First and foremost, let me personally congratulate you for surviving your first semester of classes. You made it to December. Winter is coming. The weather outside is frightful, and while finals aren’t that delightful, just remember that we are exactly 20 days from Christmas.
If you weren’t a snakey pre-med this semester, Santa will more than certainly bring you something nice. Although, as I found out, he won’t bring back covered grades. Unfortunately, Santa is not that nice and doesn’t wield quite as much power as President Daniels. It’s tragic.
Jokes aside, if you are a highly-ambitious-not-yet-jaded STEM major freshman who is looking to build your resume for med school, grad school, Silicon Valley, the president, the Nobel prize committee, God or Mom and Dad, you may be starting to make plans for break, specifically Intersession – those lovely three weeks in January that Hopkins so wonderfully grants its students
How could I productively use these three weeks to get my life together, put myself ahead of the pack and impress future employers?
There are plenty of things to do over Intersession, all of various levels of mainstream-ness and resume clout. Let’s walk through some of the options, shall we?
First, as you are probably already aware, you can drag yourself all the way back to campus and take an Intersession course. All the courses are satisfactory/unsatisfactory, and almost all of them are one credit.
These are actually supposed to be fun classes, not “Oh-yeah-Calc-3-was-hard-but-I-enjoyed-it” fun, but “I-didn’t-have-to-stress-about-ruining-my-life-or-GPA” fun where you can focus on learning something cool without any real stress or pressure. This option has the potential to be resume-building or not.
There are a lot of “practical” classes you can take, like an intro course for a programming language, software development, gene editing or whatever “science-y” thing you think may help you in the future.
Or, you can take a class on dance, poetry, literature or something else you enjoy but may not have time to learn about during the school year. Some of these may not buff up your resume all that much, but who said it has to? Knowledge is knowledge, learning is learning — make time to pursue your passions, it’s good for the soul.
Another option if you still want to drag yourself back to campus but want to prolong the amount of time you spend away from the classroom, it to continue your research over Intersession and get credit for it. As I’ve found, research is a lot more pleasant when you can code or QPCR or tend to your cancer stem cells in peace without four midterms, three projects and two papers (and a partridge in a pear tree — it’s almost Christmas people!) barking at your heels.
Or, if you’re not currently working in a lab but want to, Intersession can be a great time to start. You’ll have more hours to put in, so begin emailing professors now, and don’t take it personally if some don’t reply — odds are your email got lost in the shuffle and wasn’t seen.
If you want to stay as far away from campus as possible, there are still options for you. Stay home and try to make some money; you could babysit your neighbor’s children, tutor your mom’s friend’s fifth grader or (this is a long shot, I know) if you find a store that’s desperate enough to hire someone for three to five weeks, take that job. Be creative, you can make a few bucks over break.
If you want to be productive but don’t want to leave your bed over break, start looking for summer opportunities. Getting an internship or into an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates — paid summer research opportunities at other universities) can be tough as a freshman, since most places want students with four semesters of undergraduate work, but if you are ambitious and persistent, you can find something.
Most applications are due between late-January and March, so using the month of January to begin applying is perfectly on schedule. Most require letters of recommendation, so please don’t make the same mistake I did by waiting to ask advisors and professors for these letters. If you inquire now, they will very much appreciate the advance notice.
I know getting a letter of recommendation as a freshman can be rough since it’s difficult to make relationships with professors in such large classes, but, honestly, if you show up for office hours from time to time, just shoot your shot. Most professors are pretty nice about these kinds of things, but if you really don’t know any of your professors, you can ask a graduate student TA or your advisor — those letters work as well!
And lastly, my absolute favorite option, do nothing over Intersession. Stay home. Stay in bed. Sleep. Catch up with high school friends, see your family, take a road trip, take a chill pill. Sure, the last few options were productive, but let’s be real here: We can’t be productive all the time, ESPECIALLY over break. It’s called break for a reason. You don’t need to do research this year, and you don’t need to land an internship this summer.
Do those things if you feel ready; there’s plenty of time in the future. If you are feeling burned out and want to take the full five weeks to recharge your battery, do it. Despite what the snakey pre-meds tell you, it’s not a sin to enjoy yourself from time to time. The admissions team at the Harvard School of Medicine will forgive you, I promise.
So sit back, relax and pull through till the end of finals. Have a happy holiday season, and if anyone needs me, I’ll be taking my own advice and sunbathing in Los Angeles while procrastinating internship applications.