A Beginner’s Guide to SSP In (Approximately) 900 Words

Congratulations on taking the first steps in starting your SSP journey by reading this guide! I’m Christine, a 2021 CUB Participant, and think of me as your own personal (and very professional and legit) SSP adviser. Here I will tell you everything [important—though some might beg to differ] you need to know about this summer program. 

Note: I suggest taking everything I say to heart, but if not, I will only be slightly upset.

Note to note: I accept apologies through Venmo.

  1. First things first, bask in some self-appreciation by re-reading your acceptance email. 

Repeat after me:

“Dear [enter name],

Congratulations! The SSP Admissions Committee has accepted your application to the [enter year] Summer Science Program in Astrophysics.”

According to Oprah Daily, people who have high self-esteem are more likely to be happy and confident, and who wouldn’t want that? You didn’t put all that hard work into the application for nothing! Pat yourself on the back, but don’t stop there (which is why I’m writing this guide, of course). 

“OK,” you say. “What now?” 

Totally expected train of thought, which is what I’m getting to next. Be patient! (That was a freebie, not SSP-specific advice, BTW.)

  1. Don’t be scared to feel stupid. Besides, trust me, you’re not stupid.

You must be thinking, “Christine, how can you go from an uber specific step to a super broad and honestly kind of cliché, oversaid piece of advice? Do I really not pay you anything for nothing?” And I will respond with, touché, but allow me to explain.

SSP is hard, point blank. Definitely the most I’ve ever been challenged academically in my entire life, and my T.A.s can say without a doubt that I’ve gotten my fair share of Pset questions wrong. And I’ll be honest, this freaked me out initially—as someone who’s always striving for perfection, less than perfect never even seemed like an option. The pace is rigorous, and even after playing Mario Kart in 200cc (the fastest race setting, for all the non-Mario Kart connoisseurs) for the past decade of my life, I still couldn’t believe how quickly the lectures went by. Information was thrown at me left and right as I learned how to find the Right Ascension and Declination of a star on Stellariums and what the heck a bowl diagram is (it sounds more self-explanatory than it actually is) all in one day. 

If you felt like skimming over my paragraph about bowl diagrams, no biggie, I’ll get right to the point here: it’s 100 percent fine to make mistakes, but don’t stop there. Read through the comments on your Psets, look through the answer key to see where you accidentally plugged in the azimuth instead of the altitude (totally not speaking from experience…), ask a TA for help, the possibilities are endless. 

It’s fine to be stuck, but if you don’t try to understand your mistakes, what do you really gain? I can answer that for you: not much. Instead of just, “OK,” I like to think of it as an, “OK, what now?” Take the necessary steps forward to deepen your understanding. 


Since this one is so important, allow me to portray the essence of my message through an acrostic poem.

C ool people you get to meet

O utstanding minds working together

L ots of confusion is gone

L ifesaver

A lways someone there to help

B raced for supportiveness

O utstanding peers

R eally helps you grow

A +

T ime to listen and to share

I love it <3

O mg did I get my point across??

N ow I’m done

  1. Last, but surely not least, enjoy the ride.

If you’ve gotten this far, that means you’ve already endured my Mario Kart references and acrostic poem, which means you’ve clearly got some grit. I know, I know, it’s only the second week, I can’t tell you the hard part’s done just yet. But keep it mind, it’s already the second week. I don’t know about you, but these two weeks just absolutely flew by. Don’t live Pset by Pset. Enjoy SSP. Don’t hate me for saying this, but I’d go as far as saying that you should enjoy the Psets. Though they’re sometimes painstakingly difficult, they’re proof that you stuck with it, and you have to admit that getting the correct solution after tiring away at your calculator for hours is an unmatched feeling of satisfaction. 

SSP is an amazing opportunity and I’m so thankful to be a part of it. #gratefulness. Enjoy the guest speakers, enjoy conducting your own research on a near-Earth asteroid as a high schooler (!!!), enjoy the Q.O.D.s, enjoy the endless stream of games we have to play during Social Hour and Work/Play blocks, because no matter how much five weeks sounds like a lifetime, before you know it, SSP will be over. 😟

All in all:

Now that you’ve read the Beginner’s Guide to SSP, you’re unofficially an SSP expert (Honestly, am I qualified to be writing this as someone who’s only done the first two weeks so far?? Oh, well…). Carry the weight of this knowledge as you see fit, and don’t forget to complete your Observing Requests.

As a parting gift to you, here is an asteroid pun.

Why do asteroids have good street smarts?

Because they have good comet sense.