Written by Audrey Balaska, Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering: Human-Robot interaction
There have been a lot of changes this semester as we adjust our campus environment to keep people safe during a pandemic. Now, this is understandably a difficult transition, and there are some things that just aren’t possible right now. But, there are some resources that are still available, just in a different format!
Specifically, I’m talking about the Nolop Fabrication, Analysis, Simulation and Testing (FAST) Facility located in the Science and Engineering Complex at Tufts. Nolop was founded thanks to a generous gift from the estate of Keith Nolop, and includes the Stricker Family Genius Bar funded by Jane and Rob Stricker, E69, and the Byrne Advanced Machining Area made possible by Dan Byrne, E76. Normally a popular spot for students to hang out, work on projects, and let their creativity thrive, Nolop is understandably closed to in-person involvement this semester. However, Nolop is offering remote services, where the makerspace employees will fulfill your requests for laser cutting, 3-D printing, or soldering!
More detailed information is located on the Nolop webpage, or you can read about the types of projects made by students last year in this Tufts Now article. As an example, though, here is the process for how I got some laser-cut parts for my home project of making a place to hang my masks.
Step 1: Using a CAD software (OnShape), I created my design for what I wanted cut.
Step 2: I shared my design with Nolop employees on the laser cutting channel (of the Nolop Slack group). When I explained that I wanted my design cut out so that I could paint it, they gave me advice on what material would be best for painting (a list of materials available for purchase from Nolop are located here).
Step 3: When the parts were ready, I picked them up from the station outside of the makerspace.
Step 4: And using wooden boards, clothespins, paint, and glue, I created my final product!
Now, I’m an engineering student, but Nolop is open to everybody at Tufts! This semester, they are offering 3 services remotely: 3D Printing, Laser Cutting, and Soldering. You can use these services for personal projects, class assignments, or just to learn more about technology and design. The Nolop slack channel is also a place where people ask for advice on projects they are working on, share interesting links, and are just a general part of the Nolop community.
Written by Ebru Ece Gulsan, Ph.D. student in Chemical Engineering
I bet none of us imagined the rest of the semester going like this after Spring Break. We are slowly transitioning to distance learning and a home office routine not only as a community, but also as students from around the globe. Although staying at home gives us some extra time for our hobbies and self-care, eliminates our commute time, and maybe saves us some money, it could also hinder our productivity and motivation to maintain our routine.
Personally, I always need to be in an office, library or a coffee shop to get things done. Knowing that I’m 5 steps away from my bed and there are tons of snacks in the fridge is never helpful. I am sure other Jumbos are on the same page, so I wanted to share some useful apps that I use to keep myself on track, no matter how inclined I am to procrastinate at home. These apps are not only for your daily tasks like research or homework, but also for other productive activities like reading or exercising.
Having said that, you do NOT have to be productive ALL THE TIME. If you are failing to make the most of your time at home, this does not mean that you are not self-compassionate. Please do not feel pressured by the fact that Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” in quarantine, while you might have had cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner yesterday because you couldn’t bring yourself to cook. Everything is upside down now and you get to define what success is for you.
Be gentle to yourself, make time for your hobbies, relax, and do not forget to call your loved ones. In the meanwhile, there is no harm sharing what helps you stay organized during this time.
An all-in-one workspace for your notes
Notion provides you a workspace you can access through all your devices. This is by far my favorite productivity and organizational tool I have used. You can create and keep track of to-do lists, tasks, projects, notes, and ideas, and even enrich them with media, icons, webpages, publications, or any other useful reference you can imagine. The best thing is that when you add references to your lists, you have the chance of accessing them even if you are not online. It is also possible to share your lists and collaborate with other Notion users. The app operates on nested pages which saves us from messy folder organizations. Overall, for me Notion is a very versatile, smooth, user friendly and useful app that helps with my routine (and is free!).
