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Use Summer to Meet Your Goals

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There are many ways to make the most of your summer. The important thing is to consider what you need and want from your time and find ways to get those things. Whether you are on campus or off, working an internship or working retail, basking in the sun or shivering in the air conditioning, summer can be a productive and fulfilling part of your Stanford Career.

This summer I want to:

You might also consider the advice from The Duck Stops Here: Tips for Having a Productive Summer


Seriously. Summer is a time to recharge. Whatever else you do, be sure to make time to take care of yourself.

  • Get out in nature and let it rejuvenate you.
  • Be creative. Make something, whether it's an oil painting or popsicle stick models with your 6-year-old nephew.
  • Read fiction! Read for knowledge! Read for fun! Read for the sheer joy of it!
  • Take time for yourself.
  • Sleep.
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Learn Something New

Summer is an excellent time to explore a new interest, pick up a new skill, or become more comfortable with a complicated software program. Consider your goals:

If you want to prepare for next year at Stanford, use an online course to understand the common vocabulary and foundational ideas for classes you might take in the future. Get a general introduction to poetry or consider a basic intro to MatLab or R in advance of taking classes that use those tools. Or learn some Python for future projects. If you'd like to brush up on a language, consider this advice offered by the Economist.

If you want to acquire skills for the job search, check out classes or online tutorials in applications that may show up as preferred in job descriptions, such as Microsoft Excel, Adobe InDesign, Drupal/Wordpress, AutoCad (and if you are thinking about the job search, reading job descriptions is a great first step to learn more--that’s also a good use of summer!)

If you want to express your creative side, get tips on taking better photographs and post-processing them. Interested in making films? Shoot some footage and learn how to edit this summer.

If you want to explore a new academic interest, consider a self-paced course to dip your toes in a new subject. Whether you are interested in music theorycomputer sciencechemical engineering, or organizational behavior, the summer may be a good time to explore a new field in a low-commitment setting. Who knows, maybe this will be the start of a new direction you will pursue on campus next year?

Already know what you want to learn this summer? Here are some resources to get you there.

Stanford has a site license to Linked-In Learning, a comprehensive and well-respected provider of online courses and tutorials. Linked-In Learning courses are free for active students and benefits-eligible employees, and you can take them on your own time, at your own pace. Linked-In Learning advertises topics such as:

  • Business: Leadership, Marketing, Project Management
  • Creative: Audio, Music, Video, CAD, Design, Photo-manipulation
  • Technology: Big Data, Developer, IT, Web, computer-aided design

In addition to Linked-In Learning, other online platforms offer more academically oriented learning opportunities. Many are free, some are self-paced, and quite a few feature content from Stanford professors. To learn more about Stanford’s online offerings, go to the Stanford Online website. 

If online learning isn’t your style, you may also find short courses in such topics at your local community college or city/county adult education center, although they are unlikely to be free.

Or you might teach yourself how to learn, and build your defenses against procrastination; students have recommended this Coursera course.

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Explore a Major

Whether you’ve declared or are still debating majors, summer is a great time to get a better sense of what a field is all about, or choose a track within a major.

  • Browse faculty profiles on department websites to see the range of questions and methods used.
  • Read research published by faculty you hope to work with.
  • Conduct informational interviews with alumni in the major, or people working in related fields.
  • Read nonfiction bestsellers published in that field, plus reviews of such books by professors.
  • Browse the entire Subject prefix in Explore Courses to see the range of topics and themes encompassed by the department. (Tip: introductory classes will generally be closer to the beginning of the list.)

On campus this summer? Take advantage of your location to do even more!

  • Go meet the Student Services Officer (SSO) for a department that interests you. Some questions you might ask them: “any general advice for a potential major? is there an events/interest email list I can be on? does the department keep honors theses that I can browse to see what students do in this major? does the department have any information on what alumni are doing now?”
  • Check out the physical bulletin boards near the main office--these give you a sense of what’s going on in the department, and what may come after graduation.
  • Summer research programs typically have a poster session or presentations in late August to show what the students have been doing. Attending one is a great way to get a sense of what research in that department is like. Ask the SSO about attending. (Most science and engineering departments, and several social science departments, have a summer research program, as well as centers such as BioX and the spatial history lab)
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Network with Stanford Alums and Others

No internship? No problem! An informational interview can help you understand the bigger picture so that you have better information with which to make your decisions and ground future plans. 

Here’s a summer homework assignment:

  • List your potential majors.
  • Use to find at least one Stanford alum who majored in one of those majors.
  • Contact them for a chat (keep your ask small - 15-20 minutes over phone or on a video chat)
  • Ask them how they made that decision and whether that major has affected their career post-Stanford.

Alternatively, you can start from the opposite direction:

  • List your potential careers.
  • Find a Stanford alum working in that field.
  • Contact them for a chat and ask how they prepared themselves for that career and if they would recommend different preparation choices now they have more experience.

