So, what have I been up to? The answer is pretty much everything. My postdoc mentor (Miquela) was out of town for the first two days of this week so I got to venture into the strange and mysterious world of sedimentology.
On a field trip, a professor at CU (Caltech alum Lizzie Trower) collected a bunch of samples of microbialites and other rocks from the green river formation, which is a rock formation that runs through Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. The green river formation is famous for its marine fossils (back in my youth I mined Knightia fossils in Kemmerer, WY), but also apparently has a section with some giant microbialites/stromatolites. My job was to cut the samples into billets which would be shipped off for thin sectioning, in addition to slabbing and polishing the rocks.
I did this on a pretty dated but effective rock saw. Basically, it works like a normal saw except it is a lot more friction based so it’s actually too blunt to cut the fleshy parts of your fingers. It had some issues with silicified minerals and would bind, but beyond that worked like a dream and was pretty fun to use also. Polishing the rocks was different, basically after slabbing them you’d sand it on a glass plate with water and sand you pour onto the plate. Kinda funky but was relaxing and I had time to listen to the chineasy podcast. Fun fact, 我记得 means I remember in Chinese, which is ironic because it’s one of the only phrases that I remember from those podcasts.
(A nice slabbed and polished rock, note the silicified portions in the lower region. The rock saw didn’t like that.)
The rest of the week I continued prepping some samples for the gasbench spectrometer by flushing them out with helium, ran the gasbench samples, and spent some time working on R code, matlab code, and a coding project to weed out outliers from the 253-spectrometer data – more on that to come next week.
Hence how we arrive title of the post. I decided to eat lunch with a friend on campus during one of the days, and that’s the main feeling I’ve had working at CU boulder is that I don’t quite belong in some way. Especially when I’m sitting at lunch with my Caltech lanyard, admissions water bottle, and Caltech sunglasses (two of which I could’ve avoided but eh). I definitely feel welcome in my lab but overall, I’ve just sort of felt like I’m a daily visitor on campus, which I guess I am. I suppose that’s the peril of doing a SURF at a different school.
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.