Caltech Astronomy Graduate Life

Caltech Astronomy graduate students certainly enjoy great research using top-tier facilities. But they also make time to have fun and socialize with other students, postdocs, and faculty. Within the department, a time-honored tradition is Thursday donuts, when everyone gathers for bagels, drinks, and donuts (sprinkled with a bit of gossip). In recent years, the beginning-of-year barbecue to welcome newcomers has also become a tradition, encompassing all the groups that call Cahill home. With a brand new building and spacious back patio, we now have an excellent venue for all kinds of fun events from Friday wine tastings (with theoretical physics) to beer after Journal Club!

One of the first events that new students experience is the annual Halloween party. Every October, all the grads take pride in planning an evening full of good food, drinks, and crazy Halloween fun. Another department-sponsored highlight of the year is the annual ski trip, planned by and for the students. Typically in February or March, grads and their significant others spend three fun-filled days prancing in the snow at Mammoth Lakes. Some work on their downhill or cross-country skiing skills, others go tubing and snowshoeing, and everyone savors the taste of hot cocoa by the fire. Not only that, but we have largely managed to avoid broken bones! Back on campus, rumor has it that various Astronomy students have also been spotted sneaking in a board game or two in their spare time, or heading down into the basement for an exciting game of foosball or ping-pong. And for the athletically-inclined, Caltech astronomers participate with gusto in a variety intramural sports: soccer (before unifying with Physics, we were the Cataclysmic Variables), softball (we are the league champion Big Bangers), and basketball (the Dwarf Stars).

While the department provides ample extracurricular opportunities, it's no secret that the Los Angeles area is full of outdoor, cultural, and social activities too. Outside of Caltech, Astronomy students have been known to surf the waves of Malibu, sing in choirs, rock climb and mountaineer on the peaks of the San Gabriels and Sierra Nevadas, go on wine tasting tours, and learn salsa dancing. Some just sit back and enjoy the ever-present sunshine while others jump out of perfectly good airplanes (with parachutes, of course). For those looking to bond with fellow Caltech students, the Graduate Student Council, Caltech Y, and a number of other campus organizations arrange quite a few events and trips during the year. There are also classes of all sorts taught by the Institute. A department favorite for many years has been a weekly pottery class which always seems to have a few astronomers enrolled. And for those who prefer to discover Southern California on their own, many museums, theme parks, markets, waterfalls, and even gilded movie stars’ mansions are just a brief car or train ride away.

For students moving to the U.S. for the first time, rest assured that Caltech and the Astronomy Department welcome diversity. There are a large number of international student organizations (e.g. OASIS – Organization of Associated Students from the Indian Subcontinent, Club Latino, Caltech C – the Chinese student association, the Italian Club, etc.) and also the International Student Programs (ISP) that facilitate celebrations of festivals and organize social and cultural gatherings. They make you feel at home away from home.

Whatever your background or interests, you’re certain to find plenty of ways to entertain yourself at Caltech and in the greater Los Angeles area.

[Image credits: Gwen Rudie; Trity Capak; Gwen Rudie; Gwen Rudie; Shriharsh Tendulkar]