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Episode Notes | Episode Transcript | AskTheGuest

 Hi Fives (5 Highlights)   2-Minute Listen

Craig Chu is a graduate of CalTech with a Bachelor’s degree in Applied and Computational Mathematics.

Craig came to CalTech wanting to pursue Math. While he enjoyed Math, he discovered Applied Math which allowed him to produce meaningful results using Math.

That led him to a career in Actuary.

Hi-Fives from the Podcast are:

  1. Overall Experience
  2. Why CalTech?
  3. “Smart, Talented” Classmates
  4. Glee Club
  5. Advice for Aspirants

Episode Notes

Episode Title: Craig Chu on CalTech: Applied Mathematics, SURF and Ditch Day.

Episode summary introduction: Craig loved math and science while he was in high school in Texas. Math came easily to him. He says it just flowed and he could read it like a book. He wanted to grow up and create the next big thing or do game changing research.

Craig Chu is a graduate of CalTech with a Bachelor’s degree in Applied and Computational Mathematics.

In particular, we discuss the following with him:

  • On choosing CalTech
  • Majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics
  • House System & Activities
  • On being an Actuary
  • Advice to Aspirants

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Introduction to Craig Chu, CalTech [0:54]
  • Hi Fives - Podcast Highlights [1:43]
  • CalTech - Overall Experience [4:13]
  • Why CalTech? [5:36]
  • High School Interests [7:23]
  • Transition to CalTech [8:57]
  • Smart, Talented Classmates [11:23]
  • “Great” Professors [14:57]
  • The House System [16:29]
  • Campus Activities [17:36]
  • Summers [20:07]
  • Applied Math Major [22:45]
  • So, What is Actuary? [24:44]
  • CalTech’s Impact [25:38]
  • CalTech Redo [29:31]
  • Advice to Aspirants [32:49]
  • Appreciating Humanities [35:17]
  • Memories - “Ditch Day” [38:18]

Our Guest: Craig Chu is a graduate of CalTech with a Bachelor’s degree in Applied and Computational Mathematics.

Memorable Quote: “I think as I've grown older, I've grown to have a much deeper appreciation for the humanities.” Craig Chu.

Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.

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Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

Craig 0:14

I will say Caltech has this, this really fantastic tradition. That's it's almost hard to explain because I'm going to call it ditch day and it is called ditch day. And that's kind of a known term in the States, where a lot of seniors just sort of skip class for the day and go do whatever. Right. And so it sounds like I'm describing ditch day and and everybody listening who's heard the term before is just thinking, you know, big deal to seniors to sort of skip classes for a day. But you know, over time, over like 100 years of history, Caltech, it is actually morphed into this massive, massive tradition.

Venkat  0:54  [Introduction to Craig Chu, CalTech]

Craig Chu is a graduate of CalTech with a Bachelor’s degree in Applied and Computational Mathematics.

Craig loved math and science while he was in high school in Texas.

Math came easily to him. He says it just flowed and he could read it like a book.

He wanted to grow up and create the next big thing or do game changing cancer research.

He looked for a college with like minded students.

Venkat Raman 1:23

Craig joins us on our podcast to share his CalTech story.

Before we jump into the podcast, here are the High-Fives,  Five Highlights from the podcast:

Craig  1:43  [Highlights - Hi Fives]

[Overall Experience]

And so it was nice to sort of have this intimate experience at Caltech with a lot of people who were just really, really interested in the same sort of nerdy math and science things that I am.

[Why CalTech?]

You know, I could just sort of read the book, I could understand a logical flow of it, because at its heart math is a logical flow. And I felt like I really had this intuition. Right. And so it was something I wanted to explore more, I really wanted to go somewhere that was heavily focused in sort of these. The acronym now is STEM.

[“Smart, Talented” Classmates]

I think we remember one, one homework set that I started with, I think two or three peers in a library after dinner. Uh huh. And we had to work into the wee hours together. But we worked together until about three or 4am to finish it. But But this entire homework set that we worked for, however many hours on was four questions. And so it was literally us just sort of talking.

 

[Glee Club]

Well, the big one is that I was always a choir singer in high school. And I kept that going in college. So I think I'm, I was, I was a very active member of the Glee Club, the Chamber Singers, a couple of acapella groups really enjoyed spending all of my spare time with that.

