When I came to Caltech, I had never surfed before. It was always something that I wanted to do one day, but the beaches in Maryland are crowded and the waves aren’t very good. So, I had no experience surfing and no idea how to start. Luckily, Caltech has a Surfing and Windsurfing Club.
The Surfing and Windsurfing Club at Caltech is one of the most active clubs here. As part of the club, they have a Surf Shop just to the east of Brown Gym. There, they store all their surfboards and wetsuits (a necessity in the chilly Pacific, especially during the school year). Members of the club get a key to the shop and can rent boards for dirt-cheap rates.
In addition to the Surf Shop, the club also hosts a few big surf trips through the year. I first went on one of these my sophomore year. Everybody picked out their wetsuit (or one that might fit, if given the chance), then strapped boards onto all the available cars. Then, everybody piled into the cars and headed up to Mondo’s Beach, which is a nice beginner beach.
There, Gaylord was waiting for us. He’s a surfing instructor who’s worked with Caltech for a long, long time. He may be old enough to have surfed with guys who remember Bob Simmons (the inventor of the modern surfboard, a Caltech alum)! He’s a tiny man, with very tan skin from being at the beach all day, but he’s an expert surfer. Even when nobody else could catch a wave because they were too small, he was still zooming back and forth across the surf. He’s also very chatty about politics, but that’s a story for another day.
Gaylord showed us how to control the board, how to deal with waves that are too big, how to catch a wave, how to turn around, all the important things. Then, we got right into the water! I didn’t catch any waves my first time out, but I still had a great time!
It’s really nice that clubs like the Surfing and Windsurfing Club can offer services like this to Caltech students. Renting surfboards at the beach is pretty expensive, and buying your own even more so. This way, you get to try out different kinds of boards, and you can rent as many as you need if you’re going with a group of friends. Plus, with the Honor Code, renting is very easy. A single sheet of paper and an envelope for money is all that it takes!
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.
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.