Caltech alumni generally come back to help out on their friends’ stacks for Ditch Day. We had invited 8 people for our stack, and they were all going to be actors in the Town Market section, as the merchants. I came up with the idea of using cardboard trifolds, like the type one sees at high school science fairs, for stalls. While the other members of my group took care of the other stations, I spent a lot of my time for the past 7 weeks of this term shut in the library painting. Here is how each of the trifolds turned out:
I was also in charge of designing and leading painting for our wallboard mural, which is the first thing that the stackees see on the big day. After some discussion, it was agreed that we would feature the princess staring out the window of a tower at a dragon.
Quasi-final design draft:
Tracing the design onto the 4-by-8 plaster wallboard via projector:
Tracing the dragon design we had found online:
Mugdha working on painting the dragon as I painted the princess (an original design):
Every year, we close off the House library the second or third week of spring term so that the seniors can work on their wallboards in secret. Here’s Sasha and Eli working on the Tin-Tin wallboard:
And Lindsey and Surya on Harry Potter:
Ben on Star Wars:
The nearly finished Quest Through Amsaria board:
In the meantime, we also had to get permission from building administrators to use their buildings for our activities, coordinate with the alumni, reserve a spot for 30 people for our off-campus activity (kayaking), and reserve rental cars…Very little sleep in the week leading up to Ditch Day. I think I averaged 3-4 hours a night for that week, and 0 the night before.
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.
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.