[Advice for Aspirants]

You know, I don't think I appreciated how important it is to really have an eye on something that's interesting to you, in addition to just getting those high grades and test scores.

Venkat Raman  3:15

Now, I'm sure you want to hear the entire podcast with Craig. So without further delay, over to Craig Chu!

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Venkat Raman  3:23  

Welcome to our podcast, College Matters, Alma Matters. Really, thank you for making the time. Not a problem. So um, so yeah, today, we're gonna spend some time talking about your Cal Tech days. And as we chatted earlier, this is really intended for aspiring students to get a feel for what college is like, and obviously, what your experience at Caltech was like, and hopefully, that both informs them and inspires them to do great things. So with that, we can sort of dive right in.

Craig Chu  4:02  

Sure.

Venkat Raman  4:03  

So maybe the best place to start is, with some perspective, some overall views of your undergraduate years. What does it look like, looking back?

Craig Chu  4:13  [CalTech - Overall Experience]

Sure. Um, so you know, the sort of the very high level summary is that I attended Cal Tech from 2000 to 2004. So it was a little while ago of my experience, and it is a it's a pretty small, intimate institution, there's about 900 to 1000 undergrads and I think about 1000 graduate students. So as as far as some US universities go, it's actually very, very small. Right.

Venkat Raman  4:41  

And how did how did that feel? I mean, you know, were you, you know feel too small, or was it sort of the right size or what was sort of some of the experiences?

Craig Chu  4:51  

I really liked to close knit community. Um, you know, I, I think my high school to college transition was the opposite of many Folks - in that my high school was enormous. My university was much smaller, my high school class was 800 people and my high school in total was over 3000 pupils. Right. And so it was nice to sort of have this intimate experience at Caltech with a lot of people who were just really, really interested in the same sort of nerdy math and science things that I am, and a lot of whom had a lot of experience doing a lot of that stuff for many, many years.

Venkat Raman  5:30  

So maybe we can start with why you picked Caltech? Why did you go there?

Craig Chu  5:36  [Why CalTech?]

Sure. Um, you know, math and science, I was always, always one of those math and science kids who just loved all of the math and science classes, I just ate them up. And math had this elegance to me, not just in terms of, you know, scoring A's and getting 100 in class, but in that, you know, I could just sort of read the book, I could understand the logical flow of it, because at its heart math is a logical flow. And I felt like I really had this intuition. Right. And so it was something I wanted to explore more, I really wanted to go somewhere that was heavily focused in sort of these. The acronym now is STEM, the STEM field, yeah, engineering. And I really, you know, I worked so hard in high school. And, you know, I, I study hard, I had really high test scores. And I knew it was going to be a really challenging experience. But I knew that I could really sort of test my mettle there and really see how how much I could get out of an experience like that.

Venkat Raman  6:35  

So what other schools did you look at that time, I mean, for when you applied?

Craig Chu  6:42  

The big other one was MIT, which is sort of a cross country, I don't know, rivals the right term, but across country, Caltech, I looked a little bit into Stanford and Harvard and and did go as far as applying to those. And I did also apply to the University of Texas, I grew up in Texas, I had a lot of friends who were sort of saying in the public university system, I wasn't sure, you know, you can get a great education anywhere. So um, so I sort of kept that on my list as well.

Venkat Raman  7:14  

So, you mentioned a little bit about high school and being interested in science and math. What kind of things did you do in high school.

Craig Chu  7:23  [High School Interests]

Um, you know, the experience differs depending on where you're growing up. Um, you know, even different places in the states have have different organizations, but there's a lot of sort of academic organizations. We had a math team, which sort of competed in these high level math exams, over the weekends. I'm a member of the academic decathlon. I know a lot of my college classmates were involved in what they called quizbowl, which is a trivia league that I didn't actually have at my high school, but it was, like, I was very heavily focused on that sort of that niche of math and science sort of of depth to see how much I could get out of it.

Venkat Raman  8:02  

Was there any other area we were at least involved in? Or was it purely science and math?

