What to do, and who to blame?
Blogger: Everest Law
As I gave up on preparing for tomorrow's physics quiz, these two questions – which have been asked by Russians since eons ago – surfaced in my stream of consciousness. Perhaps it is the Russophile in me crying for more attention: after all, I forfeited my chance of getting a Russian minor, and instead chose to take a physics course, “Electronics," which would be useful in graduate studies. It is crazy to think about how a year has passed, since I landed in St. Petersburg shaking from excitement and the cold. It was -20F outside.
In general, spending a semester abroad is definitely worthwhile, and I won't bother to repeat the various reasons here again. But if you are planning to pursue a career in science (like me), and would like to combine science and studying abroad, then there are several options:
- Traditional semester abroad through a STEM-oriented program. As far as I remember, there are a couple of such schools in the UK. But if you want to go to Asia instead, then the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) is an appropriate destination, too.
- The Richter fellowship. The International Programs Office (IPO) offers funding to students who would like to carry out a research project abroad during the winter or summer breaks. The projects can be pursued independently, or in conjunction with community partners already identified by the IPO (usually an NGO). In order to be eligible, students have to submit a proposal and go through a selection process (read: interview). There is no free lunch in the world, after all!
- “University-Facilitated Research.” As of now, Oxy students can apply under the Richter framework to spend a summer in the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) conducting research. Since CUHK is a large university with more than 15,000 students, research opportunities in a wide range of disciplines are available: economics, medicine, Chinese studies (of course) and particle physics, among other things. I am the first Oxy student to participate in this program, and I was fortunate to have a caring and credible research adviser, Prof. Ming-chung Chu. Prof. Chu is one of the principal investigators at the Daya Bay neutrino oscillation experiment, which involves some 30 institutes from across the world including Caltech and UCLA. Together with him I worked on computing the properties of a plausible addition to the family of neutrinos, which are so light that its mass cannot be precisely measured yet.
Throughout the program, which lasts 10 weeks, I was given free rein in managing my time, and was only required to meet with Prof. Chu once a week. Indeed, in the professor's words, this arrangement was exactly like that between him and his PhD students! Therefore, it was an excellent 'trial-by-fire' to see whether I had the discipline to be productive, and acquire by myself whatever knowledge that I needed. No doubt time management and independent learning are important transferable skills to have, and conducting academic research with seriousness is one way to nurture them.
Anyways… this should be my last post before I graduate. I sometimes wonder why I chose a liberal arts college instead of a STEM-oriented school, but four years and quite a few blog posts later, I think I am not in a bad position to move forward. Indeed, what to do now? Well, I would say work hard, stay curious, and remember there is a whole world (planet) out there to explore. Everest out.