Author Archives: Rachael Bonoan

Preparing to Defend

 

Preparing to defend my thesis was the most mentally, emotionally, and at times, physically, challenging part of graduate school. After my final field season, I thought it was going to be easy. All I have to do is write. I’ve written a ton. Piece of cake.

I was so wrong.

Yes, as graduate students we write a lot. During my time in graduate school, I wrote scientific papers, grant proposals, popular science articles, blog posts, etc. But I had never written about the same subject so continuously. I started to get sick of my study system (honey bees), which made me sad, because I love honey bees!

When I finally handed my thesis in to my committee, I had to prepare for the actual defense. This was also a challenge. What papers should I read? What is my committee going to ask me? What if they hate my thesis?

In the end, it all worked out. I successfully defended my thesis and the defense was enjoyable! I didn’t need to stress as much as I did.

Preparing to defend your thesis is going to be challenging, but here are some things I realized that may keep you from psyching yourself out too much.

Use a citation manager!

First, a specific piece of advice: start using a citation manager when you get to grad school, keep it updated, and use it consistently! This will make the references section of your thesis much easier to deal with. I didn’t start using a citation manager until year three, and when it came time to write the thesis in year five, I was not happy with past Rachael. I use EndNote but there are many other options and the library hosts workshops on almost all of them.

Keep your committee in the loop.

Throughout your time in graduate school, talk to your committee. Update them on data at committee meetings, discuss methods, ask for suggestions on writing when relevant. If you do this throughout graduate school, your committee won’t be surprised at defense time, and neither will you. If you take the time to get to know your committee members, you may be able to anticipate their questions.

I realize this doesn’t work for that external committee member you may be required to have. When choosing your external committee member, choose someone who knows your field, and read his/her relevant papers. I did this for my external committee member, and I was able to successfully anticipate some of her questions. Also, when it comes to your external member, don’t be afraid to ask around. Ask past graduate students from your lab who they chose and why; ask about their experience in the closed defense.

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Remember, the written thesis you hand in to your committee is technically a draft. As a perfectionist, this was difficult for me. I was working so hardto make every chapter, every figure, every page, so that it could be publication ready. But with a document that long, it may not be possible in the time you have. And that’s ok. Part of your committee’s job is to suggest edits, which you can then use when/if you publish.

It’s a conversation.

On defense day, I was most worried about the closed defense. What if they hate my research? What if they ask me a question I can’t answer?

Part of these nerves will be alleviated by fostering a relationship with your committee. Also, think of the closed defense as a conversation rather than a “grilling” session. Your committee asks you questions, you answer the questions as best you can. Some questions lead to other questions. It’s just a discussion– a discussion about something you’ve been studying for 4 – 6 years and you know really well.

My closed defense was a fun, productive experience. Sure, I couldn’t answer some of the bigger, theoretical questions, but it was fun to brainstorm and discuss ideas.

Take care of yourself.

Even if you follow all my advice, preparing to defend is going to be difficult. Graduate school is supposed to be hard. Throughout this process (and all of graduate school), remember to take care of yourself.

Countless hours of sitting at a computer takes a toll on your body (this is the physical challenge). Take breaks to stretch or go for a walk. Give your eyes a break from the screen. Drink water. Eat food. (Both sound simple but trust me, you might forget.)

Stay active, whatever that means to you. Do yoga, go for a run, kickbox, get outside, play a board game, grab coffee with friends. And don’t feel guilty about taking time away from school to stay active! Your mental health is important. Your mental health is important. Your mental health is important.

 Remember, you are not alone.

Writing a thesis is an inherently isolating process. Don’t let it get to the point where you feel like you’re alone, because you’re not. Talk to past graduate students from your lab (this was my greatest therapy while writing/preparing to defend), attend the graduate writing exchange, visit family, grab coffee with friends (yes, I’m saying it again).

Graduate school takes a village and you have a support system in your mentor, your committee, your friends, your family. Use that support system.

