I know I haven’t written in a long time. This past Term at Caltech has been very absorbing and now that it’s over, I can say that it seems to have been worth the dedication!
For those of you to whom I’m new, my name is Nina Budaeva. I just finished my sophomore year at Caltech. I am a Physics major and I am a Pageboy (member of Page House).
I will try to write more often throughout the Summer. I’ve lined up several adventures for myself and promised myself to never be bored, so I should have plenty to write about.
With that said, let me start by recapturing the last several days of Term which ended on June 10th. The last week was Finals Week which meant we had no more lectures but instead we had plenty of Final Exams and last assignments to do. Yes, almost all Exams at Caltech are take-home and subject to the Honor Code but this does not mean that they are easy! In fact, this means that they can be quite hard and require one to learn news concepts while taking the exam. Sometimes, a 50% is a very good score. This makes me think that professors who write such exams hope that maybe one student one year will be able to actually complete the whole exam and throw off the class curve.
At the end of the last week of classes - the week before Finals Week - my house has an end-of-term barbecue with champagne (for those who are of age). In the spring Term, this is also the time when we take House pictures for our records and for “The Big T” which is the Caltech yearbook.
At 5pm on the Friday of the last week of classes, Flemming House fires their cannon to mark the end of Term and the coming of Finals. We get to hear the cannon while enjoying our barbecue. If you’ve heard about the Caltech-MIT pranks, then you’ve probably herad about this famous cannon!
The Saturday after Term ended was my 20th Birthday so I got to finally open the presents my parents sent me. I also got a surprise cake (see below). Caltech has a special cake service with which parents can order a cake to be delivered to their child’s room on their Birthday, so my parents did this and I shared it with my Housemates. Thank you Mom and Dad!
Even though the school year is over, it doesn’t mean that work is over. Most Techers (Caltech students) work throughout the summer in research or as interns. Caltech has its own program called SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship). The application process is modeled after the real-life grant-seeking process. We scout out professors and labs in which we would like to work and do our own research. Then we write a proposal to the SURF office summarizing the research project we would like to do. We also need to have several letters of recommendation from faculty and from previous SURF mentors. If we are granted the SURF, we get 10 weeks of work and get paid fairly well. Throughout the summer we have to submit reports of oru progress adn at the end we have to submit a final report and make a presentation. Most SURFs happen on campus although quite a few students find SURFs at other schools or even in other countries!
This summer I am working with Caltech Professor Kenneth Libbrecht:https://www.its.caltech.edu/atomic/. It turns out that he studied at Caltech and was a member of Page House too!
My project involves studying chemical effects on ice crystal growth. Briefly, I am studying the effects of various concentrations of various solutions on the growth of ice crystals forming in the solution. This project is a great balance of experiment and theory. I am running plenty of “freezings” of solutions but there is also a great deal of theoretical analysis. For example, there is heat diffusion, surface tension, and freezing point depression to account for and whose effects to analyze and explain, just as a start. Since this hasn’t been a highly-studied field, there is plenty of freedom to explore here. I will post some awesome photos in a later post.
(Yes, I’m holding a bag of one of my most favorite goodies!) The irony of SURFing kills me sometimes! I think now I’m completely ready for my SURF summer.
Well, I think I’ve written more than enough for one post. I promise to continue posting when exciting things turn up (as they are bound to: for one thing, I’m going to Sin City, also known as Vegas, with a group of Techers this coming weekend)!
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.