Cambridge’s University Library (the UL) is one of six legal deposit libraries in the UK, which means that a copy of every single book that is published must be sent there. As a result, the UL has a huge collection of books and receives about 100,000 books every year.
Fun fact: the metal books in each of the pillars in front of the UL can be rotated! (The building in the back of this photo is actually a college, not the UL).
Inside the library, there was an exhibition called Discarded History: The Genizah of Medieval Cairo. Jewish communities would put worn out writings in synagogue storage rooms called genizahs, as they were not allowed to discard any texts that mentioned the name of God prior to proper cemetery burial. As a result, these papers include not only religious texts but also texts about education, marriage, and personal affairs. In one writing, there was even a stick-figure drawing!
Each college actually has its own library, so students might choose to study in their own college library, the UL, or their department library. I personally prefer studying in my own room, so I never studied in the UL or my college library, but I have worked in my department library. The Engineering library has two areas, a silent space and a collaborative space. In the collaborative space, there are sofas and puzzles for de-stressing. Since it’s a collaborative area and people are talking, it can get kind of loud, which can be distracting, but it is a nice place for working on examples papers (sets) together.
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.