It’s been a very busy couple of weekends. I talked about Manners 101 dinner last weekend, but that was just brushing the surface! Manners dinner was Friday evening, followed by several hours of nighttime a cappella practice, trailed by another four hours of a cappella practice on Saturday and Venerable Interhouse Saturday night, Bollywood dance practice Sunday morning, a cappella mic check in the afternoon, and capped off with the a cappella concert Sunday evening. I thought this weekend would be a little more relaxing, but things popped up…
Venerable formal dinner was Friday evening, followed by Avery Interhouse, which unexpectedly filled the rest of my Friday night. And then there was a cappella recording on Saturday, followed by a cappella girls night Saturday evening/night. Today is Sunday, and after a grueling effort to wake up at a ghastly hour (9 a.m. after Daylight Savings) for dance practice, I danced until 11, then dashed off to the cooking class final, which ended around 6:30 p.m. I haven’t had a block of time longer than two hours to sit down and work until now, which means I haven’t gotten any meaningful work done until now.
Why has it been so chaotic? As the end of the term approaches, all of my commitments have been culminating in practices, performances, and parties. This also means I can talk about them! It’s hard to write about something like my a cappella group or cooking class, because they are such constant presences in my Caltech life. Every week brings new challenges and memories. At what point can you adequately write about something you participate in for 4 to 6 hours a week? Apparently that point arrives at the end of every term, along with a bout of chaos, because big events tend to come with chaos as a given.
I promise to write about first and second term a cappella and cooking experiences soon, but since that will require much revising and introspection (and camera roll scrolling), I will talk about the less-involved events first.
This past Friday was very pleasant. I had a few morning classes, then headed out to Lake Street (10 minute walk) to visit Trader Joe’s and Walgreens. Most food and hygiene essentials can be found at Caltech’s convenience store (C-Store), but only Trader Joe’s has my beloved penguin and mango gummies. I went last week, too, and stocked up:
These things are amazing – when I’m stuck in the middle of a set or midterm, I gravitate towards my gummies. This week, I also bought quite a few bags of “Gummy Tummy Bunnies,” which are Easter edition gummies, but was disappointed to learn that they were not as glorious as their predecessors. And this is becoming one of my most off-topic blog posts yet.
My purpose in writing this blog post was to share with you my experience at my second ever formal dinner. My first ever formal dinner can be summed up by this collage:
This is my friend and fellow Rudd frosh, Katherine. We like food. We ate food. It was okay. My second ever formal dinner can be summed up by this collage:
This is Katherine again. We like food. We ate food. It was really good! There was a gingered butternut squash soup with spicy pecan cream, which was quite palatable:
Then there was the tremendously flavorful grilled flat iron steak with mustard butter, accompanied by parsley potatoes in all shades of purple, and cute colorful vegetables:
And at last there was the Irish cream bread pudding with whiskey sauce. I love bread pudding, and this variant didn’t diminish my love:
Food is good, food is great! Even though I ate sparsely beforehand, I was very stuffed at the end of this meal. Formal dinner is a Caltech tradition that I (and my stomach) very much appreciate.
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.