Admit's Guide to IAP
I didn't "get" the concept of the MIT Independent Activities Period (IAP) until this year's was underway. Here's the inside scoop so you can make the most of yours.
IAP runs for the entire month of January (it feels longer because finals wrap up mid-December). During IAP, you have no academic commitments. According to MIT, "Students are encouraged to set their own educational agendas, pursue independent projects, meet with faculty, or pursue many other options not possible during the semester."
Right on. So what do Sloanies actually do?
Travel Abroad (popularity: high. timing: throughout- concentrated over the holiday season)
International students use this as an opportunity to spend quality time with their extended families. Independent travelers use this is a chance to hit the destinations not covered by the popular student-organized spring break treks (namely, Japan, Israel, India, China, Brazil). My Facebook newsfeed has been flooded with enviable photo albums and videos.
Travel Domestic (popularity: very high. timing: throughout- treks are the first 2 weeks of Jan)
Almost everyone either goes "home," to some place warmer, or to New York at some point over the holidays. A series of company treks occur in the early weeks of IAP (Silicon Valley, Seattle, Las Vegas, Massachusetts, etc.). If you're in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation track, Silicon Valley is mandatory. Even if you're not, join the Mediatech club to stay in the loop- I've listed 10 other compelling reasons to take one or more of the treks below.
Interviewing (popularity: High. timing: throughout, concentrated 2nd-4th weeks of Jan)
The professional service firms (finance, consulting) lead the charge, followed by household names in technology, consumer products, etc. Not a day goes by when I don't bump into a friend in full formal on the T or shout a "knock their socks off!" to a suited up roommate as she heads out the door. They try to schedule these so they don't conflict with the treks, but be prepared for some last minute changes in plans and possible forfeiture of your trek professional standards deposit.
For-Credit Courses (popularity: Medium. timing: throughout, heavy in 3rd week of Jan)
Several condensed coursesare taught over IAP. My pilot (2nd year advisor for my core team) strongly recommended bidding for these because the credit/time invested ratio is so compelling. I made out like a bandit with 2.5 days working closely with 2 of MIT's most accomplished professors, catered lunches, fascinating discussions, and plenty of breaks to catch up with friends I hadn't seen for weeks and make new ones. Oh, and did I mention it was worth 5 credits (almost as much as a half semester course) and fulfilled the leadership requirement?
Not For-Credit Courses (popularity: Low. timing: throughout, you probably will be too busy until the 3rd-4th week of Jan)
Very few Sloanies go this route, so I have to be a vocal minority here. Do it! You'll get to meet a lot of students from other departments working on cool things at little to no cost. I learned how to make chocolate truffles and authentic guacamole. I tried out improv, learned how to give massage from a pro, participated in a Japanese tea ceremony, visited Curt Shilling's video game company startup, and got one-on-one coaching from a professional life coaching firm. That's just the tip of the iceberg-- check out this year's listing.
Rest & Relaxation (popularity: very high. timing: whenever you can spare)
Someone has to say this because when we run into so many friends doing so many cool things we can feel pressured to fill IAP up like we fill our semesters... We're being lazy! At the end of the day, this is a month to recharge and really cement those new year's resolutions before things heat up. So don't beat yourself up if your calendar isn't as jam-packed as a cruise ship's entertainment menu.
10 Advantages of Sloan Treks
I participated in and organized trekbooks for Mediatech's Silicon Valley, Seattle, and Massachusetts treks. Treks usually take 2-3 days and typically involve 3 company visits per day. Mediatech treks this year had between 8 and 25 people touring companies together. To eliminate confusion about Silicon Valley, there are 2 separate groups there at the same time. The Entrepreneurship and Innovation track (a much larger group) splits off into smaller groups to focus on the start up and VC firm ecosystem. The Mediatech group stays together and focuses on the "household name" tech companies in the Valley. Both tracks combine forces several evenings for mixers and supplemental events.
These treks are a phenomenal experience that you can't replicate by staying on campus, and here are a few of my favorite reasons why:
Candid non-publicly available info!
- How long does it take you to develop your products?
- What's your "funding" status? (if not public)
- No, really, what's your strategy? Big exit through sale/IPO, steady but modest revenue stream, etc.
- Each city had an alumni gathering and most companies tried to put together Sloan alumni representation. This is a great source of specific advice and can be an entree into companies who aren't recruiting on campus.
A sense for culture & work life!
- What sort of argument is most compelling to champion initiatives in here? Do I need to focus on data or a vision? Does the data have to be generated in house or can I use 3rd party?
- What's the pedigree of the typical employee? Are you a shop full of recovering engineers? Generalists that learn/hire/offshore expertise? Guitar heroes?
- Do you look as big/small as you feel? Have your offices over-run several city blocks? Is it normal to teleconference between your 40 some building campus?
- Can you accommodate my quirks? How close to mass transit are you really? Can Fido come with me?
Make Friends, Build Teams, Start Businesses!
- The neat thing about these treks is you get to meet people with similar business interests as you. If you also help organize, you get a fast and dirty insider's view to how they work as a team and what their strengths and weaknesses are. This stuff is gold if you're considering starting your own business, working in a business development role, or just wanting to improve on your course lab/project team dynamics in the coming semester.
- Compare say Expedia's (Seattle) business model to Kayak's (Mass); Apple (Silicon Valley) to Microsoft (Seattle) to Microsoft Startup/Research (Mass); Amazon(Seattle) to eBay (Silicon Valley); Guy Kawasaki (Silicon Valley) to Apple (Silicon Valley). The possibilities are endless! This opportunity to build on what you just learned really cements your understanding about an industry and its dynamics.