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!
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.