You can also reach out locally to learn about fields that interest you.

  • Shadow local professionals who have careers that you are interested in. Use the Stanford alumni network or your personal network to locate individuals and set up shadowing opportunities. This can be a great way to acquire an understanding of a variety of different fields in a relatively short period of time. 
  • Volunteer with an organization working in an arena that you're passionate about.
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Make, Strengthen, and Maintain Faculty Connections

Connecting with world-class faculty is one of the great benefits of being a Stanford student. Don’t miss out on this opportunity! Whether you have just finished your first year or have already started a coterm, it is always a good idea to have several people who know you well and can serve as your mentors and recommenders for academic endeavors both inside and outside of the classroom. Summer is a great time to make new connections, strengthen existing relationships, and keep in touch with your mentors on campus. 

Connecting with Faculty Over the Summer

Wait, what? Okay, it’s true that professors aren’t necessarily around in the summer, or you are off-campus, so you might not be able to meet with them to talk about doing research, or see if they might be taking advisees in the major. But here are a few things you can do:

  • Identify faculty of interest. Figure out who on this campus is doing the things that most interest you or whose research interests align with your own. Put keywords into ExploreCourses, and read through faculty profiles on department websites. Be sure to check research centers and institutes, as well as the graduate and professional schools. Search Stanford News for stories featuring professors. Create a short list of people you would like to meet.
  • Prepare to meet with your selected faculty. Check out their website. Read some of their research. Develop questions you will ask them when you can meet with them in person. Identify, in particular, faculty who might be teaching courses relevant to your interests in the Autumn.
  • Write a brief outreach email that you can send on your return to campus. In the email, you should introduce yourself (1-2 sentences), explain what draws you to the faculty member’s work (1-2 sentences), and inquire about meeting during office hours.

This way, when you return in autumn, you’ll be all set to knock on a professor’s door.

Want more suggestions about getting to know faculty? Visit Connecting With Faculty.

Keep in Touch with Your Mentors

Already have a connection with a faculty member, but worried about maintaining that bond over the summer? All is not lost! Consider taking the following approach to keeping your relationship with a faculty mentor evergreen over the summer.

  • Before you leave for the break, ask your mentor to recommend some reading. Alternatively, find an article or two of their own work that you can read. Read through the materials recommended, and develop some questions or general responses.
  • Send a mid-summer email that not only offers a brief update on what you are doing with your summer, but also presents some initial responses to the recommended reading. Ask for further recommendations. Planning research early in the new academic year? In your mid-summer email, include a concise description of the project you are hoping to undertake and solicit their thoughts on it and what you should read or do to prepare.
  • Make plans to reconnect when you return to campus. Send a Week One (or immediately pre-Week One) email, expressing your interest in talking further, and inquire about a meeting during office hours.

 Next year, try to connect with an additional faculty member! 

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Prepare for a Research Project

If you are thinking you may want to apply for a research grant next year, there are a number of steps you can take during the summer to strengthen that application. This applies to all students, but may be especially helpful for rising sophomores considering a Chappell Lougee, or rising juniors considering honors.

Developing a good proposal requires a back-and-forth approach with both topic and faculty mentor—the project grows and changes in conversation with faculty and in the attempt to write a proposal. So these steps do not necessarily happen in order but rather you are constantly moving among these poles—as your project changes, you may need to identify new faculty and read different works, for instance.

Articulate your idea

What are you interested in learning about, or creating? What threads from your classes do you wish to follow? What methods are you drawn to and would like to use in the service of your own idea? What will be the heart of your original contribution? Sit down and write to yourself the same way you might explain it to a friend.

Contextualize your project within what others have done

Putting your project in a broader context is one of the hardest parts of the proposal, and the part that will most benefit from reading and research done during the summer. The proposal will ask you to address how your work connects to, is inspired by, argues with, challenges, extends, builds on, and engages with existing expertise. For arts projects, design, and other creative projects, you’d discuss existing artwork that you are reacting to or inspired by, both in terms of theme and technique. For a project with several themes, you’ll want a literature review that addresses multiple themes. And so forth. It's difficult to add this reading on top of your usual courseload, but during the summer, you have time to read and reflect.

Identify the faculty who are most expert in your idea

If possible, visit relevant faculty during spring quarter to explain your idea and ask their recommendations for what you need to read over the summer. Then you can return in the fall with more concrete ideas, and can ask one of them to sign on as a mentor. (You can try contacting faculty during the summer, but many are traveling and away from campus, or may not be able to meet with students they don’t already know during the summer.)

Prepare to carry out your project

Prepare. Are there spring public lectures you can attend? Are there fall classes that will give you more background and expertise? Is there a relevant class on research methods offered in the fall? If you will do interviews or surveys, do the online training and study what a Human Subjects proposal is over the summer. Explore student grants, examine the VPUE proposal writing guidelines and begin drafting a proposal. You can contact Academic Advisors over the summer for guidance on writing the proposal.

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