Last weekend was no ordinary weekend; it was one of the most anticipated weekends on the term. For what reason you may wonder? For the simple reason that it was a three-day weekend. Since Caltech is on a quarter system, we unfortunatley do not get as many breaks as most Techers would like during the term. However, as a trade-off of sorts, we do have a longer than usual spring break. Also, not having to do sets during spring break is a major plus (I know my friends at semester schools always groan about having work to do over long breaks).
Apparently, Los Angeles was also happy for our 3-day weekend and was a nice balmy 75 degrees. Since the weather was so nice, my parents (who flew out from Texas to visit me) decided to go to Griffith Park to take advantage of the weather. One of my favorite things about Caltech is that while it is in Pasadena, which is quiet and peaceful (a very ideal college campus kind of town), it is very close to downtown LA and everything LA has to offer, one being Griffith Park. Griffith Park is about 20 minutes away from campus (depending how fast you drive and how bad the traffic is) and is home to the LA zoo, Griffith observatory, Greek Theatre, just to name a few of its attractions.
The LA zoo is actually 33 acres larger than the San Diego zoo in size, although it doesn’t have as many animals – or visitors. Having been to many zoos both here in America and abroad, I have to say the LA zoo is one of my favorites. For one, the not as many visitor thing is nice, especially when looking for parking. Also it’s nice that the animals have more room to roam around in.
Griffith observatory is another great attraction in Griffith Park. While it’s called observatory, it has many more attractions than telescopes. However, one of the best attractions is its telescopes. At night, the observatory has many telescopes set up that allow visitors to look at the moon, star formations, and any other planets, etc. if visible. There’s also the larger Zeiss telescope that is sometimes available to look through (according to their website, visitors can actually look through the telescope, though when I went, this wasn’t the case.)
The periodic table actually has samples of all the stable (and non-radioactive, thank goodness) elements in their unrefined and refined form.
The noble gas column is especially fun since you can hit a button to make them all light up.
Griffth park is also just that – a park. There’s plenty of grassy areas to sun-bathe on and recreational areas to play sports. Altoghether it’s a great place to get away from the work of Caltech without having ot be bogged down by the hectic city environment.
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.