I spent this Thanksgiving at the home of my graduate student mentor, Dave Henry. In addition to being a great research and awesome mentor, he’s also a pretty good guy to hang out with, so Thanksgiving was a lot of fun. In addition to Dave and his family, fellow graduate student Andrew and his family and Occidental Professor / SCUBA Diver Saul and his family were in attendance. I work on a day-to-day basis with Andrew, and I’ve had the pleasure of diving with Saul before, so we all knew each other and had a great time cooking and eating together.
Hmm. That started out as a quick description of my Thanksgiving dinner and ended up as some sort of stream-of-consciousness remembrance of one of my favorite times at Caltech. It also manages to address (although earlier than intended) one of the questions I planned to answer in this week’s blog post: “What is one of your favorite memories of your time spent at Caltech?” This memory definitely ranks up there.
You might be wondering why I intended to answer that question in the first place, and I am more than happy to tell you. On Tuesday I participated in Caltech’s first “TecherChat”, which was a chatroom set up to answer the questions of prospective students by current Caltech undergraduates. The question I answered above was one of the questions directed to me that I felt I didn’t really have time to answer properly. Although I think the chat was a success, the very nature of it (Caltech students outnumbered 20 to 1 or more in a chat, answering questions) led to the answers being for the most part brief and relatively uninformative. Maybe I’m viewing it a little harshly, but I certainly wish I could have answered some of the really good questions asked in more detail–so that’s what I plan to do.
This post is getting pretty long, so I’m going to end it here and continue soon with Giving Thanks Part 2: Asking the Right Questions. I will answer some of the better questions asked in the Techerchat in more detail and also address questions that may not have been asked. I will also try to give advice in general of what questions you as a prospective student should ask of the schools you consider attending.
Oh, and one more thing: If you’ve got a question you’d like answered in full-out-ridiculously-long-Tom-Gwinn-posting-style, please feel free to ask it in the comments.
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.