Craig Chu  8:10  

You know, at the time, it was purely science and math, I think, as I've grown older, I've grown to have a much deeper appreciation for the Humanities, then I time but But certainly, as an 18 year old choosing a university, I really, I really wanted to be the person who, you know, could make the next scientific discovery or could you know, research cancer or create a new type of of playing, you know, those those sorts of challenges and ambitions were really deeply ingrained in me.

Venkat Raman  8:41  

Cool, so let's sort of talk a little bit about your transition to Caltech. I know you mentioned going from a big place to a small place. What was the overall transition, like, and then we can kind of get into different aspects of that.

Craig Chu  8:57  [Transition to CalTech]

Sure. Um, I mean, that was probably the biggest part of my transition, just in terms of the fact that I was now when I arrived at my university, I was now on a campus where everybody knew everybody, you know, even if you didn't know people by name, you definitely knew them by site, and there's no way that you would ever, ever, like have a stranger showing up in classes that. So I mean, that was a big culture shock. And then the other one, of course, was definitely the level of the curriculum. I mean, I went to a, what I would say, was a great public high school in the state of Texas. I went through, you know, the standard honors courses, calculus, physics, all of these things. And, you know, they didn't challenge me at all. But then Caltech in particular. I think I heard a stat while I was there, that something like 70% of the student body graduated, valedictorian of their high school and something like 50% 50% or maybe 30 to 50% of the student body had perfect SAT scores. And so you know, when I got there, it was my first real experience of, of meeting so many people who were so similar to me in their curiosity, but many of whom could just, you know, run circles around me with how quickly they could grasp things, how quickly they could teach and understand things. It was, it was, in retrospect, it was really healthy. For me, I think it was a struggle, it was a struggle at the time. And it's definitely not for the faint of heart who are just casually thinking, maybe it'll go to Caltech. But But yeah, the, the definitely the hardest thing was how quickly the information was, was presented to me and how it for the first time in my life, I was really challenged to the point where I would really, really have to study hard to actually understand it, I couldn't just sort of, you know, read it and glance over it and have it perfect. The first time.

Venkat Raman  10:57  

Sure.

Venkat Raman  11:02  

You mentioned a little bit about smart classmates appears. What were they like? I mean, what was the general environment of peers and classmates? I mean, was the environment collaborative? Were these all multi dimensional folks, you know, give us, paint us a picture of the kinds of people they were?

Craig Chu  11:23  [Smart, Talented Classmates]

Sure, I would say it was very collaborative. Um, you know, people have wondered if it would be sort of competitive at a place like that. And it's a good question.

But you know, the short answer is no.

The reason for that being, you know, for most of us, you know, some small portion of the student body was smart enough that they would understand everything the first time, but that that's maybe like, 10% of the student body, even at a place like CalTech, again, you know, the rest of us were challenged enough that, you know, working through homework, which we called problem sets on campus, working through sets became sort of collaborative by necessity.

And I distinctly remember, a couple instances where, you know, I sort of, and most of the student bodies seeked out peers who are at approximately their speed and level of understanding, because it makes it a lot better. But I distinctly remember one, one homework said that I started with, I think, two or three peers in a library, after dinner. Uh huh. And we had to work into the wee hours together. But we worked together until about three or 4am to finish it, but but this entire homework set that we worked for, however many hours on was 4 questions. And so it was literally us just sort of talking. And I can get into a little bit more detail about this later. But it was one of those pure math type problem sets where, you know, you had to prove C knowing a and b, and we had to sort of figure out what we knew and how we knew it. And it was, it was a really invigorating experience. And I was I was honestly very surprised with how collaborative it was at Cal Tech. And I have heard through the grapevine and through third party folks that not all stem institutions are like that, that, that Cal Tech graduates actually have a much more collaborative spirit than the graduates that some other places, but you know, I can't speak I can't speak firsthand of that. I just know that that's something I've heard through the grapevine.

Venkat Raman  13:22  

Sure, sure. Now, obviously, these guys were very good in the what you call the STEM area. Did you also find them talented in a variety of other ways?

