Hi everyone, I’m Kiara, now a junior majoring in chemical engineering. This summer, I amworking at Sumitomo Chemical’s Advanced Materials Research Laboratory in Tsukuba, which is about an hour and a half northeast of Tokyo. Caltech has this thing called the Japan Internship Program (JIP), which pairs its applicants to a Japanese company to do research there. To apply, you need to be a Caltech sophomore or junior and have 1-2 years of Japanese language experience. I applied during the first term of sophomore year, got in, and here I am! It’s my first time being in Japan, so it’s bound to be an interesting eleven weeks ahead. :)
I turned in my last final of spring term on Friday, the 14th, and after two days of intense moving and packing (you don’t realize how much stuff you accumulate throughout the year until you have to pack it all up), I was off. The plan was to sleep during the first half of the flight, watch a movie, read a book, then write a document that I put off during finals week. Thanks to Singapore Airlines’ extensive entertainment selection, I got two hours of sleep, watched a movie, listened to several albums of music, briefly played the in-flight soccer game, and wrote about a third of a page of the document I had to write. The movie I watched was called Brain Man (脳男), which I’d recommend looking up if you’re itching for a psychological thriller - or want to watch two hours of Ikuta Toma, I’m not one to judge.
The plane landed in Narita at around 7:30 PM Japan time, fifteen minutes off schedule. We left LAX an hour late because of baggage issues, so I’m pleasantly surprised that we didn’t arrive even later.
Afterwards, I had to get past a series of moving walkways:
Bets on how many of these there were, because I forget.
Once I reached the end, I thought I was done, only to find out there was another one:
At least the walls for the last one were remotely more... scenic?
After getting past immigration without any major problems and withdrawing some yen from the ATM (withdrawing supposedly gives you a better rate than exchanging USD at the airport, but the rate that day was really**bad anyhow), I was welcomed by Mr. Ishida, my supervisor for the summer.
What do I do during the fifteen seconds it takes to pay for a parking ticket? Take pictures, of course.
The drive to Tsukuba lasted for about two hours. The path was well-lit as we passed through restaurants, movie theaters and *pachinko* places, but the roads got much darker once we approached the countryside. One thing I noticed during the drive is that vending machines are EVERYWHERE. When we were at the countryside, it would be close to total darkness and then out of nowhere, there would be a couple of vending machines on the road. I also caught a brief glimpse of a silhouette of the *Ushiku Daibutsu*, a 120 m-tall Buddha, while we were driving.
At around 9:30 PM, we arrived at the dormitory. After the friendly dorm master showed me thedining room and the bath, told me the rules of the dormitory (Mr. Ishida had to translate some parts for me because Japanese and sleeplessness is a horrible combination), and lent me a few hangers, we went to the dorm room.
For as long as I can remember, my family has found it necessary to take pictures of hotel rooms before we mess everything up. Old habits die hard.
I get to sleep on a *futon*! I vaguely recall learning to set a *futon* up for a Japanese project a few years ago, so the memory of that guided me through the first night.
After Mr. Ishida left, I realized three things:
- My air conditioner wasn't working
- Despite being voltage-compatible, my laptop charger has three pins and all of the wall sockets in Japan have two
- The dorm doesn't have wi-fi
Normally, this list would be worthy of a "first world problems" label, but when your U.S. phone doesn't work in Japan, your rental phone has yet to arrive and you haven't really met people yet, not having a means of communication can be a bit daunting. (I *should* be used to the heat, but the heat did not ward off any anxiety.) I could ask the company about wi-fi, but what about the laptop charger?
Instead of worrying, I took this as the perfect excuse to crash. Potential jetlag, gone!
Almost a year ago now, I was just about to start my first Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) at JPL. NASA had sent out an email to all of their summer interns containing a social media template to announce that we had been selected as NASA interns. Excited to show my NASA pride, I posted it on my Instagram story, unaware of what would come out of this small action.
Hey hey! We’re starting a series where I walk you through my best finds for food and drinks in the Pasadena region, and in the LA metropolitan area. Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, if you will (although, for copyright reasons we can’t call it that). As you explore your college options, I firmly believe that food and location are more important than your high school guidance counselor may lead you to believe. And I’m here to share my best finds from my time at Caltech with you.
Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to intern at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) under the mentorship of senior research technologist Dr. Xiaoqing Pi. Dr. Pi’s guidance and mentorship has been instrumental to the development and success of my internship at JPL, where I use machine-learning to enhance the accuracy and integrity of navigation and communication signals. In addition to helping me develop an understanding of atmospheric and ionospheric remote sensing and machine-learning, Dr. Pi has often offered his insights on how to improve my researching skills. Dr. Pi was generous enough to take the time to answer a few questions regarding his research and advice for future student interns. I believe many students can benefit from some of the lessons that he has taught me:
The transition period to remote learning was a very uncertain time, especially for research and the Caltech Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) program. Many hands-on projects had to pivot at the last minute to facilitate off-campus contributions. However, many Techers were able to take advantage of the research opportunities offered at Caltech and JPL to make the best out of remote learning and research. To paint a picture, I’ve interviewed a few talented Techers for some insight on what researching from home looks like for them.