Unlike most American Jews, who probably spent Christmas eating Chinese food and watching Les Miserables, we had a really busy day today! We started the day with breakfast at 7am, sharp, which is no fun with jetlag. Breakfast on the kibbutz is really interesting (and delicious); we were all expecting Lucky Charms, but it mostly consisted of salad, hummus, and cheese. It was really good, though!
Then we left for Zefat, a city in the North of Israel known for its artwork and ties to Kaballah, or Jewish mysticism. There we toured several synogogues, learned about Kaballah, and went to a candle shop where they handmade all sorts of beautiful candles. Some pictures are below:
The Torah ark at one of the synogogues in Zefat
This is a handmade candle in the store at Zefat. It’s a giant Noah’s ark!
Also, now would be a good time to introduce my (particularly photogenic) Caltech companions:
That’s Jeff and Eric, both of whom live in Venerable House with me
And that’s Ben, Alex, and Liana (also Rudds!)
We also visited the Golan Heights and learned about the history and strategic importance of the region for the Israeli military. We even got to go into an old Syrian bunker.
Finally, we went to the city of Kiryat Shmona and visited students taking part in the Ayalim program. The Ayalim foundation allows students to work in disadvantaged neighborhoods while they complete their studies and expand local communities. These students work with the youth in the area, offering tutoring services, after-school care, and other projects. Several years ago, they even rebuilt part of an old basketball court after it had been hit by an incoming rocket. More information about their foundation can be found here: https://ayalim.org.il/en/
That’s it for now! Hopefully I’ll be less tired (and more coherent) next time I write!
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.