So I did this weird thing the other night...I went to sleep early, because I was feeling a little tired. I was asleep before midnight (gasp!), and my alarm was set for 9 (because if I sleep infinity hours on a school night my sleep schedule gets very messed up).
Turns out that I didn't need to bother with the alarm because at 8 am on the dot I was woken by the cries of the seniors yelling, "WAKE UP FROSH IT'S DITCH DAY!"
For anyone who isn't aware, Ditch Day is the hallowed Caltech version of Senior Skip Day. Back in the days of yore, seniors would skip class. This would make the underclassmen very upset, because they were still in class. So, to take their revenge, underclassmen would break into the seniors' rooms and prank them in some way. Seniors, then, to avoid having to clean up 400 small paper cups of water senior spring, started blockading their doors. The more common technique would be to stack an obstacle--like bricks--in front of your door. Underclassmen responded with pickaxes.
Ditch Day has evolved today to a less destructive, more creative form. Seniors spend varying amounts of time (i.e. all of spring term, of all of senior year, or random day dreams from the day they receive their admissions packet) setting up these elaborate treasure hunt/scavenger hunt/puzzle-type things. On Ditch Day (which is always tomorrow), underclassmen sign up for one of these 'stacks' and spend the day (an Institute Holiday!) completing their puzzle. It's always a lot of fun--you see students wandering around all day in matching shirts, overcoming bizarre obstacles, and just enjoying what the seniors have put together.
But it was Ditch Day! So I ran around the house and found a perfect stack:
We signed up as various characters. I was Dory...I think...
Our first clue was accompanied by a highly detailed map.
Which led to our second clue...
And first obstacle.
Getting five goldfish over the jellyfish-filled abyss into the plastic cup. Needless to say, many poor fish were sacrificed in our pursuit of our goal.
Then we were led to our next stop...
So, in conclusion...
GO TO BED FROSH, DITCH DAY IS TOMORROW!
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.