Note: With Minerva in pandemic-adjustment mode, civic projects will probably look different this semester. However, the questions and process that I outline here is relevant for any type of project that you consider taking on during the semester. Hopefully, this will still give you some direction if (like me) you’re someone who wants to do everything all the time.

Stick around Minerva for more than 3 semesters and you know the drill. The beginning of the semester looms closer and the emails start coming. 

Re: Civic Projects.

The projects release, the students can’t find the links to the excel sheet or portal page or whatever format they happen to use this semester, some projects look incredibly interesting, some seem alright, and some seem like downright torture (yeah, I’m referring to the CS ones).

Regardless of your interests, we all face the same question: Should I do a civic project? Or not?

Ask around and you’ll get mixed reviews:

Civic projects in upper years are just free labor for the companies. Don’t do it!

My civic partner and I still keep in touch; I can’t imagine not doing a project, absolutely do it!

You get the point.

Honestly, it doesn’t get more authentic than mixed reviews. But that’s less than helpful for students still debating whether or not to apply, whether or not to commit, whether or not to “civic project.”

Having done civic projects in every city of my rotation so far (SF, Seoul, and Hyderabad), I have to admit: I’m not the most objective individual to give advice on this topic. I am, however, a very experienced individual to give advice on this topic.

While I may rave about my civic projects and the incredible (if growing) experiences that I had along the way, I almost did not apply for a project. Twice. Then, at the last minute, I decided to commit.

So you can say that I have learned a thing or two about the civic project decision process. In fact, I’ve developed an algorithm of sorts (pardon me, I’m a Social Science and Arts & Humanities student trying to work in those Formal Analysis HC’s whenever I can) that has helped me answer this exact question:

So civic project-ing or not?

  1. Do any of the projects catch your attention?
    • If so, why? Do they align with your passions? Career goals? Skills development interests? Or a bit of everything?
    • If not but you really need the IL199 credit, do any projects seem like they have the flexibility to allow you to bring your passions into the work?
    • If not and you don’t need the IL199 credit, why are you reading any further? I think you’ve answered your own debate. Of course, deciding not to do a civic project comes with peer pressure and the question, what will I do instead? Actually, that’s such a great question that….
  2. What would you do instead?
    … it’s the next question to ask.
    • If you have clear ideas for your semester goals & none of the projects really fit your vision, let go of the projects! Pursue your own plans. If you’re worried about accountability, consider developing a civic-project-like structure with your CTD coach. Plan weekly email check-ins, an hour tracking form, and a clearly defined list of objectives for you to accomplish during the semester. Treat your Coach (or some other external mentor) as your civic partner.
    • If you have a semi-ambiguous potential idea of what you want to do and you’re not sure if a civic project aligns with your goals or not, spend some time reflecting. Do you have a track record of maintaining personal accountability?
    • Do you often regret not taking opportunities later on?
  1. What other commitments do you already have?
    • Take a piece of paper (or a new document or notion card) and visibly write out your commitments. Academics? Work Study? Personal projects? Student initiatives? Other miscellaneous commitments outside Minerva?
    • Now, look at the list. Next to each commitment, estimate how many hours you will spend on each of these items…. and then add at least one more hour to your weekly estimate (because planning fallacy).
    • Look at the civic project(s) you’re considering again. How many hours will you commit to the project?
      • If you’re planning to do the project for academic credit, know that you are committing to 10 hours of work weekly (generally of course, some weeks will have more and some less).
      • If you’re not considering academic credit, still give an estimate of the weekly number of hours. This will help you discuss and set reasonable expectations with your civic partner and teammates right from the start in the event that you do decide to do a project.

Look at your finished list and consider the following questions:

  • Do you have the time to manage all of these projects while maintaining a healthy lifestyle?
  • If you already consider yourself a busy person, where will the civic project hours come from? What activities are you giving up? (And no, a significant portion of these hours should not come from your nightly sleep. Trust me, that’s an exhausting route that you do not want to take)
  • Do you have the emotional capacity to undertake a new project?
  • Do you have the mental capacity to undertake a new project?
  • Do you have none of these afore mentioned things but you honestly love the project so much that you don’t care? Well, you’ve already made your decision. The question for you becomes this: what previous projects or commitments will you change to allow for this civic project to succeed? Because, as you and I both know, passion only gets you so far during a semester-long project (and coffee only gets you one or two weeks further. Though, if you’re in Seoul, I recommend The Liter Cafe: coffee by the liter starting at 2,000won. You’re welcome)

Walking through these basic but significant questions have helped me gain a clearer idea of what commitments to prioritize based on my goals, interests, and (the often overlooked one) capacity. When it comes to projects, the common saying “the more the merrier” does not hold true — especially when taking on another project puts you in a state of constant mental drain, sleep deprivation, and emotional exhaustion. In that state, even the most captivating projects begin to seem like a burden… but you’re a Minerva student, you don’t need me to remind you of what you already know.

Bottom line

Your decision to take or not take a civic project depends solely on you, your goals, your capacities, and your passions. Spend some time evaluating the congruence of these areas to the civic project you’re considering, and the best decision becomes quite evident.

If you’re still struggling, find a friend, coach, or mentor to talk through this process with. Sometimes an external perspective can illuminate the obvious which we overlook in ourselves.

Happy civic-project-ing! (or not!)