Category Archives: Around Tufts

Cooking 101: How to cook in grad school with no money and no time

Written by Alia Wulff, Cognitive Psychology Ph.D. Student

I’m sure most of you have been on your own for at least a few years. You’ve probably dabbled in cooking, maybe tried your hand at baking. You might make your own breakfast or bring lunch to the office. But a lot of you have probably (and totally understandably) been ordering food more often than you should be. It’s easy and delicious and even healthy on occasion. But it’s not cheap. And in grad school cheap is a top priority.

Alia’s turmeric-spiced garbanzo beans and chicken on rice with lime

This blog post is not intended to magically turn everyone into amazing cooks. I just want to show you that it is possible, even easy, to grocery shop, cook, and meal prep like a pro while in graduate school for way less than it costs to eat out.

The number one thing to figure out is what you have to have in your pantry at all times. My staples are pasta, rice, beans (black, garbanzo, and refried), tortillas, tomato sauce, chicken, yogurt, eggs, bread (probably in bagel form), some fruits and veggies, and hot sauce. I can make a different thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for a week out of those items. Oil and seasonings are also pantry staples, but they rarely need to be replenished so they don’t really count.

The next order of business is figuring out where to get your groceries. It’s really hard for me to get to a grocery store and back because I don’t have a car, so I use Amazon Fresh. It costs me less for a monthly subscription than a Lyft from the grocery store twice a month would. With that service, my pantry staples cost me less than $50 a week. I generally order food twice a month and pay about $80-$100 each time. I’ve never spent more than $200 a month on necessary groceries. Don’t ask me about my Pringles and Twizzlers budget, though.

Alia’s avocado toast with hard-boiled egg and Tajin seasoning

Next, plan your meals. You don’t have to go crazy and make a chart with dates, lists, and bullet points. Just know what you have in your pantry and make a list of things you can make that week. Then, when you get home you can check your list, find something that matches up with the energy you have left, and make that. Don’t try making a complicated feast when you’re dead on your feet or you will never try cooking again. My go-to lazy meal is to microwave some beans, pop them in a tortilla with some leftover chicken and rice, dash some hot sauce on there, and eat it without a plate because laziness and washing dishes do not mix.

Speaking of leftovers, here is an actual tip: make too much food. I know some people have weird issues with leftovers, but you are a grad student now and literally cannot afford the time or money to have wasteful beliefs about food. Make too much food on the weekends, pop the extras into containers, and then you have multiple meals for the week. Made too much chicken? Put leftovers in the fridge and have it with pasta or rice the next day. Made too much pasta because determining how much pasta to make probably requires the use of black magic? Pop some sauce (or some butter, I won’t judge) in it, portion it into containers, and – voila – you have lunches for a few days. Made too much rice? Make rice pudding for breakfast with flax or protein powder and use honey instead of sugar so you can pretend you’re not just eating pudding for breakfast (even though you are and that’s perfectly valid).

Pudding for breakfast is a reminder of the biggest point of this post: it’s important to not feel bad about food. You can ignore everything in this post as long as you remember this one thing. If you end up eating out more than you should have, if you eat unhealthy food for a few days, if you always put an extra bag of chips or pile of candy bars in your cart, you are not a bad person. You will always find something to beat yourself up about. Don’t let your personal method to replenish calories be one of them.

Dancing through graduate school: when passions and academia collide

Written by Gina Mantica, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Ever since the age of 5, I’ve been a dancer. I used to dance around my living room to Disney music, until my parents decided I needed some sort of outlet for my dancing habit. My parents signed me up for ballet classes shortly thereafter, and I’ve been taking dance classes and performing on stage ever since.

I was in my second year of undergrad when I was invited to perform in my first professional gig. I remember the moment vividly: I was at a retreat when my long-time mentor (and now, friend) left me a voicemail. I remember the feeling of butterflies in my stomach as I listened to my mentor say she had an opportunity for me to perform and get paid for my dancing. To this day, the voicemail is saved to my cell phone. That voicemail not only changed the trajectory of my dance career, but also altered how I now see myself “fitting into” academia.

