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International Student Spotlight

International students’ unique backgrounds, interests and talents are featured in the International Student Spotlight.  If you would like to have your profile included, or if you would like to recommend a student to be featured, please email  Previous student profiles can be found on the past profile page.

Jennifer Walker

Jennifer is a graduate student in Environmental Science and Engineering from Canada.

Tell us about your time in the Arctic Circle.
When I was a Master's student at the University of Toronto, I traveled to Eureka, Nunavut, in the Canadian Arctic, to measure stratospheric ozone.  It was quite an adventure living at a research station in the middle of nowhere, just a few hundred miles south of the North Pole!  The landscape felt like another planet - snow-covered tundra in all directions, not a single tree or plant in sight.  One of my favorite experiences was a few days after we arrived, when the sun rose for the first time after 4 months of perpetual night during the Arctic winter.  It was spectacular to see the sun peep over the horizon for just a few minutes, signaling the end of the long, dark polar night.  My other favorite memories are the incredible wildlife we saw there: a pack of wolves, a fox, a hare and even a polar bear.

What do you like most about Caltech?
What I like most about Caltech is the strong training we receive to become independent researchers.  In the PhD program, we learn how to see the big picture of a research field as well as delve into its details, to identify open questions in a field and devise strategies to answer them, and to recognize how our own work fits into the larger context.  A close second on my list of favorite things about Caltech is the beauty and serenity of our campus.  It's such a relaxing environment to work in, and I love to take walking breaks during the day to visit the turtles in the pond and admire the beautiful architecture and gardens.

What would you recommed someone visiting your country see and do?
Canada is a huge country with so much to offer from coast to coast, so it would be challenging to explore it all in one trip! 
If I had to pick one area to recommend, it would be Vancouver, a beautiful city with a bit (or a lot) of everything.  Check out the bustling downtown vibe shopping along Robson Street, the funky cafes in Kitsilano, and the cute boutiques and bistros on Granville Island.  Enjoy the spectacular ocean views along the Seawall, a 28 km walking path around the downtown peninsula, and stop in at Stanley Park to admire old-growth forest, gardens, and wildlife.  You'll want to include some time relaxing at some of the many beaches.  In the nearby mountains you can go hiking and take wobbly suspension bridges across big canyons if you're feeling adventurous. I recommend visiting in summer to enjoy the city in the sunshine!

Jinqiang Chen

Jinqiang Chen is a Giorgio Ruffolo Post-doctoral Research Fellow in Sustainability Science in the Energy Technology Innovation Policy research group at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Jinqiang explores risks in Chinese electricity markets, and recommend mitigation strategies that will facilitate China’s energy transition into a green future. He is contributing to collaborative work with the Initiative on Sustainable Energy Development in China led by Prof. Henry Lee.  Jinqiang Chen earned his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in 2015. His Ph.D. research focused on dynamics of the East Asian summer monsoon in various climates in Prof. Simona Bordoni’s group.

What do you like most about Caltech?

I like Caltech most about its "personal" care.  Caltech has a very small population, and each student can therefore get plenty of resources and support.  During my nearly four-year stay at Caltech, I receive meticulous care from Caltech stuff in and out of my academic life.  One thing impressed me a lot is that people in Graduate Office and International Student Program can remember the name of every single student!


Tell us about your experiences studying in Italy; how that influenced you and helped you at Caltech.
I was in Italy for three years for my undergraduate study.  People there are very friendly and willing to share their cultures.  I made several Italian friends and they were very helpful for my language study.  I worked as a part-time commercial consultant in an Italian firm. My exposure to international environmental helped me a lot interact with international students here at Caltech.


What are the biggest differences between Caltech and your home universities?

In my home universities -- Politecnico di Torino and Harbin Institute of Technology, there are way more students than Caltech. Professors pay relatively less attention to students there and I think that's the biggest difference between Caltech and my home universities.

What would you recommend someone visiting your country see and do?

There are numerous historical cultural relics and natural landscapes in China, such as Terra Cotta Warriors, the Great Wall and Zhang Jia Jie. Foreign friends should visit small towns and countryside to experience the real Chinese cultures and life.  In addition, Chinese food is great! Different regions have their own specialties.

What are the biggest differences between Caltech and your universities back home?
I like the open-mindedness at Caltech. People are open to new and crazy ideas. They'll sit down and listen to you; doesn't matter if you're a graduate student or a tenured professor or the president. There's this sense of equality, that no one person has a higher claim to the truth or discovery or an interesting idea. Of course, if your idea is terrible, they'll tell you so; but you can't have an open exchange of ideas without agreeing to be honest about their merits and their flaws.

Shi En Kim

Shi En is finishing her bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering.

What do you like most about Caltech? 
Definitely the people. The collaboration policy fosters a close-knit environment here. I find the people here very helpful when I need guidance with completing sets or learning class material. The Caltech fencing team is a close second, but what makes fencing here at Caltech really fun is also because of the people.

What do you like most about Caltech?
An amazing thing about Caltech is its size.  It is a great feeling to be sitting outside The Red Door Café and recognizing all the people around me and always having someone to talk to if I want a break from the books.  Also, I think what makes The Honor Code system possible is that people at Caltech genuinely feel a responsibility towards each other since the community is so small.  Another thing I like very much about Caltech is the emphasis that is placed on research here.  All the professors at Caltech are top researchers and as a student I feel that I have been very much encouraged to engage in research here myself.

Tell us about your experiences joining the Caltech Fencing Team and your SURF in Switzerland last summer?
I decided to do fencing because I would never have had the opportunity to pick it up back home. I never even heard of the sport until I left Malaysia! Caltech provides all of the equipment and covers our expenses when the team travels to nationwide tournaments. Fencing has been one of the activities that has tethered me to sanity when the all/late-nighters and the heavy workload become unbearable. Sometimes fencing does seem like a distraction, when I flock to practice while my peers work on sets. But fencing keeps me healthy and happy, so that boosts my productivity when I return to my sets. My wise fencing captain Eugene Vinitsky once said that knowing you have fencing practice later in the day, you try to get all your work done beforehand so you can free yourself from worrying about sets, and in turn you can fence better. I find that to be really true.

A SURF abroad was something I always aspired to do to combine the challenges of doing research and experiencing a different culture in one summer. Visiting Europe and hiking in the Alps has always been a dream of mine. I chose to work in ETH Zurich due to the university's renowned research and its fantastic location - Switzerland! Once again I was fortunate enough to be funded by the Ernest R Roberts SURF from Caltech which allowed this dream to become a possibility. I discovered that students in Europe adhere more strictly to routine than Caltech, and they have a very balanced lifestyle to maximize their productivity at work. My greatest memories are the hikes I did every weekend. Some of the noteworthy places I visited are the Aletsch Glacier, the largest glacier in the Alps, and the Mont Blanc Trail, where I backpacked for eight days across Switzerland, France, and Italy.

What do you miss about your home country?
Definitely the food. Every Malaysian in the world is a staunch defender of how awesome Malaysian food is. Yet most of us cannot describe what a Malaysian dish is whenever we are asked about it. We have so many different races that each one has its own distinct signature blend of flavours - it's impossible to summarize Malaysian food by one word alone, except "tasty!"

What do you like most about American Culture?
Everyone is so friendly and open-minded. I love how any topic, especially a scientific or a philosophical one, will garner instant heated debate among my friends. We can disagree and squabble like ferrets, but at the end of the day no one takes offense and we still remain good friends.