How To Get the Most Out of IAP

Tea at MIT Tatte Bakery

During the month of January at MIT, we celebrate the freedom of choice and individuality with Independent Activities Period (IAP), a time where students and MIT community members can “organize, sponsor and participate in a wide variety of activities, including how-to sessions, forums, athletic endeavors, lecture series, films, tours, recitals and contests.”

There are a ton of ways to optimize IAP. Over my two years at Sloan (and thus two IAPs), I found a number of great courses and activities to take part in, but I also missed out on a few opportunities due to the semi-steep learning curve. There’s a lot going on over IAP and a lot of ways one could spend it; inevitably, it’s my last semester at Sloan, and I just discovered some fun options I would have been excited to take part in, but I just hadn’t heard about them through the grapevine yet!

To save you heartbreak during your final year, semester, or IAP at MIT, I’ve written down some of my top ideas for getting the most out of IAP while you’re here. Hopefully this will be a start to you choosing your course wisely and not missing out on anything you would’ve wanted to be involved in!

1. Pick Up a New Skill or Hobby.

Kyudo Japanese Archery at MIT
Joyce Wu, IAP instructor, demonstrates the ritual of Kyudo.

The first time I perused through the MIT-wide IAP course offerings, I was surprised to see that many of the courses were just about pure fun — the “non-credit activities“! Last year, I took the Japanese tea ceremony course, a seminar about the the tea ceremony.

This semester, I took the two-day Kyudo (弓道 – “way of the bow”) Japanese archery course, and have decided to move forward in practicing Kyudo at Byakko Kyudojo, a dojo in Somerville where the IAP Kyudo instructors practice.

A couple of courses I didn’t get a chance to take, but that were on my radar included Cocktails 101 (a mixology course!) and Poker Theory and Analytics.

Also, I highly recommend getting started early on your Pirate’s Certificate, which is available to students who have passed Archery, Fencing, Pistol, and Sailing through the Physical Education department. Get an early look at the calendar and the course catalog during your first year, so you can begin mapping out your courses. The Pirate’s Certificate courses tend to be over-subscribed. So, you’ve gotta plan accordingly!

Lastly, if you didn’t learn to swim as a kid, consider taking a swimming course during IAP, also available through the PE program!

2. Travel.

Sydney Australia Bondi Beach
Chilling on Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia.

I learn best when I’m doing, and traveling is one of the most engaging ways I’ve found to nourish my brain. During my first winter break and IAP, I spent a month in Australia, recovering from Core semester. It was the best choice I could have made — sunshine, beaches, plenty of time to plan my next semester. Ahhhh, those were the days.

You’ve got 6-7 weeks of break time, so take advantage of it by traveling!

If you’re in your second year, you could also take G-Lab, a global laboratory class which matches teams of students up with international companies for a consulting project. In January, teams travel to their host companies in countries across the world to finalize their on-site proposals.

This year, I spent my travel time in the United States, focusing on friends and family, as well as the city I am considering moving to after graduation, scoping out the technology scene there.

3. Get to Know Your Classmates.

Victoria Young's birthday
My roommate, Victoria, celebrated her birthday this IAP!

January is a stress-free time, and it’s the perfect time to hang out with those classmates who are still in Boston and Cambridge.

Boston winters are cold and snowy, so I’ve found it warming to get to know my classmates outside of the classroom. Coffee dates, movie nights, dinners, and parties — all of these festivities have made my IAP a lot more exciting!

4. Consult or Intern with a Company of Interest.

StandStand at CES 2015
I consulted with Harvard-based portable standing desk startup startup StandStand this IAP and traveled with them to CES in Las Vegas!

While a month may not seem like an ample amount of time to work with a company, it’s actually quite possible to do meaningful work during IAP. I, for example, have been consulting with portable standing desk startup StandStand this past semester (I’m a total standing desk enthusiast); during IAP, I accompanied them to the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas to manage press and marketing.

They not only let me loose to design the company’s CES booth, but they also entrusted me to garner press for the startup while at the conference — my personal favorite was the Mashable mention!

My roommate and fellow Sloan second year, Victoria Young, also interned over IAP, at local IPO darling HubSpot, founded by Sloan alums. She, too, has learned a lot in a short amount of time and has gained much from the experience.