Five-and-a-half years have passed since I performed in my first paid dance gig. Since then, I’ve danced in more professional productions than I can recall, ranging from a full-length production with Jazz Inc. Dance to a short-lived HGTV show “Spontaneous Construction”.

Also since then, I’ve grown a fondness for academia. I love learning and being able to research questions I am curious about. My time as a Ph.D. student here at Tufts is nothing short of a dream. However, academia is not always fond of me.

Since entering grad school, I have not stopped pursuing my passion for dance. Dance provides me with much more than just exercise; through dance, I find joy and a sense of comfort that I cannot get anywhere else. My refusal to give up something that I consider to be both a means of self-care and a crucial part of my identity rubs some academics, who, themselves, have lost sight of what a work-life balance should look like, the wrong way.

The pressures to conform to some academic ideal of a work-life balance (which, in reality, is not balanced at all) are not missing at Tufts. However, Tufts is such an incredibly diverse community and it is possible to find mentors and colleagues to surround yourself with that share your own opinion of what a work-life balance should look like. At Tufts, I have found friends in my department who will go take dance classes with me, or who will take a day off from work to go to the beach. I have found mentors who support my love of writing and outreach and who will provide me with opportunities to pursue my interests outside of the lab.

Most importantly, however, I have grown to realize that I don’t need to conform to some ideal of what an academic should look like; at Tufts, I am able to relieve myself of the pressures of “fitting into” academia and just be myself.

My Life as the Next Graduate Student Council President

I was never a student council kind of person. I never joined when I was a high school student, and always found myself too busy with other extracurricular activities to join in college. It’s as much of a surprise to me as to anybody else that I find myself becoming the new Tufts Graduate Student Council President for 2018-2019. So, how did this happen?

Like a lot of people on the Executive Board (E-Board) of the GSC, I was convinced to run by other members of my department. I first became the academic and career development co-chair, a position in which I helped organize academic events, like the Graduate Student Research Symposium. During this time, I quickly realized that I genuinely enjoyed these kinds of activities that brought me out of the lab, enabled me to meet and interact with people from all sorts of departments, and discuss graduate student concerns with administrators. This passion has driven me to stay in the GSC, this past year filling the role of vice president, and next year as president.

As the new GSC President, I am most looking forward to simply helping graduate students across Tufts. My first role as president will be to work together with our other officers and chairs to put together some amazing events for grad students. Traditionally we have held social and academic events during the fall and spring semesters. But in this upcoming year, I am particularly excited to expand our community outreach and international student events. We are also really interested in having some activities over the summer; plenty of students stay on campus during the summer months and it would be great to bring people together to unwind and de-stress. We are hoping to have an ice cream social and an outdoor movie night with a popcorn machine!

I’m also looking forward to continuing to work with the Tufts administration to address graduate student concerns. Each semester we hold one or two deans’ coffee hours at which our student life chair organizes a discussion around a grad student issue. Several deans and other pertinent university staff members are also invited. Together, we look for creative solutions to a variety of problems with the goal of improving grad student experiences. As president, I am looking forward to continuing these events and helping our new student life chair expand involvement.

I can’t wait to take on new challenges as the president. In May, the GSC held its annual transition weekend during which the old and new E-Boards meet, orient each other, and plan for the following year. I can say—without hesitation—that the new members of the E-Board are going to be amazing. They already have some great ideas for new events. Be sure to be on the lookout for events this summer and in the fall semester! We can’t wait to meet you!

 Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Making the Most of a Boston Summer

Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Summer in Boston is my favorite. I grew up in the Northeast and definitely appreciate the seasons, but being able to enjoy the city in the warm weather is fantastic! Here are some of my favorite things to do around Boston, especially when it’s nice out.