Craig Chu  13:35  

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, a lot of times the performing arts, especially music go really, really well and hand in hand with with folks who are strong in math and science. They're very, what's a good word for I would say robust or really robust. music and arts programs. Mm hmm. People are definitely multifaceted there. As you can kind of imagine with a self selective nerdy body. Um, the, the, I would say that proportion of us who were really into sports or really athletic was actually lower than then a lot of places, but actually, it was not zero. I definitely had very good friends who were, you know, on the baseball team on the swimming team on the water polo team, we definitely fielded full teams and a lot of sports, tennis, basketball, you know, and we, I, because the campus was so small, I think all of us had friends who were doing a little bit of everything. And so it wouldn't be it wouldn't be out of the ordinary to go, you know, to the basketball game to you know, cheer for your friend who's on the team and then two hours later, you know, you're sitting in the library working on a homework set with them.

Venkat Raman  14:45  

Okay, so let's talk a little bit about professors, their teaching styles and the classes. How were, How did all that sort of come about?

Craig Chu  14:57  [“Great” Professors]

Professors were great, the short of it You know, I think, I think not just Caltech but I think any institution, you're essentially going to have a mixture of professors who are really good at teaching and are not so great at teaching. Yeah. Again, being so focused on the math and science, because it's such, it's such technical content. There are definitely some times where there are some professors who explain it better than others. One of them part, I would say, 80% of the time, 80% of the time, I found the professors engaging, very helpful, because the student body was so small, you know, even reasonably senior professors, I could frequently get an email back from or schedule some time to meet with to talk about things I didn't understand. It was, it was it was definitely interesting that, you know, you'd be reading sometimes in in science news that that some physicist had just published a paper that sort of completely rewrote the way we thought about some major scientific concepts. And then you get to the bottom and you'd realize, oh, wait a second, if the professor I'm taking physics from tomorrow at 10, like, oh, and it was it was sobering, but it was really, really great.

Venkat Raman  16:15  

Okay, so let's talk a little bit about outside the classroom, what was campus life, like at Caltech, maybe we can start with the dorms and other things. And then other activities.

Craig Chu  16:29  [The House System]

Yeah, I'm actually really glad you brought that up. Caltech, actually, the undergraduate student housing there revolves around a house system, which, which is based on sort of the British House system. And you know, prior to the Harry Potter movies, it was really hard to describe, but it's actually very similar to the houses you see in Harry Potter in that, you know, each has sort of has its own personality. And it's, it's where you live, but it is also this sort of group you belong to, and it's not quite a fraternity, but it has a lot of those sort of fraternal aspects where your partner's group, you know, the houses play each other at inner house sports, it was a lot of fun. And it, especially with such a population that I think is, tends toward the more introverted side was really good in getting a lot of us to have a more intimate experience with some friends and, and sort of for some friendships, when a lot of struggles, had struggled making friends. Aside from that.

Venkat Raman  17:31  

How about the cultural activities, social activities, clubs, that kind of thing.

Craig Chu  17:36  [Campus Activities]

Full slate of clubs, full slate of like things that you could do in your spare time, I would say a lot of I would say there was there was a more diverse set of clubs and activities than you would expect from an institution with 900 people is a great way to say that, there certainly wasn't like, you know, if you like to, for example, you know, DJ in your spare time, your that will probably be harder to find. But, you know, there were, I'm trying to think I'm trying to offer some examples that aren't just the things I was involved in there were, you know, like aviation fans, where people were like, going to get pilot's license like training towards getting pilot's licenses on the weekend. You know, there were footie fan clubs, I was a big choral person, I was in a couple of block capella groups as well as the campus Glee Club. Um, the, the, the activities are pretty full slate it is, I will say for any listeners who are who are really really considering things that they should, you know, you should be aware of at an institution with 900 undergrads and 1000. grad students, there are also going to just be a few limitations in terms of some of them, some of the more more obscure things are probably going to be harder to find a group for

Venkat Raman  18:54  

Fair enough. Fair enough. So what did you do what what kind of things were you doing?

Craig Chu  18:59  

Um, well, the big one is that I was always a choir singer in high school, and I kept that going in college. So I think I'm, I was, I was a very active member of the Glee Club, the Chamber Singers, a couple of acapella groups really enjoyed spending all of my spare time with that. It was, it was really rewarding. It was also a great way to meet friends that weren't in my house, which, you know, when you're, when you're living in one place, it can be hard actually to meet friends that aren't your neighbors once you're in that house system and once you're so embedded in that, sure. I'm trying to think if I was involved in other activities, you know, I some of the more general things I sort of the house system also gives you a lot of opportunities to be involved in some student government and some leadership opportunities. I was on you know, the house social team, sort of the house board for a year or two things, those sorts of things.

