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MIT student blogger Melis A. '08

A truly independent activities period by Melis A. '08

A glimpse at some MIT students' IAP plans.

It is crunch time at MIT. Classes are over this Wednesday, and exam week starts on Monday, December 17. There are two standard responses to a stressful situation like this: fight or flight. The alternative is to combine the two: fight (by studying hard for two weeks), then flight (home for the holidays!)

Many students will come back to MIT around January 7 for the start of Independent Activities Period (IAP). *Cue “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”* During IAP, students get to enjoy MIT without worrying about problem sets. Well, that’s not 100% true, there are some for-credit classes that do have tests and homework, but they’re definitely the minority. (For more about IAP, see my former entries on IAP 2007 and 2006.

So what do MIT students do with one month of freedom? I’ll be working on my senior thesis project, taking a wine tasting class, hopefully making some things in the Hobby Shop, and checking things off of my “101 Things to Do Before Graduating From MIT” list. I e-mailed my sorority and asked to hear about their plans. Here’s what they said:

“This IAP I was selected to participate in the January Scholars in France program, an incredible program for students who have shown a strong commitment to studying French at MIT. On January 6, I will be flown out to Paris along with 7 other MIT students. Together with an awesome professor with whom I’ve taken two courses, we will spend two weeks in Paris trying out all sorts of restaurants, visiting museums, attending theatrical performances, and more, all entirely paid for by this program. Two French guides who really know the ins-and-outs of Paris have worked with this program for several years now to give the January Scholars insider’s tours around certain “quartiers” in Paris. I’m also particularly excited about this trip because a French penpal I’ve been writing to since my freshman year in high school will be taking a few days off from school so we can finally meet and spend some time together in Paris. All the January Scholars will be staying in a hotel in the Latin quarter. The theme of this year’s program is “The People of Paris,” so we’ll all spend some time on our own exploring Paris and trying to better appreciate and understand certain distinctly French characteristics that interest us. This is not a for-credit assignment, just a fun project to help enrich this amazing experience.”- Emilienne, ‘09

“I’m doing the followings this IAP:
week 1: Women’s Initiative…An MIT alum and I are traveling to Fredericksburg, VA to talk to middle/high school girls about female engineers.
week 2: UPOP…intense engineering work place skills building
week3-4: UROP in Strano Lab doing researching single walled carbon nanotube complexes for solar energy conversion-synthetic analogs to natural processes.
Last year, I went to LeaderShape, which was amazing and eye opening :)”- Ploy ‘10

“I’m going to astronomy field camp at Lowell observatory in Flagstaff, AZ (12.411) and then backpacking through the Grand Canyon! all with course 12 (the Earth and Planetary Science department)! the entire IAP!!” –Jennifer ‘10

“This IAP, I’m going to Tanzania with my D-Lab (an intro to Development) Team. We’ll be working with NGOs, orphanages, wheelchair workshops, and local villages to introduce appropriate technology to address the basic needs of low-income households. In many ways, we are working on helping developing countries by working from the bottom up. My team will be introducing the charcoal project (this process burns agricultural waste to make charcoal, which is an inexpensive way to supply cooking fuel while limiting the deforestation in Tanzania), the pedal power grinder (as maize is a major food crop, this pedal power grinder will turn a typical two-hour chore into a 10 minute process, generating a supplementary income to wheelchair manufacturers and giving more time for women to devote to other enterprises), and the universal nut sheller (this device can shell peanuts, shea nuts, coffee in large quantities, increasing the potential enterprises for local farmers).”- Jodie ‘09

“During IAP, I am taking 6.470, which is a web programming competition/class. There are 10 days of lecture in which we learn HTML, CSS, Javascript, AJAX, server-side scripting, databases, SQL, and how to put them together. For the following 7 days (and nights), we program constantly until we’re ready to present our final product. Besides the intensity of 6.470, I plan on taking relaxing P.E. classes like pilates and advanced swimming.”- Britni, ‘11

Tina ’09 sent me these pictures that she took a few IAPs ago. They built a wooden sled and race it down the steps of 77 Massachusetts Avenue (the main entrance to MIT):

31 responses to “A truly independent activities period”

  1. Kayla says:

    IAP is half the reason i wanna go to MIT…

  2. marie says:

    agree with kayla, sounds like so much fun!

  3. Cathy says:

    Amazing! I just love all the opportunities and all the excitement about all the opportunities. And I now understand how MIT students stay sane. :D

  4. Chris T says:

    IAP @ MIT in 2009 – I want to be there!

  5. OmarA says:

    Sounds neat. I guess I’ll know in one week whether I’ll be able to do that next year hehe.