Having weekly or daily to-do lists is great for productivity; but for me documenting long term goals and my progress towards those is key to staying motivated. Day One is an excellent journaling app not only for tasks and projects, but also for personal growth. It provides you a safe digital space to store your memories, thoughts and dreams, either with pictures or words.
Set Yourself a Reading Challenge
Is there a better time than a stay-home period to finish those books you had started months ago but have not had time to get back to? In theory, yes! But in practice, not really. I don’t know if it is just me, but I find it very difficult sometimes to reach to that book sitting on my nightstand although I have all the time in the world.
This app is such a life saver; you can use Goodreads to set a “reading challenge” and keep track of your progress. The app also sends you notifications and reminders to motivate you to get back on track. You can see what your friends are reading, where they are at their own challenge, how they felt about their books, what they want to read next. The app will also use an algorithm to give you recommendations for your tastes and interests over time, which motivates you even more to finish that book and start those new excellent recommendations.
Track Your Workouts
It is especially difficult for folks in Boston to stay home all day, considering the year-round 5 AM runners all around the city. I love being active, and have been lucky enough to have access to excellent athletic facilities provided by Tufts. I have been using the Strong app to keep track of my exercises, make customized workout routines, and record my progress. The additional benefit of Strong is that it allows the user to define details about their workouts.
You do not have to be outside to be active! There are plenty of exercises and reasonably priced weights to purchase online. My personal favorites are resistance bands, a kettlebell (preferably on the heavier side to use for full body exercises which engage bigger muscle groups, mine is around 20 pounds for reference) and dumbbells. They last a lifetime, are compact and easy to store. For inspiration, YouTube has some excellent free channels to safely guide you through creating your home exercise routine, and many yoga studios also started live streaming for their clients.
Please do not forget that this is stressful time for all of us, but we are doing our best. Extend some grace to yourself and appreciate how we adjust ourselves to a situation which seemed unimaginable a few weeks ago. The most helpful approach I took during this transition was to treat the day as a regular day in my office. I woke up early and got ready for the day, had my gear together, set up a workplace, and most importantly, I set boundaries for my work hours and leisure hours. But there were also days I did not get any work done, which I learned to be okay with.
So, do not overwhelm yourself and find what works for you. Stay in touch with your co-workers, classmates, and principal investigator. Organize get-togethers with that friend who you studied abroad with, who you never get a chance to FaceTime anymore. Call your parents. Treat yourself with some self-care. Most importantly, be gentle to yourself and to your loved ones.
By Audrey Balaska, Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering: Human-Robot Interaction
Graduate students are known for their passion, enthusiasm, and dedication to working hard. When I decided to apply for Ph.D. programs, I started hearing jokes and comments about how I was going to have no life because I was going to spend all of my time working.
Now, I love my research, and I really have no issues with occasionally doing research on the weekend, or working late into the night on my homework. At the same time, I also enjoy having friends outside of my classes and lab. When I first came to Tufts, I found myself wondering:
How am I going to prevent my program from taking over my entire life?
Some people in graduate school have families nearby or other commitments that automatically force them to have some semblance of a work-life balance. But as a single woman who is the only member of her family living in Massachusetts and who knows very few people who live in the area, I had no commitments except to my program when I first moved to Medford.
Graduate students often do not work from 9:00am-5:00pm, or even have a set schedule at all. Some days I have classes in the morning, while other days my classes start as late as 6:00pm. With such an irregular schedule, how do I recognize if I am working too much, or not enough?
I have two strategies:
One thing that I do is document my hours that I work on my research in a spreadsheet. This helps me keep track of how much I am actually working. I hold myself accountable both so that I’m working enough, and also not overworking myself.
The other thing that I did is I took up social dancing lessons (for those of you who are unfamiliar with social dancing, think Dancing with the Stars but without the routines). A few days a week I practice ballroom and Latin dancing for 45 minutes at a time.