Venkat Raman  20:01  

Tell us about your summers where the internships courses. What did you do?

Craig Chu  20:07  [Summers]

Um, yeah, so I specifically, excuse me, from sort of the math background that I was building. Um, I had some some pretty niche experiences with my summers. For the first couple summers, I was helping a friend who ran a test prep company, work on some of the math preparation items for him. And then between my junior and senior years, I had an internship when I was considering becoming an actuary, I actually had an internship at a healthcare and health insurance firm between my junior and senior years. Mm hmm. So that's what I did. Personally, I know, it's also worth talking a little bit more generally about the summer opportunities available at Cal Tech. Because by nature of the fact that so much scientific research happens there, and it's such a, it's such a small student body, there's actually this program called the SURF program, which is summer undergraduate research fellowships. And now that I'm saying that I'm slightly slightly nervous, because I graduated so long ago, I don't know if it's been rebranded the program has changed, but it was essentially, I mean, it was essentially this idea that, you know, you're at this very small campus, everybody, there really excels in science, if you want to get involved in some, some really cutting edge research, some of this stuff, some of this stuff is usually reserved for seniors, if undergrads can even do it at all, um, you know, I had a lot of classmates, probably a quarter to a third of the campus, stick around over the summer to do search. And in a lot of cases, you know, these are, these are freshmen, these are sophomores who are working with some of the cutting edge professors in their fields. And sometimes, you know, sometimes they don't quite have the senior level math or whatever background they need, but but their professors, I'll help shepherd it along a little bit. But it was very, very cool to see so many of my classmates able to like, jump into things that they were so passionate about, when they knew wanted to be scientists, they didn't have any problem getting these research programs so that when they were applying to grad school, they could actually say, you know, they had done these research things, they have published these papers.

Venkat Raman  22:09  

Sure. And that's a nice acronym suits the Southern California kind of,

Craig Chu  22:15  

yeah, I agree. 100%.

Venkat Raman  22:23  

I kind of wanted to jump into your major. I mean, obviously, I can see that you were interested in math. So I just wanted to see why you picked applied math and didn't go in for pure math or anything like that, or was that you know, more than applied sort of science that you wanted to do? So give us a feel for how you picked your major. And yeah

Craig Chu  22:45  [Applied Math Major]

it's, it's a little have a little column A and a little column B of the things you were saying. I, I arrived at Caltech, very, very interested in math, it was sort of a thing that I always found so intuitive and so easy in high school, um, that, you know, when when people were struggling with their homework, I was just kind of reading the textbook. And I was like, Oh, that makes sense. Of course, I understand that. And so, you know, I started pursuing some math and taking some math classes. And you probably noticed, but for maybe the listeners who don't that, you know, university level, mathematics is not really what a lot of us think of in terms of mathematics. And at the high school, junior high levels. In a lot of times, you're not like solving for x and figuring out what number it is, a lot of it revolves around what I would call proof based and logic based systems where you're trying to figure out well, wait, if I know this property is true, you know, what can I be sure about these other numbers here? And it was, I mean, it's definitely interesting stuff. But I decided fairly early on after, you know, a year to a year and a half, that I wanted something more concrete. You know, being a mathematician, pursuing one of those routes directly, would have meant essentially a career just, you know, sitting around thinking, and I wanted, I wanted something where I could, you know, point to some numbers and say, you know, I solved that problem, I figured out what that is. And so after I took a couple of Applied Math classes, I sort of realized, you know, this is this is exactly what I'm talking about. These are, these are some of the cutting edge applications where, you know, maybe we can't find a, well, what mathematicians would call a closed form solution for something but I can approximate this and I can tell, I can do all these things. And that that became pretty interesting to me once I realized that was a pathway

Venkat Raman  24:34  

Maybe start with actually becoming an Actuary? What does that entail? What did that mean? And give us a little bit of a primer on that?

Craig Chu  24:44  [So, What is Actuary?]

