Category Archives: Professional Development

Reflections of an International Student

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.

Art Sale @ SMFA at Tufts

Logo artwork by SMFA Print faculty Rhoda Rosenberg

Written by Lennon Wolcott, M.F.A. 2017

Recently I was in a Lyft talking with the driver about the greater Boston community. As he was a Boston native, we discussed the things one learns when moving to the area for school.  As I was telling him that I had graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, he turned his head and said “Wait, so you’re an artist?” His shock subsided, and he asked what kind of work I made, then followed up to my response with “I never would have thought you were an artist because you’re so open and social.”

I smiled politely, and informed him that I had grown to be open and in dialog about my work from my years at SMFA at Tufts. I told him that artists thrive with connection, engagement, and the kind of community support I had experienced.

The misconception that artists are sullen creatures, only found tormented and lamenting in their studios is out of date and counterintuitive to the artist’s educational path. Sure, artists can be frustrated like anyone else, however artists pursue graduate arts education not only for instruction, but to build a network of trusted mentors and colleagues. One of the aspects that I love about the SMFA community is its focused events, such as the upcoming SMFA Art Sale.

Every year, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts welcomes alumni, faculty, and the supporting community to come back to the school to showcase and sell their work in the sale. The event gives alumni a voice within the school while at the same time provides the greater Boston community with a chance to view and purchase work by established and emerging artists. Like many of my colleagues, mentors, and friends, I look forward to the opening reception and the chance to catch up with the contemporary Boston community and see some amazing artwork that will be exhibited and sold!

This year, the sale opens on Thursday, November 15th with a public reception that evening and runs through Sunday, November 18th. This is a great opportunity to engage with the artistic community of SMFA at Tufts, and perhaps strike up a conversation with some amazing artists.

 

OPENING RECEPTION Please join the SMFA community on Thursday, November 15, at 5:30 p.m., for light fare, cash bar, music, and more!

PUBLIC DAYS Thursday, November 15–Saturday, November 17, 11:00 a.m.– 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, November 18, 11:00 a.m.– 5:00 p.m.

SCHOOL OF THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS AT TUFTS 230 The Fenway, Boston, MA 02115

FOR MORE INFORMATION call 617-627-SMFA (7632) or email SMFAartsale@tufts.edu.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Being a TA

Written by Priyanjana Pramanik, Economics M.A. 2018

I’ve been a TA now for a little more than a year, which means that I have wisdom to share (not really, but I’ll try). Being a teaching assistant has been exhausting, rewarding, and, much to my surprise, quite enjoyable. Now, this might be a little disorganized, but I’ll try to make it as educational as possible. I’ll skip the basics: you know the absolute no-no’s! I’m going to go straight to the stuff that I think is making me a better TA than I was before.

When I started out last year, I was absolutely terrified. I remembered every tiny bit of advice that I’d been given, including ‘never apologize’, ‘don’t let them know you’re afraid’, ‘never give out your cell phone number’, and loads more, but honestly, all that stuff just scared me more. My first recitation didn’t go well. Nor did the second. In fact, I don’t remember feeling like I’d done justice to a single recitation session the entire semester.

Which brings me to my first don’t. Don’t make the recitation about yourself. It’s very easy to do that because you’re in front of a classroom, and you have performance anxiety, and you feel continuously judged. But it isn’t about how you do. Your job is to get through the material that you’ve been told to cover, because the students in your recitation need help with it. They’re struggling with concepts that you, the grad student, already know, and you can help them! It’s all about them. While it may seem pretty basic, making my recitations about the students and what they needed, instead of focusing on how I was doing, improved my performance in recitations a great deal.

However, all the best intentions in the world aren’t going to help you if you aren’t familiar with the material. This is especially true for concepts that you’ve known for a very long time. For me, as an economics grad student, that includes things related to probability, random variables and other statistical matters that I’ve been working with now for about five years. (Yes, five years.) And the problem with being over-familiar with concepts is that they seem simple to you, and you don’t simplify them enough when explaining them. You skip steps because in your mind, they’re obvious. The way out is simple. Prepare for recitations! Especially if it’s stuff you know. Sometimes I practice my spiel for lab sessions on my classmates. Occasionally I’ve practiced over Skype on my long-suffering boyfriend.

There are two other very good reasons for preparing for recitations. One is that it makes you feel less nervous. The other is that you can focus less on the material and more on how students are responding to it. You become more aware when they understand something you just said, and when it wasn’t clear enough. Making eye contact also helps. For someone like me, that can be a challenge, but it’s extremely useful.

Try and make things interactive. This year, for example, when I’m doing practice problems with my recitation section, I’ve had them make little groups. I give them a few minutes to work on it, and then we go through it together. Students feel more comfortable sharing their work when they’re not alone. They get nervous too!

