I am a member of the Academics and Research Committee at Caltech. The ARC is an undergraduate committee that serves as a liason between students and faculty, advising the Faculty Board and other committees on academic policy pertaining to UGrads, and promoting improved teaching practices. We are currently on a retreat to discuss all we have done so far, and what we are planning to do for the rest of the year.
In a few weeks, we are going to host the Student Faculty Conference, a biannual day-long panel series made up of faculty and undergraduates to discuss issues that affect the Institute. Two years ago, the theme of the SFC was the Honor Code, and the morning session’s panels discussed the implications of the Honor Code and how it affected students and faculty alike. This year, the morning panels will focus on MOOC’s (and how and why Caltech creates and uses them), and writing and communication (specifically, the ability or inability of Caltech students to do either, and what to do about it). The afternoon sessions of the SFC consist of breakout panels for each major. The major committees for the SFC are made of selected faculty who teach undergraduates in that major, and students in that major with enough initiative to inspire and/or affect change.
I arrived at the ARC retreat about 18 hours late; most of the ARC left on Friday night, but I drove out on Saturday afternoon with another ARC representative who had an interview for the Hertz graduate fellowship on Saturday morning. We arrived in Buelleton, CA at 3pm, after driving for three hours down the PCH. We spent about an hour driving through beautiful mountains and vineyards, and about an hour driving directly along the Pacific ocean. It was GORGEOUS. More beautiful? The countryside around the house we are staying in for the weekend:
We had lunch when we arrived, and then the whole ARC went for a walking meeting on a trail around the property we are staying at.
We’re going to spend the rest of the weekend inside, most likely, so it was nice to get out. We are still putting finishing touches on the SFC, which includes finding students to sit on the two morning panels (MOOCs and writing and communication). The good news is that there are a ton of student leaders at Caltech, both elected and not, who, when they see an issue at Caltech, make it their own responsibility to try to improve it. I know dozens of students on various committees (the Curriculum Committee, the Committee for Undergraduate Education, the ARC, the Study Abroad Committee, the Student Health Advisory Committee, the Dean’s Council, the Title IX Committee, the Board of Control, the Conduct Review Committee, etc.) who have stepped up to improve undergraduate life. There definitely is not a dearth of students who care, so finding student panelists for the SFC shouldn’t be too hard.
Enjoy your weekends! I have three sets to finish when I get home. Wish me luck…
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.