For those who haven’t been introduced to the world of disc golf, allow me to instruct you. It requires speed, stamina, agility, endurance, bench pressing, lifting weights!
… Just kidding.
Disc Golf is perhaps the MOST CHILL sport of all time. By far one of my favorite hobbies, it’s the kind of sport that will take two enemies and make them friends or take two friends and make them besties. As my good friend once said, “I have only two loves: America, and the glorious clink of two chains of a disc golf basket.”
Dear readers, I apologize for the length of this post. For your browsing pleasure, I’ve spaced it out with some nice pictures. Have fun!
The premise of disc golf is simple. You must “tee off” from anywhere on a pre-placed rectangular concrete slab and throw your disc into a chain mail basket located some distance away. Holes can be very short but incredibly technical, requiring a lot of skill and control. Other holes can be very straight shots that need one or two super powerful throws to sail all the way to the target. The longest hole I have ever played was an incredible par 3 that was 500m from tee to basket. (Let’s just say a hole in one would be a miracle.) Today, many public parks include disc golf courses (either 9 or 18 holes) that are open to the public and maintained fairly regularly. Back home, there are at least 4 different sites that we like to frequent. Disc golf is so versatile, though, that one can actually play anywhere – and I have! “Urban” disc golf as it is sometimes called involves holes that you make up as you go along. More on that later.
This spring break, I made sure to pack my three trusty discs for my trip up to Stanford. Incredibly, I had two opportunities to disc! On Sunday, some friends and I drove to Golden Gate Park, in San Francisco, to attend a Lindy-Hop Dance social as well as hit the disc course. Considering that the park is absolutely massive, it took us nearly an hour to walk from our parking spot to the first tee. Some parts of the park looked like your regular evergreen forest while other parts seemed to me as if I was stepping back into prehistory, where a dinosaur could have leapt out from behind each fern. The course itself was incredible. Throwing up and down hills, over streams, and even past the famed Golden Gate bison, we wound our way over hill and dale. After two hours, we had only finished 13 holes, but were so exhausted, that we called it a good game and headed back into the city for dinner. Overall, an incredible day with great friends and a great game.
Later that week, my older brother (with whom I was staying) stumbled upon something called the “Official Unofficial Stanford Disc Golf Course”. This was an 18 hole course invented by one of the campus frats detailing a route covering the entire campus. An urban disc golf course, everything on the course is invented oneself. Instead of concrete slabs to tee off from, we followed instructions that said, “stand on the North Side of the red fountain within arm’s length of the oak tree.” The baskets followed the same casual format. “Hit the fourth lamp post on the left of the street.” “Land your disc in the sunken planter on the top of the hill.” Along with a friend from high school and three discs apiece, we set off.This course did not have too many tremendously challenging holes.
The real difficulty was not causing any pedestrian casualties as we went along! That’s the real trouble with urban disc golf.
Look at that color combo ^
[Insert slapstick comedy interlude!] On one of the very last holes, one of our discs got stuck in a tree. Of course the most logical course of action was then to throw a shoe to dislodge it. When that predictably got stuck, we clearly had to throw the other flip flop at it. And when that got stuck, I finally stepped in to climb the tree and remove all three objects. And subsequently, the lowest branch broke and I toppled down to the ground. Good thing my friend was conveniently standing directly below me and broke my fall!
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.