 And finally, celebrate!

Following your defense, take time to celebrate your accomplishment! Getting a higher degree takes dedication, ambition, and a lot of hard work. You deserve to be proud of yourself!

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. 2018

Insect pollinators and real-world science

Most of my twenty-two ExCollege students in the Starks Lab “bee hut” on a field trip to see my honey bee hives.

   Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

This semester, I have the honor of being one of Tufts Experimental College’s Robyn Gittleman Graduate Teaching Fellows. As a Gittleman Fellow, I got the opportunity to design my own 13-week, undergraduate-level seminar course. And now, I am teaching that course! My course is titled “From Bees to Beetles: Insect Pollinators and Real-World Science,” and is open to students of all majors. I have students who are majoring in English, Psychology, Anthropology, Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, and more! The diverse perspectives of the students in my class make preparation and teaching challenging, yet rewarding.

In my class, we are learning about more than just honey bees (as the name suggests); we are covering bees, butterflies, flies, and beetles. On the first day of class, each student picked a pollinator species out of a hat and was tasked with researching and presenting on the natural history of their pollinator. Now halfway into the course, we have learned about pollinator ecology, coevolution, and tonight, we will be learning about pollinator nutritional ecology (which is my specific area of PhD expertise, so I am extra excited!). In the final third of the course, students will be able to put what they’ve learned to the test and design a pollinator protection plan tailored to the pollinator they picked at the beginning of the semester.

One of the biggest challenges I find when preparing my lectures is figuring out the balance of “science.” This course is for both STEM and non-STEM majors, so I must make sure the science is clear. Also, this course counts as a distribution credit for the natural sciences, so I must make sure the science is accurate. Preparing these lectures has been great practice for talking to the public about my research and broad science topics in general (such as evolution). I push myself to define jargon, explain methods, and decode statistical analyses for someone outside of my field.

Another challenge I face is knowing when to stop prepping. As a fifth-year graduate student, I am writing my thesis. Oftentimes, I find preparing for class a bit more fun than editing a paper I’ve been staring at for months; it’s easy to get sucked into coming up with elaborate discussion questions and perfecting my slides. To deal with this, I am strict with myself about blocking out time for writing and time for preparing lectures/discussions, and sticking with it.

Although this is my first time designing my own course, and independently teaching, I’d say things are going smoothly so far. As a Gittleman Fellow, I get to meet with Howard Woolf, the director of the ExCollege, and the other Gittleman Fellows every other week. We discuss lesson planning, grading, and facilitating discussions. As a first-time teacher, this is a great sounding board for new ideas and group activities that may/may not go as planned. Overall, the students are engaged, and teaching is a blast! Sometimes I am having so much fun teaching and leading discussions that I forget to give the students a break during the two-and-a-half-hour time slot (something I’m working on).

I am only about halfway through the semester, but so far teaching in the ExCollege has been extremely rewarding. Aside from gaining valuable teaching experience, I am helping students to take a moment and observe the natural world. One Monday night, a student told me about a hike he went on over the weekend. On his hike, he noticed various insects that he would have completely overlooked before taking my class.

 

After learning about coevolution, students applied what they know about their own pollinators to create the “perfect flower” for various groups of pollinators.

Why Tufts? Part 3

   Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate


Collaboration, community, and teaching at Tufts

There are two main reasons why I chose Tufts: collaboration and community. When picking my graduate school, I chose based on the Biology Department specifically. Now, after having been at Tufts for four years, I can say that these two reasons also apply to Tufts in general.

Collaboration: I loved that the Biology Department was collaborative, not competitive. Since we are one Biology Department, there is a range of expertise: from DNA repair to animal behavior, there is likely someone that can help with any project you propose. There are grad students that are co-advised and many labs collaborate. I am currently working on a project with the Wolfe Lab, a lab that studies microbial communities in fermented foods! I am working with the Wolfe Lab to determine if honey bee diet affects the community of microbes that live in the honey bee gut.

