Category Archives: Professional Development

Oh no, I have to do a practicum!

Written by Abigail Epplett, M.A. student in Museum Education

If you’re a newly minted grad student or looking to join a program, you’re probably aware that many master’s and certificate programs require students to complete a practicum. What does this mean? Think of a practicum as an independent work-study class where you gain experience in your chosen field. In some ways, it is similar to an internship, but practicums may require classwork, depending on the program. The method of placement varies between disciplines. Since my area of expertise is in Museum Studies, I’m going to focus on this model of practicum.

Looff Carousel, Slater’s Park in Pawtucket, RI – photo by Vicki Francesconi-Sullivan

What do you need? Who do you know? What can you do?

The first step to completing a practicum is finding an institution willing to host you. As I mentioned earlier, the method of placement varies between disciplines. Some departments place students in practicums. In Museum Studies, the student find their host institution on their own. As you can imagine, finding a host institution during the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions adds some challenges. Yikes! To make the process easier and less scary, try asking yourself these three questions: “What do I need?”, “Who do I know?”, and “What can I do?”.

Let’s start with the first question: What do you need? What is required for your practicum? Are there any limitations or deadlines to keep in mind? Each practicum lasts a certain number of hours and must be completed at a specific type of organization. For example, my practicum needed to last for at least 125 hours over the Summer 2020 session, and it needed to be held at a cultural institution. Due to the complications surrounding COVID-19, students in the Summer 2020 session could petition for extra time to complete their practicum. I did not need additional time, but it’s something to keep in mind if you are worried about getting your hours completed, especially if you already work a full-time job.

While the requirement to work at a cultural institution might initially seem pretty limiting, a wide range of organizations fall into this category. Working at a museum is an obvious choice, but during the Spring and Summer 2020, most museums were closing and furloughing staff. Visitors centers, university galleries, and museum-related businesses were likewise closed. What was I going to do?

This brings me to the second question: Who do you know? What are your connections to the industry? Who understands your potential? The idea of networking is frequently discussed in any academic setting, whether visiting a fair or workshop held by career services or learning from professors during class time and office hours. During COVID-19, I reached out to my network to find an organization to host my practicum and found a willing organization a few miles from my house: Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc. (BHC). This opportunity was so obvious that I nearly overlooked it. I had run or driven past the building that housed the BHC offices two or three times a day for most of my life, and had begun volunteering with BHC in January 2020, a mere four months before applying for a practicum there. This short amount of time was enough for them to see my potential and offer me a practicum opportunity.

Finally, we’ve come to the final question: What can I do? What talents make me stand out from other practicum-seeking students? How will I bring a unique skillset to the organization? If you are in the museum program, it’s a given that you know a lot about art, history, and education. Similarly, someone looking for a teaching practicum needs to know a lot about classroom management and pedagogy, while someone seeking a laboratory practicum understands scientific practices and research methods. But there are many skills outside of standard curriculum that are part of daily work and valuable to organizations. Do you design beautiful and engaging presentation slides? Are you great at troubleshooting problems with technology? Are you experienced in photography and video editing? These skills are important for any organization, especially cultural institutions with limited funding and small staffs, and will make you stand out to your potential host.

A Brief Note on Supervisors

A major component of the practicum is the onsite supervisor. This is an employee of the organization who will act as your mentor during your practicum. They make up your practicum “team”, which also includes you and your academic advisor. The supervisor has to fill out paperwork and attend at least one meeting with you and your advisor during your practicum. That being said, while it is not always possible to choose your supervisor, like when your department places you in a practicum, if you are required to find your own practicum, make sure your personality meshes with that of your supervisor. Try to meet them in person ahead of time before making a commitment. During my practicum at BHC, I worked with Suzanne, the Volunteer Coordinator, which was a great match. I had previously met Suzanne through volunteering at BHC, so I knew we would get along well.

Talk to Me, Baby

“Hunt House” – photo by Suzanne Buchanan

A less interesting title for this section might be, “Communication is key.” You’ve heard this throughout undergrad, high school, and even earlier, but this is still a difficult concept for some people, especially because there is such a range of communication methods and styles. On one end are people who view communication as a biweekly, five-minute phone call. On the other end are those who want frequent updates via email, text, and video chat. When these two people work together, chaos ensues.