Let’s go to the beach…and river…and pool!

One of the best things about Tufts is how close it is to the water. I love escaping campus to head to the beach. There are plenty of ocean beaches within an hour or so of Tufts, but one of my favorite spots is just 10 minutes from campus at Mystic Lake. Access to Shannon Beach is free and it’s a great spot to swim, barbeque, and enjoy the sun!

A classic Boston summer also includes kayaking on the Charles. There are a bunch of places from which you can rent equipment all along the river. I went kayaking on my first birthday in Boston and it’s still one of my favorite memories of my time here.

Another thing I’ve only recently discovered are the public pools around campus. Of course there’s the indoor Tufts pool, but when it’s so nice out, you don’t want to be cooped up inside. Depending on whether you’re a Somerville or Medford resident you may have limited access to certain pools. The Dilboy Pool, just a 10 minute walk from 200 Boston Avenue, is open to everyone for just $2! It’s a great place to enjoy the sun and relax away from the lab or library for a bit.

Hiking and biking around town

I’m a big fan of hopping on my bike and hitting the roads to escape the city. The Somerville Community Path is an awesome, car-free path that connects Davis Square to some surrounding areas. This summer I learned that it connects to the Minuteman Bikeway in Arlington and you can ride all the way out to Lexington, Concord, and Bedford. It’s one of my favorite ways to explore the Greater Boston area. The paths also feature some of Boston’s cutest dogs so if you’re looking for some puppy love, that’ll be your go-to spot.

There’s also some fantastic state and local parks for hiking around Boston. The Middlesex Fells is only 10 minutes from campus and has a ton of hiking trails. There are so many beautiful lakes and reservoirs in the Fells to spend an afternoon hiking. Further away from Boston, the White Mountains offer some more intense hiking and backpacking options in New Hampshire. I haven’t made it up there yet, but am looking forward to going this fall to enjoy the leaf colors!

And once you’re exhausted from playing outdoors, drink indoors

If you like hanging out at breweries, Boston is the place for you. Somerville and Cambridge have a bunch of really great, locally-owned craft breweries that are great for hanging out, playing board games, and drinking delicious beers. Many of them even have home-brewed non-alcoholic options! My favorites include Night Shift in Everett, Aeronaut in Somerville, and Lamplighter in Cambridge.

Remember—your work will always be there, but summer only lasts for three brief, beautiful months. So get out there and explore!

When Home is 2,500 Miles Away

Written by Alia Wulff, Cognitive Psychology Ph.D. Candidate

It has been well over a year since I made the decision to attend Tufts for graduate school, yet I still occasionally feel the pang of homesickness hit me. I moved here from Washington state and those 2,500 miles separating me and everything I have ever known are still hard to deal with sometimes. When you come to Tufts, whether it’s from a city in Massachusetts, somewhere on the West Coast, or another country entirely, there will always be differences that make you feel like you are on an alien planet.

Alia’s mountain view leaving Washington for Tufts

For me, the little things hit me the hardest. People stop by Dunkin’ Donuts before work rather than Starbucks, they giggle at my pronunciation of aunt as “ant”, and I am forced to say “Washington state” instead of just Washington so people don’t confuse my beautiful home state with D.C. I used to go days feeling just fine, and then someone would mention they never had earthquake drills in elementary school or they’ve never heard of Jack in the Box and suddenly the thousands of miles between me and my home became very prominent in my mind.

 

It is true that new experiences help you grow as a person, and Tufts has been full of those, so I have never regretted moving here. However, it is still a good idea to have coping mechanisms and strategies to deal with the move.

My first plan of action when I decided to move here was looking up where I would live. I don’t just mean knowing what my address was going to be. I opened Google Maps, searched my future address, and then hunted down every important place within a two-mile radius until I knew exactly where to find anything I would need. I looked for restaurants, grocery stores, libraries, the best places for milkshakes, parks, art studios, museums, the nearest Target, and anywhere else I thought I might need to go. I planned out routes and checked transit schedules until I was confident I could get from my front door to Stop & Shop without getting totally lost.