In general, I find the atmosphere on the Tufts campus to be a collaborative one rather than a competitive one. There are opportunities for grad students to collaborate with labs outside of their own department. Tufts even has an internal grant, Tufts Collaborates, which is specifically for this purpose! In my department, I know of biologists who work with chemists, engineers, and computer scientists.

Community: Even though we are divided into two buildings, the Biology Department strives to stay united. Every Friday, we have a seminar with cookies and tea before, and chips and salsa after. After seminar, I have the chance to catch up with faculty, staff, and students that work in the other building.

Outside of my department, the Tufts Graduate Student Council (GSC) strives to create a sense of community within the grad students. There are monthly GSC meetings where you can meet other grad students, hear about things going on, and voice your own opinions. The GSC also hosts academic, social, and community outreach events. Just last month, the GSC held their annual Graduate Student Research Symposium (GSRS). This symposium is for all grad students on the Tufts University Medford/Somerville campus and School of the Museum of Fine Arts. The GSRS is not only a place to meet other grad students, but it’s a place where you can learn about all the cool research happening at Tufts, and maybe find a collaborator!

A couple other reasons specific to me: I grew up in a small town and while I enjoy visiting the city, I am not much of a “city girl.” The location of Tufts is great for the small-town girl in me: it’s easy to visit the city but it’s also easy to find beautiful places to hike and enjoy nature. Just about an hour south of New Hampshire and an hour east of Central Mass, there are plenty of gorgeous hiking trails and mountains within a manageable driving distance.

Since I would one day like to teach at a primarily undergraduate institution, I also like that Tufts has unique teaching opportunities for grad students. There is the Graduate Institute for Teaching where grad students attend workshops on teaching during the summer, and then co-teach a class with a faculty member during the fall. There is also the ExCollege which awards Graduate Teaching Fellowships for students who want to create and teach a class on their own. This coming Fall, I will be teaching my own class on insect pollinators and applying basic science to conservation practices!

Enjoying the talks at the 2017 GSRS.

Enjoying the poster session and reception after the 2017 GSRS.

Hiking Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire, equipped with my Tufts Jumbos winter hat!

Enjoying Boston Winter in Downtown Boston! (I also have my Tufts Jumbos hat on here but it’s covered by my hood.)

Pollen. It’s what’s for dinner.

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Imagine if your diet changed with the seasons. And it was out of your control.

During the spring, you can only eat cheese pizza. That’s it.

During the summer, you can eat pizza with any toppings you want. Finally, you have variety!

During the fall, you can either eat mushroom pizza or pepperoni pizza. No more variety.

And then during the winter, you must survive on any leftover pizza you might have saved.

That’s essentially what it’s like for honey bees.

I study nutritional ecology in honey bees; I am interested in how seasonal changes in honey bee diet affect honey bee behavior and health. Honey bees get most of their nutrients from nectar and pollen in flowers. Their diet naturally shifts with the seasons, and they have no control over it.

In New England, honey bees start the spring with mainly dandelions. In the summer, they have lots of diverse wildflowers and weeds to choose from. In the fall, there is basically only golden rod and aster available. And then in the winter, honey bees survive on the honey they made from the nectar they collected throughout the year. Their leftovers are really important.

This past summer, my interns and I set up 9 bee hives at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine (more on that here). Once our hives were set up, 3 hives were left alone as our control hives, 3 hives were fed a semi-synthetic protein-diverse diet, and 3 hives were fed a semi-synthetic protein-deficient diet. The protein-diverse diet represented a diet made up of lots of flowers, or a polyfloral diet. The protein-deficient diet represented a diet made up of just one type of flower, or a monofloral diet.

Throughout the summer, we asked a couple questions.

