Day 3 of the Western Australia tour was spent in Monkey Mia – a popular tourist spot famous for its bottlenose dolphins. These guys show up at the beach in the morning and whenever they feel like stopping by for free fish. Of all the dolphins in the area, only five of them, by now well known by the researchers on site, get a small snack so as to not mess too much with the local ecosystem.
Our tour joined a sail boat cruise that took us out to search for more of the sea’s magnificent creatures. We saw some of the dolphins from that morning’s feeding as well as several dugongs. I spent the rest of the day sitting on the beach writing up postcards.
Our last day in Western Australia was probably the most…interesting? Bizarre? Funny? You’ll have to tell me what you think once you read about it.
As our tour guide told the story, in 1970 there was a wheat farmer in Western Australia that had a lot of land and thus a lot of wheat and he wanted to sell, obviously, lots of it. But the Australian government put a limit on how much wheat he could sell and he wasn’t very happy about it. So he dug around the law and found himself a loophole that would allow him to secede from Australia. He named himself Prince Leonard I of Hutt River.
We drove into Hutt River Province, which, as far as I could see, had one post office, one government affairs building, one chapel, one gift shop, and one garage. We were welcomed into the small chapel where Prince Leonard himself told us very, very quickly all about himself, Hutt River, the chapel, the art decorating it, and the two royal chairs behind him in a rather monotone sort of voice. I was one of two native English speakers in the group (well, native enough), and I could barely understand him. The Swedish, German, and French girls just smiled and nodded per our tour guide’s instructions. When he was done with this first bit of talking, Prince Leonard invited us to sit in the royal chairs.
We went to the post office next, where the Prince showed off stamps, coins, royal medals, maps, and the Hutt River currency. He then personally stamped our passports, but not before showing us all the pretty pictures on them under the UV light. I decided that American passports were lame compared to the European ones and that the French passports looked coolest under the UV. As we moved past the flagpole and into the gift shop, Prince Leonard didn’t stop bragging about how awesome his little principality was, how awful Australia was, and how cool his car was. No big deal.
But my absolute favorite part of this tour was our last stop at Greenough Wildlife Park:
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.