January, it's just this month, you know?
October 13, 2008 5:57 PM   Subscribe

I have a month in which to do a project. What kind of project, you ask? Good question. Perhaps something fun, perhaps something educational, perhaps something mind-expanding. The options, they are endless.

The college I attend has a "winter term" between fall and spring semesters. It lasts through most of the month of January. The three official options for winter term are as follows:

1. Academic Study: a faculty-sponsored, academically-focused research, study, or performance project that can be conducted on- or off-campus, individually or as part of a group project.

2. Field Experience: a learning activity that could include career exploration, social or political action, community service, or an unpaid internship.

3. Personal Growth and Development: an opportunity to learn a skill, try something new, or pursue subject matter outside of traditional academic disciplines.

As you can see, the possibilities are endlessly broad, especially the third - under its banner of "personal growth and development" a student in the seventies (it is told) once etched the word "potato" into every tray in the dining hall. I'm wouldn't be surprised if this was true, considering how every single tray in the dining hall has the word "potato" etched into it. Given, these were the Seventies, and if I were to propose this to a teacher today (your project must be approved and sponsored by a teacher) I doubt they would accept.

Still, you can do pretty much anything, as long as it's more or less worthwhile. Last year I did a private study of Buddhism, where I read books and went to Buddhist services at a local shrine, but the shrine's only monk was gone on a tour of India for three weeks out of the month, and the books, they were long, they were dry, and the project devolved into me attempting to win every achievement from the Orange Box.

This January, I'm hoping for fewer gnomes in fewer rockets, that is, less boredom. Not that my project last year wasn't interesting, it was, I really enjoyed attending the few services I did, and the books were interesting, even if I didn't read as much of them as I probably should have. I am aware that no matter what project I choose, I will be a little bit bored, just because January is a long time. The exact dates you're supposed to be doing the project are January 2nd - 27th, weekdays, supposedly about 5 hours a day, but most people don't do quite that many hours. It can be all at once, too - I've heard of a group project that only took a week, but the kids were working almost solid, save sleep, during that time.

So, what do I do? I'll have access to a computer and the internet, (obviously), a good reading couch, a kitchen, and Seattle (an hour away) if I choose to do it at home, which I'm leaning towards. Travel is an option - I could go somewhere and write about it, propose it to a Journalism teacher - that works but it costs money. What projects can I do at home, on a relatively limited budget? Seattle specific recommendations would be cool (oh hey you should totally just go volunteer at ___) but, more generally... what kinds of projects could I do in a snow-locked cabin for the winter? That's really not too far off from what I'm talking about here.

The only thought I've had so far is of an "Ambient Music History and Appreciation" kind of thing, which sounds interesting in one way but also devastatingly dull in another. I've also thought of learning to play the guitar, or writing a comic of some kind, or writing songs in Reason, and while those might be fun I'm sure there are more creative ideas out there. Oh, also: I cannot get paid.

There are sponsored projects and team projects and things like that, but they haven't really started to be advertised yet. I'm asking this early because I've been thinking about it the last couple of days, and on the off chance there's some awesome program I have to apply for now, or what have you.

This is a really awesome opportunity, MeFites. Help me make the most of it. Thanks in advance.
posted by Rinku to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Personally, I'd like to see a follow up to your question from this spring about exciting / unusual / unexpectedly delicious food combinations. You can spend all of January sampling things like dry Tang on chocolate ice cream.
posted by selfmedicating at 6:52 PM on October 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Teach yourself HTML and CSS while building your own website? It'll cost less than $9 for the domain name and hosting while you learn if you get set up with NearlyFreeSpeech.NET... And to make it less nebulous of a project, you could find a specific book or set of online tutorials to follow.
posted by limeonaire at 6:58 PM on October 13, 2008

Choose a white suburb of Seattle and find out if it was a Sundown Town, a town that was, historically, all white on purpose and kept blacks out by fear, intimidation, or laws. My son (jr. high!) did a group project on this last year and it was amazing how easy it was to turn up evidence of a nearby town's racist past.