First, would the bees fed the monofloral diet spend more time looking for food than the bees fed the polyfloral diet? To answer this question, we sat outside each hive and counted the number of bees leaving the hive. Since bees only leave the hive when they’re on the hunt for food, these counts gave us a good idea about the time spent collecting food. With 9 hives to collect data from, I had a lot of help this summer. Data collection would not have been possible without my interns!

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Tufts NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates intern Joanna Chang measuring foraging effort of a hive.

Lexington High School student Adam Winter measuring foraging effort of a hive.

Lexington High School student Adam Winter measuring foraging effort of a hive.

Second, would bees fed the monofloral diet collect pollen from more diverse floral sources than bees fed the polyfloral diet? In contrast to bees fed a nutrient-rich polyfloral diet, bees fed a nutrient-deficient monofloral diet likely need to supplement their diet. A way to supplement your diet? Eat different foods! For this question, we installed pollen traps on our hives. The pollen traps allow the bees to forage freely but there is an extra barrier to get through when they return to the hive with pollen. Bees carry pollen back to the hive on their legs.

Video of honey bees returning to the hive with pollen

The pollen trap has bee-sized mesh holes that returning bees need to crawl through. Since the mesh holes are just bee-sized, the pollen pellets get knocked off their legs and fall into a drawer. The drawer can be pulled out from the back of the hive and we have our pollen samples!

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Pollen trap drawer full of pollen.

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Close-up of inside the drawer of pollen.

Just last week, I sent our pollen samples out to Jonah Ventures, a company that will run DNA metabarcoding analyses on our samples. DNA metabarcoding allows Jonah Ventures to take our mixed sample of pollen, and identify which plants our bees collected pollen from. I should have that data back from Jonah Ventures by the end of the week!

The data analysis is ongoing so I don’t have any conclusive answers to our questions just yet but stay tuned!

Join a Tufts GSO, Meet People, and DO Things!

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

At Tufts, the Graduate Student Council (GSC) sponsors twenty-one (and counting!) Graduate Student Organizations (GSOs). Most GSOs are departmental, such as the Tufts English Graduate Organization, but there are also interest-based GSOs such as the Tufts Graduate Student Anime Club. Being a part of a GSO is a great way to get to know people both inside and outside your department—any GSO event that is funded by the GSC is required to be open to all Tufts graduate students! For example, the Biology Union of Graduate Students (BUGS) hosted an ice cream social on May 13, 2016. Since the event is funded by the GSC, the event goes on the Tufts GSC Online Calendar and all graduate students are welcome! There’s almost always something going on!

Being a part of a GSO is also a great way to DO things. Last month, I attended the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington D.C. with my GSO, BUGS. The festival’s mission is one close to my heart: “to stimulate and sustain the interest of our nation’s youth in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).” Last year, two BUGS members, Emily Pitcairn and Kyle Jewhurst, put together a BUGS USA Science and Engineering Festival committee. Over the course of a year, our committee got broken up into sub-committees, each in charge of a particular aspect of planning for the festival. When it was time to attend the festival, BUGS had three interactive activities to present at our booth. All of our activities went along with our booth’s theme: “Life is communication.”

During the 3-day long festival (which hosted over 3,000 interactive STEM activities and 50 stage shows), an estimated 350,000+ visitors came by our booth! Thankfully, we had a team of twelve BUGS at the festival. Three BUGS at a time took shifts (about two hours long) at our booth—taking turns kept us refreshed and focused on the activity—and outreach!—at hand.

The activity my sub-committee worked on was The Bee Box. The Bee Box allowed visitors to see how bees see by shining a blacklight on a “garden” inside the box. The blacklight revealed UV patterns on flowers (called nectar guides) that bees use to find pollen and nectar. Without the help of the special light, these patterns are invisible to us!

We also brought flatworms (planaria) that allowed visitors to learn about cellular communication. If a flat worm is cut in half, the head portion grows another tail and the tail portion grows another head. You end up with two healthy, functional flatworms! If you block cellular communication with certain drugs however, you will end up with double headed or double tailed worms. Visitors used a microscope hooked up to a tablet to investigate these worms for themselves.

