Written by: Nayantara Mehta
As I look back to the time I began classes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) , I never knew that the most transformative and exhilarating experiences of my graduate life could be packed in one month. Being a student at MIT comes with its perks, and the cherry on top is the Independent Activity Period (IAP)- the winter term held in January every year, a month full of boundless learning opportunities. During this period, students have the freedom to immerse themselves in interdisciplinary studies and workshops they are genuinely passionate about, leading to an unforgettable journey of self-discovery and growth.
The Independent Activity Period is an extraordinary time when the MIT campus becomes a playground of exploration. Whether you want to learn a new skill, pursue a personal project, or engage in unconventional studies, the possibilities are endless. The essence of MIT’s IAP lies in the spirit of embracing freedom, curiosity, and innovation in multi disciplinary fields. In general graduate students are left to decide on the choice of courses, projects, workshops across any discipline that they want to pursue in IAP. However, some departments offer mandatory courses that also need to be taken during this time. Our department- Center for Transportation and Logistics hosts the Global SCALE program during the IAP, but with good time management one can also pursue another course worth 6 credits and multiple hands-on workshops held across other departments at MIT. I took the Digital Product Management Lab run by the Sloan School of Management as the other course along with 4 interdisciplinary workshops to actualise my childhood fascinations.
Firstly, during the Global SCALE program we host students from across 6 affiliated centers spanning over 4 continents in MIT’s campus. It is a three week long program consisting of an amalgamation of various speaker sessions, panel discussion, alumni discussion, workshops and working on a real time supply chain problem for a partner company. It is a time when we collaborate with students across centers to understand global innovation in supply chain and logistics, and the research done in their institutes. This program ends with a much celebrated research expo wherein all the centers present their preliminary results of their capstone project. This expo is visited by researchers across the world, industry and capstone partners and supply chain professionals. It is the best time to network and gather feedback on how to strengthen the methodology and results of the capstone project.
Sloan School of Management offers multiple opportunities to solve a real time problem at a company through its action learning Labs. Some of these are full term courses wherein one works on the project part time while others are an intensive full time 4-6 week long project. Various Labs in IAP are Digital Product Management, Disciplined Entrepreneurship, FinTech and Israel Labs. I along with 2 fellow SCM classmates took the Digital Product Management Lab. This Lab specializes in learning the critical skills of product management, the importance of understanding the customer needs, developing and iterating solutions for the unmet need. It gives an opportunity to get my hands on many different facets of the product development process, from driving research conversations with users to wireframing the product experience to drafting the product requirement document. The project was designed in a way wherein I worked 2 sprints and developed the product requirement document for the new feature. Knowing that it would be difficult to manage time at IAP along with the SCALE program, the project sponsor allocated the flexibility of starting the project a few weeks earlier during the winter break.
Along with this, I took the opportunity to fulfill a few of my childhood dreams. Firstly, learning how to fly an airplane with the Aero-astro club at MIT. There are special private pilot training classes conducted at IAP which can be leveraged. They also have one day workshops conducted on the weekends. Secondly, I had the opportunity to visit the MIT Wallace observatory and photograph the Orion Nebula, Jupiter and its four moons, Mars and a few other stars. Having a canvas of stars and pointing the 14” and 24” telescope to what we wanted to photograph was like a dream come true. They conduct these workshops during IAP with limited seats, do look at the MIT events list if interested. They also have a full term course 12.410 Observational Techniques of Optical Astronomy for budding Astrophotographers. The third workshop that I attended was in the MIT Nano Lab wherein the faculty walked us through the technique of development of a chip. At the end of the workshop, we could take home a chip with our picture engraved in it. The facility is in building 12 at MIT and conducts multiple workshops throughout the year. Lastly the fun activities at IAP are conducted in the MIT Edgerton Center wherein you can develop any hobby project and the ski trip by the Graduate Student Council. Many of us went for the ski trip which was such a stress buster after the most intensive period.
The 15 years old me would have never imagined that I could learn soo much in such a short span of time. If you are curious to learn multiple things keep checking the pages of the departments of your interest, MIT events , MIT Media Lab and the website of clubs at MIT Sloan and MIT. This is the true MIT experience, with the endless opportunities everything is possible here!