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MIT blogger CJ Q. '23

What I’m doing this IAP by CJ Q. '23

i guess i need to be more specific

IAP is a concept I didn’t really understand until last month, oops. The way that MIT’s academic calendar works is that the Fall semester is from September to December, while the Spring semester is from February to May. In between the two semesters, during January, is Independent Activities Period—this glorious month of fun classes and activities.

It’s kind of hard to describe IAP because people are just doing wildly different things during it. Some of my friends chose to have an extended winter break and spend more time at home, or travelling. Some of my friends are doing an externship, which is the term for an internship that happens over IAP. Some of my friends are doing GTL, where you go to another country to teach high school students.

I applied for externships and GTL, but didn’t really get accepted anywhere. But that’s fine, because there are lots of cool things happening here on campus too! Like:


Many of my friends on campus are taking classes! While there are classes, they aren’t really normal classes. Some differences between normal classes and IAP classes include:

So the classes are pretty hype, and I’m really excited about the two classes I’m taking. The first class is 6.S087 Mathematical Methods for Multidimensional Statistics, which is about… matrices, and statistics, apparently. I’m taking the class because I looked at last year’s problem sets,02 so MIT uses a class management system called Stellar, and for some classes, you can access course material from previous years! it’s really cool :) and they felt really well-written. It’s been a cool class so far; I was really hyped when we learned about random vectors on our first lesson. (They’re like random variables, but they’re vectors—and they have their own nice properties beyond just being a collection of random variables!)

The other class I’m taking is 6.148 web.lab. Like 6.147 Battlecode or 6.176 Pokerbots, it’s a programming competition with thousands of dollars in sponsor-backed prizes. While Battlecode is about writing an AI to play a game, and Pokerbots is about writing an AI to play poker, web.lab is about making a website. The cool thing about these classes is that students from all levels of programming experience are welcome, because they teach all the material necessary to get started.

web.lab is a pretty intense class. We have lectures from 11 to 3 from Mondays to Fridays for the first two weeks of IAP. The first week alone was really intense, as we covered the basics of HTML, CSS, Javascript, React, APIs, Node, MongoDB, and authentication, all in one week! For this second week, we’ve been having sponsors give lectures in the mornings, while covering more advanced topics in the afternoons. Then the next two weeks will be for us to work on our website, with the intent of finishing before the end of IAP.

I’ve always wanted to learn more web development, but I was just really scared by the dozens and dozens of web technologies and libraries that sprouted seemingly out of nowhere. There’s lots and lots of fancy names, like Redux or Django or Typescript or Rails or Angular. It’s been pretty clear that the first three things you learn are HTML, CSS, and Javascript, and I did have some experience with these, but I didn’t have any sense of direction after that.

The class was a good excuse to pick up web development again, and I’ve been learning a lot! I’m making a website with two other people,03 hi Dylan and Emma! oops sorry i’m writing this instead of working on the website and I’m really excited to see how it’ll turn out.

Non-credit activities

It wouldn’t be called Independent Activities Period if there weren’t a lot of… activities? There are over a hundred different non-credit activities over IAP, which you can view on the IAP listings. While a lot of them sounded interesting, like a Japanese woodworking workshop or a poetry discussion series, I couldn’t really make space a lot of them on my schedule.

One of them, I guess, is a waltz class. I joined the class through Tech Squares, though, so it doesn’t really count. But I did go to an event that I only knew existed through the listings.

I signed up for a bacterial photography workshop, because I did manage to fit it in my schedule. I didn’t really read the description that carefully, other than the title, the date and time, and “No biological laboratory experience necessary!” So I signed up and I went.

It was pretty cool! It, in fact, was not a workshop about taking pictures of bacteria, but using bacteria to make pictures. We did it in a room called the BioMakerspace, which was a wet lab. I saw two of my friends who were doing their own projects in the makerspace, and were surprised to see me there.04 “I didn’t know you were a bio person!” “I’m not.”

The first part was learning to use micropipettes, which are pipettes but for very small, precise amounts of liquid. Then we used electrophoresis (big word!) to insert plasmids that had the DNA we wanted into the E. coli. In practice, this involved mixing tiny amounts of liquid, putting it in a cuvette (like, this tiny plastic box), putting the cuvette in a machine, and pressing a button. But it felt really cool that we were inserting DNA in bacteria by running electricity through it.

