Anyway, I’m Anne, and I’m an Averite in Caltech’s class of 2019. I’m originally from Houston, TX, I’m on the fencing team, and I also sing in Caltech’s only all-female a cappella group, the Pipettes (along with my fellow bloggers Gloria and Jenny, whose posts you should definitely go check out). I’m a prospective EE or CS major, and so before term started, I scoured Major League Hacking’s website for a good hackathon to attend.
I was overjoyed to find Cal Hacks 2.0, a West Coast hackathon at UC Berkeley, near the beginning of term, when I figured I would be less bogged down with homework, and immediately set to applying. I found out I got in a few days before flying out to Caltech, and spent the first few weeks of term counting down to this first hackathon experience.
I got an Uber over to USC with some other Caltech students, where Berkeley sent a bus for all the USC/Caltech/Harvey Mudd kids. We left around noon on October 9th, a Friday afternoon, and the first thing that happened when we got on the bus was that the organizers handed everyone a 4-pack of Red Bull. Considering how much sleep I heard I’d get (spoiler alert: none!), so far, so good.
Andrew and his Red Bull haul.
The bus ride took about 8 hours. I spent about half of it stumbling through Math 1a, and the other half sleeping. A tip for if you ever find yourself in the middle of California: bring something to do that doesn’t involve the internet. There was no signal out there for hours (okay, more like 5 minutes) at a time.
As soon as we arrived, the line for registration stretched out the door. By the time we got inside California Memorial Stadium, where the hackathon was being held, all three floors dedicated to the hackathon were packed. (We may or may not have sneaked up to another floor and gotten ushered away by a security guard…) We ended up waiting on the fourth floor for a spot to clear up, and missed the opening ceremony. Eventually, the organizers shuttled all the UC Berkeley students back onto campus, and a kind volunteer found us a cleared-out spot.
The maximum team size was 5, so Andrew, Chen, Advith, and Robert, 4 super-nice upperclassmen, invited me to join their group. We spent the next 36 hours creatingventurso.me, a webapp that takes in a time range, a starting location, and anending location, and plots out an itinerary that can be saved to PDF and printed. It also brings up a map and a list of all nearby venues, so the user can mark their preferences about locations to avoid.
If I told the story of the 36 hours from beginning to end I’d probably never finish this blog post, so I’ll just give some highlights:
Boba, the best midnight snack ever.
FREE STUFF. Everyone on my team got something like five free shirts along with bags, water bottles, and tons of stickers.
These little shark bath toys. Like rubber duckies, but sharks. (Some of us didn’t get any and were very sad.)
Getting to use an Oculus Rift for the first time!
A little story about free stuff: Robert raided a sponsor table around 4am and got a cardboard box and drawstring bag full of socks. I kid you not, we brought back at least 60 pairs and distributed them to random kids on campus.
The cutest mascot ever.
DDoSki (Cal Hacks’ bear mascot!) ft. other random stickers.
On a more serious note, no matter what major you’re thinking about pursuing, I completely recommend attending a hackathon sometime during college (or even during high school!), because it’s a very different coding environment than school assignments. It’s a place where you can bounce ideas off other creative, motivated individuals to create something you’re excited about, not just something you were told to do. Knowing how to code opens up so many possibilities that might not be easy to see in a classroom environment, and hackathons are where you can really start to explore those opportunities. Hackathons are especially great on pass-fail, because there’s less worrying about grades and more just having a great time hacking and solving problems.For more info, check outMajor League Hacking’s website.
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.
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.