I worked at Oak Crest between April and December 2003 through the SURF program at Caltech. I am now a graduate student in chemistry at UC San Diego, where I’m working on the same general topic I studied back then with Marc: using Ni-based chemistry to transform CO2 into useful molecules.
The technical skills and chemical knowledge I gained back then have certainly been helpful in my current studies, but what I value most about Oak Crest is that it was (and still is) an extremely supportive and encouraging environment in which to start learning about doing research. The confidence I gained while working with Marc has carried me through many years of feeling scientifically dumb*, and is probably one of the reasons why I’m still in science today.
One of the things I’ve learned since leaving OCIS is that grad school and any research experience isn’t just about doing experiments on one personal project. It’s also about learning how to structure that project, understand how it fits into the bigger picture, and discuss science with others, among many other things. Oak Crest is really unique in its open and entrepreneurial culture and the willingness of staff to spend time with their students, and as such, it’s a great place to get advice about the future or to pick up skills that will help in a research career. If I had the chance to go back to that summer again, I’d definitely ask the staff more questions about their backgrounds, projects, and the way they think about science.
*see Schwartz, M.A., “The importance of stupidity in scientific research”. Journal of Cell Science 121, 1771 (2008).