Best wishes to all the applicants who will hear back soon (or will have already heard back by the time this is posted)! I was just reminiscing with friends a few days ago about that fateful day I received my acceptance letter to this school. I had applied early, so it was in December. If you're reading this, you probably have a non-trivial, non-zero interest in Caltech. If so and if you got in, I highly recommend coming to Prefrosh Weekend (PFW)! (:
The post-midterms, pre-final stretch of term can feel pretty hectic. Classes are ending, but I've also been working on quite a few other non-academic things. I used to be able to keep it all in my head, but over the years I have adopted several ways to stay afloat of all the work and people and clubs and events. Not sure you want to hear about all the work I have, but let's be real--it definitely exists, and this is how I've learned to manage and enjoy it all.
1. Google Calendar
This is essential. I'm very visually-oriented, and the way Google calendar presents my day in blocks of time helps a lot. On my computer, I've set it so that I see two weeks at once. Because we're on the quarter system here, my schedule and routine change every 10 weeks. The first couple of weeks would be pretty hectic without my calendar. On days that feel particularly overwhelming, I like listing out a draft of a schedule for that day or that week. It might end up a copy of my calendar app, but jotting it down helps me settle into that day's plans. It usually looks something like this:
20-21 - ch 3a oh
21-3 - huntington tix, chouse
3-10 - sleep
10-11 - work
11-14 - me 72
14-17 - work
17-18 - photos
18-22 - food, work
22-23.5 - hop
On really busy days, this would go onto a sticky note on the back of my phone so I can carry it around everywhere. That way, when I find myself with free time, I can check my list without being distracted by other apps on my phone. They're simple keywords that remind me of what to do. Each hour is accounted for, even if things don't take the whole time. I wrote this from this hour. I'm currently sitting in a student lounge area, holding my office hours as a Ch 3a TA (people don't always come). In the next hour, I'll be picking up my ASCIT-sponsored ticket to the Huntington Gardens this Saturday and then heading to Chouse (the student coffee house) to work my shift. Tonight, I'll be working the ramen station. Tomorrow from 11 AM to 2 PM, a mechanical engineering class, Me 72, is having their annual competition. All year, the students have been working in teams to build robots that will navigate an obstacle course on a campus lawn. I went the past two years to watch my friends compete with their robots and take photos, and I want to stop by this year, too. As for times blocked out for work, I'll just check my to-do list. I have a lab report (on the estrone synthesis) due Friday, so that's my first priority right now.
2. Handwritten to-do lists.
I used to use Asana a lot, especially before they went through the fancy upgrade that slowed things down on my sad laptop and phone. I used to use other to-do apps, but I have since gone back to the old-fashioned trusty method of writing things down. Writing things down, more than typing them, helps me remember what to do. I list the upcoming assignments or other urgent things to do also on a sticky note that goes on the back of my phone. Also, if I think of something else to add in class or at lunch, it's super easy to pull out a pen and just add it. Crossing out finished tasks is so satisfying, and so is finally getting to throw out a sticky note and start afresh.
3. A pen and journal at [almost] all times.
Phones are great at keeping things, too, but really this is where it all started. I realized that sometimes, when I'm not actively thinking about an assignment, I actually get some good ideas. It's like your brain keeps working subconsciously or something. I'll jot down random ideas that come to mind, and even if they end up totally useless later on, at least I didn't lose the good ones that came up. This is useful for essays I have to write but sometimes problem set brainstorming also happens at the most unexpected times.
4. Calling home.
This is so so important. Frosh me once thought that I was too busy to call home. I have since learned that taking the time to call people who love you is really a morale boost. Hearing their voices, speaking to them in real time, waiting for them to think of the next thing to say... all the things I dislike about using phones, I can embrace when it's a tough term and it's home on the other end of the line. In a way, I started sharing more with my parents only after I left home. Phone time began to be anything from events from the day to curious hypothetical questions to anything, really... Perhaps because we were apart, we were more patient with each other in listening.
Here, I learned how to ask for help. I learned that I can contribute in my own ways, and that sometimes I don't have to contribute. As long as I'm here to learn and that I want to learn, my ignorance can be forgiven, can be mended. Just because I got in doesn't mean I have to know everything; rather, I'm paying my tuition and spending my time here because I have much to learn. I sent so much time and frustration on accepting this truth, but it has made all the difference.
. . . . .
So that's how I stay afloat and enjoy my work. Sorry for the boring topic this time. I, too, would have liked to write about my most recent amazing adventure, but I am a student after all. If I had too much of the same sort of fun all the time, I would be very sorry for the money, the time, the professor's efforts that I would be wasting. Sometimes, a weekend with Jenny means catching up on sleep after a busy week. I and other bloggers make efforts to explore LA, learn other perspectives, and try new things because we have know people who live in the "Caltech bubble" and grow weary from their worry over academics. Our posts might appear like fun stuff is all we do. Hopefully this post can assure you that in order to do the fun things we write about, we seriously work to make time.
That is, unless the academic calendar makes time for us: Spring break is coming up in less than two weeks, and I'm pretty ready and excited for it. In high school, I used to make plans for my breaks. After I came to Caltech, breaks were very much just a break. I would plan nothing. I couldn't plan anything. Winter break frosh year, I flew home and proceeded to sleep for sixteen hours straight. This year, I was less exhausted during winter break, so I planned a spring break trip with my mother. We'll be going to Japan and South Korea. Japan was, to her, a place of adventure when she was my age, much like how Edinburgh was mine. Maybe I'll meet that here, there...
Until next time
and keep lookin' up,