One neat thing about Caltech is that it’s part of a big Caltech-JPL community. A fair number of clubs are open to undergrads, grad students, and staff from Caltech and JPL. This means that even though we have a relatively small student body, there are often enough people that we can share resources to build up some nice infrastructure.
The Caltech Bike Lab is open to any member of the Caltech/JPL community. For $10, you can get a key that gives to 24 hour shop access so you can do maintenance whenever the whim wacks you. For free, you can go to the office hours, which are held 8 times a week (on week days). Community members volunteer in the lab and help people out with bike problems, or direct them to resources that can help with trickier issues.
I’ve been saved by the Bike Lab many times. The volunteers there taught me how to fix a flat and adjust brakes, which can both be tricky the first few times you try them. Now, I’m learning more about bike maintenance on my own, which is pretty great. It’s wonderful to be able to work in the Bike Lab where they have almost all the tools I could need and bike stands that make working more comfortable.
I'm working with a friend on fixing up a sleek silver single speed. (Pictures later!) The two bike maintenance books I'm working from now are
The Park Tool website is also fabulous. I like some hands-on learning where I get to really make mistakes, and it's not a big deal.
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.
This summer, from the confines of my Brooklyn apartment, you could find me typing away on a tiny 13-inch laptop screen. At times I was looking for answers on countless Stack Exchange pages, editing a Jupyter notebook, or making blood flow measurements on a software called Arterys. This was my 2021 Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURF) experience.
Almost a year ago now, I was just about to start my first Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) at JPL. NASA had sent out an email to all of their summer interns containing a social media template to announce that we had been selected as NASA interns. Excited to show my NASA pride, I posted it on my Instagram story, unaware of what would come out of this small action.