It is somewhat late, but in this last section of my undergraduate life I decided to go to a school-organized trip to California, United States. The subject matter is to understand the various types of scientific research they do over, in particular in Scripps Institution of Oceanography in UC San Diego (UCSD) and LIGO (Laser Interferometry Gravitational Wave Observatory) laboratory in California Institute of Technology (Caltech). The people I am with are mainly first year undergraduates, a very bright and active bunch. I often feel out of place for that reason, though I have to blame myself for my own ineptitude in social interaction.
We stayed in UCSD “The Village East” housing for guest visitors. The campus is modern in the sense that the architecture is nothing like, for example, the University of Toronto which has that old European town feel to it. It is a modern architecture setting, but for many buildings including where we stayed it has a very appealing minimalist architecture; almost like Windows 10 design brought to life (note: this is not correlated to whether I like Windows 10). On the day we touched down, the only remarkable thing was a good dinner and a glimpse of the coast as shown in the image here. The (early) dinner at Apple Bee’s was excellent — I chose bourbon chicken and shrimp which turned out much better than I imagined.
On first day, we spent half a day in FLIP vessel that belongs partly to Scripps. It is a scientific vessel to perform various measurements from acoustic to internal waves in the ocean. The vessel “flips” vertically and anchors itself deep in the sea; it is really a clever construction. We also visited QI where the showcased their interdisciplinary work in engineering, medicine and art (!). Words almost cannot do justice to how awed I was when they showed various possibilities I never thought could be done. I spent the evening with a group going to the old town in SD and some simple dinner.
On second day, we went for Scripps institute and they showed us what they do in the area of marine biology. We played around with sea urchins in the lab, performing microscopy to identify seaweed, and even doing “algae art” on a piece of paper (which will dry in one day or so). We had a basic lecture on impact of ocean temperature rise and acidification on humans and marine ecology as well; and even the idea of how oceanographic data are acquired, manipulated and processed. This time it was very hands-on and to be really honest I felt really stupid for not being able to follow many of them. But they are all interesting things to do and it’s reassuring to see the group being able to cope better than I do. I did not do much at the end of the day and simply stayed back but it was fine. I am not nearly that adventurous anyway.
The above was ultra-short summary which I do not wish to elaborate further due to lack of time since the next two weeks we are constantly doing something somewhere in the campus (UCSD or Caltech). One thing I can say for myself, though, is that I really need to buck up. I need to keep reminding myself that if I did not gain much from this trip, it is purely my fault since the main obstruction is the way I interact with others. I feel that because I keep telling myself that I am a fourth-year and my own incompetence in social interaction, everything seems to be worse than it could have been. There is one third-year with me who seemed to be able to blend in nicely with the rest, and while I envy his capability to do so, I could not help but see my own self in a bad light. At some point I wanted to give up since I am graduating and probably this is the last time I see this bunch, but this problem bugged me a lot because it reminded me that I am way less capable than I thought I actually am. It is the same as my physics and mathematics aptitude: I never thought that I am very bad at these things and am aware of many things I can do in both subjects, but I certainly did not expect myself to be as bad as I am now. Unfortunately, I have no real solution right now and I doubt anyone can provide me with one, especially while I am here. I just hope that at the bare minimum, the people I am with here are not really “putting a distance” even if it is unintentional because of me being a fourth-year.