At Caltech, both
the house dining rooms and Chandler, the lunchtime cafeteria, are closed on
weekends during the school year. We’re left to fend for ourselves—which is
actually awesome, because it encourages us cook our own food in the house
kitchens or gives us an excuse to go out to restaurants. During the school year
people eat out a lot on weekends or cook simple food; during the summer there
are more structured cooking groups (which I’ll talk about in a later post!) and
more time to visit restaurants outside of Pasadena.
rising junior in Lloyd) recently got a car, and he and Sam (a rising sophomore)
and I decided to go to Arcadia (a few miles from Pasadena) for dinner. We ate
at a restaurant called Au79 that serves some light dinner food but specializes
in boba drinks. I hadn’t really heard of boba before I came to Caltech.
Colloquially, boba refers to a number of milk-based drinks that have tapioca
“pearls” at the bottom (which are technically the boba, but we call the whole
drink boba). Here are Sam and me with our boba drinks.
During the school
year, our house, Lloyd, frequently has midnight boba runs. Someone with a car
will decide to take a study break and will tour the house taking people’s
orders, and then will grab a few friends and drive to a boba place and pick up
the order. It’s always chaotic when they arrive back in Lloyd: there’s a huge scramble in a common
area with everyone trying to find the drink they ordered and pay back the
person who made the trip.
A couple of days
later we had a barbecue hosted by Caltech Dining Services for SURF students. It
took place on the Olive Walk, a brick walkway (which you can see in the picture
below) between the three North and four South Houses. Towards the beginning of
the barbecue I caught this group of frosh driving around a golf cart they’d
borrowed from somewhere…(that’s the Olive Walk they’re driving on, and
beautiful Lloyd House in the background).
And, turning 180
degrees, we see SURFers having an amazing time at the barbecue in front of the
I met a bunch of
students visiting for the summer from Cambridge University (including a few
from the Ukraine!) and some students from the University of Iceland. Both
Cambridge and the University of Iceland have summer exchange programs with
Caltech, giving Caltech students the opportunity to do research at those
universities in return.
After the barbecue
I headed over to the huge lawn in front of Beckmann Institute with David, a
SURF student from Northwestern; Catherine, a freshman in Lloyd; and our new
Cambridge friends to play frisbee.
It was too dark to take pictures, so you’re going to have to just imagine us playing
Ultimate on the grass below.
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.
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.