  6. Masud says:

    I really hope that Chem Eng ( course 10-C) students can do linguistics or foreign languages because I have always dreamed of going to Paris ( J’ai toujours rêvé d’aller à Paris)and I want to do some French and Spanish courses while at MIT! And i wish that students like myself can take part in the IAP trip to France. No, I’m not in MIT yet, but I really want to do course 10-C ( one of the plethora of reasons for me applying to MIT)

  7. Karen says:

    So apparently students from MIT are coming to my high school through the Women’s Initiative program in January – do you know who’s visiting Chicago?

    Aside from that, IAP is definitely what I’m most looking forward to, if I get admitted! A whole month of learning just for fun, what’s not to like smile

  8. Vani says:

    Wow! I love the fact that MIT gives you variety! Hope I can explore them next year! smile

  9. Anonymous says:

    No one cares who is first, no matter who it is, no matter what entry.

  10. Ben P. says:

    IAP sounds awesome! I hope I get a chance to experience it first-hand!

  11. Sh1fty says:

    i saw you in the infinite corridor today, you said hi to the tour guide smile

  12. Melis says:

    Masud: Yes, Course 10 students can definitely do foreign languages. I even know a 10-B student who’s going on the same trip as Emilienne.

    Karen: Sorry, I don’t know who’s visiting Chicago =( I’ll ask Ploy…

    Jing Jing: There are a bunch of people who end up just chilling in their room for the whole month. I’m planning on getting a Netflix account…Also, there’s no prep class for UROPs, but there’s a shadowing program that you can do during IAP. I wouldn’t worry about being unprepared, all the UROP supervisors know that undergrads require training, it’s part of the process.

    Sh1fty: Why didn’t you say hi? =)

  13. Anonymous says:

    IAP sounds so cool. What a nice way to spend a month after 4 months of work.

  14. Monica says:

    Congratulations on being a Rhodes Scholar!!! that is just too awesome!!

  15. E Rosser says:

    A. Maze. Ing. IAP is just one of the myriad answers to “Why MIT?” I was particularly impressed with the student going to Tanizia– I wanna do that some day! That and spend an IAP studying Quenya. “Elen sila lummen omentielvo…” Sorry, it’s a Ringer thing…
    Of course, that’s assuming I get in. Which I’m not quite sure about after all. Anticipation’s a killer! Good luck, everyone!

  16. E Rosser says:

    *Tanzania, sorry…

  17. Jing Jing says:

    YAY! I mean, no yay for midterms, but I hope you’re looking forward to the holidays & IAP! =)

    Oh I remember when I visited MIT this June, the person who gave us a lecture said he literally stayed home in PJs and watched cartoons for the whole IAP… I think his name was Mike, maybe?

    Anyway, about the UROP program, I was looking at their descriptions and all of the jobs available seem REALLY intense… is there like a preparation course for each UROP job available?

  18. Mayen '12 says:

    does one have to do IAP, or can one have a really long vacation til February?

  19. Oh man!! Observatory then Grand Canyon! Sounds perfect!

  20. Nate says:

    ¿Patrocina MIT un viaje a España? Allí está quiero ir, y viajaré allí si (es decir, cuando) alcanzo mi meta de ingreso. Claro, solamente si hay un viaje como lo que deseo. El periodo de actividades independientes es muy chévere. ¡Encontraré ustedes en el otoño!

  21. Melis says:

    Yes, you can have a very long vacation if you’d like. It’s up to you.

  22. Arathi says:

    I want to go to MIT!!! Every time I read the blogs my stomach feels queezy thinking about Dec. 15th decisions. The IAPs sound like fun!

  23. Will says:

    Wow! That French program sounds really cool. Do you guys do anything with the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Lyon?

  24. Rahul Jain says:

    Wow! This is so cool… I know some french and hope to continue in MIT right now I am in the middle of exams… what a killer. It will be cool to go to France. Enjoy your stay there.

  25. Craig says:


    Great use of the word “chevere.” I’m in Spanish V and that is one of the only words I can remember. Wow, how bad is that?

  26. Krypton says:

    How does housing/dining work during IAP?

    I heard basically nothing changes with housing; you can stay in your dorm for free for all of winter break and IAP if you want. But no one I’ve asked so far remembers what they did for food during IAP last year!

  27. Nate says:

    Thanks Craig. What I was asking, does MIT sponsor a trip to Spain?

  28. Omar '10 says:

    sweet, Ploy ’10 is a true course 10. working for Strano after doing that 10.10 project… that’s pretty intense. smile

    it wasn’t that bad actually.

  29. Omar '10 says:


    As Melis said, you can definitely take language classes while being course 10, now the only think I want to say about course 10-C is that it’s usually not a good option as your main degree (and usually people use it as a double major) because it’s not accredited.

    “Course 10-C leads to the Bachelor of Science without specification; this is not accredited and requires fewer chemical engineering subjects.”

    That’s from the MIT course catalog. Just wanted to make sure you knew that.

  30. Mayen'12 says:

    sweet, thanks Melis