I also made sure I had things to make me feel comfortable in my new place. I love baking and it always reminds me of home, so I made sure I could get my KitchenAid shipped to my apartment. Baking bread or cookies or something equally carb-filled always brightens my day. Paying for your old guitar to be checked on your flight here, buying houseplants that are native to where you are from or covering your bedroom with your favorite posters may seem silly or juvenile, but you will not regret it later when you have a physical reminder of home.

My worst fear was that I would not be able to meet new people, which is often a big problem due to my anxiety. I started small, within my own department. I lucked out and met some great people right away, but it’s okay if you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone for a bit. Join some graduate groups on campus, check if any of the students in your department do trivia nights, attend an art class at a studio in town. Having people around is so important. Consistent contact with people back home through phone calls and Skype conversations are not guaranteed and are no replacement for face-to-face interaction.

Alia’s view of her new home – landing over Boston at sunset

I will admit that it occasionally feels ridiculous that I get homesick. I’m an adult. I have lived on my own for years. I pay taxes. It seems as though when you get accepted into graduate school you are no longer able to feel things, because you chose to do this. I did choose to come here. I am so excited I get to be here. That doesn’t mean that it’s not hard at times. This is a huge metropolitan area, filled with new people, new food, and new weather. No matter your age or subjective level of adulthood, moving is hard. But when classes start, or you have your first lab meeting, or you find the place that makes the best pizza, some of the stress and homesickness melts away.

I’ve gone back to the West Coast four times this year, and each time taking off from the Seattle airport feels a little bit less like I am leaving my family and more like I am coming back home, where the Starbucks isn’t as good anyway and linguistic differences are a fun anecdote at parties rather than a reminder of the distance.

The Sweet Sweat of the Sauna

Written by Sam Woolf, Mechanical Engineering M.S. 2017

A university campus is a perfect place for ideas to evolve and and grow. I am drawn to the specific locations that enable this idea incubation, places that foster interactions with interesting people of varying backgrounds. A handful of of these places on campus come to mind; the small coffee shop (Brown and Brew), the president’s lawn on a beautiful day, sharing a table in the dining halls. Though, the most fruitful location is the Tufts Sauna.

There isn’t a strong sauna culture, in the US, and definitely not in California, where I grew up. So, I wasn’t fully convinced of the virtues of pure sweating, until the jolliest Swede you’ll ever meet dragged me in. The first few sessions were painful, hot humid air overwhelming my senses, reducing my conversation to a slow trickle. Though, as my mind and body adapted, I began to see the true magic of the place.

The Tufts Coed Sauna is a small cedar walled room in the heart of the gym. The brown walls, and benches are lit by a warm incandescent bulb, and by the light that trickles through the windowed door. A single heating unit keeps the room at a balmy 105 degrees Fahrenheit and humid. Each time a ladle of water is tossed on the rocks, a wave of even hotter air washes over the place, tingling nose celia and jolting the senses. Unless you were specifically seeking it out, you could easily trot by, completely missing the best place on campus.

It is here, throughout the day, that minds from across the university meet to share a 10 minute sweat. In the sauna, everyone is equal. Occupants embrace the fact that they are a sweaty mess, and all cloaks of social preconceptions fall away. Whereas in the external world, things like appearance, power dynamics, and new friend anxiety permeate. Here, they fall to the floor, encapsulated in that first drip of perspiration.

A simple, “How is your Tuesday going?”, opens the levee, and my favorite conversations pour through. People share their hearts, thoughts, and stories. In just the last few weeks, I’ve shared sweat with a wide population of people who have stretched my mind.