Most of the work was done at home, by internet, but there were a couple trips to the public library for free access to ancestry.com(to look up old census records) and a trip to the county recorder's office to find a deed that said, basically, 'white's only.'

Dr. James Loewen is the expert on this topic, and if you find evidence of a Sundown Town, he'll put your research on his website. He has detailed instructions for researching a town on his website.
posted by caroljean63 at 8:21 PM on October 13, 2008

What's your major? What are your interests? What do you care about? What do you want?
posted by amtho at 9:24 PM on October 13, 2008

This is funny as I just came across Project Puppet recently and thought to myself how if I had the time, I would definitely like to try to make a professional looking puppet.

Since your project must be a month long, I suggest writing a script, creating a whole cast of puppets, and organizing a show for your local elementary school, hospital, etc. Not only would this fuel your creative streak, you would be doing something most people haven't done and creating something enjoyable to share with others.
posted by pinksoftsoap at 9:49 PM on October 13, 2008

If you're at all theatrical, when I was in high school I used to do a silly, fun show about not smoking for elementary school students. It had a bunch of pop culture references, so the kids thought it was great. Call around and see if any local high schools drama clubs are interested, and write and direct a 15 minute show that they could take around to elementary schools or after school programs.

It was surprisingly one of my best memories from high school, the cast and I got incredibly close and the kids were insanely excited to have something artsy to experience.

We did a question and answer period after the show about cigarettes and smoking.

In fact, if you're interested, I think I can dig up that script. I know the writer, and he'd be thrilled if it was revived. Add a few Hannah Montanta references and presto, instant hit.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 12:55 AM on October 14, 2008

What an awesome opportunity!

In the absence of a few ideas about your interests...

NaNoWriMo, shifted to January, if you write? Five hours a weekday sounds like a good block of time, and if it's something you'd like to do someday, now is a fine time.

A research project about something that interests you - caroljean63's suggestion sounds really interesting, or choose something recent/contemporary in your field of interest and jump the fuck in. It could be a chance to delve deep and follow every trail, and also, you could choose to use it to make a short film, a zine, a piece of art, a website, whatever as your end product.

Mapping! If you haven't heard this episode of This American Life, it might give you some ideas, and Strange Maps is reliably mindblowing. You could create a walking tour, or a series of maps for the same neighbourhood, or...

Play Fantasy StockMarket! I'm assuming it'll still exist by January, but if you have economics fever like everyone else right now, it's a good area to use your time to learn about.
posted by carbide at 2:10 AM on October 14, 2008

Design and build a clockwork clock. Plenty of sites can give you templates to build clocks or other clockwork devices and give you the knowlege to design your own. If you don't have the resources to make the cogs yourself (fiddly work, but a good way to practice your tool use) there are sites like Big Blue Saw and Ponoko that will laser-cut or mill them for you.

You get to try artistic design, mechanical design, fabrication and end up with a really cool and unique clock to keep. (I've promised myself that this will be my project when I finish my PhD).

For a completely different approach, I used to know a girl who had funding for a similar project. She decided to travel around Europe compiling a photo study and recipe book for local foods. Basically, she was staying in people's houses and eating their food for free, then wrote it up as a cookbook / travelogue.
posted by metaBugs at 4:29 AM on October 14, 2008

Ask a community organisation around you if they've got something they need help for a month, like an event or a research project. They'll totally appreciate the assistance.
posted by divabat at 5:53 AM on October 14, 2008

If you're interested, you should definitely plan and make a comic start to finish. My high school had a program like this*, and we had to keep a diary about it -- maybe blog as you go. Actually, it might be fun to blog as you go regardless of what the project is.

*I took advantage of my parents' cool friends and did interships at an eyeglass design place and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
posted by mismatched at 7:51 AM on October 14, 2008

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