If I could give one piece of advice to all incoming freshmen at Caltech, I would say this: find an organization and time management system that works for you, and stick to it! Between classes, clubs, house events, and everything else that occupies my time, I barely ever remember where I’m supposed to be at each hour of the day, every day of the term; I rely heavily on my calendar to tell me where to go next, from wherever I currently am. So, I’d like to share my personal schedule from a few weeks of this term here on the Admissions Blog.
I am currently a junior (class of 2024) majoring in Mechanical Engineering. As such, I have a PC laptop. Somewhat unfortunately, the tool that I have chosen (and chosen to stick to) for keeping track of my schedule is iCloud Calendar. This is great during the day: I walk out of a class, open the Calendar app on my iPhone, and see exactly where I need to go next (I write the buildings and room numbers in the “notes” part of the event). It’s less great when I want to look at my entire schedule for a week or month, and have to log in to the iCloud website in my Firefox browser on my laptop. My iCloud account refuses to remain logged-in, and I have to let it text me a verification code about twice a week to prove to Apple that it’s really me, accessing my own calendar. Nevertheless, this is the system that I’ve chosen, and there’s no changing course for me now.
I’ve screenshotted two weeks from this past term that are fairly representative of a typical week for me. The purple events are classes, or class-related meetings; the orange events are clubs, though I’ve let the definition of “club” become rather expansive; and the blue events are anything else.
So, here’s my schedule for two weeks of the term: October 16th to 22nd, and November 6th to 12th. Of course, these schedules don’t include the time I spent doing homework, cooking, hanging out with friends, going off campus, sleeping, etc.
For context, a brief description of my classes:
- ME 72 is Engineering Design Laboratory, a two-term hands-on team project robotics class. For the first half of the term, our team of six people planned and designed our robots, and in the second half of the term we began to build them.
- MS 115 is Fundamentals of Materials Science, which is exactly what it sounds like, and counts as an advanced mechanical engineering elective.
- ME 12 is Mechanics, a sophomore year fundamentals class that I took last year, and now work as a teaching assistant for.
- L 130 is Elementary German, the first term of the first year of German language class offered at Caltech. This class counts as a “miscellaneous humanities,” and was somewhat of a random choice for me, but I really enjoyed it and am taking German again next term.
- ME 40 is Dimensional and Data Analyses for Engineers, which again is what it sounds like.
- PS 12 is Introduction to Political Science. There was no homework for this class, so I often missed the Wednesday lecture to attend an office hour for ME 40 instead.
- MS 110 is Materials Research Lectures, a one-hour-per-week material science seminar typically given by a professor visiting from another university. Looking around the room the first week, I realized that I was the only undergraduate enrolled.
- BMB 202 is a Biochemistry Seminar Course that also often included having lunch with the seminar speaker and meeting earlier in the day to discuss some of their papers that we had to read beforehand. This class, it turns out, is required for first-year BMB (which stands for “Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics,” not “Biology and Molecular Biology,” as I had thought all term) graduate students. I understood basically none of the papers or seminars, obviously, because I am not a first-year BMB grad student. I took this class because my best friend was taking it, and she took it because … she’s also not a first-year BMB grad student, but she is a biology major, so I guess, why not?
While this list may make it seem like I’m taking way way too many classes, I was actually on a pretty typical load this term. Because MS 110 and BMB 202 were each only one unit, the other classes are all nine units, and TAing isn’t counted, I was on 47 units this term. Allegedly, this means that I spent exactly 47 hours per week on schoolwork, which is meant to include lecture, lab time, and doing homework. A “normal” Caltech course load is anywhere between 36 and 48 units. Though this term was manageable, I am looking forward to having a much lighter schedule next term: only 42 units, including both a PE and an art class.