I chatted with a Fletcher student who is currently attempting to solve an impossible problem: looking at Arctic oil drilling, how do we balance the economic benefits with the inevitable social and environmental costs? A friendly and heated conversation ensued, as we discussed the fallibility numbers, and the poorly placed incentives of capitalistic businesses.

I sparked a conversation with a retired firefighter, who spent 45 years working for the Medford Fire Department. His eyes lit up as he described the old Davis Square, a cross roads containing a handful of Dive Bars and Sandwich joints. He reminisced about the long weekend nights spent waiting for his twin 6’4” sons to stumble in, and give him the full details of what ever brawl had occurred that evening. Though be warned, this gentleman likes his saunas quite hot, and I had to excuse myself to a cool shower before I caught the end of his story.

Another day, two chatty Seniors in the Psychology department joined me. The conversation whisked me back a few years to when I was considering my life after undergrad. Their words were laced with both excitement and anxiety as they pondered what a future could look like.

There is no other place in my life where I deeply connect with people from so many walks of life. Every person that enters the room has gems of wisdom stored in their mind, the sauna provides a safe place where these ideas can be shared and expanded. Each time I enter the room, I am reminded of the genuinely interesting and interested people who spend their time around this Somerville-Medford hill. All it takes is a few words shared in a humble place to feel connected to this community.

Where do I study on campus?

Vasanth 2-19-16 blog

Written by Vasanth Sarathy, Computer Science Ph.D. Candidate

One of my favorite parts about Tufts University is that it’s both a nurturing liberal arts school as well as a full-fledged research university. What that means for me, as a graduate student, is I can get personalized attention from my professors, collaborate with a smallish cohort of supportive classmates and also take advantage of the vast array of research opportunities that one might expect from a large university. What this also means is that graduate student life can get really really busy!

I’m a first year PhD student in Computer Science here at Tufts. I am returning to academia after having worked for a number of years as a lawyer. Long story! So, needless to say, I have a lot of catching up to do. I quickly needed to find cool study spots on campus where I can get my classwork and research done efficiently.

I realized that whenever I needed to find a study spot, I was always doing one of these three things:

  1. Thinking and “ideating”: when I needed ideas and creative insights to solve a homework problem, or explore a research idea.
  2. Discussing my ideas with colleagues and classmates: when I needed to talk about by ideas with friends, draw some pictures on a whiteboard and so on.
  3. Writing up an idea: when I needed to write up a draft of the paper, code or finalize my homework solution.

What I also realized was that these three types of tasks required very different study environments. I discovered that my best thinking and ideating happened in coffee shops, where there is a slight amount of background noise, but not too much to affect my stream of thought. Armed with my favorite micron pen, a yellow legal pad and mug of coffee Tamper (340 Boston Ave.) or Brown and Brew (474 Boston Ave.) or Tower Cafe (in the Tisch Library) can be perfect places to tap into that creative stream of consciousness. Oh, and they also have good coffee!

When I need a whiteboard to get my thoughts out there, I always find a spot in the lounge area in Halligan Hall (161 College Ave.) where there are not only whiteboards and chairs, but also other Computer Science students whom I can interrupt in for a quick clarification. Besides, a number of CS grad students have offices in Halligan and working there is a great opportunity for me to get to know my peers better. My own research group, the Human Robot Interaction Lab is at 200 Boston Ave (up the street from Halligan), and I am here a lot too.

Finally, when I need to buckle down and code or write up my paper or homework, I find myself escaping into the crypts of the Tisch Library stacks in the lower levels. There are some great quiet-study areas scattered there and can serve as an ideal get-away when I know what I need to do, but just need to get in the zone to get it done. Plus, being surrounded by books can be a great intellectual motivator!

This is by no means a comprehensive list of study spots and there are plenty of other spots around campus that Ipek and Rachel have elaborated in detail here and here. Rachel even suggests study spots matched by personality type, which is really cool! One place I plan to check out next is the Granoff Music Center (20 Talbot Avenue).

Will report back soon!