Reflections on Clinic

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Clinic, the senior capstone project for engineers and computer scientists (plus joint math-computer science majors and a few others), captured a lot of my time and attention senior year. Clinic is a chance to work in teams with other students, a faculty advisor, and liaisons from a company to investigate a problem that that company has brought to Mudd! This year, computer science Clinic sponsors included the Caltech Cai Lab, DIRECTV, eBay, FedEx, and my personal favorite – Clean Power Research (my team). The official summary for my team’s work reads: 

“Solar utilities rely on accurate sunlight forecasts to determine how much power they will produce on a given day. Clean Power Research provides these forecasts, but existing methods take too much time and computation to forecast for a given location immediately. To explore machine learning solutions, our Clinic team constructed a pipeline to retrieve and transform data, train predictive models and evaluate their performance. We used this to investigate new data sources and the viability of two different machine learning approaches.” (Past Clinic projects).

The view out of our office window–the rooms all had floor to ceiling windows and lots of whiteboards! Photo credit: Malia Morgan

Throughout the year, I learned a lot about processing data (we processed more than 12 terabytes in the end!), building models, and exploring really open-ended research questions. However, Clinic also taught me a lot of other skills – interpersonal teamwork skills, communication skills, and planning skills. In the fall, I worked as the Project Manager for the team, which meant I served as the point of contact between the team and both the faculty advisor and the liaisons. That meant sending a lot of emails! It also taught me organizational planning skills–how to write a meeting agenda, how to send a summary email, how to write all of this down in my planner so I don’t forget…

We also all got Clinic swag– some people chose the jackets but I got this tumbler I used to carry my tea! Photo Credit: Malia Morgan

It’s not just me either– when I asked other seniors what the most valuable thing they learned from Clinic was, a lot of the replies were about those types of skills! Anya Porter ‘23 cited “How to keep track of deadlines far in the future” and “How to break up large tasks into smaller more manageable parts” as two of the most important things she learned in Clinic.

The culmination of Clinic is Projects Day in early May, when all of the different teams give a presentation and attend a poster session to share what they’ve been working on. It’s set up kind of like a conference – lots of seniors who did thesis or underclassmen show up too! Overall, Clinic is a great way to get real-world experience solving real problems during your senior year.