recs #2: Boba Worth Driving To

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post for recommendations of boba around Caltech. This follow up includes a far more comprehensive list of boba shops in the 626/SGV area. Now, I’ll admit that I have a rather extensive spreadsheet of boba stores and drinks that I’ve tried and enjoyed or disliked. However, I’d rather not bore everyone with a full spreadsheet, especially when it reveals just how much boba I’ve had each year. However, if I attempted to write about all of the shops I’ve tried, this post would get too long, so it’s instead compressed into a much more easily digestible format: a Tiermaker list. Obviously, this is the most sophisticated possible presentation of this information and 100% objective. Definitely tested via the scientific method and not subject to personal bias whatsoever.

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culture local

Emily's 626/SGV Recs #1: Boba Near Caltech

In the past few years, boba or bubble tea has exploded in popularity, with stores opening up all across the country. As a very avid but picky boba drinker, this has been a blessing for me, as I’ve been able to try drinks from so many new stores. In the past four years, I’ve been able to try what might be conservatively called a fairly significant portion of boba stores in the Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley area (otherwise known as 626/SGV).

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academics

Pre-med at Caltech

Despite being a school known for its scholarship and prowess in research, Caltech is not the most popular destination for pre-med students, largely due to its reputation of rigor. For many, Caltech’s degree of rigor is synonymous with grade deflation, one of the scariest English phrases to any pre-med student. As someone who started off on a completely different track, I matriculated to Caltech as a Computer Science major, and fully expected myself to be working in the tech industry when I graduated. However, as I went through a few different internships and also got exposed to different areas of science, I rediscovered my passion for biology, specifically neuroscience, and decided at the end of my sophomore year to embark on the pre-med track. In this blog, I’ll talk a bit first about the requirements for pre-meds, then he different opportunities available here for clinical work/volunteering, and finally some of the fears prospective pre-meds may have about attending Caltech.

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culture

What's On Your Desk?

I feel like a person’s desk or workspace can tell you a lot about them. So, I’ll reveal my darkest secrets and take you on a tour of my desk at Caltech! To begin, I’ll note that the dorm rooms have varying sizes/types of desks, so not all of them look like this; for example, bunk bed rooms in some houses have a desk as the bottom “bunk”, and so the desk spans the entire length of the bed. In comparison, mine is a standalone desk with some shelves on top of it. Regardless, I think what matters more is what a person chooses to put on/around their desk, so it’s time to show you all the nerdy things I have decorated my desk with.

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academics

Grad School Visits

While the majority of readers of these blogs are likely prospective undergraduates, I’m writing this in hopes of helping out any students who are curious about what the process of applying to graduate school from Caltech looks like. I hope the blog can lend some insight to the process.

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clubs academics

Tutoring at Caltech

One of Caltech’s many clubs is the RISE tutoring program, where undergraduate students connect with local high schoolers and provide tutoring in various STEM subjects. I only became a tutor this academic year, but the experience has been so rewarding for me and, hopefully, also for the students I tutor.

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academics

Sending a High Altitude Balloon to Space

This past term, I took EE154a: Practical Electronics for Space Applications, which was one of my favorite classes I’ve taken at Caltech so far! In the class, we learned about electronics and systems in the space environment through hands-on labs, and then we used that knowledge to create payloads for a high altitude balloon (HAB) launch into space! To start off the class, in the lab, we characterized various systems like an RC (resistor-capacitor) filter, an Arduino oscillator, different sensors, etc. at various temperatures and pressures in a thermal vacuum chamber, shown here:

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culture

A Day in the Life: Jen

In this blog, I want to take you through a day in my life as a Caltech student. My daily routine has varied greatly since I arrived. In high school, I used to wake up early in the morning to run and play tennis; upon arriving at Caltech my freshman year, my wake-up time quickly shifted back to the 10-11am time range. Now that I’m a senior who has more of her life together, I’ve begun to start my day early again so that I can get a jumpstart. There’s nothing like waking up to the California sunshine and to feel the crisp morning air on your face.

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academics

How I Study

A while back, I wrote a blog post on the best study spots on campus. Now that you’ve settled in and found a place with a good ambiance for work, the questions evolves into: how do I get started? What’s the most effective way to study at Caltech? The answer, as always, is not clear-cut, since we each learn and process information in an individual way. However, in this blog post, I’ll provide some insight on the strategies I’ve used to study at Caltech and what tools I’ve found work for me.

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academics

Admissions Decision Retrovision

As I sit down to write this blog, I can’t help but reflect on how fast the years go by. It has been over three years already since I received my Caltech admissions decision. That was a very special day in my life, and I remember it like it was yesterday. As soon as I submitted my application to Caltech, my dad and I made it our job to read endless articles about Caltech. I wanted to learn everything about my dream school. The more I read, the more excited I became. It was also nerve-wracking, and I was anxious to learn when decisions were going to be announced.

