Attempting to maintain some structure in my life with this weekly blog

With my undergraduate coursework finished and 9 months to go before I start grad school, I’ve decided to take a leave of absence from Penn for the spring semester! I’ll be on campus in an off-campus apartment in Philly but will not be taking classes. I also decided not to take on any full-time roles until the summer, giving me 5 full months to myself with no hard commitments, responsibilities, or deadlines. I haven’t had that kind of freedom since childhood, and I plan to take advantage of every second of it!

Why I’m taking a gap semester

Many college students decide to take a gap year before starting college to get a better sense of what they want to do after they graduate. I’m sort of in the opposite position. I came into Penn knowing I’d be sub-matriculating into grad school after 3 years of undergrad. Somewhere toward the beginning of my sophomore year, I learned that I’d be able to finish a semester early with my credits from high school, so I’ve been planning for this break ever since. …

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Photo by Ricardo Rocha on Unsplash

I got into design by accident.

I’ve always seen myself as a scientist at heart. Growing up, curiosity about how the world works and experimentation as a means of better understanding it challenged me intellectually in a way my past creative endeavors never had.

As a kid, I loved to draw. I didn’t have the best attention span, but I could spend hours on end drawing, refusing to take a break until I finished. However, as I got older, I grew bored of repeatedly replicating scenes stroke by stroke.

musings and reflections from my first ‘design’ hackathon

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Photo by Anthony Indraus on Unsplash

Originally published at on November 27, 2019.

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Princeton University with my good friend Linda Ting to design at Rehack, the first ever collegiate reverse hackathon. We were challenged to “think deeply about [our] interactions with technology and redesign consumer tech products in a more meaningful, socially responsible way.” You can check out our final project here.

I started my product design journey at Penn, where I’ve been doing all I can to learn on my own and from those around me. However, Rehack gave me the opportunity to escape the Penn bubble and interact with student designers from several other universities. …

Why I started to write about design

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Photo by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash

Originally published at on October 26, 2019.

I’ve sat down to write my first blog post more times than I’d like to admit. Starting a blog to document my progress has been a goal of mine since starting college a year ago. I’ve tried using any and all benchmarks, milestones, and completed projects as triggers to start, but life has given me plenty of excuses to procrastinate.

Recently, I realized it’s not lack of time that’s been holding me back from writing — it’s fear. Fear that I’m not qualified enough to write about topics I’m still learning about. Fear that I’ll be exposed for being self-taught, “fake” designer. …


Jess Tan

student @penn & designer @pennlabs | portfolio @

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