Then we put this… electrocuted bacteria… on an agar plate for it to grow. Since this would take a day in real time, we used a culture that was already prepared for the next step, which was picking out a culture of E. coli, putting it on this specially prepared agar plate, and then putting it in an incubator that projected an image on it. It would again take a day to see the final results, but we were shown results of previous experiments, and it looked really cool.

I don’t think I particularly want to work in any kind of wet lab in the future. But that’s the fun part, you know? I have absolutely no plans to do anything involving biology, but I loved that I could still sign up for events like these anyway. There are so many things I want to try, but not necessarily commit to, just because I want to try it, and I love how MIT has space for me to do this.


Two of my clubs are in full swing now that IAP is starting. Tech Squares, MIT’s square dancing club, has continued its regular Tuesday meetings again! I missed square dancing so much over the break. It was one of the few times I got exercise in the week, and it was a way to catch up with other friends in the club. Next Tuesday night at 8, Tech Squares is hosting an intro night in Morss Hall, and I’m really excited to just drag some of my friends and show them what square dancing is, so they could understand why I’m so hyped about it.05 i should write a blog post dedicated to squares one day to explain my love for it

Tech Squares is not only a square dancing club, but a round dancing club. Rounds, like squares, is also a kind of dancing where someone gives instructions in real-time to tell dancers what to do. There are lots of kinds of rounds, like rumba, two step, or foxtrot. A waltz rounds class started this IAP on Monday nights, and I’m enjoying it so far. We’ll see if I can continue joining the class through Spring.

The other club I’m in that’s active is ESP. I talked about Splash, a program that ESP runs, at length on “Two thousand high schoolers walk into MIT”. We’re getting ready for Spring HSSP, a program open to students from 7th to 12th grade, where teachers teach a class every Saturday for six Saturdays. So it’s a longer program, unlike Splash. Tonight, I did some chalking06 writing things on sidewalks with chalk, typically to publicize an event along sidewalks to publicize teacher registration, which will close soon.

Another program we’re getting for is Spark. Like Splash, it’s a one-weekend program, but Spark is open for students in 7th and 8th grades. Teacher registration is ongoing, but the deadline is much later, so we’re not doing much for Spark yet. I’m part of ESP Art, so I sent out a proposal for the shirt design recently, and I’m waiting on feedback.

Mystery Hunt

The one thing I’m hands-down most excited for this IAP, though, is MIT Mystery Hunt. AND IT’S HAPPENING IN THIRTY-FIVE HOURS AAAAAAHHHHH I’M SO HYPED!!!

The Mystery Hunt is the first time I heard about MIT, ever. For the longest time, the only thing I knew about MIT was that it was the university that ran the Mystery Hunt, nevermind the fact that it’s famous or whatever.07 in my defense, i grew up in the Philippines I remember browsing the internet when I was eleven or twelve, and somehow I ended up on the Wikipedia page for puzzlehunts, and then I ended up on the Wikipedia page for the MIT Mystery Hunt. And I remember being awestruck by the whole thing.

Maybe it’s the scale. It’s a huge event: dozens of teams and thousands of contestants solving hundreds of puzzles over a single weekend. Maybe it’s the thought of having so many puzzles that I can work on them for a whole weekend and not have to worry about anything else. Or maybe it’s the realization that there were other people out there who wanted to do this. That out there were people who also wanted to do puzzles for a whole weekend, and there are thousands of them, and it’s not just me.

And that was the first time I ever wanted to go to MIT. Not to study or anything, but to participate in Mystery Hunt. I wanted to be on campus and do runarounds and work on puzzles with a bunch of people who liked puzzles too.

Well, twelve-year-old CJ, I’m doing it.

And I can’t wait.

  1. which is MIT Catalog notation for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 2:00 PM to 3:30 PM back to text
  2. so MIT uses a class management system called Stellar, and for some classes, you can access course material from previous years! it’s really cool :) back to text
  3. hi Dylan and Emma! oops sorry i’m writing this instead of working on the website back to text
  4. “I didn’t know you were a bio person!” “I’m not.” back to text
  5. i should write a blog post dedicated to squares one day to explain my love for it back to text
  6. writing things on sidewalks with chalk, typically to publicize an event back to text
  7. in my defense, i grew up in the Philippines back to text