16 hours of airtime, more of just sitting in airports. And well, we’re definitely not in Pasadena. Exactly where am I though?
Singapore! Specifically, the far western end. I’m starting a SURF at Nanyang Technological University on Monday. I’m staying at what they call a student hostel. It’s more or less an apartment with a roommate (my roommate is a student from China who’s a fair bit older than me but still a super awesome guy). The rooms are spacious, but the overall standard of living is probably about the same.
Onto the fun stuff. Although I’ve been here basically a day, I’ve had some AMAZING food. In Singapore they have something called hawker centres, which are more or less street food but held to higher health standards. This, as well as food courts, have been home to my first couple great eats. When I got in I had roast duck with rice and soup and some broccolini. Today I had Singapore pancakes topped with an egg and who knows what else. And I managed to find a boba store within a mile walking of the apartment. It’s worth it for boba, always. The kicker though is that I haven’t spent more than $6 SGD on a meal (about $4.50 USD). That’s a crazy thought, although a bit lucky because I don’t have the facilities to cook for myself in the apartment. And I mean. Who can complain about $2 boba??
In this process I also encountered a salmon vending machine. Not sure what that has to do with anything, but I got a good chuckle out of it at the very least.
I’ve come to realize that despite trying hardest to counteract this, I am woefully, painfully, and irreparably American. Maybe that’s a bit of a byproduct of where I’m living. Although everyone speaks English in this part of Singapore, at least in my exploration everyone prefers to speak Malay or Mandarin. Which is a bit problematic for me as the extent of my Mandarin is “I’d like the sweet and sour fish” and I can’t even say hello in Malay. Also, my accent. My accent is extraordinarily American. Someone asked me where I was from and I said “America”. They responded, “I knew that, but what state?” Joke’s on them though because they had no idea where Colorado was.
Anyways, I’m sure I’ll have some even crazier adventures to come within the next week. I think barbeque stingray is on the menu for tonight.
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.