Communicating with your supervisor is a major aspect of the practicum, especially when many practicums must happen remotely during COVID-19 restrictions. What helped me to communicate during my practicum was setting up a schedule of the entire practicum and sharing it with Suzanne. The schedule showed when we needed to have face-to-face meetings, whether they were over Zoom or in person, and what projects I needed to work on. I also sent regular updates on my projects and asked questions via email. Because we had agreed upon a schedule ahead of time, I never felt confused through lack of communication, even when the schedule inevitably changed.

Finally, Paperwork

The main difference that I found between a practicum and an internship was the classwork. The Museum Studies practicum comes with its own course on Tufts’ online course management site, Canvas, where students answer questions, complete self-evaluations, and submit a final paper. During my practicum, this component happened asynchronously, and I had no trouble completing the work, but it is one more thing to remember. Also, time spent completing classwork does not count toward your practicum hours, so you need to figure that into your schedule.

Your practicum supervisor also has to fill out a small amount of paperwork, mainly to verify that you are indeed working at the organization. This is where having a personality match with your supervisor is especially helpful: someone who enjoys working with you is much more likely to leave a glowing review than someone who dislikes you or is ambivalent about your existence.

Wrap It All Up

Ultimately, your practicum is intended to be an experience in the “real world” of your industry under the guidance of seasoned professionals and your academic advisor. It’s a great way to learn your likes and dislikes in the field, along with gaining new skills and making connections. Good luck finding the practicum that is perfect for you!

Working with the Nolop Makerspace at Tufts

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. 

From the Classroom to the Field

Written by Ruaidhri Crofton, History and Museum Studies M.A. student

As a graduate student, much of your time will no doubt be spent attending classes or dedicated to other forms of research and study. However, being able to take what you have learned and apply it to “real world” scenarios through internships, fellowships, jobs, and other positions is another great learning experience that many students at Tufts will have the opportunity to engage in during their time at the university. Not only does this help to reinforce the information you have already learned through study, it also allows you to gain valuable new skills and knowledge outside of the classroom. This summer I was lucky to have an opportunity to do just that while working as the Camp Director of the Chase Ranch Museum in Cimarron, New Mexico. As someone pursuing a master’s in History and Museum Studies, this seasonal position provided me with a great way to put many of the topics I had covered in classes to use, while simultaneously learning about the rich history of an often overlooked yet incredibly unique historic site in the rural Southwest.

When many people think of New Mexico, they likely picture a hot desert. Although the state is certainly is warm and often arid, much of its land has been used for ranching and agriculture for a considerable portion of its history. This was particularly true in the Northeast corner of the state where the small village of Cimarron, population 903, is located. Having grown up in another town just an hour and a half or so south of here, I am used to “small town living”. However, living in Cimarron for three months was quiet even for me. There’s everything you may need: a couple of gas stations and restaurants, a few stores, a hotel, and a three-officer police force, but it’s certainly different from life in a city like Boston. Despite its size, Cimarron was once a bustling stop on the Santa Fe Trail, and home to trappers, ranchers, cowboys, miners, loggers, outlaws, and railway workers. Today, its main claim to fame is Philmont Scout Ranch—a 140,000 acre wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains run by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and visited by thousands of Scouts on hiking trips annually. In addition to their wilderness programs, the BSA also runs four museums on the property tasked with sharing the history of the area, including the one where I had the privilege of working this summer.

On a dirt road three miles outside of town sits the headquarters of the Chase Ranch. Originally hailing from Wisconsin, Theresa and Manly Chase first moved to the New Mexico Territory in 1867 and eventually purchased 1,000 acres of land in 1869 where their family would remain for the next 143 years and four generations. At their height, Manly and Theresa were managing an extensive cattle, horse, and sheep operation on over one million acres of land, in addition to running a dairy, a coal mine, and tending to an orchard of 6,000 fruit trees producing over 500,000 pounds of fruit annually. In the generations that would follow, the Chases continued their legacy of ranching and contributing to the Cimarron community. Gretchen Sammis, the last member of the Chase family to live on the ranch and the great-granddaughter of Manly and Theresa, was herself an award-winning rancher in addition to being an accomplished soil and water conservationist, teacher, and sports coach. Awarded Cattleman of the Year in 2008, both Gretchen and her Ranch Manager, Ruby Gobble, were also inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1982 and 1996 respectively.

