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Don’t Rest on Your Laurels during Summer Vacation

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

Summer vacation is in full effect for college students by now and given the tough economy, some of you might be sitting at home with no prospects for summer employment. Even if you have landed a job for the next couple of months, there are several things that you can do now to help prepare yourself for life after graduation or to help make the world a better place. While you may think the summer is a time to relax, failing to take every opportunity to improve your future prospects for employment could cost you later and these suggestions aren’t time consuming and might even be fun. Here are five things you can do to fill the long summer days and fulfill yourself.

1. Learn Something New – There is an entire world of information, skills, and knowledge available that can be accessed through the Internet and which you can use to teach yourself something that will make your life more enjoyable, more, efficient, or more profitable. While you are still in college, you should take advantage of the freedom and time you have to develop some skills that will enhance your everyday life and marketability. Here are a few suggestions:

  • A foreign language – there are a lot of DIY options available for the student interested in brushing up on their language skills. Look to iTunes U first as there are many great podcasts that you can download to take along with you on your summer travels.
  • Computer programming – Not only is programming useful, but it also an extremely marketable skill (Forbes.com). Taking advantage of free online courses such as those available through Udacity, MITx, or other sources such as the Beginner’s Guide to Python, will help you develop a skill that can be useful in any major or potential career.
  • Graphic Design – The ability to present information clearly and in a manner that is accessible to a wide audience is vastly under appreciated. Sound design skills will help you with everything from creating reports, to making videos, to putting together a killer resume or portfolio that separates you from the masses. There are some excellent resources available online. Look at Digital Web Magazine’s The Principles of Design and CARP Design Principles from A Better User Experience to get started.

2. Create a Resume – You should never wait until the last minute to create a resume and some general cover letters for the types of positions you would like to apply for. It is a work in progress as you will always want to add new experiences and honors to it as you gain them. If you delay until the dream job appears, you will forget something critical or make a fatal grammatical or spelling error that could cost you your dream job. If you aren’t sure where to begin or what to include, check out How to Write a Masterpiece of a Resume from the Rockport Institute. You will also want to take advantage of the resume templates in Word and Publisher to give you a jumpstart on the visual design.

3. Start Networking – As you near graduation you will want to begin looking for employment. This can be very challenging in a tough economy, but working to establish a network and getting your resume in front of some employers early will help with finding a job or internship. In addition to working with your on-campus career counselor, check out all of the sites below and create engaging profiles on each to highlight your strengths. The more you network and get your name out there, the more luck you will have finding a job when the time comes.

4. Read a Great Book – There is an alarming trend in our society of young people not reading (National Endowment for the Arts, Nov. 2007), even for pleasure. Consider putting your iPhone, iPod, iPad, Android device, or other e-reader to good use and download a few good books to broaden your world, sharpen your intellect, and get a head start on answering the dreaded interview question, "What are the last five books you’ve read?" Here are some suggestions:

  • The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler (1980) – Ever wonder how the human race got where it is today and where it is going in the near future? This book takes you through the history of humanity and explains why we currently live in a time of conflict and unrest.
  • Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (2008) – This book will inspire you to be an innovator and to seek out extraordinary opportunities. A perfect match for college students who may be wondering how they can be successful after graduation.
     
  • Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America by Jack Rakove (2010). This historical work examines the evolution of the leaders of the American Revolution from private citizens into the men history remembers. Refuting the idea that the Founding Fathers started as visionary leaders and statesmen, this book examines how the events of their time changed these men and led to their roles in the founding of the country (Marquis, The OWS Library).
  • Free: adventures on the margins of a wasteful society by Katharine Hibbert (2010). This account of journalist turned homeless person, Katherine Hibbert, chronicles her life when she walks away from her home, job, and family and spends a year living on the streets of London. Hibbert’s anger at the wastefulness of society is set against her understanding of human interdependence, particularly in regards to the support structure among the homeless (Marquis, The OWS Library).
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman (1973). This fantasy novel chronicles the power of true love to bridge any divide, even that caused by death. What more optimistic novel could there be for those on the cusp of entering a world desperately in need of human equality, fairness, and consideration for others.

5. Protest Something/Get Political – 2012 is, of course, a Presidential election year, and the campaigning has already begun with an assault on education. Regardless of which direction you lean, there is a need for engaged citizens to get involved and make their voices heard. Young voters, in particular are staying away from the polls and political engagement in general in record numbers (Krayewski, 2009), perhaps out of disillusionment with the system, or in frustration at a lack of like-minded representation. Regardless of the reason, the solution to the problem is to become more active, not less. There are many ways to get involved; for starters, you can volunteer for a local or national candidate to help get the vote out among your peers. For a more visible strategy, consider starting a blog or getting on Twitter to share your opinion or get caught up on the issues that matter to you. Here is some advice on how to begin with either of these mediums.

Regardless of what you plan to do this summer, there is always room for self-improvement. In addition to these suggestions, you might consider doing something really crazy like writing your own book, filming a movie, or starting a business. While these may seem like overly-ambitious ideas, they are certainly within the realm of possibility. Particularly for those who find themselves unemployed during their vacation. A little work now might go a long way to making your transition from college to the workforce a lot smoother later.

Share your plans for self-improvement this summer on Google+ or Twitter @drjwmarquis.

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