Saturday, February 13, 2010

but I am very fond of my alma mater

Azer and I were discussing the most unexpected changes in our lives over the past decade.

Me: "I was so much geekier ten years ago."

Azer: "Oh?"

Me: "Well, I wasn't yet old enough to get into nightclubs. Plus I'd gone to Caltech, the geekiest college in the country."

Azer: "In the world."

Me: "Thanks."

10 comments:

Virtua said...

On retrospect, I really liked Caltech.

ArC said...

I don't feel a whole lot more or less geeky than I was then. I do feel less smart, though. =P

John said...

I think you're the most happy Caltech alum / attendee I know... Out of the 7 people I know who attended, 3 transferred to Harvard, Stanford and MIT (2 of them later getting Ph.D's at UChicago & Berkeley), 2 were so-so on the whole Caltech experience, 1 enjoyed it and you seemed to have loved it. I wonder if this says more about Caltech or you - or both :)

Virtua said...

I really didn't know why academics in Caltech had to be so hard. While some of us could manage, others would be completely stressed out by the tougher courses, leading to flaming etc. For me, the tough courses were things like Ch 41, AMa 95. I still have some of my lecture notes around, and looking at them again, I can't even understand how I could arrive at the correct answers back then. They are all mumbo-jumbo to me now!

On the other hand, I thought that the administration's support for students was very good (although I'm aware that not everyone would agree). And there were some really quite enjoyable classes, especially at the freshman level. APh 9, CS 1/2/3, Ph 1, Ge 1 were very enjoyable. I think it helps when you have strong peer support. It was also a beautiful, compact campus.

I just wish that we didn't have to study so much all the time or risk failing grades. After four years, it was a relief to finally be able to go into a different environment. I guess it's true that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Once you've survived Caltech, you can survive anything.

Niniane said...

re: Virtua. For me, the problematic course was biology. I didn't have any issue with organic chemistry or math, but doing those biology experiments was horrible! I would always mess up any hands-on portion dealing with real-life experiments. As Dan said, "The world of matter continues to disappoint."

Anonymous said...

I'm one of the people who transferred, heck I think we may have overlapped. I loved Caltech: I just needed to study something they didn't have.

I don't think Caltech is the geekiest place on earth. To say that requires a ranking on which geekiness has one scale. Caltech is not even measurable. It is a state of mind, much like nirvana. Or nerdvana, as the case may be. MIT, CMU, and the rest can be measured and ranked, but there's only one Caltech.

s said...

That last paragraph by anonymous reads like some of the alumni fundraising letters I've been getting. Maybe we should be more cautious about exceptionalist attitudes, since it tends to discourage any pushes for positive reform. I certainly enjoyed my time as an undergrad at Caltech, but now that I've spent time at other schools, I think there are features of undergraduate life that are better implemented elsewhere.

Focusing on workload, perhaps one of the downsides of geeky culture is that the professors can assign arbitrarily large quantities of homework without getting complaints from the students, and I think this may encourage them. Many of the faculty seem to like pitching their classes to the top quarter of the students, and letting the rest hang on for dear life (I should note that this is far from universal, and also occasionally happens elsewhere). Finally, I've noticed that other high-ranking schools seem to have more student-organized group activities than Caltech, and I think it's because a large fraction of the students at Caltech are so crushed by work that they don't have the time or will to run things. This seems to be a point of pride for some techers, but I feel like I may have missed some interesting opportunities.

Anonymous said...

whoa I thought nothing beats MIT...

John said...

@Anonymous - I'm not sure if you were directing your comment to me, but I didn't go to Caltech ... I just know a few folks who attended or transferred out.

My brother went to MIT and I know a lot of his friends as well as others who went - I would not say they are geekier than your average engineer from school X. And some of the most attractive women I know went to MIT and Caltech.

Anonymous said...

My cousin went to Caltech undergrad, but transferred after freshman year to UCLA. He later earned a Ph.D. in EE/mems from the California Institute of Technology. He credited UCLA for giving him back the passion that he seemingly lost during his first year at Caltech.