Sure. So the actuarial profession for the listeners who don't know actuaries are business professionals who generally focus on the mathematical aspects of risk with the majority of Actuaries working in the insurance and pension fields, where actuaries calculate sort of reserving and the the risk to insurers or pension plans of, of solvency and insolvency based on a whole slew of factors. The Career Pathway itself is a little hard to get into, because there's actually a fairly rigorous set of exams that you have to get through in order to to really receive your actuarial credentials. And the time it takes to get through those, you know, varies from, you know, for years on the low end to I definitely had colleagues who took more than 10 on the high end.

Craig Chu  25:38  [CalTech’s Impact]

And so, I think getting into into the other part of your question, then that was, you were asking, um, sort of how Caltech has shaped my has shaped a bit. And there's two facets to that. The first one is that, you know, being at Cal Tech, where I was doing math and science full time, is what for me personally led me to conclude that I didn't really want to be a traditional scientist and the academia, academia sense of the term, right? Because I wanted to do something that was a little bit more hands on than just researching or being a professor or doing things. The second thing is that, you know, it was, it was very challenging in a way that was very, very rewarding to me, because I hadn't really been challenged like that intellectually prior to that time. It it. I mean, honestly, I really prepared me to fly for actuary exams, because a lot of smart people work on becoming an actuary and trying to pass these exams. And I definitely had some colleagues, when I was first starting out who were, you know, just as smart as I was, but continued to fail the exams, because I mean, quite frankly, because they had gone to much less rigorous universities and had not had that experience of really, really, really busting busting their butts to study really, really hard for something because they just cruise through. And so they didn't understand why after they read the book, they couldn't cruise through these actuary exams. Whereas, you know, I had this experience where I was like, Okay, well, I am, you know, I'm a smart guy, but I am still accustomed to putting in hundreds of hours of study time to really, really, really understand this the best I can. And it helped me get through exams pretty quickly.

Venkat Raman  27:29  

Sure. So it brought a certain rigor to your, to the various disciplines, in this case, actuary. Fabulous, and I'm guessing, I'm guessing it also helped build a lot of self confidence, right, in sort of going through some of the tough aspects of the exams and the classes at Caltech.

Craig Chu  27:51

Yeah, you know, it's interesting, you mentioned the confidence aspect of it that that is, it's a very quirky thing for a lot of Caltech students, because, you know, when we're sitting around in a room working on for math problems from after dinner until three in the morning, you know, we certainly don't feel smarter than time, especially when 10% of the body is like flying through it. And it's, it's kind of a known thing on campus that that undergrads kind of joke about, and say, you know, like, we were all, you know, 70% of us were valedictorians of our high schools, and we all feel thoroughly average here. But then once we graduate, you know, people who graduate and come back and talk to undergrad say, you know, once you spend four years immersed at Caltech, it's kind of funny once you leave, because you you had you had forgotten over those four years. No, you you were the valedictorian of your class, and you were the person who understood, understood things faster than everybody else. And it, it's kind of a fun six month to one year adjustment. Once you leave Caltech, or you leave, you know, the sciences were sort of like, alright, I do understand it, I do actually understand things like, at a very high level faster than a lot of people. And it was, it was kind of fun to sort of transition back out of that life and sort of reacquaint myself with the fact that oh, wait, I do understand things pretty well.

Venkat Raman  29:13  

That's a that's an excellent point, actually, what you're making.

Venkat Raman  29:20  

Okay, so, Craig, if you could go back in time, and do those four years all over again, What would you do differently?

Craig Chu  29:31  [CalTech Redo]

That that is a great question that I have actually thought about. Sometimes. I would definitely say, once, you know, I would say about two to two and a half years in is when I realized I didn't want to go into academia. Um, and, you know, for my last year to year and a half, I was kind of just taking classes to get enough credits to graduate. Sure. You know, I'm 39. Now I'm, I'm officially reaching middle age and I definitely, I definitely thought to myself, you know, well, I wasn't At a place like Caltech, you know, if I had already decided that I wasn't going to bother going to graduate school, I sure wish I had spent my junior and senior years learning a couple more interesting things. You know, I could have, I could have had Caltech chemistry professors, you know, teaching me organic chemistry, and instead, I just took the fewest credits possible my senior year to just graduate. So I think I would, I would, I would probably have embraced it a little bit more being lost at the time. When I you know, my first year there, I definitely did not like the feeling of being average. And suddenly being among all of these people who were so, so bright, because I was no longer that big fish, I was suddenly just, you know, the average fish there. And if I had to do over, I feel like I am more adjusted as an adult in being able to appreciate the fact that you know, that that's a, that's a great experience. Like, I should have enjoyed that experience more than I did at the time.