Social dancing has led to so many benefits in my life: I get more exercise, I’ve made friends outside of the Tufts community, and I force myself to take a break from being a graduate student. I’ve also found that I’ve become more productive at work since I’ve started taking the mental breaks that I needed.
I’m not saying that all graduate students should take up social dancing, but I think that graduate students benefit from making “fun” commitments that are difficult to get out of. Maybe you make a pact with some friends from your classes that you will all go out together once a month. Or maybe you buy a ski pass for the winter. Or maybe you make a deal with a friend that the two of you will go for one hike a week.
Whatever it is you decide to do, it is important to commit to fun, rather than just treating it as an afterthought. I promise it will make your entire graduate experience more productive and more balanced!
Written by Ebru Ece Gulsan, Ph.D. student in Chemical Engineering
“This year I will be very productive and organized”.
“This year I will lose those extra 10 pounds”.
It’s been a little bit more than one year since I made the big decision to enroll at Tufts and open a new door for my career, but it still feels like yesterday to me. Did time really fly? Why do I still tend to introduce myself as “Hi, I’m a first year PhD student in…” although I’m approaching to the middle of my second year here? Why do I still have the same resolutions as last year? Was I not supposed to work harder to achieve these goals? Did I not do anything in 2019?
No, I did plenty of things in 2019! I traveled to a new country, kayaked in an abandoned bay at midnight to watch bioluminescence, learned a new programming language, completed my first winter hike (yay!), successfully drove a manual car in Powder House Square’s circle (yay! #2). I went to a small village in Slovakia to be the bridesmaid in a very good friend of mine’s wedding. I also was late to the wedding because I missed a turn while driving up to Slovakia and ended up in a different country. No, I did not attend a scientific conference this year (which I wanted to so badly), but I learned how to apply to one. I did not publish an article, but I started writing the “methods” section. I lost someone very special to me and I learned (or I’m still learning) how to tackle it. I made huge mistakes in my research which seemed irremediable at the time, but I still figured out how to make a great come back. I did not start writing the travel blog that I have always wanted to. Instead, I made a portfolio for my photography archive. I picked up a new hobby. Then I decided not to pick up another hobby. I did so many things, either planned or unplanned, but 2019 was full of things!
This photo is from December 2018, in my favorite bakery, good old Tatte, located in my favorite neighborhood, Beacon Hill. I remember exactly how I was feeling when I took this photo. I was cold (obviously), pretty homesick, overwhelmed by the amount of responsibilities I had, but also incredibly grateful, proud and euphoric. I could never know that I would find my home away from home in this city, establish lifelong friendships, meet eminent scientists and even work with them, fall in love, then cry over a man, cry over a failed experiment, and cry over a lost Python script. Then I fell in love with another man, tried that experiment one more time and fail again, and then wrote that lost script once more from scratch only to find that it was easier this time. I cried over the same experiment again, but this time it was because I finally figured it out.
2019 was full of things, but why do I still have this feeling that it was not enough?
Sometimes we lose ourselves in the big picture and forget to check the boxes for our smaller achievements. Success should not be described as an end point. Instead, every single step towards this goal should be counted as success. Success is not always tangible. Sometimes not giving up is a lot more difficult and important than achieving the actual goal. But if we keep focusing on and glorifying our end points, what we do on the way to those points start to seem insignificant. We find ourselves questioning our ability to reach our goals and think that we are not enough.
So just remember, you achieved so many things in 2019 – even though you are not aware of it yet. Every single decision you made and every single action you took brought you a little bit closer to your New Year’s resolution, be it starting grad school, publishing that paper, or learning how to drive a manual car.
I want to close the year with a realization in how we tend to evaluate ourselves. I have an ideal self in my mind that I strive to be. But I should keep reminding myself that this ideal self did not appear out of nowhere. She worked hard to be that person. If I want to be her, the first thing I should do is to realize that I am already her. Maybe 2019 was not the golden year, but it definitely laid the base for 2020 to have a chance. And if 2020 becomes that golden year, it owes everything to 2019.