Our third interactive activity taught visitors about the communication between DNA and RNA. Visitors used DNA “building blocks” to build their own model organism.

While off duty, we wandered around the festival. Among other things, we got to hold hissing cockroaches, found out which plant pathogen our personality matched, and visited Mars. We also got to hear Wil Wheaton (Stand by Me, Stark Trek: The Next Generation, Big Bang Theory) give an inspiring talk about the role of art in science. Without art, it’s difficult to get the general public excited and interested in science! (Wil’s first exposure to the awesome-ness of science was watching Stark Trek.) As a field biologist myself, I have seen how important creativity is in science as well. (I spend a lot of time at the hardware store during the field season.)

In the end, the festival was a success—for for both the science communicator and the science nerd in me—and and if it hadn’t been for BUGS, I would not have made it there! The festival is held every two years—we’re already looking forward to 2018!

Other Tufts groups represented at the festival were the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach, the DevTech Research Group, the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, the Medical School Center for Translational Science Education, and the Bioinformatics Inquiry through Sequencing (BioSeq) group.

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From left to right: (TOP) Marcus Lehr, Varandt Khodaverdian, Kyle Jewhurst, Ishtiaque Quasem (MIDDLE) Taylor Sands-Marcinkowski, Brenna Gormally, Clare Parker, Emily Pitcairn (BOTTOM) Rachael Bonoan, Kaylinnette Pinet, Elizabeth Landis

How Bees See

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Rachael Bonoan USA Science & Engineering 10

 

Mastering Your Time

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Rachael Bonoan Mastering Your Time blog picOne of the hardest things about my transition into graduate school was becoming the Master of my own time. As an undergraduate at UMass Dartmouth, I took more credits than were necessary (I am a biology nerd and wanted to take as many upper level biology classes as I could), I was the president of two on-campus clubs, I did research on zebra finches, and I worked 20-30 hours a week (off campus) as a pharmacy technician. I had syllabuses, meeting schedules, a set research schedule, and a work schedule. Homework and studying got done whenever there was a spare moment. (Most often, this was at my favorite coffee shop near campus.) I was not the Master of my own time.

When I first arrived in graduate school, my advisor told me to take a couple weeks to read everything I could about my topic of interest (honey bee health and nutrition!). Easy, right? Not for me. As an undergrad, two of my closest friends were in most of my classes; studying and homework happened in a group. Sitting in a library, reading by myself, was HARD. I sat in the library reading for what seemed like hours, only to look up and find only minutes had passed. I am in the sciences to discuss ideas and collaborate with people, not to shut myself out and read (though I do understand this is sometimes necessary). That first year, I figured out two ways to make my days spent reading bearable and productive.

First, I needed a good playlist. I tried Spotify and Pandora, but I quickly got bored (and there were too many ads if you didn’t pay). Then, I discovered Songza—now Google Play music. What I love about Google Play is that you pick your playlist based on activity and/or mood–and there aren’t a bunch of ads! This allowed me to discover playlists I would have never imagined, like “Relaxing Film Scores” for getting through a dense paper.

Second, I needed a change of scenery. Sitting in the library all day wasn’t doing it. I scheduled blocks of time to read, followed by short breaks to walk and find somewhere else to read. While studying for my qualifying exam, I went to nearly every coffee shop within a three-mile radius of campus.

Regarding planning blocks for reading, and breaks for walking, I needed a planner. I have tried a few different types of planners; the one that works best for me is the Passion Planner. The Passion Planner breaks down each day into half-hour increments—allowing for some serious scheduling and time management. I have also discovered some amazing erasable pens that allow me to color-code and move things around in my planner without it getting messy (I’m a bit type-A like that).

