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It has begun.

Graduate School: Applying, Living, Thesising

The Professional Student is a blog about everything grad school from the application process to my experiences living as a grad student, being a parent in grad school, and researching the role of chemistry in the evolution of our universe.

It has begun.

Olivia Wilkins

After becoming oriented with living in Pasadena, it was time to become oriented with being a graduate student at Caltech. As with any orientation, the incoming graduate students were bombarded with information about policies and resources, but morale was maintained with the included meals.

Orientation began Sunday night (September 18) with convocation, which was geared toward the incoming undergraduate class but was a nice exposé on how Caltech views failure and community. Although I wasn't the target audience of Sunday's welcoming presentation, I felt like I was part of a community, perhaps even moreso than when I attended my undergraduate orientation. (I was a commuter at a residential college, and it was made clear that this was not the ideal situation for success at Dickinson. I think I did just fine in the end. Moving on....)

Members of the undergraduate robotics team, which just won an international competition for autonomous amphibian robots, gave an overview of the history of the team and how they became winners of this year's competition. The team focused a lot on past failures, and it was clear that Techers (the demonym for members of the Caltech community) not only accept failure but embrace it as an opportunity to learn and do better next time. This was a theme that was repeated throughout orientation, which is awesome because research is something like 99% failure.

  "Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham

"Piled Higher and Deeper" by Jorge Cham

After a post-convocation barbeque, an ice cream crawl, the only night since getting to Pasadena that Güni didn't sleep through the night, and a sampling of Corner Bakery Monday morning, it was time for chemistry orientation, most of which was a review for me because when nursing, why not read the CCE webpage and chemistry graduation requirements over and over and over again? The morning was basically a crash course in how to get a PhD at Caltech and affirmation that we can get the PhD and we've already shown that because, hey, we got accepted. There was also the typical "beginning of the rest of your lives sentiment" in the form of this is the beginning of your professional career (which makes sense because, as much as I accomplished during my Fulbright, living in Germany for a year felt like it was too much of a dream to be real professional life).

Monday I also signed up for classes (somehow I ended up signing of for four... chemistry grad students at Caltech only need to take five total) and got all sorts of Caltech swag, my favorite being sticky notes from the library. In the afternoon, I had safety training, which ensured that all incoming students were on the same page for lab safety and that we are all (hopefully) prepared such that there won't be any major accidents in the lab resulting from carelessness or human error.

Tuesday was an all-incoming-graduate orientation, which was mostly a slew of 10-minute presentations introducing the various resources on campus. The highlight of the day was during a presentation about copyright laws in which the speaker discussed a case of copyright infringement in which the offender was charged $220,000 in fines, meaning he paid over $9,000 per song. The statement was posed, "Imagine the legal fees for that!" to which Günther—who had been quiet all morning—responded with a drawn-out, distressed-sounding moan, loud enough for the entire auditorium (~250 people) to hear. With the roar of laughter and the applause that followed, any embarrassment quickly turned into pride, and I was beaming at my son's impeccable timing.

Following this jam-packed morning were lunch and a resource fair (i.e. more Caltech swag and a way to fill up the diaper bag with complimentary bandages and hand sanitizer) before presentations about Title IX and harassment on campus followed by a student experience panel.

After dinner, another resource fair, but this time about student clubs and leadership opportunities for graduate students at The Red Door Café on campus. Complimentary lattes and dessert were a great way to end the night before the teaching conference tomorrow. While I was interested in the teaching conference before despite not getting signed up to TA (having the NSF GRFP makes it unnecessary because the department doesn't have to pay me), I am now ecstatic! After numerous emails, I have in fact secured a teaching position as a teaching assistant for "Scientific Writing," and I couldn't be happier! I am eager to be able to put what I garner from the conference in practice this term.