The most prominent factors I considered when looking at graduate school programs
By Audrey Balaska, Mechanical Engineering: Human-Robot Interaction Ph.D. Student
As you may have figured out, I am a graduate student at Tufts University. Specifically, I am a first-year student in the Mechanical Engineering and Human-Robot Interaction joint Ph.D. program. Before coming to Tufts, I received my B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of New Hampshire in May 2019.
Since I’m such a new student, the application process is still fresh in my mind. One of the steps I found the most challenging was deciding which schools to apply to and then which position to actually accept. I’m going to talk about my personal journey, and if this doesn’t resonate with you, that’s ok! There are many paths one can take to get to graduate school
Deciding where to apply to
When I was considering schools, I learned about them in a variety of ways. Some I found through online research on labs which had rehabilitation engineering as a research area. Others I remembered from my search for undergraduate programs. Some I learned about because faculty recommended them to me based on my research interests. And some, like Tufts, I learned about at a graduate school fair.
Rather than inundate you with further information regarding every school I looked at, I’m going to explain to you why I decided to apply to Tufts, and why I ultimately decided to come here for my graduate degree.
Like I said, I learned about Tufts University from a graduate school fair – specifically, the one at the Tau Beta Pi (the oldest engineering honors society in the United States) National Convention in Fall 2018. While a decent number of schools were represented at this fair, I did not apply to all of them. I first decided to look more into Tufts because the representative from Tufts University showed genuine enthusiasm for the school, and was able to tell me some specific aspects of Tufts University I might find interesting after I told her my research interests. Having someone so knowledgeable about the school at the fair reflected really well to me. Just because someone you meet from a school isn’t in your research area, doesn’t mean they don’t reflect the university’s community and environment.
Meeting someone from the graduate admissions staff wasn’t enough to get me to apply, though. That occurred when I researched the program more and found classes and research labs closely related to my own research interests.
Deciding to Attend Tufts
Then, I got into Tufts University, along with a couple of other schools. That was when I had to make the big decision of where to spend the next 4-6 years of my life.
One thing that I didn’t consider much when applying to schools, but definitely did at this stage, was the location. I realized after some thought that I really wanted to be close to a city, or even in one. That caused me to decline one school, and pushed Tufts even higher on my list.
Another thing that I really liked about Tufts was the graduate student environment. Tufts University has some awesome graduate student organizations, and hosts multiple professional and social events each semester. Not all universities have this, and it was something I was excited to see existed at Tufts.
Most importantly, however, was my advisor. I got to speak with him via Skype during my winter break after I applied, and then got to meet him in person once I had been accepted to the program. Both times I found that I liked his personality, his research, and his leadership style. Honestly, having met him, it became very easy to say yes to Tufts. If you are applying to doctoral programs, make sure you take the time to try and meet your potential advisors. I had other potential advisors whose research appealed to me, but found that when talking to them our personalities were not a great match.
Ultimately, when deciding on a graduate program it is crucial to decide what is most important to you. I realized I cared a lot more about my location than I initially thought, but some people I know really had not cared about where their school was. Before deciding on a school, take the time to decide what is actually important to you. Maybe, one day, the school that you pick will be Tufts!
Written by Penelope Seagrave, Human Factors M.S. 2018
Finishing my graduate certificate gave me the boost I needed to make a difference in my company. Now, equipped with certification, my suggestions hold more weight, and working with a few other colleagues, I was able to form a UX Guild. We have biweekly meetings where we cover UX opportunities within cross functional departments. I have been able to knock down feedback silos and have further strengthened interdepartmental communication channels.
Throughout my career, there have been many times when I have been dying to fix problems in design. I have always had an immutable urge to improve designs to optimize efficiency, enjoyment, and overall flow. Countless times I have brought my concerns and ideas to team leads, project managers, and designers. Sometimes they would consider my suggestions and implement them, other times they would state that there were other matters of higher priority. Whatever the excuse, and all too often, my ideas and suggestions were ignored.