Following Gretchen and Ruby’s deaths in 2012 and 2013, ownership of the ranch was passed on to the Chase Ranch Foundation, which today partners with Philmont Scout Ranch in a 50 year lease to open the now 11,000 acre ranch to Scouts on trek, maintain operation of the property as an active cattle ranch, and transform the historic 1871 ranch house into an educational museum open to all. This summer it was my task to ensure that the historic house museum was open for the 5,000 plus Scouts and other visitors we hosted over the course of three months. This included, among other things, training staff, leading tours, historic research, developing education programs, artifact care and cleaning, gardening, and occasionally helping to corral a runaway cow or two! As you can imagine, this was no small task, and I was very thankful to have a staff of fantastic colleagues to support the museum’s mission along the way.

I was also thankful for the insight professors and classmates in both the History and Museum Studies departments at Tufts had equipped me with throughout two semesters of coursework examining collections care, Southwestern history, and museum education, among other topics. Thanks to this baseline of knowledge, throughout my summer I gained experience in putting this information to work “in the field,” as well as a considerable amount of additional knowledge that helped me better understand best practices and approaches to museums and management. It was an incredible opportunity to not only work in this special place, but to also build upon what I had learned in the months leading up to it. Although certainly not everyone has an interest in working at a remote historic house museum, there is no shortage of opportunities that will fit your specific interests and goals, regardless of your program, and a similarly extensive number of resources at Tufts to help you find them. So do some research! You never know what cool experiences you might be able to find.

Adventures of a Tufts Teaching Assistant

Written by Alia Wulff, Cognitive Psychology Ph.D.

When I first was admitted into Tufts, I barely thought about the fact that I would need to be a teaching assistant. It was an abstract concept, something that graduate students naturally knew how to do or were taught how to do during some mythical three-month intensive course. I knew I would have to take on the role of a TA, but I didn’t know what it would mean.

Fast forward five months, and I was attending the teaching assistant orientation during my first week at Tufts. I sat down with my notebook and pencil in hand, ready to have all of the necessary knowledge to be a teaching assistant implanted into my brain. Two hours, at least a dozen speakers, and a whirlwind discussion with a current psychology TA later, I still had no idea what I would have to do. The Tufts orientation taught me everything I would know about the ethical obligations and workload expectations of a Tufts TA, but it would be impossible to have an orientation that would teach every individual TA their responsibilities for every class they would ever TA for. I left, full of questions and worry. The TAs I had in undergrad taught full classes, knew the answers to every single question, and graded papers. I didn’t know how to do any of that.

Then I went to my first class. I introduced myself to the class and saw the faces of 40 undergraduates staring back at me, full of excitement and concern and boredom in equal measures. I realized that I was going to be fine. I didn’t know every answer, but that wasn’t my responsibility. My only responsibility was to the 40 people in that room. I was not there to teach them everything about the subject, I was there to help them understand what had already been taught. Being worried would not help me help the students.

I created quizzes for that class, taking notes and writing questions from those notes. I pulled questions from the test bank and edited them to better align with the lecture. I graded activities. I had students come into my office confused about terms and definitions. I offered basic study topics and techniques if people expressed concern about testing abilities. I learned the name of almost every student in that class.

The semester seemed like it flew by if I marked the time according to the syllabus. The midterm came and went. Finals loomed, and suddenly my first semester as a teaching assistant was done. It was rewarding and educational and I appreciated everything I had learned about teaching and organizing a class. I even got positive teaching evaluations. One student referenced how much they appreciated that I took the time to learn their name. At the time, it seemed like just another task I had to do, but it actually made a difference in this student’s perception of me as a teacher. I took that to heart and still do my best to learn the name of everyone in my class.

The next semester I was assigned to a course that is generally taken further on in the program. I had to grade papers this time, which worried me at first. I quickly learned how to create a rubric and stick to it. My comments were short and to the point, but I always encouraged my students to come to me and talk about how to improve next time. I got evaluations that thanked me for my quick grading (and one that complained that I took too long), my feedback, and my helpful email responses. I also was told that I was too harsh of a grader and didn’t explain the requirements before I graded. I now make sure that I grade easier the first time a student makes a mistake and set expectations early.

This semester I am a teaching assistant to a course that requires me to teach a lab section once a week. I’ll admit that it still seems weird to be in front of the class, rather than sitting in the front row taking notes, but it’s a good weird. I’m learning even more about what I should be doing to help the students get the knowledge they need. Next semester I am not taking a TA position, as I have research assistant funding available. It will be nice to focus on my research, but it will also be strange not to be preparing for class every week. Being a teaching assistant was once a hugely foreign concept to me. Now I am not sure what grad school will be like without it.