The Passion Planner also has a space to create a prioritized “work” to-do list as well as a “personal” to-do list (can’t forget to buy groceries and do laundry) each week. Every Monday morning, I sit down with my Passion Planner and erasable pens, and plan out my week. My plan often changes as the week goes on and things come up (hence, the erasable pens). The prioritized list helps me decide what can be pushed off and what needs to get done (for example, writing this blog post was in the “top priority” section of this week’s to-do list).

This is what works for me—it won’t work for everyone. If you are having trouble finding your own style of time management, there are people that can help you! The Academic Resource Center at Tufts actually has Time Management Consultants that will sit down with you and help you work out a personalized time management strategy! The Graduate School of Arts & Sciences also puts on a time management workshop (this is where I discovered the Passion Planner) that is a bit of a survey of various strategies.

One last tip that I learned at the time management workshop that I think everyone can benefit from—no matter their work style—take effective breaks. Take a coffee break, a snack break, an exercise break, a power nap break, a coloring break. Do whatever it is you need to do to keep your mind and body fueled. You will be a lot more productive!

I like to take a break by taking a walk to the Rez (a student-run coffee shop in the Campus Center) for some caffeination and a treat (they have delicious muffins). If the weather’s nice, I also enjoy sitting on the Tisch Library Roof where there is a beautiful view of the city and fresh air. With the beautiful city lights at night, the Library Roof makes a great place to clear your mind day or night (grad school can sometimes mean late nights in the lab)!

#GSRS2016

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Graduate Student Council (GSC) Academic Chair, Cassandra Donatelli, did a great job soliciting presentations for this year’s Tufts University Graduate Student Research Symposium (GSRS). Throughout the day, there were over 40 different graduate student presentations, representing 20 different departments, from 3 different Tufts schools—Arts, Sciences & Engineering, Sackler, and Fletcher!

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Emma Schneider

Of the 15-minute talks I saw (we had so many presenters, there were two sessions going on at once!), one of my favorites was Emma Schneider’s presentation on listening. Emma (pictured right) is a graduate student in the English department who is interested in environmental policy. Emma began her presentation by pointing out that when it comes to environmental policy, there is no lack of people speaking out, there is no lack of data, but there is a lack of listening. Emma then discussed how she analyzes texts about listening to nature, the silence around us, and of course, other people!

Of the shorter, 5-minute talks, the one that stuck out to me most was “MacGyver Robots” given by Vasanth Sarathy (below) of the Computer Science and Cognitive Science Departments. Vasanth is interested in teaching robots how to change how they react to an object based on context. The example Vasanth used was a knife. When picking up the knife to cut something, the robot should pick it up by the handle. When picking up the knife to give it to someone (or something?), the robot should pick it up (carefully!) by the blade. If the robot wants to spin the knife (for what Vasanth called a dangerous game of Truth or Dare), the robot should then grab the knife in the middle. But—asked Dr. Kelly McLaughlin from Biology—why a knife? Why not a pen? Unlike a pen, explained Vasanth, the knife also has a moral context. During the 5-minute presentations, we also learned about the microbes in kimchi, factors affecting conditional probability judgements, facial recognition systems, tail regeneration in tadpoles, and silica nanoparticles (among other things!)

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Vasanth Sarathy, a fellow blogger!

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Dr. Benjamin Wolfe

Following the 5-minute talks was the keynote by Dr. Benjamin Wolfe from the Biology Department. Ben studies microbes in…cheese (and other fermented foods but cheese is currently his main study system). During his talk, Ben briefly discussed his research (which you should check out!), and then focused on the importance of communication and gave the audience some tips on how to be good communicators.

So—why should we communicate our academic research and how do we do it? In communicating our research, we can understand it better. Ben started with an anecdote—the person who motivates him to communicate his science is his mom. A first generation college student, Ben had to explain his research to his mom in a way that was accessible. Being able to explain his research to his mom—and now cheesemakers—has made Ben understand his research on a deeper level. Also, communicating to the general public can help us to find unexpected things in unlikely places. The picture that Ben is pointing to is a piece of trach (specifically, a cigarette butt) that he picked up off the sidewalk and then put on a nutrient plate to let the microbes grow. This was part of a pop science piece that Ben wrote for a magazine (Lucky Peach).

