Another busy past few days - just got in from Duke at midnight last night and it was a packed visit (well…when are these visits NOT packed?). So busy, in fact, that I’m not really even sure what day of the week it is these days, just sort of go to whatever classes my calendar tells me to go to…
I traveled ALL DAY on Tuesday, leaving Caltech at 6:30 AM PST and arriving at my accommodations in Durham, NC at 8:00 PM EST. I was fortunate that on one leg of my trip, I got an upgrade into first class! How, you ask? Well, since I fly Continental every time I travel between NJ and CA, I have gotten enough miles to qualify for Elite Status. One of the perks is a space-available upgrade! The moral of the story - if you’re going to a college far away from home, definitely try to be consistent with the airline you travel on so you can reap the rewards of a frequent flier!
Duke was a beautiful campus. Very different style than Caltech, much more classical architecture and beautiful stonework. One of the defining characteristics of the campus is its Chapel - they actually won’t build anything taller than it so you can (theoretically) see it from anywhere!
Sorry for the poor quality - it was dark and you know how cameras don’t always take the best pictures in low light. So I was really lucky that I got to meet up with an old friend from NJ Governor’s School in the Sciences who goes to Duke! It was really neat to catch up and compare notes on our respective med school application processes (she’s applying MD-only, and has already been to many exciting places I have yet to visit!). Overall, I got to relax and take a bit of a break before the arduous interview days!
Well, arduous is a relative term - the first day was actually pretty chill. The MD admissions office organized the 2 interviews I had that day, plus a tour (which I thought was one of the more informative ones, being a Caltech tour guide we have high standards!). As a bonus we happened to run into Coach K, Duke’s beloved basketball coach! After the day was over, one of the other interviewees, a Duke undergrad, showed us around campus so I got to take some daytime pictures. Again, sorry for the quality - these were taken on my iPhone since I felt weird bringing a camera to the interview…
That night we got to go out with current MSTP students, and it was (as always) very insightful for forming opinions of the school - definitely a great idea to chat it up with current students to get a variety of honest perspectives of what you’ll be going through if you decide to attend the school!
The next day was pretty crazy - 7 interviews (6 faculty and 1 admissions committee) and by the end I was definitely exhausted! As soon as I finished, I quickly changed out of my stifling suit and tight shoes (don’t know how the girls do it in heels!) and got in the shuttle for the airport! Then…after a long time traveling back (and another upgrade!), I got back to Caltech!
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.