Venkat Raman  30:54  

No, that's a very fair point. Now, do you think that you said that the, probably a year, year and a half, maybe three semesters, you were just trying to complete your course requirements or credit requirements? was? Did you feel like you were not excited about something else? Or trying something else? Or did you just kind of want to be done with it. Was that the feeling?

Craig Chu  31:18  

You know, for me, personally, it was more on the second. Oh, you know, I had sort of, by senior year, I had to sort of as I had decided I was probably going to pursue this actuarial career. Um, I had already taken all of the math courses I needed to get through. So in the last year, you know, I just sort of needed to get enough enough credits period, but they didn't have to be anything specific. And so instead of taking, you know, maths and sciences that would have been intellectually stimulating for me, like, you know, I could have taken topology or I could have taken chemistry or I could have like, tried taking a new applied physics course. I just sort of have coasted? Well, I mean, I shouldn't say I coasted,

Venkat Raman  32:03  

I know what you mean.

Craig Chu  32:04  

Yeah, I didn't, I didn't take. I didn't take math and science courses. I feel like I took first year Japanese and first year Chinese just because I knew that first year language courses would be a little useful to me, but not as quite as quite as difficult as maybe an applied physics course.

Venkat Raman  32:24  

Thing I always like, to sort of have folks like you do, is tell aspiring students how to think about college how to apply. And, you know, any any kind of pointers, you could give them. One in the application side and the other, applying as in, not the specifics, but while they apply, and the second one is anything in college, they probably ought to do.

Craig Chu  32:49  [Advice to Aspirants]

Okay, I'm sure let me think about that for a minute. Um, you know, I would say one major thing on applications that I think is a little under appreciated is, is, you know, how much you know, for me, my focus in high school was, you know, just get, get the high grades, get the high grades, get the high scores, be able to fill out the application and just be able to pop all my high grades and high test scores into that application. And, you know, I don't think I appreciated how important it is to really have an eye on something that's interesting to you that in addition to just getting those high grades and test scores, I was so focused on the grades and test scores, that, you know, I you know, I have one example that pops into my head, there was, there was a class trip to sort of the Six Flags near Southern California, which for the listeners who don't know, is a large amusement park. And we were standing in line and some of my class, you know, I was just beginning to get to know my beginning to get to know my classmates, and one of them turned, it was like, Wait, this roller coaster is built funny, they don't normally have support structures like this, they're like the the beams are, are done in a different design or something. Um, and, you know, being interested in the physics of roller coaster design is not something that had even occurred to me because there wasn't gonna be a physics test on that, you know, and particularly at at some of the some of the higher level institutions. When you're writing that application, I think the admissions officers can tell whether, you know, there is more interest in ambition to you, there's more, whether there's more ambition to your interests, than just getting the high grades, but basically, I think the shortest summary of my advice is, you know, be sure you keep those interests that aren't that aren't just the grades and the test scores because those are a means to an end but be sure you keep that that end in mind as well.

Venkat Raman  34:58  

I actually also wanted to go back to something you mentioned at the outset, which is that you developed an appreciation for Humanities later on. Tell us a little bit about that, because that's kind of very interesting. And I can totally relate to that. So what what prompted that? Or how did that happen?

Craig Chu  35:17  [Appreciating Humanities]