If you’re not really into working for other people or have an idea of your own, look into StartIAP, a startup accelerator program that lets you be your own boss all IAP long! With workspace in the Martin Trust Center and workshops on everything from customer development to fundraising, you’ll get the entrepreneurial rundown.

So, consider getting to work over IAP!

5. Give Back to the Community.

Start6 Marketing Panel
I moderated a marketing panel at Start6 to great reception from the students!

IAP is a great time to give back to the MIT community: You’re relaxed, you’ve got lots of time, and you have so much knowledge in your brain to spread!

For the past two years, I’ve participated as a speaker at Start6, a two-and-a-half week course, for full credit, in which course 6 (electrical engineering and computer science) students gather to learn from innovators and entrepreneurs.

This year, I hosted a panel of marketing, public relations, and content experts to discuss how startups should approach marketing and press. I also ran a customer discovery workshop, where students were challenged to define their key target market and the primary persona for that market. Last year, I was on a marketing panel and led a seminar about how to pitch journalists.

Feedback on my Start6 participation was quite positive, and I also made friends and learn lessons myself through working with the students. It was a highly valuable experience. I’m excited I had the opportunity to participate, thanks to the work of EECS department head Anantha Chandrakasan.

Last year, I also had the honor of co-hosting a panel about how to encourage more women to join the technology industry, on behalf of Rough Draft Ventures, a student fund I participated in which invests in promising student-led startups. That, too, was an eye-opening experience, in which we brought men and women together to discuss the gender inequality in tech and venture capital. These are the types of conversations that get people thinking and acting; IAP is the perfect time to reinvigorate these discussions.

6. Get Back to Your Roots.

Maria Kucinski with Nachos
One of my best friends, Maria Kucinski, showcases her freshly made nachos for a Patriots game with friends.

Before Sloan, I lived, worked and studied in New York City for eight years. I made lifelong friends and discovered myself, and although I was born in Ohio and raised in Arkansas, I consider New York my adopted home.

January, as I mentioned before, is a cold month in Boston… And, I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing like the cold to get me down. (That’s why I went to Australia for a month during my first IAP!)

Getting back home, cold or not, helps sweep those blues away, and it’s always well-worth my visit when I do. I feel rejuvenated and with a new sense of self when I get back to my roots. If you have the time and resources to visit home (or your adopted home!), I recommend taking the trip. Going somewhere that you call home — whether its your birth home or whatever — just brings peace. Or at least it does for me.

And hey, if nachos and a Dancing With the Stars marathon are a part of the deal, even better!

7. Enroll in an Academic Workshop.

After core semester, you may feel like there’s nothing more you want to do than veg out for a month, but I found that during my first IAP, I was excited more than ever to start making some progress towards my goals. After all, core semester can seem like a departure from what you came to do at Sloan.

I took the 15.339 Distributed Leadership Workshop with Professor Malone, and it not only helped me sort out my next semester, but it also gave me clarity on my personal goals. In fact, I made a very personal goal with intense intent, and over the following months, I made it a reality. One year later, that goal — a bit too personal to share here, but important nonetheless — has continued to drive me, and I’ve learned so much through that pursuit that I might even consider 15.339 to have been a life-changing IAP course for me.

Take a good look at the Sloan courses and see if anything tickles your fancy.

There’s another class I wanted to take this IAP, 15.S20 Leadership Lessons Learned from the Military, taught by one of my favorite professors, Leigh Hafrey in collaboration with the MIT Leadership Center and the Sloan Veterans Club. I’m cross-registered at HBS for Professor Jeffrey Bussgang’s “Launching Technology Ventures” class, though, so there was a schedule conflict. 🙁

Alas, both of the above courses are worth looking into!

All in all, IAP is about personal and professional discovery. There are seemingly infinite options at your fingertips; as long as you’re being proactive, there’s no way you can go wrong! Happy exploring!

Erica Swallow

Erica Swallow is a technology writer, startup entrepreneur, and status quo wrecker. She is currently an MBA candidate at the MIT Sloan School of Management and her thoughts have been published in a number of esteemed outlets, including Forbes, Entrepreneur, The Wall Street Journal, and The Huffington Post, among others.

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