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Maximizing Winter Break

December 24, 2009

by Nirant Gupta
Maximizing Winter Break

Congratulations!  You've made it through first semester. Now you can enjoy time off, rest, relax, and chill with the bros. If you're anything like me, that stuff is awesome... for the first two weeks.  Then it gets boring.  Time maximization fiends like myself hate time-not-properly-utilized.  While you shouldn't focus completely on intellectual pursuits, you should keep your mind relatively sharp and, if you're able, make some professional connections.  Here's how:

1.  See if you can get a "Winternship"

It may be late in the game for this sort of thing, and few if any financial firms or companies want a 3-week employee.  But if you're into politics or working for charities/non-profits, there are opportunities to volunteer locally.  I know at least three CMC students-- Abe Shimm '10, Isaac Goldberg '10 and myself-- who, in the winter of the Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada Democratic caucuses/primaries, went to these states, respectively, and interned for the Obama campaign.  We were all offered full time jobs, in large part due to contacts we made during those few short weeks.

Three weeks for an internship may not seem like a long time-- it may not even seem worth it.  But you can accomplish a lot (three weeks at a homeless shelter provides tremendous support, especially during the cold, holiday season), and network.  How long do you really think it takes a boss to make an impression of you? (Hint: not long)  If you correctly anticipate that the summer job and internship markets will be competitive, having contacts in organizations beforehand is going to help you out.  So see what might be available in your area; remember, you are well-educated free labor.  There should be someone around who wants that.

2.  Follow the News Already this break, there's been national commotion about school choice at Beverly Hills High School (which the Port Side's Michelle Kahn '12 blogged about), health care reform got 60 votes in the Senate, the President made a "meaningful" deal in Copenhagen, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) made an ass out of himself in Copenhagen, and his fellow Republican Oklahoman Senator Tom Coburn asked America to pray for illness or worse to befall Senate Democrats.  There's an easy way to follow news from multiple sources (though unlike the Google tasks feature I mentioned before, this is not yet supported by our CMC mail accounts).

It's called Google Reader.  If you have a Gmail account, at the very top there is a link that says "Reader."  Click on it and add the RSS feeds of your favorite sites.  You can now read various outlets in a one-stop-shopping method.  My recommendations:

  • The New York Times

  • The International Herald Tribune

  • The Freakonomics Blog - Steven Levitt, Stephen Dubner and others blog about current issues from the Freakonomics lens

  • The Huffington Post - a lefty, sometimes nutty, news source

  • FiveThirtyEight - left of center, but pretty solid political analysis

  • Politico - slightly right of center politics news

  • National Review Online - a righty, sometimes nutty, news source

  • The Forum

  • The Compass

Pick all, or a few, to follow.  Just keep your mind sharp and stay up on current events.

3.  Make a Reading List/Use Your Community Resources Aside from reading the news, there are a lot of good books you should read.  I didn't have time for pleasure reading during the semester, but my break list includes:

  • Capitalism and Freedom, Milton Friedman

  • The Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman

  • The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell

  • Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell

Others to consider:

  • (Super) Freakonomics, Levitt and Dubner

  • Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

  • The Audacity to Win, David Plouffe

  • Going Rogue, Sarah Palin (...because we all need a good laugh)

You don't have to buy these books-- just go to your local public library.  On that same note, if you don't want to pay for a one month gym membership, see if you can work out at your high school.

4.  Get a Jump on Next Semester

If you're exceptionally bored and don't find becoming a broadly more educated person appealing, you can start reading for next semester.  Most, if not all, professors have course books already listed, and if you ask for a syllabus you can see which readings are coming up and start to get ahead.

5.  Work on Resumes/Cover Letters/Summer Internship Applications

It's scary to think, but summer is coming up soon and summer internships need to be applied for and accepted even sooner.  For seniors, or anyone looking for employment, dust off the CV (when do you stop calling it a resume and start calling it a CV?), write a generic cover letter you can tweak for specific applications, and search through different organizations to see who is offering internships.  As I detailed in my last post, Google tasks can be helpful here.  Figure out when each application is due, what each application requires, and when you will hear back.  Put it in a Google task so you'll have it on hand.

Hell, Google task everything you want to accomplish this break.  Striking through an accomplished task feels pretty awesome.

So get your rest in. Pay off that "sleep debt."  You've worked hard and deserve relaxation.  But don't let your mind dull, and don't waste this time.

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