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culture

Peer Advocates

I’ve been involved with the Peer Advocate program since my freshman year at Caltech. I always regarded myself as a person who could listen to and empathize with others, and enjoyed serving that role to my friends and peers in high school. A Peer Advocate is trained to build listening skills to address mental health issues in their peers and to improve the residential experience through hosting office hours and house events. It’s one of the most unique programs at the school and provides a valuable resource for all Caltech students.

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research

Research at Caltech

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.

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local

The Golden State Warriors “Visit” Caltech

Title image: Caltech students crowding around the windows to see Steph Curry shoot, credit: Mark Medina

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culture

The Residential Experience (Caltech RA's)

At Caltech, RA can stand for “Research Assistant,” but more commonly refers to “Resident Associate.” RAs are full-time graduate students who live in the houses with undergraduates and help to manage student activities and the house community. Recently, my house (Fleming) got a new RA, after our old RA, Steve, went off to do his postdoc at Yale University.

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academics

Admissions Reflections

The email app has always been one of my most used apps on my phone, and this was especially true my senior year of high school. One Saturday, I was checking my email for maybe the 7th or 8th time that day, which was normal for me. What wasn’t normal that day though, was the surprise email I received from the Caltech admissions office. When I saw the message sitting in my inbox, my heart immediately began racing. I quickly opened it, and my heart rate doubled; I had been accepted. In total shock, I ran into the living room of my boyfriend’s apartment (who I was staying with at the time), and told him the good news. After celebrating, he told me to call my parents. I called my dad first, and his reaction was “Really?! I was not expecting that”… (thanks, Dad). I then called my mom, who was very excited and happy for me. Needless to say, that was one of the best emails I ever received.

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culture

Ceramics @ Caltech

Many people, after getting into Caltech, get excited about taking a certain class, meeting a famous professor, or getting the chance to work at NASA. When I got into Caltech, I spent a week looking at the course catalog. Then, I sent a message to Ankita, an upperclassman on the tennis team who had hosted me when I visited the school. “How’s the Ceramics class?” I asked. To this day, she still laughs about me being the girl who asked about Ceramics even before getting information about the core requirements and whatnot (she didn’t know anything, by the way.) This year, my senior year, my schedule finally allowed me to squeeze in the class I’ve wanted to take before I even graduated high school – Ceramics.

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local

Traveling at Caltech

Maybe you’ve hopped on a plane to LAX and now you’re trying to get to campus. Or you found some free time in between the 5 sets due next week and the sport you’re playing to take a trip out to LA. Whatever your reasons are, I hope this post offers some useful resources on how to get on/off campus. While Pasadena is a beautiful neighborhood, it’s not located in the most convenient areas of Los Angeles, an urban sprawl in and of itself. Please note this article is updated as of 2/3/2022.

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academics

Admissions Reflections

I was sitting at the kitchen table, having just finished a meal, when I decided to check my admissions decision for Caltech. While I was nervous for what might happen, I’ve always had a “rip the band-aid off” attitude. The decision had been made and it was just up to me now to observe what it was. I remember the moment very vividly – I clicked on the link in my application portal and a stream of virtual orange confetti rained down my computer screen. The first line of the letter said “Congratulations!”

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academics

Admissions Reflections

I remember huddling around my laptop with my mom and dad at the dining room table. While counting down from three, I took a few quick breaths and finally clicked on my application decision—the confetti on the screen was all we needed to jump up and scream! I remember hugging my parents as they happily shouted, “I knew it! I knew it!” It was an extremely exciting moment, and the rest of the day was really just a blur of my friends and family congratulating me on the acceptance.

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culture

How to be a sk8ter girl

Skateboards, trick boards, long boards, Pennyboards, electric skateboards — Lloyd house has them all, and you, too, can learn how to ride a skateboard indoors on its carpeted hallways.

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culture

Caltech Food Tour

Caltech may be a small campus, but it has a large variety of food options. There are three main dining locations on campus — The Lee F. Browne Dining Hall, the Hameetman Center (which houses our beloved Red Door Cafe), and the Broad Café.

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culture local

Love and Rage: My Experience Organizing for Environmental Justice

As a Caltech student, I obviously have a love for STEM. But for me, that love is incomplete without the bigger picture—the role that STEM can play in helping society. That connection between science and humanity served as the initial motivation for one of my primary passions: organizing for environmental justice.

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local culture

Reminiscing on Dodgers Playoff Games

Now that the 2021 baseball season has come to close, I want to take a little trip down memory lane to the 2019 Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs. To set the scene, after an exciting wild card game win, the Washington Nationals (my team) began a five game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers win the first and third game of the series, and the Nationals win the second and fourth game, making game five a do-or-die situation. The final game took place at Dodgers Stadium, a mere 20 minute drive from Caltech. I pounced on this opportunity, going to the game with my fellow baseball-fanatic and Caltech student, Arya.

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research

My SURF Experience

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.

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culture

Musings on a Small School

Whenever I tell someone that Caltech has an undergraduate population of less than one thousand people, their first reaction is disbelief. “Really?” they exclaim. “You must know everyone! How can you get a real college experience with so few undergrads?”

