Reflection on Summer 2018

As my freshman year summer comes to an end, I wanted to gather all my thoughts and experiences from the last few months and organize all of it as a way to keep track of personal growth.


Work

This summer, I had the opportunity to do materials science research at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. Admittedly, I wasn’t initially ecstatic about the prospect of sitting in a room by myself for 6 hours a day learning about a topic that didn’t exactly align with my interests, but I quickly found my worries to be subverted. I was given a significant amount of freedom and was allowed to define my own project, so I decided to explore a topic that I was more interested in: machine learning. As an ECE major, ML isn’t in my usual curriculum and I didn’t plan on taking it until junior or senior year, so being exposed to it now was invaluable. Despite the whole experience being much more educational than I though anticipated, I also learned that research isn’t for me. While the freedom gave me choice in what topics I wanted to explore, it also offered little direction and guidance; I found that I much prefer having a well defined project and goal and I felt that I could accomplish much more if I had such guidance.

Travels

At the start of the summer, I travelled to UIUC for two weeks for a high performance computing program as some kind of precursor to my research position. The purpose was for us students to be exposed to supercomputers and parallel computing before starting on our projects, but it ended up further reinforcing the idea that research wasn’t for me; with almost everyone else being MechE or Bio or Mat Sci majors, I was pretty much the only one with any kind of computer science background. And the material we went through reflected this, so I was a little discouraged for the first week or so. But after getting to know the other students, I started enjoying my time there a lot more. Also, since there’s absolutely nothing else to do in Illinois, I spent most of the free time I had rewriting my resume, updating my LinkedIn, and researching other opportunities; I actually found the Capital One program during this time and applied two days before the deadline. Overall, it actually turned out to be a pretty good use of time, meeting new people and being motivated to more establish myself professionally.

In the middle of July, I went back to Long Island for a weekend for the first time since January, after which I moved to Pittsburgh permanently. While many people were away from home during the summer, seeing everyone that was home was amazing. I also got to go to the beach for the first time in a year, which was something that I actually wasn’t the biggest fan of when I still lived on LI. It was one of those things that I just took for granted and didn’t realize how much I’d miss until it wasn’t readily accessible at any time anymore. But feeling that sand on my feet again was definitely the highlight of the trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go to the city, but I’ll definitely have more opportunities to go back there as opposed to LI, whereas this summer was pretty much the last time I would be able to easily see most of my friends from back home, as pessimistic as it sounds. But during the year, breaks rarely line up with everyone at different schools, and people are much more likely to be scattered during the summer at internships or summer endeavors after freshman year. And so as much as I enjoyed seeing everyone, I don’t really have that big a desire or intention of going back there anymore. Though I think that in the future, traveling to the big cities where people actually go to school will be much more appealing; visiting friends in places like Boston or LA seems tons more fun than going back to Smithtown and eating half apps.

At the very end of the summer, I went to DC (technically Arlington but close enough) for Capital One’s Software Engineering Summit Program. This actually turned out to be the highlight of my summer. In addition to learning about software topics like iOS/Android development, machine learning, and AWS, Capital One spoiled us so much. Between giving us beautiful hotel rooms to fancy meals to fun outings, Capital One did a really good job of enticing us to consider working there if we hadn’t considered it before. They even gifted us a bunch of tech at the end of the entire thing, too. The people I met there were also amazing. Despite the leaders at the summit being around ten years older than us, they did a really good job of connecting with us and by the end of only a few days, we were all really good friends with some of the leaders (some other students even took the liberty of affectionately calling one of them “mom”). The other students were also really personable while also sharing my enthusiasm for software. Funnily enough, four out of the 23 students were from CMU and I knew none of the other three before going there. It concluded with a hackathon, which was the first one I partook in, even if it was just a small one. While it wasn’t the greatest experience, it definitely did help me prepare for future hackathons and partner programming. I think the highlight of this trip was going in to DC proper for a night and being given free reign to do whatever we wanted. I really enjoyed spending the time to exploring and walking around Georgetown and the Waterfront by myself; I think during the summer, I began to find these times clarifying for the mind, but rare, and I wanted to take advantage of it. Also shoutout to the first Shake Shack I had since December; it was absolutely amazing.

I actually didn’t imagine myself traveling this summer as much as I did. At the start, I was only planning on going to UIUC. But I’m glad I had the opportunities to travel elsewhere because honestly, they were the best parts of my summer.

Personal

I had a lot of free time this summer to spend reflecting on my freshman year and especially about things that I wish I did differently and how I can apply my experiences moving forward; I saw this summer as an opportunity for maturation in all aspects of my life, whether it be academic, emotional, or spiritual. My religious life definitely saw the biggest improvement, however. Early on in the summer, I became more convicted to take it all more seriously, like going to church every Sunday and spending more time doing devotionals. I started to be harder on myself and get better at holding myself accountable. I’d also like to think this spiritual growth branched out into the other areas of my life that I sought to mature in. Emotional maturity was never my strongest area because it simply wasn’t something that I liked to talk about, but throughout this whole process, I’ve been learning more about myself and where my emotions come from and (hopefully) how to deal with them better. Academics and career goals also started becoming a bigger focus in my life. After taking 213 last semester, I gained a much better idea of what I actually wanted to do career-wise, and so I wanted to divert more energy into developing that this summer, too. It might be circular, but I think everything falls under the same umbrella of maturing as a person, and I’d like to think that that’s centered around spiritual growth.


Final Thoughts

This summer has actually been quite eventful, despite my initial apathy towards it, and has proved to be more eventful and much more of a learning experience than I expected. Particularly, I am happy with my personal development throughout the summer. Though I am happy with my progress and everything I’ve learned this summer, I’m far from perfect in all of those areas, but I’m excited to see what’s in store for next semester and how it all shapes out.