Hey there! I’m Anusha, a freshman in Blacker House. I am thinking about majoring in Electrical Engineering, and I say “thinking” because we only have to declare a major third term. So a little about me:
I’m from the good ol’ east coast, land of the blue crabs. If you guessed Maryland,you guessed right! In fact, Marylanders are so proud of their crabs that one of my friends back home gave me Old Bay seasoning as a birthday gift, the irony being that I’m a vegetarian (but yes, it can be used for more than just crabs). It’s been quite a change in weather coming here, and when I came back from winter break, I experienced over a 40 degree temperature rise (it is REALLY hot here).
There are so many things to do here in Pasadena and on campus itself. Really. There is always something going on, whether you want a fun excursion or a late-night board game competition. Academics are important, but it is just as necessary to step back and let the right side of your brain take over for a while. As a tribute to this, I’m going to tell you all about my first term here at Tech and ten of its highlights, in no particular order whatsoever.
** **After 12 hours in transit, including one two-turned-four hour layover in San Francisco, I finally made it to Pasadena! The first Monday of orientation, the frosh were herded into buses and we made our way to Ventura, where Frosh Camp was held! That’s right, my Caltech life started in a Marriott at Ventura Beach about an hour away from campus. We were all put into country groups, and we spent a lot of time doing activities during camp with the people in this group. In fact, Carly, my roommate, was in the same country group as me! During this time, we were given the chance to spend time at the beach, go on a hike with Professor Asimow as he explained a lot of the really interesting phenomena on the trail, and we had a chance to learn about a lot of the Core classes from the professors themselves!
While we were there, there was a boat competition between the country groups. The task was to build a boat that could travel a certain distance in the Marriott’s pool. Our country group, Belgium, built a sailboat, and we won! Here’s a picture of the final product:
As our victory prize, we got a Tom Mannion dinner! Now, what does that entail, you ask? Well, all I need to say is that he made us a delicious, 15-course meal (I’m not exaggerating) that took 4.5 hours to finish. That’s right, we got there around 7 PM, and we got back to our room around 11:45 PM. Mannion dinners are famous, and Tom Mannion is one<span style="font-size: 14px;">of the ni<span style="font-size: 14px;">cest people on campus. Here you’ll see all fifteen courses and me and Carly!
2. Blacker and The Shire**
Here at Caltech, we have a thing called Rotation. To understand Rotation, you really have to believe that Caltech is the equivalent of Hogwarts (read: it’s magical). For the first two-ish weeks of school, we live in a temporary room with a temporary roommate, and we go to dinners, desserts, and special events at each house. Then, at the end, we rank the houses, and through some mysterious process, we are sorted (read: the sorting house decides our fate) into a house.
Where did I end up? Blacker House! After a term here, I absolutely love it, but you’ll hear most people say that about their own house. I live in a room called The Shire, and we have a half loft. Carly sleeps under the loft on a mattress on the floor, and I have a desk-bed (a bunk bed with the bottom mattress removed). This way, we can have the loft to lounge around! The picture to the left is of me on our loft.
3. “Pass/Fail Frosh”
So, here at Tech, freshmen are on pass/fail for the first two terms, meaning we have no GPA until third term. Some classes give shadow grades, but those aren’t of much significance after the term ends. Being on Pass/Fail is AWESOME. People say it gives you a chance to try a bunch of different things and see what you have time for. Personally, though, I don’t think you should take on too much first term. I joined Dhamaka, a dance team, joined the Academics and Research Committee (ARC), played flute in a chamber group, and started doing research in a lab here on campus. Outside of that, I participated in house events and focused on schoolwork because I knew I couldn’t take on more than that. What Pass/Fail really allowed me to do was realize that if I didn’t do as well as I had hoped, everything would be okay. And that gave me a chance to figure out how I could do college better, and that has been working out great for me.
**4. Food and Professors **
Possibly one of the biggest benefits of going to such a small school is the immense number of opportunities available to network with professors. In fact, my physics recitation TA was Professor Frautschi, a Professor Emeritus here at Caltech. Despite being one of the founders of modern string theory, it appears he likes to spend four hours a week TAing Ph1a. It’s things like this that make Caltech such an incredible place to learn.
One of the nicer aspects of a 230-some freshman class is that professors sometimes take students to lunch at the Athenaeum, the equivalent of an on-campus country club. There, I’ve had lunch with Professor Frautschi, Professor Lewis (Ch1a), Mike Vanier (CS1), and Professor Nets Katz (Ma1a). I’ve learned about Prof. Frautschi’s take on living in various parts of the world, Prof. Lewis’s solar energy research, and some other pretty awe-inspiring things.
**5. Blacker Thanksgiving **
** **We call our “dorms” houses for a reason – Blacker really is my home away from home. While many students go home for Thanksgiving, I stayed on campus because break is only four days and it didn’t make sense to spend two of those days flying home and back. On Thursday, after waking up around noon, a bunch of the frosh spent the day making pound cake, frosting, baked potatoes, and roasted potatoes. Quite a few people stay on campus, so all of the ovens were full for the majority of the day. So much food!
Thanksgiving Friday, a bunch of us went to Chipotle for dinner and then went ice skating in Old Pasadena, about a 45 minute walk away. It was nice to have a break so we could go out and have some fun without having to worry about sets!
Well, that's 1-5. Numbers 6-10 will come in Part 2.
After only one term, I’ve come to the conclusion that I really, really love Caltech. I love the people, I love the classes, I love the culture. Anyway, I’m now in my sweats and under a blanket, so it looks like I should sleep (what’s that again?). Look out for the second installment of my Fall Term adventures!
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.