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.
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.
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.