With Friday, August 22nd came the termination of SURF. And so I went home and began my summer vacation for real. As in away from Caltech. (More will follow about my second half of SURF, but in a later post. I apologize for my anachronistic style.)
On Sunday the 24th, we went to drop my brother Leonard off at Pomona College. As a semester school, they get to start a whole month before we do. That being said, they also end about a whole month before we do. Not judging about which is better, but all I know is that I’m going to have a weird month at home without the ever-present little brother this summer.
We began driving at 6 am (definitely not my thing) in order to reach campus by 7:40. Then there was a hustle for my brother to register his name, while my mom and I went to the rummage sale to pick up a microwave and a fan–because, apparently, Leonard’s dorm only has one microwave and it’s located all the way in the basement level.
After multiple near-misses, we finally met the roommate, who comes from Germany and seemed quite chill. Introductions were made between the parents, room arrangements were discussed, and we all went to lunch.
^Early impressions: Pomona is awfully fond of square plates…
^A note on the wildlife: Their squirrels are skinnier than the Caltech squirrels! Perhaps we are too generous with ours (all those olive trees and their fruits must’ve raised their lipid intake or something). Pomona squirrels are not only able to climb trees but also scale buildings!
The rest of the day was the usual convocation speech and question-and-answer panels that comes with all first days at college (and yes, I am most definitely justified in making such a generalization after going through two college orientations). A noteworthy moment: they kicked all of the parents and family members out after 5 pm, under the pretense of treating them to a delicious reception involving coconut shrimp, blackberry-infused cheeses, and strawberry parfait desserts. You devious devil, you, Pomona College!
So it was that I came away one little brother short and several camera-phone masterpieces richer on the 22nd of August, 2014.
But we didn’t go home to stew over our loss–not at all. We went on vacation.
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.
This summer, from the confines of my Brooklyn apartment, you could find me typing away on a tiny 13-inch laptop screen. At times I was looking for answers on countless Stack Exchange pages, editing a Jupyter notebook, or making blood flow measurements on a software called Arterys. This was my 2021 Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURF) experience.