We woke up pretty early for the second day of our hike: around 6:45 AM and cooked up a quick hot breakfast of oatmeal. Soon, we were on our way.
Although we had fewer miles to cover than the day before, the first mile was potentially one of our steepest. In .8 miles, we would ascend 700 feet. So, we started slowly. My breathing was heavy, but by the time we took our first break, we had already ascended around 150 feet! Soon enough, we made it to the top, but more importantly, we made it to our first snow pile! I dropped my pack at the top of the summit, ran down to the snow pile, and made a snowman! Caltech has a lot of cool things at it (pun intended), but unfortunately snow is not one of them (although there is Caltech/JPL research done in Antarctica), so the experience was a treat for everyone.
My snowman! His eyes are a little lopsided, but I tried my best!
Next, we made our way slowly along a ridge, surrounded by alpine snow banks, sand, and marmots! Then, we descended into the basin where we would camp. We thought we had aways to go, but we took a quick snack break, someone looked around, and saw a lake! Sure enough, we were at our campsite. Luckily, we didn't miss it, as there was no real water beyond where we planned to sleep.
Since we got to the campsite so early (it was before 1 pm), we decided to take a quick day hike around the nearby lakes. While some of our group decided to swim in the icy waters, I was content with just putting my feet in.
On our way back, we saw a parade of horses across from the little stream near our campsite; a great throwback to the Caltech Y horseback riding trip in Griffith Park, a great experience I had third term!
That day, we enjoyed two hot meals, one for lunch and one for dinner. Afterwards, we went right to sleep, as we were planning to get up at 4:30 AM.
The view of Death Valley below us after we climbed up 700 ft in .8 miles.
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.