Last week, I received an e-mail at work from a Caltech alum that works here at Schlumberger!Her name is Kamalah Chang, class of 2005 in Mechanical Engineering,who was a member of Venerable House. She has been working at Schlumberger since she graduated (so about 4 years now) and is originally from Northern California.
On Monday, Kamalah took Stassy and I out for a Texas BBQ lunch at Joe’s. It was great to just pick her brain about her experience with the company, relocating to Houston and life after graduating Caltech. Even though I had just met Kamalah, I felt like I had known her for longer–having Caltech in common definitely gave us a ton of things to talk about and relate to. We asked her about her transition to Schlumberger, and she asked us if a certain quirky professor was still teaching.
When asked what she missed most about California, Kamlah said “The mountains! Everything in Texas is so FLAT!”
When we asked her about what she liked most about working at Schlumberger, she said “You get to work hands-on with interesting projects, and you get to see the entire process through…from the design and testing to manufacturing and implementation.”–Kamalah referred to the fact that in some other companies/jobs, an engineer does a selected task for many different projects and doesn’t really see the end result or how it might be relevant.
And her take on her Caltech education?–she said she wouldn’t trade anything for the amazing memories from Tech…and what she learned there definitely prepared her to handle anything she was thrown here at Schlumberger as a design engineer.
All in all, it was nice to talk to someone that has been right where I am at this moment…not to mention, the Texas BBQ was yummy as usual!
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.