My grandma always says that it rains whenever Dragons (superior zodiac sign) travel, and sure enough, it was raining when I landed at LAX for my last calendar year at Caltech. It’s officially my graduation year—but between leaving campus just before spring term in my freshman year and returning, twenty-one years old, as a junior, it really does feel like my time here has flown by.
And I could’ve made it fly by even faster if I chose to graduate early this term. With just three humanities classes, one biology class, and a science communications class, I could’ve fulfilled my bachelor’s degree by March and taken all of spring term to frolic on my own. But when one third of my college years were spent in my childhood bedroom, rolling from my bed directly to my computer for my 9am PT → 12pm ET (perks of living across the country during the pandemic) Zoom class, I knew I wanted to stay and make the most of my senior year. I have the time now to explore my academic and personal interests outside the daily grind of sets, classes, and an ever increasing sleep deficit.
I’m taking two 3 unit, P/F computer science classes for giggles—one is a computer language lab to learn the programming language C, and the other is a student-taught class in microcontrollers, specifically using the Raspberry Pi Pico. I’ve made the scary dive into pursuing biodevices as my primary research focus after several years wallowing between computational neuroscience, bioinformatics, and translational, wet-lab research, and I’ve never been happier. I’m currently working in the Pachter lab to develop open-source biodevices after taking a design and construction of biodevices class last term. My remaining courses are all discussion-based: a psychology class about the lifecycle of behavior, a morphogenesis class taught through a mixture of lectures and journal clubs, and introductory Japanese. I find myself with a surplus of free time that I’ve been using to delve deeper into my classes, without the added stress of pressing deadlines, and to be more spontaneous.
My friend, Emily, invited me on a "snow hike" a few weekends ago in Lytle Creek, California. We—a group of four seniors finally with enough time on our hands—found ourselves bouncing about in her Subaru trying to make our way up the bumpy road to the trail head. The hike was beautiful, with the bright blue sky and lack of humidity in the air reminiscent of a crisp November afternoon in my hometown of New York. It was the perfect time to reflect on what I wanted for the rest of my time at Caltech and beyond. It’s so easy to find yourself getting caught up in doing the same things just because they’re familiar, without really questioning whether it’s actually what you want. My choice to apply to biodevices/biomechatronics graduate programs was my first foray into the clichéd "stepping out of my comfort zone," and it felt exciting, liberating, and a little scary.
At this point we had reached the point of the hike where we were going to double-back, and we hadn’t seen any snow. Misleading, right? I had been carrying 10 lbs worth of crampons in the case we came across snow and ice. But I guess that’s part of the beauty of hiking—it’s all about the journey, and maybe just a little about the view at the top. And if I’m going to stretch this metaphor just a little further, isn’t that what college is about? I did enter as a pre-med bio major, after all. Here I am, about to graduate as a bioengineer masquerading as a mechanical engineer. My journey has been good 🙂