Underclassmen have a tendency to bounce from one extracurricular to another (I was one of these). At the beginning of each term, they’ll slurp up a few more activities, test-try a few more clubs, take a stab at some pre-professional organization.
As a junior (sigh) now, I’ve realized that it’s incredibly easy to pigeon-hole yourself into just on-campus extracurricular activities when in reality there are a ton of opportunities outside of the “norm” that you can throw your time at.
Inside, is a brief sketch of the world outside of extracurriculars, commonly overlooked.
1) Volunteering — more inclusive than meets the eye
Yes, you can volunteer via PBHA or a number of organizations on campus. But you can also volunteer directly with organizations of interest. For instance, you can volunteer with a non-profit in Boston in a pseudo-internship. You can help a Senator in NH run for re-election. You can join the Cambridge Time Trade, which uses volunteering time as a currency.
Or, you can do what my roommate loves to do. She tracks down conferences in NYC and Boston that look interesting (but have a hefty fee that most students can’t afford), writes the organizers a letter and volunteers. The worst they can do is say no, we don’t want your free/earnest help.
2) Research — not just for pre-meds
Every professor would love a research assistant to track down obscure books, find relevant articles and crunch or organize numbers. Research ain’t just for the pre-meds and science concentrators.
If you cruise the SEO site, you’ll find postings from professors looking for research assistants in the humanities (and the sciences). The Radcliffe Institute has a nice research gig program coupled with stipends available for students.
This is a great way to know a professor, figure out whether you want to stay in (or leap far from) academia, and possibly get your hands dirty in a thesis-esque topic.
3) Odd-ball jobs
You’ll occasionally see an email shoot around asking for programmers, web masters, designers etc. If you have skills in these areas, jump aboard the “freelance” train. You’ll find that once you’ve completed your first gig, the future ones are easier to get and find.
Similarly, BSC is always on the look out for tutors in the “popular” introductory courses, e.g. Ec 10, LS 1a, Math 21a etc. They pay fantastically well, you’ll get to brush up on your basics, and plus, you’re helping someone else out. :)
4) Join a task force!
With Faust at the helm, Harvard is embarking upon a new era of actually attempting to work with students. So, the next time there is a Task Force on the Perception of Gender in Science Classes (or something and other), hop aboard. You’ll work with administrators and others deep within the Harvard world that most students don’t have access to.
Similarly, a number of other Harvard administrations also have “task forces” of their own. So keep your mind open, read those email spams, and if something makes sense, give it a shot.
5) Term-time internships at Boston companies
I put this at the bottom of the list for a reason. One, internships (period) are generally really really hard to get a hold of. Two, this is more of an option for upperclassmen who have generally had some time to buff up their resumes and look presentable. Three, for those unused to the rigors of Harvard, academic and not, internships tend to be more unforgiving of time.
That being said, this is a fantastic way of getting “real work experience.” They tend to be a little less hard to get than summer internships, but probably look as good as a summer internship. Plus, you’re in Boston — the hubbub of excitement for start ups in need of ambitiously smart interns.
You can find these by scouring company web sites, watching the email lists from OCS and looking at a number of internship websites that OCS has ready for you.