Which brings me to the “how.” Basically, just do it. Sign up to present at symposia that aren’t specific to your discipline (like the Tufts Graduate Student Research Symposium!), write for magazines that are for the general public, start a blog. Ben also stressed two points that are important for successful communication: visuals and respect. Take pictures of your study system, make infographics, have fun with it! Who doesn’t like a good visual? And importantly, respect your audience and their beliefs. Don’t talk down to them, don’t belittle them; instead, excite them by showing them what they don’t expect (like microbes growing on a cigarette)!

Following the successful keynote was the poster session and reception with wine, cheese, and other refreshments. I presented a poster and found it was a great way to meet other graduate students from other departments and other Tufts schools. (All poster session and reception photos are courtesy of Psychology graduate student Clint Perry.)

If you are interested in checking out some of the other topics covered during the symposium, check out @TuftsGSC on twitter (we live tweeted all day!) and #GSRS2016! Hope to see you there next year!  Rachael Bonoan 3-4-16 blog pic 10

Winter Break as a Grad Student

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

As a graduate student, winter break is a “break” in that you don’t have to TA and you have more time to write, analyze data, and do research—not the break you become accustomed to as an undergrad. I suppose it’s a bit of a transition to adulthood. But, by the time this post is published, I will be roughly 4,000 miles south of Tufts. This winter break, I am going to Costa Rica! As part of a class I am taking here at Tufts! We will be doing research so it still isn’t a “break,” but I am looking forward to it all the same.

Every other year, Biology professor Dr. Colin Orians teaches a class called “Tropical Ecology and Conservation.” We spend the semester learning about the rainforest (via readings, presentations, and interactive discussions) and designing an experiment. THEN, we spend two weeks—in Costa Rica!—actually doing that experiment! The class is open to both graduate and undergraduate students so it is a good way to meet undergrads that are especially driven and interested in research (you have to apply to get into the class).

It is also a great way to do science in a new location! Since I work with honey bees, I don’t have to travel far to do my field work (one field site is about a 10-minute walk from my lab, the other is about a 40-minute drive). This coming winter break, I am excited to experience a new field site, a new culture, and a new country (I have never left the U.S.)!

My partner and I have designed an experiment to look at salt foraging behavior in stingless bees. While stingless bees get most of their nutrients from pollen and nectar, they also visit nonfloral sources (such as sweat, dung, and even carrion). We hypothesize that foraging for nonfloral resources is a way for stingless bees to get salts that their floral diet is lacking (plants tend to be low in sodium). Like Gatorade for bees!

In addition to research, we will go snorkeling, visit an avocado plantation, tour a coffee farm, and of course, hike in the jungle!

This blog post doesn’t have photos but I am hoping that my next blog post will have some awesome pictures from Costa Rica.

Until then, happy holidays!

When I say “HOLIDAY,” You Say “FOOD DRIVE”

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

That’s just one of the cheers you would have Holiday Food Drive 1heard if you were walking around Porter Square early one Saturday evening (November 21, 2015 to be exact). Jenn (Biology grad student) brought lots of energy—and thus, lots of donators—to the annual Graduate Student Council (GSC) food drive. Clint (Psychology grad student) kept warm—and received lots of hugs from strangers—by walking around in his red panda onesie (because, why not?).

On a more serious note, the annual holiday food drive is a GSC tradition. Every year around Thanksgiving, the GSC Community Outreach Chair (this year, that’s me!) rounds up volunteers Holiday Food Drive 2to collect donations of non-perishable foods outside of Star Market in Porter Square. All donations are then brought to the Somerville Homeless Coalition. The Coalition’s Project SOUP (Share Our United Pantry) is a food pantry that hosts community suppers and distributes food donations to those in need. This year’s GSC food drive was such a success that we may have overwhelmed the Project SOUP volunteers…but in a good way!

