I came back to Caltech to start my SURF this Tuesday after taking a week off. Of course, I was welcomed back by the intense LA sun and heat. Finals officially ended on June 18, but I turned mine in early and went home a couple of days early. At home, I just ate, slept, hung out with friends, baked, and binge-watched shows – the dream of every lazy teenager. Now I have to collect myself and get back into a more productive rhythm.
Most SURF students have had a pretty slow start this week. They need to go through safety trainings, familiarize themselves with the different apparatuses, and learn different lab techniques. I started my project during spring break, so I am simply continuing where I left off. I guess it’s not as exciting for me as for others, but I do remember being pretty hyped when I started in March.
I used to wonder if SURF will just feel like a continuation of the school year. There are definitely similarities. We have the same cafeteria, but no open kitchen :( . I see a lot of familiar faces, since most frosh SURF. On the other hand, I am working a real 9-5 (ish) so there is actually an end to work every day, and I have more time to hang out with friends in the evenings. Also, there are a lot of students from other schools doing research this summer. It kind of feels like the first day of high school after graduating middle school.
I guess you are probably more interested in hearing about the fun things I do, rather than my daily routines. I got off work early today, so I spent some time drawing. This is my attempt at Daenerys Targaryen – hopefully you can see some resemblance.
In the evening I went to grab ice cream with my friend Angelina. Bengees has been my go-to since it is pretty close and the flavors are fairly gourmet. Afters is a Techer favorite, but it is slightly pricier. If I have access to a car, I would definitely make the drive to Scoops. I never get tired of these places because they have rotating, seasonal flavors (probably changed every week?). Tonight we just settled for Bengees. The ice cream got devoured before I took a picture, so here’s a more aesthetic one from Visit Pasadena.
Ice cream milky bun – Source: Visit Pasadena
After ice cream, I just relaxed in my room for some me-time. I’ve been watching Black Mirror and I am hooked! If you have any recommendations, let me know :) (I would prefer something that does not have over 4 seasons). Also, I love going out for food and checking out hipster/trendy cafes, so you can bet that I will keep you posted on my very basic food adventures.
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.