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local

Exploring the Mountains of SoCal during the Virtual School Year

Hi y’all – this is my first post on the blog, and I’m glad to be here! This is actually a continuation of my friend and fellow blogger Tyler Colenbrander’s previous post about our experience living together over the past three virtual terms at Caltech. You can see his post at this link.

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culture

Greek Life or Lack Thereof at Caltech

One of the most exciting aspects of college life is the freedom that students enjoy when living on their own. When most students think about college life, one of the first things that comes to mind is Greek life, with the many sororities and fraternities on campuses across the country. While Caltech does not have Greek life, per se, we do have a unique housing system, similar to that of Hogwarts. There are eight houses and one residence on campus: Avery, Blacker, Dabney, Fleming, Lloyd, Page, Ricketts, Venerable, and the Bechtel Residence. Each of the houses has its own unique culture, character, and traditions. I am a member of Venerable House!

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academics

How I Chose My Major

Coming into Caltech, I was not like some of my peers who, from the first day of entering campus, knew exactly which field they wanted to pursue. I arrived at Caltech finding everything around me intriguing. From mathematics to mechanical engineering, from biology to computer science, all of the above! As (somewhat of) a joke, I would claim I wanted to do 18 majors at once! Once I reached campus, there came my challenge of trying to definitively determine what major fits best for me.

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academics

Moving Back: FCC at Caltech

You’re squished with all your dorm essentials in the back of the car and your parents in the front trying to find parking. Emotions are high: Will you make friends? Will classes be too hard? What’s your roommate going to be like?

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academics

How to take care of yourself at Caltech

So you’ve done it! You’re going to attend Caltech, one of your dream schools, and you can officially call yourself a Techer. Maybe you grew up in sunny Southern California or, like me, moved thousands of miles from the East Coast (where they actually have seasons.) Regardless of how familiar you are with Pasadena or the Caltech campus before attending, becoming a student is a unique and new experience. Life at Caltech can be fun, but it is also one of the most rigorous schools in the world. It is important that your own health and wellbeing is always a top priority, regardless of whatever commitments you have on your plate.

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culture

Living in the Virtual School Year

This past year was so different than most of us could have ever imagined. Living in “the virtual school year” posed a plethora of challenges, but at the same time, it opened the door to new possibilities. As a society, we learned how to better operate in a virtual world, and as individuals, we had time for new endeavors. For myself, this meant taking the leap of faith to move away from home and live with some fellow Techers. While I had already had the experience of moving away from home and coming to live in the Caltech houses, this was quite different. Instead of living in organized student residences with hundreds of other students, a meal plan, and tons of support resources, I was about to go live with just 5 other people (some of which I did not know super well) and we had to find and manage our own housing, food, and necessities.

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Student Life

Pack With Me!

Thinking about being back as a Junior at Caltech this year was nothing short of terrifying. It felt like it was just yesterday that I was a frosh getting lost in Linde trying to find the recitation for Ma1a: Calculus of One and Several Variables and Linear Algebra. Now, I was responsible for being a source of support to the new frosh and sophomores.

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research

From San Diego to Brooklyn: My Summer 2021 SURF Experience

This summer, from the confines of my Brooklyn apartment, you could find me typing away on a tiny 13-inch laptop screen. At times I was looking for answers on countless Stack Exchange pages, editing a Jupyter notebook, or making blood flow measurements on a software called Arterys. This was my 2021 Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURF) experience.

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academics

T minus X days to Grad School (and some unsolicited life lessons)

Senior year tends to differ widely between different folks. Some have finished nearly all their major requirements, while others will be working through their classes all the way until graduation. My friends and I all fall on different points along this spectrum, but we all have something in common: we’re ready for second and third term.

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Academics

My Favorite Study Spots

As the first week of fall term whizzes past, many of us are beginning to feel the schoolwork kick into high gear. While Rotation, the process through which freshmen choose their houses, wraps up, we can begin to discuss some relaxing study spots on campus. Studying is not everyone’s favorite activity but it can be synonymous with learning — and having fun! Here are a few of my favorite places. I’ve also rated each area out of three stars on various factors to give a better picture of each space.

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Spotlight


culture

Caltech Food Tour

Caltech may be a small campus, but it has a large variety of food options. There are three main dining locations on campus — The Lee F. Browne Dining Hall, the Hameetman Center (which houses our beloved Red Door Cafe), and the Broad Café.

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academics

Some Late-Night Stress-Saving Food Runs

Midterms kept up its unrelenting attack on my sanity this week – at least a little bit. And how did I solve this? Two words.

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culture

Caltech Art Gala

Every year, Caltech’s literary and arts magazine Totem hosts the Art of Science competition.

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global local culture

Quick Trip to the Beach

Although there are a lot of smaller things, such as midterm smoothies and milkshakes (Blacker does something similar to this) and some larger things like Faculty Dessert Night, the soc team usually agrees that beach trip is the most work.

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