My name is Ariel. My favorite color is glow-in-the-dark (don’t tell me it’s not a color). I like zombie apocalypse fiction and postmodern poetry. I like my water cold from a Brita filter in the fridge and I take my tea-drinking seriously.
I’m also a sophomore biology major at Caltech.
I am a week into the ten-week SURF program, which allows me to research in Professor Davidson’s sea urchin laboratory, which uses purple sea urchins as a model organism to study developmental biology. So far, doing a SURF is almost as exhausting as a term at Caltech, except when I leave lab in the evening, I don’t have any homework. I also have weekends free. Oh, and there aren’t any early morning classes.
There’ll be plenty of time to talk about my adventures and misadventures in lab, but I’ll start with some of the nonacademic parts of my summer first.
Over the weekend, I finally had time to start watching Breaking Bad. Between problem sets and classes, I’m too focused on getting enough sleep to watch any TV during the school year. (I’m much more likely to be found with a book.)
Speaking of books, I’m also reading Digger, which is a fantastic graphic novel about a wombat. It was written originally as a webcomic, and is luckily available legally, free, and in full on the author’s website. I have a lot of friend at Caltech who follow webcomics with an impressive regularity. XKCD, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, and Questionable Content are popular choices. I read Cyanide and Happiness regularly myself, but that’s only because the latest comics pop up in my newsfeed whenever I check my Facebook.
The webcomic Digger is available here: https://diggercomic.com/
Digger isn't the last graphic novel I'll be reading this summer, but most of my reading consists of papers on gene regulatory networks (GRNs) for my research. Sea urchins all the way!
Now, we can end with some eye candy.
This is a purple sea urchin alongside a glamorous close-up.
This is a sea urchin being eaten by a snapper.
I do not eat sea urchins, but some people do.
It was nice meeting you! If you want to hear about starting a culture of sea urchin embryos, you should check out my next blog post later this week!
This summer I had the incredible opportunity to do a 10-week internship at Gilead Sciences in Foster City, CA. For those unfamiliar, Gilead Sciences, Inc. is a research-based biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development, and commercialization of innovative medicines.
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.