Yeah, well, you know, the, the, the start of high school and college, you know, as so many of us are just trying to find our way, you know, I didn't like it in high school, because as the mathy person, I, I, like I wanted something that was concrete and had an answer I didn't want. I didn't like the discussions in secondary school where we, you know, we would sit around talking about the symbolism of, you know, Charles Dickens Great Expectations, for example, right. Like, that was an interesting to me like reading the story. Like it, it was a little too open ended, and it was a little too slow. For me, I didn't like how slow reading was, because I was so fast in math. Um, and those were frustrations, I honestly, I think a lot of folks who show up at Cal Tech feel the same way. Although I should point out while we're talking about Cal Tech, that they don't quite let you get out of the humanities, you still have to take a full slate while you're there. Okay, you never get to stop, you never get to take them for one year and stop, you have to take it all for years that you're there. And, you know, in retrospect, as I've grown, as I gotten, as I've gotten more interested in the globe, as as a global community and and the history and the way that history applies to us. And by us, I mean, human beings in general. Yeah, yeah. I'm much more interested, you know, not to be too political I'm I, as I've grown, I sort of see the parallels between things we have watched happen in history and you know, are watching happen around the world as we speak. And, and those are things that those are things that if they're not things we want for humanity, those are things that the human that the humanities, as an art form, are, are able to guard against, if people are educated enough to sort of understand those concepts, to to understand those, how those lessons apply. And that's not something that I think math and science can directly can directly prevent, right? It's, it's the humanities in the arts that seek to sort of affect society, and then teach society how to how to be a society. And then in my mind, once society is functioning and successful, it's the sciences that sort of allow us to develop things like sending people to the moon, for example.

Venkat Raman  37:54  

Cool, so we are beginning to wind down here. And I wanted to give you a shot at talking about some Caltech memories, or traditions or anything that we may not have talked about here that you feel is relevant or important. So anything that you want to share?

Craig Chu  38:18  [Memories - “Ditch Day”]

Yeah, yeah, thanks. I'm taking a quick look to double check the quick notes I made be sure I mentioned everything I think, I think I got all of the big points, I will say Caltech has this. This really fantastic tradition. That's it's almost hard to explain, because I'm going to call it ditch day and it is called ditch day. And that's kind of a known term in the States, where a lot of seniors just sort of skip class for the day and go do whatever, right. And so it sounds like I'm describing ditch day and everybody listening who's heard the term before is just thinking you no big deal to seniors just sort of skip classes per day. But you know, over time, over like 100 years of history of Cal Tech, it has actually morphed into this massive, massive tradition. Where it originally started, I think, decades and decades ago, where the seniors would just get classes for a day, but then all of the all of the lower classmen would start locking them out of their rooms and pranking the rooms while they were gone. So then seniors started barricading the rooms before they would have their ditch day. And it's it's sort of become this massive tradition, where you know, seniors spend the entire year sometimes they even start before senior year, preparing for senior ditch day. And in preparing for senior ditch day. They are essentially essentially prepare, you know, a massive scavenger hunt or quest for the underclassmen who sign up for their particular room on it's the day is always secret until it happens. Usually a couple of administrators do no because they have to they have to plan but, but the day is secret and then once it's revealed that it is ditch day. Um, you will find the entire campus just doing puzzles having games like playing. They're called stacks, the tournament stacks playing through their stacks all over campus. People tied to trees, people like rappelling off of the nine storey library on campus looking for, you know, whatever scavenger hunt clue they have. It's really kind of an incredible thing because because most undergraduates at Cal Tech sort of aspire to have their stack their senior year be there, their legacy that they leave behind to underclassmen. So it's this massively wonderful tradition. That's worth mentioning. Because I don't know that I have read about or heard of comparable traditions at at other institutions. It's really very, very cool.

Venkat Raman  40:44  

That's the sound sounds fantastic. So Craig, I'm gonna thank you for taking the time. And hopefully this was an enjoyable journey down memory lane for you. And I, I think I probably want to come back and talk to you some more in the future. But for now, thank you so much. Take care, and be safe.

Craig Chu  41:09  

Thanks very much. Thanks for the time.

Venkat Raman  41:11  

Sure thing. Take care. Bye.

Craig Chu  41:13  

Bye.

---------------------

Venkat  41:20  [Close]

Hi again!

Hope you enjoyed our podcast with Craig Chu on CalTech.

Craig came to CalTech wanting to pursue Math.

While he enjoyed Math, he discovered Applied Math which allowed him to produce meaningful results using Math.

That led him to a career in Actuary.

One regret for Craig, as a STEM student, was not appreciating the importance of Humanities in education.

I hope Craig has motivated you to explore CalTech.

For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [podcast@almamatters.io].

Thank you all so much for listening to our podcast today.

Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].

To stay connected with us, Subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify or visit anchor.fm forward slash almamatters [anchor.fm/almamatters] to check us out.

Till we meet again, take care and be safe.

Thank you!


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