Ok now for the FUN! Geology post. And the post where I talk a bit about the logistics of going on a 3.5-day Caltech GPS trip. The trip started on a Thursday night. I spent most of the 4-ish hour car ride working on my CS midterm. We ate in Barstow. 3/5 for the Barstow burger place, it was kinda funky. My friend Molly and I actually packed most of our food for the trip besides the planned dinners out. Lots of chunky PB&J (blueberry jelly!).
For the duration of the trip we stayed at the SHEAR facility in Shoshone. We weren’t camping, and honestly it was similar to a lot of the trips that I took in middle school. SHEAR is a research building for geologists and yeah, it was nice to have an actual bed to sleep on after a hard day of geology.
Shoshone is a small town with a population of 17. There’s one restaurant there, the Crowbar Café, where our prof and some students ate for every meal. Molly and I tried it Saturday night. 2/5 but they got an extra star for nice service. The trip was kinda a weird split: 4 undergrads, 5 grad students, the two TAs, and our prof. Over time we started to mingle more with the grad students (see photographic evidence of me, Toby, and Philip below) but it definitely did create an interesting dynamic.
On day 2 after our fieldwork we took a trip out to China Ranch Date farm. I got a date shake and tried some of their dates. It was a pretty crazy and random experience. Apparently, a lot of geologists go to China Ranch after their field work. The date shake had high quality ice cream and delicious chunks of dates peppered throughout it. Maybe I was hungry but that was a solid 5/5 on the food point.
Beyond that, we also met a group of Oxy students staying at SHEAR for a geomorphology class. Very nice people, they let Molly and I eat dinner with them on the night that nobody else brough dinner and all went to the Crowbar. In the rest of our free time Molly and I tried to do homework, but the WIFI was slow and the cell service did not exist.
The drive back was pretty wild, but not for my car. The other car blew a tire and had to wait on the roadside for an hour. Either way, we got back late Sunday, unpacked, and I went to do work.
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.