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I’m sure that I’m not alone in feeling that this last semester was very packed and, at times, stressful. The sped up pace and everything being on Zoom led to more fatigue than normal. This eight week winter break was really necessary for me to destress and relax more — as well as prepare myself for the upcoming online semester!

I spent about a week doing nothing but sleeping in and hanging out (virtually) with friends. Even though I was home this semester, I couldn’t spend a lot of time with family. To make up for that, I’ve been hanging out with my family a lot too recently. I am big on binging TV shows and movies, and I have done a decent amount of that during the break as well. Right now, I am finishing up Young Justice on HBO Max (which us USC students get for free by the way!).

However, while relaxing and spending hours on Netflix or HBO Max is fun, I know that 8 weeks is a long time to do nothing. As an engineering student, I feel that we can always be working on improving a skill or learning more about the field. So I’ve tried my best to stay productive while still having enough relaxation time to binge watch and hang out with family.

Here are a few ways that I’ve stayed productive this winter break:

MEDesign Team:

I am part of MEDesign’s Machine Learning Dementia Diagnosis Team which is working on making a program that can detect patients at risk of Alzheimer’s through their speech. One of the positives of having

      One of our MEDesign Team meetings

everything be on Zoom was that my design team was not restricted to meeting only during the semester. We have spent the past few weeks interviewing professionals, touching up our literature reviews, looking for data sources, and learning Python. Through my involvement in MEDesign, I’m getting to practice design thinking and I’m learning technical skills — both of which are important skills for an engineer.

  • Time spent: 2 to 5 hours a week


I do research about COVID-19 and non-pharmaceutical interventions at the Schaeffer Center. Over the break, we’ve looked for newer research papers, tried to understand the various COVID-19 vaccines, improved our epidemiological model, and finalized our interview list. We hold 30 to 60 minute meetings once a week to review what we have learned and our next week’s steps. With my involvement at the Schaeffer Center, I am learning research skills. I have also been looking into other research projects for when this project ends at this website:

  • Time spent: 5 to 6 hours a week

Part Time-Job:

While I’ve volunteered before, I’ve never actually held a job until now. I work at McDonald’s, doing a bit of everything — from kitchen to drive-thru. Working in fast food has helped me with my soft skills such as teamwork, communication, conflict resolution, and handling more responsibilities. I also got my first real paycheck from them, which was a pretty new experience!

  • Time spent: 20 hours a week

GRE Practice:

My plan after finishing up undergrad is to work towards a Master’s Degree in Engineering and Business at graduate school. In order to be considered for most graduate programs, you need to have a GRE score. I spent the beginning of the break researching more the GRE test, and I bought a practice book called 5 lbs. Book on GRE Practice Problems.

  • Time spent: So far none, but I will start working on practice problems soon!


I, unfortunately, did not exercise regularly during this past semester. I’ve spent the winter break trying to get more into exercising regularly, and it is a great stress reliever! I recommend the Nike Training Club App which has great exercise tutorials, all for free.

  • Time spent: 20 to 45 minutes a day


Even through these activities, I still make sure to find time to just relax, spend time with family and friends, and catch up on sleep. It is important for engineers to stay productive, but it is also important for us to thoroughly relax during our breaks, so we can give it our all the next semester!


Bari Noor