Life as an Astronomy Graduate Student
Caltech Astronomy graduate students enjoy great research using top-tier facilities. But they also make time to have fun!
Within the department, a time-honored tradition is Thursday donuts, when everyone gathers for bagels, drinks, and donuts (sprinkled with a bit of gossip). The grad students also celebrate each others' birthdays with singing and cake (or more donuts). We also host a beginning-of-year barbecue to welcome all the newcomers to Cahill. Cahill has a spacious back patio that opens onto the athletic field, which is an excellent venue for all kinds of fun events from Friday social hour to whiskey tasting to pickup frisbee games!
One of the first events that new students experience is the annual Halloween party. Every October, the grad students plan an evening full of good food, drinks, and spooky fun (start planning now for the costume contest!). Another department-sponsored highlight of the year is the annual ski trip, planned by and for the students and held at Mammoth Lakes. Some work on their downhill skiing or snowboarding skills, others go cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and everyone savors the taste of hot cocoa by the fire!
Back on campus, Astro grad students also participate in many facets of Caltech life: serving as an RA for undergraduate halls, participating in student clubs, or advocating for grad students and planning social and professional events as part of the Graduate Student Council. And for the athletically-inclined, Caltech astronomers participate with gusto in a variety of intramural sports: softball (our team is the Big Bangers) and soccer (the Cataclysmics).
For the musically inclined, Caltech boasts a number of choirs and instrumental ensembles. 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 subsidized events and trips during the year. There are also classes of all sorts: students have taken everything from Japanese language courses to guitar classes.
While Caltech provides ample extracurricular opportunities, it's no secret that the greater Los Angeles area is full of outdoor, cultural, and social activities too. Outside of Caltech, Astronomy students have been known to run marathons, rock climb and backpack in the peaks of the San Gabriels and Sierra Nevadas, go wine tasting, and learn to dance hip-hop or ballet. Some just sit back and enjoy the ever-present sunshine, while others fly high in aerial silks performances or surf the waves of Malibu. And in Southern California, many museums, theme parks, markets, 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, there are a large number of international student organizations, as well as the International Student Programs (ISP) Office. All of these groups facilitate celebrations of festivals and organize social and cultural gatherings. They make you feel at home away from home.
The Astronomy department also welcomes diversity. Nearly half of the current graduate students identify as women; in fact, an Astronomy graduate student founded the Caltech Women in Physics, Math, and Astronomy group. The Towards a More Inclusive Astronomy group leads Cahill-wide discussions on a number of diversity-related topics, while the Cahill for Black Lives group specifically focuses on issues of racism. Finally, Caltech also has a number of campus-wide affinity groups and inclusive spaces, with the help of the Center for Inclusion and Diversity. These include PRISM (Caltech's LGBTQ+ association for students and postdocs), Black Scientists and Engineers of Caltech, and Club Latino.
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: Kaew Tinyanont; Nitika Yadlapalli; Nitika Yadlapalli; Jacob Jencson; Ryan Rubenzahl]