This year, we had a total of 14 volunteers throughout the day, 11 of which were grad students representing various departments (in addition to Biology and Psychology, we had grad student volunteers from Physics, Economics, Computer Science and Drama). Those 14 volunteers collected 17 boxes of non-perishable food! At the food drive, we also received $197 in cash donations (which we turned into some of those non-perishable food items).

When our cash donations started piling up, a couple of volunteers would go into Star Market to use the cash to buy more non-perishable donations. At the suggestion of our GSC President, Jeremy, most of our cash donations went toward buying baby food—something most people don’t consider when donating to a food drive. At one point, Jeremy and I went into Star Market with $49.71 to spend on baby food. As we piled roughly $50-worth of baby food onto the conveyor belt, the cashier likely thought Jeremy and I were young, struggling parents with multiples (triplets?).

Holiday Food Drive 3Aside from being able to donate 17 boxes-worth of food to Project SOUP, the best part of the food drive was meeting people from the community and seeing them get into the holiday spirit. We had one man who heard Jenn cheering from afar and told us that he didn’t need any groceries but he was going to go in and buy some just for our food drive. When he came out, he put 2 bags of groceries on our table while chanting “Donate! Donate! Donate!”

There were people who came out with whole shopping carts full of donations, whole shopping baskets full of donations, and one man even went home to clean out his pantry—he brought us three bags of canned goods, oatmeal, and rice. There were also a lot of kids who would shyly put a canned good or two on our table—one was dressed as an astronaut!

Happy Halloween from Tufts!

 

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

GSC Halloween pic 1This year, the Graduate Student Council (GSC) put on a Halloween party in our newest graduate student lounge (which is likely to be a topic in a future blog post)—Curtis Hall. The party was planned and executed by this year’s wonderful Social Chair, Taylor Sands-Marcinkowski (Wanda from the Fairly Odd Parents). The other executive board members (pictured to the right, photo courtesy of Psych grad student Clint Perry) that helped pull the party off were President Jeremy Watcher (a Roman dictator with his sticks as a sign of authority), Secretary Mike Pietras (computational scientist—he’s actually a computational scientist), and yours truly, the Community Outreach Chair (a tough cookie). Our other executive board members (Vice President, Treasurer, Academic Chair and Student Life Chair) were unable to make the party—they were in Los Angeles representing Tufts at the 29th Annual National Conference of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students. Even though they were in LA, I think we had more fun in Curtis Hall.

GSC Hallowen pic 3GSC Halloween pic 2At the party, we had LOTS of candy, other snacks, and a costume contest! The first place winners of the costume contest came dressed as the characters from Pixar’s recent movie Inside Out. From left to right, Kasey, Dave, Jenn, Becca, and Kelsey are all affiliated with the Biology Department here at Tufts. Kasey and Becca are recently graduated master’s students, Jenn and Kelsey are 6th and 5th year Ph.D. students respectively, Dave is a graduate student at MIT and Kasey’s boyfriend. This year, the first place prize was a gift card to Foundry, a nearby restaurant in Davis Square (another possible future blog topic). Kasey—as Joy—was characteristically overjoyed that her group won the costume contest (notice her feet are a good few inches off the ground).

GSC Halloween pic 4Our second place winner was on the other end of the Halloween spectrum—he was scary. Parading as an exorcist priest, the international Physics grad student went above and beyond for his first Halloween! The exorcist priest won a gift card to Diesel Café, a coffee shop in Davis Square for his prize. Among other characters, we also had pirates, a woodland nymph, Maverick, and Luna Lovegood show up at the party. (Sadness got really into her character for the group photo.) What I like most about GSC social events is that I get to get out of the Biology Department and meet grad students from other departments. At this party alone, there were grad students from Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Computer Science, Engineering, Drama, and more!

 

The GSC’s next holiday-themed event is our Thanksgiving Food Drive—coming up soon!