GSO Spotlight: Tufts New Economy

Tufts New Economy members in the apple orchard at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics in 2017

Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. Candidate & featuring Alice Maggio, Urban and Environmental Policy & Planning M.A. student

One of the central parts of being a graduate student at Tufts is participating in Graduate Student Organizations (GSOs). Currently, the Graduate Student Council funds twenty GSOs that cover almost every academic department. We also have GSOs that aren’t academic-related. I recently sat down with Alice Maggio, a student leader with Tufts New Economy (TNE), to chat about this active GSO.

Brenna: Could you tell me a little about TNE?

Alice: Tufts New Economy was formed in 2013 with support from the New Economy Coalition, which was funding student groups around the country that wanted to investigate, imagine, and help create a more just and sustainable economy. Often, people seem to think that one needs to be an economist to understand the economy. But all of us live in the economy every day! In that sense, we are all economists. Many of us are here at Tufts because we have recognized injustices in the world and we would like to gain further knowledge, skills, and relationships to help us contribute to a more fair, beautiful, and sustainable world. What I have found is that many of the problems we face have their roots in the current economic system, where there is an overwhelming monoculture of capitalism. Tufts New Economy is a forum where Tufts students can take time to learn together about different, emerging economic models that seek to serve people and the planet, not just profit.

Brenna: What departments are involved?

Alice: Tufts New Economy is open to everyone in the Tufts community, including graduate students, undergraduates, and professors. Right now, our membership is mostly made up of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning (UEP) graduate students, but we also have some students from the Fletcher School and undergraduates who participate. We would be really excited to extend our welcome to more people from different departments.

Brenna: What major events do you organize?

2018 Tufts New Economy members tour Indian Line Farm, the first Community Supported Agriculture farm in the United States

Alice: Over the years, Tufts New Economy has hosted speakers at UEP’s Wednesday lunchtime Colloquia, we have regularly presented in UEP’s economics course, and we have participated in national action weeks for a more fair and sustainable economy. Last year we had a really great experience organizing a colloquium where seven Tufts New Economy members did lightning presentations on five different topics relating to the transformation of the economics around land, labor, finance, food, and clothing. For the past two years we have organized a trip to Berkshire County, Massachusetts, to learn about the new economy initiatives that are active there. We also have meetings every two weeks where we take turns facilitating and presenting on new economy topics that interest us. Anyone and everyone is welcome at our meetings at any time during the year. They are posted on our Facebook page as well as the GSC calendar.

Brenna: You just went to the Berkshires and are planning another trip to Montreal. What is the focus of these trips?

Alice: I think one of the best ways to learn about new economic models is to visit the people and places where they are happening. Because a lot of the ideas we talk about really fly in the face of what’s considered “conventional” thinking about how the economy works, it can be hard to understand and appreciate the way new economy initiatives take shape until you are there, seeing it with your own eyes and talking to people on the ground. For five years before I came to UEP I worked at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics in the Berkshires, where I ran the local currency program called BerkShares. I was also involved in the work of the Community Land Trust in the Southern Berkshires, which holds land in trust for community purposes such as housing for year-round residents and organic farming. When I came to Tufts I wanted to share what I had learned at the Schumacher Center with my classmates, so we organized a trip on the occasion of the 37th Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures, where we got to hear legendary Native American economist and activist Winona LaDuke speak. This year we went back again for the 38th Annual Lectures, where we heard from Ed Whitfield and Leah Penniman about black economic liberation and “a new reconstruction” that involves land reclamation and community wealth building, (rather than capital accumulation).

Trading dollars for BerkShares at Lee Bank in Great Barrington, MA

Next semester we are planning a trip to Montreal to learn from the many “solidarity economy” initiatives that are intertwined there. UEP Professor Julian Agyeman spent his sabbatical there last year, and so he has a good sense of the landscape and can connect us to the most interesting groups, which include worker-owned cooperative businesses, banks that align their investments with their values, and neighborhood redevelopment projects that are financed and shaped by these solidarity economy organizations. We look forward to learning how this solidarity economy eco-system evolved and what lessons they have learned.

Brenna: What advice would you give to a prospective graduate student interested in UEP/TNE?

Alice: Come check us out! You don’t have to know anything about economics or the new economy to join us—the whole point is to learn together. We also eat well—cookies, doughnuts, and cake have been known to appear at our meetings. To join our email list and find out when our meetings are please email me at alice.maggio@tufts.edu or join the Tufts New Economy Facebook group.

Graduate Certificates: How I boosted my career to the next level

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.

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.S. 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.