Completing the certificate in Human-Computer Interaction at Tufts finally gave my suggestions the weight necessary to be taken seriously. Not only was I viewed as more credible, I now had lessons and fundamentals to corroborate that credibility.
Additionally, the certificate route enabled me to concretely affirm my interest and excitement about my field. I am now enrolled in the master’s program for Human Factors Engineering, and I am on the board for THFES (Tufts Human Factors and Ergonomics Society). If you see any cute flyers/ Facebook posts for THFES, I designed those! I am utterly obsessed and indefatigably fascinated with learning as much as I can in my field.
Beyond the professional and academical growth my certificate has allowed me, I am so proud of myself for following my dreams and working hard to fulfill them. Balancing work, school, and being a kitty-mommy is no lazy Sunday. I am constantly on the go or working on a project or assignment. But I have sincerely never been prouder of myself. And it has been so worth it.
Written by Manisha Raghavan, Bioengineering M.S. 2019
I made a vital journey over 12,239 kms (or should I say 7,605 miles) to get to where I am today. I moved to Boston on the 24th of August 2018, leaving everything that was close to my heart back in Mumbai, India. I knew I wanted to pursue a graduate degree in Biomedical Engineering ever since I was in college. But no matter how far ahead you plan your life, when it comes to crossing the bridge, there is always going to be a tingling sensation in the body. Now that it has been over a year in Boston, I wanted to chronicle my experience in this foreign land from my perspective.
From changing the way I read temperature, write down dates, and measure distances, almost every subtle change made me feel uncomfortable in the first few weeks. New faces, new relationships, new friends, and new challenges are few of the facets of life at grad school. More often than not, if you are an international student, people will ask you ‘Why did you choose Tufts?’ To be honest, I chose Tufts because my program curriculum matched my interests, and being in Boston as a biomedical engineer felt like the best decision in terms of my career. I was more excited than nervous coming here because I felt like I was doing something monumental with my life. I am sure each one of you incoming and current grad students feel the same way!
But my transition was not easy. Small events like buying groceries, doing laundry, paying bills, cleaning the house, and cooking for myself made me miss my family back home and I ended up realizing their value and how little I had appreciated the things I was provided with at home. But sooner or later, I had to reconcile with the fact that I was a responsible and independent woman who chose to move to the US.
As an international student, there were moments when I did crave the company of fellow Indians, or good Indian food. These normal feelings will happen to you as well, but do not let that stop you from learning about other cultures and exploring other cuisines. I wanted to make the best of my time over here, and I ended up signing for all the professional development workshops, seminars and talks that I could. One issue I faced was that I hesitated to ask for help because I was afraid of bothering people. Do not make the same mistake that I did! All of the organizations at Tufts are super helpful and if they are unable to help you, they will direct you to the right person. Winter was challenging, but I survived, and so will you if this is your first Boston winter. Above all, over the last year I learned to appreciate myself, my people, and the little things around me so much more.
I will leave you with a few things if you are heading to Tufts for grad school. Talk, connect, and socialize whilst taking care of your priorities. Explore and travel as much as you can. Be excited about crafting your own path and journey. But most importantly, take care of yourself! I still have a year to go before graduation and with every passing day I know I am going to miss this beautiful place even more.
Written by Ece Gulsan, Chemical Engineering Ph.D. student
Let me tell you something that you’ve probably never heard before: grad school is tough. It requires hard work, dedication, and spending most of your time deep-diving into whatever you are working on. Even though we are lucky enough to perform our studies on a truly beautiful campus, we spend most of our time in our classes, labs or study areas. Because of this, removed from nature! Along with the significant health benefits of fresh air, nature has a lot to offer us. Spending time outside provides physical (and mental) rejuvenation, helps you to cope with stress, enhances your mood, reduces anxiety, and muscle tension. You focus better, become more creative, and improve your problem-solving skills. Luckily, even grad students have weekends, and the Greater Boston Area couldn’t be located in a more strategic position for weekend getaways. It doesn’t take more than a couple of hours to drive to get to the most beautiful mountains of the East Coast, stunning lakes, and gorgeous national parks. Here are my favorite destinations to spend some quality time in nature, which are very convenient to visit either as a day trip or overnight stay.
