The Space Between by Paul B. '11
In which I attempt to explain IAP. (Hint: it's not a Dave Matthews Band song.)
Over Winter Break, whenever any of my friends or relatives asked me when I was going back to MIT, I couldn’t help but sigh, just a tiny little bit. In the past semester or so, I’ve realized that being an MIT student makes answering supposedly “normal” questions into rather elaborate affairs. As one example, when someone asks me what classes I took during fall semester, my natural, MIT-conditioned response is to rattle off the course numbers: “18.02, 5.112, 7.012, and 8.012.”
So I know I’m not in Cambridge anymore, Toto, when I – realizing that none of my relatives know what any of those numbers mean – have to force myself to say the actual subjects themselves: “Well, I took calculus, chemistry, biology, and physics.” It’s the same problem with majors, or buildings, or the Pass/No Record system for freshmen, or any of the wide variety of acronyms that have worked their way into the lexicon of MIT slang.
So, when someone asks me when I’m going back to MIT, what I’d really like to tell all my friends and relatives is that, “Oh, I’m heading back this Sunday for IAP.” If I actually said that, though, I’d be met with, at best, a raised eyebrow and an innocent query of “What’s…IAP?” Or, somewhat more likely, I’d receive a blank, quizzical stare, as my aunt silently thinks to herself, What are they feeding my nephew out there in New England? It’s like he’s talking in another language! (For all you pre-frosh out there, just think: next year, this could be your aunt. Another great reason why you should come to MIT.)
All humor aside, that basically brings me to the point of this entry: what is IAP? The one-sentence, in-a-nut-shell version that I like to tell my friends and relatives is that “IAP, which stands for Independent Activities Period, is a month-long intersession in January between the fall and spring terms, which we spend taking courses, doing research, or just hanging out and having fun.” At which point the aforementioned friends and relatives nod knowingly and generally go, “Ah, that makes sense, I guess.” (I’ll be addressing my answer to their common follow-up question – “So what are you doing for this IAP?” – a little later.)
But there’s a slight problem with that explanation. While it’s a perfectly true statement, that single sentence doesn’t really capture the true sense and scope of IAP. Today’s MIT homepage describes IAP as “an intriguing array of possibilities.” Again, that’s completely accurate – but at the same time, it’s quite not the whole story, either.
I think the real answer is that IAP is truly what you want it to be. MIT students and faculty are, after all, famous for their innovation. So when you give 4,000-some undergrads, approximately 1,000 faculty, and countless other staff and community members four almost-completely-free weeks to participate in and organize whatever ridiculous, crazy, and/or freaking sweet activities they can up with…well, you can bet some sparks will fly. (Literally and figuratively speaking. Have you heard about the welding class?)
If you ask two people what they’re doing over IAP, you’ll almost certainly get two completely different answers. Melis already blogged about the variety of activities some of her sorority sisters are pursuing, and I’ve witnessed the same breadth and depth of pursuits among my own friends. Their plans range the gamut from fun (if perhaps slightly absurd) things like truffle-making lessons and a Mel Brooks movie marathon, all the way to completely serious and intense offerings like the EMT training course and for-credit classes in physics, computer science, or calculus. Other friends are rounding out their month by studying glass-blowing, investigating the history of constructed languages, taking PE courses, or just relaxing with friends and enjoying all that MIT, Cambridge, and Boston have to offer. And, of course, there’s always Mystery Hunt to look forward to.
Of course, not all students come back to MIT for IAP. A few of my friends are indeed using the first week or two of January to extend their winter break, although they’ll be back for the rest of IAP. And campus definitely feels quieter, at least around the dormitory areas, although main campus remains fairly busy. (Perhaps the fact that more people are sleeping in has something to do with it as well. But that’s just a hypothesis.) All that said, most students who remain off-campus for IAP are actually pursuing some other sort of educational or career experience outside of Boston, anywhere from New York and California to Spain and India. Since taking a full semester abroad can sometimes be disruptive, visiting another country during IAP can be a great way to expand your global horizons without sacrificing too much else.
As for me, I’m trying to keep things low-key during my first few weeks back at MIT. I’ll be spending most of my time working on my UROP in the Langer Lab – I actually wrote most of this entry during my lunch break. A little later on, I’ll be dedicating another entry to how UROP works at MIT, and how I found mine. In about two weeks I’ll be joining Matt, Bryan, and maybe a few other bloggers as we compete in the annual Mystery Hunt – an IAP tradition I’ve been looking forward to for quite a while now. And with any luck, I should have evenings open (more or less) to hang out with friends, watch some movies, play a little Rock Band, go to a quick seminar or two…that sort of thing. I guess we’ll just have to see how it all goes.
It’s IAP, after all. Anything can happen.