Last pieces of advice. Don’t sweat the grading. Put some music on, be as consistent as you can, and don’t think too much about it. Set boundaries. Don’t set a precedent for always responding to emails in half an hour, or having extra meetings for students who can’t make it to office hours. I try to be as accommodating as I can, but it’s important to get the message across that you have a lot on your plate too. A lot. Don’t look at other TAs and think, I wish I could do such a good job. Be yourself, and you’re going to find a teaching style that makes you absolutely awesome. Finally, ask for help whenever you’re unsure. The professor you work with will be happy to clear up any doubts you have.

Anyway, remember those horrible recitations I was having last fall? When I got back to school for the Spring semester, I found a card in my mailbox from one of my students, thanking me and telling me that they really appreciated what I’d done in recitations. Guess I wasn’t such a bad TA after all.

 

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.

A Tufts life in retrospect

Written by Jiali Liu, Philosophy M.A. 2017

As my tenure at Tufts is approaching an end (graduation is this month and my dear mother is travelling from China to the ceremony!), I come to think about my past two-year experience in this community and I feel truly lucky and honored. In philosophy, I have met and studied under devoted professional philosophers who introduced me to their scholarly research and showed me their dedication to teaching. These philosophers also care deeply about my personal growth and wellbeing, besides providing strong support to my academic learning. I would miss the Monday night dinner date with Professor Jody Azzouni where we joke about politics and engage in endless bantering. I would miss Professor Christiana Olfert’s office hours where we share with each other ideas about the Protagoras, the Pyrrhonian skepticism, or the intersectional feminism and resistance. I would miss Professor George Smith who told me about me his departure from and eventual return to philosophy when I made the difficult decision to not go into a PhD program. It is in this kind of mentor environment that I spent my past every day, gradually acquiring the ability to read philosophy, to use critical analysis, and to argue for what I believe in.

Tufts has also given me numerous opportunities to expand my professional interests and interact with the wider community. As a Graduate Writing Consultant, I work with students on a daily basis on their writing projects, from term papers to dissertations, from applications to research proposals, and I have never stopped being fascinated by their ideas and experiences – there was a qualitative research thesis about water collection systems in Ghana; there was a summer fieldwork fellowship on the effect of new charter schools on public educational resources in Boston; there was a heartbreaking personal story about living in contemporary America as a South Sudanese refugee struggling to cope with homesickness and identity issues. In helping my students navigate their thoughts and arguments, I joined their journey to becoming better writers and thinkers and to a better understanding of themselves. In turn, I thoroughly enjoyed this collaborative writing process and developed a keen interest in public service.

Last, but of course not the least, Tufts has given me a network of awesome colleagues and friends. After more than a year of teaching and tutoring, I would run into my students on campus and catch up with their new developments. Every thank-you they said to me means tremendously as I know I took part in their story. My colleagues from the Academic Resource Center continue doing workshop lunches together, sharing teaching methods and encouraging each other for future endeavor. Many of my friends from the program are also going onto top-notch PhD programs or law schools, and I know I could count on them for support whenever I need any. This precious group of people whom I have met at Tufts through all different ways greatly enriches my life and I put trust in their potentials in shaping the world and making a difference.

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)!

Making the most of your time at Tufts – Workshops

Written by Amanda Franklin, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

As I’m nearing the end of my degree things have been getting busy! I’m trying to publish results from my first two experiments, writing grants for a summer project, working with undergraduates on two ongoing research projects and teaching a biostatistics class. I’m also starting to think about what I want to do when I finish. It’s all very exciting, but I decided it’d be helpful to find out some tips for managing my various grad school commitments and more information about life after grad school.

Luckily for me, Tufts coordinates professional development workshops. These workshops cover sooooo many topics: grant writing, time management, conflict resolution, presentation skills…. the list goes on!

The most recent workshop I went to was actually coordinated by the Tufts Postdoc Association. It was about preparing a resume for jobs outside academia. It is great to have this kind of info available since many professors can’t help much with this career path. Well, at least in my field most professors don’t have much experience outside academia.

The workshop was great. It’s been so long since I’ve had to have a proper two page resume. Mine was in terrible form (which I knew before the workshop). It was run by White Consulting and they gave us a bunch of tips about how to focus on output and achievements rather than just on skills and experience. Also, what information should be included and what information should be forefront on the resume (hint: not education!). Really useful stuff!

I also recently went to a workshop called “Taming Your Grad School Schedule”, about time management and organization.  Sounds like basic information that you should already know by the time you’re in grad school, but I found it really useful and it kicked me into gear.

They gave us several tips on how to organize your time, and schedule in work. Several ideas were things I’d heard of before but had forgotten about (or been too lazy to do). But it was nice to be reminded of them and hear how other grad students manage their time and writing projects (I always find starting to write is the hardest part!). After the workshop I made much better progress on my writing and on meeting deadlines.

The next workshop I plan on attending is about interviewing skills. I’m hoping this gives me that extra boost to land a job when I’m finished at Tufts. I’m also planning on attending the next Editing for Style workshop when it runs again. Could always use to tips to polish off my writing!