Run the Laugh Track!

Run the Laugh Track!

Something about Caltech makes you very used to being wrong.

Not completely wrong, just the technically incorrect sort of wrong that (thank goodness) still gets you partial credit. Take, for example, my last physics quiz, in which a miscalculation of gamma caused me to get every answer wrong, or my last blog post, in which I said my teary goodbyes only to find out it was actually my second-to-last. But that’s actually good news, because my Frosh Experience this week has been pretty exciting. I finally started making steps towards getting a SURF! I’ll bet I’m not the first to mention SURF here, but just in case, SURF stands for Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships. As a frosh, you hear about them a lot, and though you’re often encouraged to look for one, it can still seem very intimidating to ask to join a professor’s lab. I used to have this image of undergraduate interns being treated as a nuisance forced upon professors by the institute, the little sisters of the science world. I wondered what we could possibly do for the labs, other than wash dishes and cost them $6000 a summer. Well I’m still not sure what I can do for my mentor, but I do know this. Caltech profs love their SURFs. In fact, during a Ch10 seminar, Ch1a prof Nate Lewis boasted having the greatest total number of SURFs of all the faculty. Maybe that’s why I ended up deciding to work in his lab. Friends found their SURFs in a number of ways. Some took the “pizza classes”, and got to see a sampling of all the research going on in one division. Others asked upperclassmen who they knew had SURFed the previous year. But failing all that, a lot of us just got online and checked out faculty webpages until something jumped out at us. Although I owe most of my decision to the Ch10 pizza class, I ended up doing a combination of all three. Of course, deciding where to work isn’t quite enough. You still have to ask the prof If he/she will take you on. Now, let’s do a comparison between styles. My friend Megan read a stack of articles put out by the lab she wanted to work for, researched the theory, and came up with a possible new application of their work that she would like to try out. She presented her idea to the prof, they talked it over, and she got the SURF. I, on the other hand, am nervous, lazy, and confused with regards to the entire SURF process, and so I sent an email to Nate Lewis that read something to the effect of, “Prof. Lewis- I need to get started on my SURF proposal, but am not sure how to go about this. I know I’d like to work in your lab, so can you please advise me on the next steps to take?” A week later, he replied that he’d take me on and that I ought to stroll around his labs and talk to grad students until I find one I want to work with and who is willing to be my mentor. I found one of his grad students, who also happens to be my RA, we talked it over, and I got the SURF. See? Different ways to go about it, same result. When it comes time to find a SURF for yourself, do what works for you. Moral of the story? In order to SURF, you don’t have to have research experience, you don’t have to understand the first thing about p-chem, and you certainly don’t have to be a smooth talker. Caltech labs are eager to take on undergrads, because they realize how important it is to get comfortable working in a lab and to start getting experience in your field as soon as possible. Of course, the process doesn’t end here. Once you decide on a project, you have to write up a proposal and send it for approval. Not all SURFs get approved, but it seems to me that so long as you are clear about what you want to do, rejection is not much of a concern. Proposals are due, I believe, the 23rd of February. Pssht…that’s three weeks away. I’ll worry about that after I finish the Chem 1b set that’s due tomorrow.

Ok, enough about me, what about you? You know, my house is already preparing for Prefrosh Weekend. Last house meeting, a committee was set up to handle everything prefrosh-related for Ricketts House. Alas, I am not a member of that committee and therefore cannot tell you what they’re planning.

What I can tell you, however, is that they are already soliciting students to host prefrosh in their rooms that weekend. I signed up to be a host this week, and am keen to find out how they match prefrosh with their hosts. Maybe one of you will be staying with me this April! Alright, one more topic and then this blog is done. This weekend, I’m going to get a chance to see a little bit more of California, because the fencing team is traveling to San Diego for a tournament. “Hey Jordan, how did you get into fencing? Were you a fencer in high school?” Good question, with a ridiculous answer. Not only have I never fenced before, I’ve actually never played any sport before. When they say that at Caltech anyone can be an NCAA athlete, they mean it. At first, I thought it sounded silly- I am NOT the athletic type. But an empty space on the team and a friend’s request later, I became gasp a student-athlete. And, you know what? It’s been really fun. First off, it’s a no-excuses way of getting in some exercise. Secondly, I got to learn something new. Thirdly, it’s always fun to be a part of a team. And now we’re traveling, not just around California, but also to Notre Dame next week. When I told my mom all of this, she had a pretty great observation. “Wait a minute,” she said, “you’re telling me that with no sports experience whatsoever, they let you join the team, outfitted you in a new uniform, gave you gear, taught you how to fence, and now they’re flying you around the country? Where do I sign up?” She’s right, it is a pretty sweet deal.

Alright, now we’ve reached the actual end of The Frosh Experience, not that crummy fake end we had last week. And like the blooper reel at the end of an awful comedy show, I leave you with a series of pictures of frosh having fun (read: banging their heads against the wall) down in the Student Workshop doing Ph8 labs.