What to bring:
Hiking gear, sturdy shoes
Lunch and some snacks
A light jacket, it can be windy up there
White Mountains National Forest, New Hampshire
This state offers shopping with no sales tax and many mountains with several trail options for hiking. It takes approximately two hours to drive from Medford, depending on where you are heading. White Mountains National Forest is a personal favorite, as it houses the majority of 4,000 footer mountains in the area (mountains which have an elevation of at least 4,000 feet). Mount Washington, the tallest and the most famous one, is definitely a must-go, but there are some other options for those who are not very experienced in hiking.
Cannon Mountain is 4,100 feet high, and very convenient for visitors since it has a parking lot right next to the beginning of the hike. The hike is steep, and offers a fascinating view if you can make it all the way up to the summit. Even if you cannot, the mountain has some sub-peaks called “The Cannon Balds,” which are great places to have your lunch in the woods with an awesome view of mountains. If you feel lazy, but still want to see the view, there is a family-friendly cable car which can carry you up to the top, but I highly recommend you to take the high road and reward yourself with well-deserved cold beer at the observatory. If you are an experienced hiker, you can try a steep trail loop to North and South Kinsman. To turn your day trip into a longer visit, stay at the affordable and convenient Fransted Family Campground nearby and stop at Franconia Notch State Park and Echo Lake for more hiking and sunset views, and One Love Brewery for food and fun.
*Pro-tip: It is awesome to watch sunset on the mountains, but be prepared to go all the way down in pitch dark.
Acadia National Park, Maine
For a longer trip, I recommend Acadia National Park in Maine. It takes approximately four hours to drive there from Medford. If it will be your first time in Acadia, I suggest you camp in Black Woods,since it is very close to the main trails and mountains.
*Pro-tip: Book your spot in advance! They are very likely to be sold out.
The best time to visit this mountain is late summer and early autumn. Maine is a very cold state, so bring some warm clothing in addition to your camping gear—I wore my Christmas socks at night to keep myself warm… in August!
Start exploring with Ocean Trail, which is the most popular and easiest trail of the park, and runs along the beautiful Atlantic coastline. You can hop on the rocks if you feel adventurous to get closer to the water.
If you are in Acadia, you must watch the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain – you will be the first to watch the sunrise in the entire country! Start climbing at 3:00 am (or drive up later) and you’ll be rewarded with one of the best views around.
If you want to challenge yourself, Beehive trail is a two-hour, strenuous climb offering crystal clear lakes and a beautiful view at the summit.
Another steep trail is Precipice Trail, which is more demanding than Beehive but more beautiful. Avoid this trail if you have fear of heights, as you will be climbing over rocks and walking along the edges of cliffs. Prepare yourself mentally and bring a lot of water if you feel comfortable tackling this hike.
There’s nothing better than taking a dip right after a long and exhausting hike! Take a break at Bar Harbor Beach and enjoy the sun on the sand after swimming in ice-cold ocean. Follow your beach break with some seafood in Portland, Maine, on your way back to Medford.
There are many other places New England offers to us. A weekend trip to Cape Cod to enjoy beautiful shore and the national park before it gets bloody cold is a great idea, and it is only two hours away. Take the ferry to visit Martha’s Vineyard for even more. Vermont is a bit further away, but southern east part of this state has amazing mountains where you can witness stunning fall foliage. Check out the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes for a day trip.
Boston is beautiful, but it doesn’t hurt to travel away to spend some time in nature. Your body and your mind will thank you!