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!
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.
Hey hey! We’re starting a series where I walk you through my best finds for food and drinks in the Pasadena region, and in the LA metropolitan area. Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, if you will (although, for copyright reasons we can’t call it that). As you explore your college options, I firmly believe that food and location are more important than your high school guidance counselor may lead you to believe. And I’m here to share my best finds from my time at Caltech with you.