Tag Archives: Advice

Finishing That Pesky Dissertation

Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. student

Graduate school — and in particular Ph.D. Programs — are strange because at times you feel like there is an indefinite amount of work to do and that you might just be in school forever. But at the same time, that feeling of permanence can be comforting. Once I settled into my routine, Tufts became my home and I’ve loved every minute of it. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. And with that comes a whole bunch of emotions — the excitement for the next step, the sadness for leaving my Tufts community, and the stress of finishing degree requirements.

I am currently right in that sweet spot. Over the summer, I had the good fortune to accept a postdoctoral fellowship which will begin in early 2020. That means that I get the opportunity to finish my Ph.D. Without the added pressure of finding a job. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my success in finding a job is a testament to the experiences I’ve been afforded at Tufts. Not only did I receive world class mentorship, but the professional development opportunities (Graduate Institute for Teaching and the NOD Workshops) helped me hone my marketable skills. I am incredibly excited for my next step, but over the next few months I have a LOT to take care of — namely finishing all that writing. I’ve decided to give you some of my tips for getting down to business and finishing that pesky dissertation.

1. Schedule, schedule, schedule

I cannot overstate the importance of planning. When I have a lot of projects going on, it sometimes seems easier to just do things and be productive. When all you have to do is writing, it can be difficult to focus. Staring at a blank page and thinking about how you have to ill it up is… daunting. I have found that the best way to avoid this feeling of desperation is to have realistic, scheduled goals. Focusing on one section in the morning and one section in the afternoon has helped me not get bored with the material and continue progressing.

2. Write in different places

Although I love my desk, sometimes you need a change of scenery. Luckily, there are at least 5 different coffee shops within a 10 minute walk of campus. My favorite coffee shop for writing is Tamper: it’s nice and quiet, serves delicious food, and offers beer options for later in the day. I’m also a huge fan of working in Tisch Library. There’s something about being surrounded by stressed out undergraduates that motivates you to get your own work done. By switching up my physical writing space, I have been able to make progress even when it doesn’t feel like it.

3. Get the blood pumping

Most people know that when you are stressed, making time for physical exercise is crucial. This becomes even more important when you’re writing your dissertation, which should be a marathon and not a spring. I try to make time and head down to the Tisch Fitness Center or go on a run along the Charles River. These are great opportunities to clear your head, which always helps with writing.

4. Don’t forget to have fun!

Most importantly, I think, is remembering that writing your dissertation should have some elements of fun. This can be the hardest task, because you’ve spent years in your program and you might feel jaded with your topic. But after all, these will be the final months of your time at Tufts. For me, it has been the perfect opportunity to reflect and remember where my passions first began. Tufts has been a fantastic chapter of my life that I will remember fondly.

Confessions and Lessons from a First-Gen College Grad

Written by Michael Ruiz, Bioengineering M.S. 2020

I am the only person in my family’s history to earn a bachelor’s degree. While more enrolled students in college are identifying as first generation, it is important to know that we are still an underrepresented population in higher education spaces. 

I grew up in an underserved community of Los Angeles, and the only male role models in my family were incarcerated through much of my upbringing. At 19 years of age, my only academic achievement was that I had successfully failedout of high school. At this time, I knew college was not in the cards for me. I left high school in 2006 and by 2008, the U.S. economy had descended into a major recession. 

As a young person with no formal education, I relied on temporary manual labor jobs to support myself. Somewhat surprisingly, I embarked on a journey towards the Midwest. I would come to call North Dakota my new temporary home. Eventually I worked my way out of the oil fields to complete my B.S. at Montana State University, then I conducted some post-graduate work at Harvard, and now I am a Bioengineering M.S. student at Tufts.

The lesson I’ve learned is that it is tough to be the first in your family to do this. I know this because despite the seemingly abundant opportunities to enter higher education that generations before me and after me have had, I remain the only person in my family to have completed an undergraduate degree. It is hard because your family may not understand seemingly esoteric subjects like Judith Butler’s doctrine on performative acts of gender, the laws that govern thermodynamics, and the exciting intersections of biology and physics.

My message to incoming undergraduate students: I didn’t attend Tufts as an undergrad. I wish I had! I’ve had the opportunity to work with talented undergraduates at Tufts and I feel like this talent is cultivated through Tufts’ curriculum. In my opinion, there is an extremely talented and innovative group of individuals here that easily rivals the other Boston-area schools.

My message to incoming graduate students: Find an advisor that you can vibe with. Interview as many potential thesis advisors as you can (if you don’t know what questions to ask, email me and I will give you an exhaustive list). Ask yourself: what kind of graduate experience do you want to have? Do you want to pursue an entrepreneurial, academic, or technical career? These are important questions you may not think to ask. 

Lastly, you are not alone. I chose Tufts as my graduate destination because I am specifically interested in an education that combines rigorous engineering with entrepreneurial expertise. I am pleasantly surprised that many student groups share that vision. As someone who experienced a failing at early education, I can most certainly say that I have found a place at Tufts where I can grow. 

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.

Tips and Tricks for Your Grad School Application

Written by Ruaidhri Crofton, History & Museum Studies M.A. 2020

Anyone who as ever worked on an application, whether for a job, school, or scholarship, knows the mixed feelings that come along with it. On the one hand, you are excited to put your best foot forward and show the people who are reviewing your application the awesome person you are. On the other hand, there is the nervousness that comes with putting yourself in what may seem like a vulnerable position. Will they like me? Am I what they are looking for? How will I ever manage to get everything I need to do done for this application? For those who are considering applying to a graduate program at Tufts, or anywhere else for that matter, here are a few tips and tricks I found useful when completing my applications.

1. Map out the application requirements

Unlike applying for undergraduate programs where useful tools like the Common Application serve to guide you through a seemingly endless number of questions, requirements, and deadlines, applications for graduate programs mostly stand on their own. As a result, you will likely find yourself having to make separate application accounts for each of the schools to which you are applying and contending with a variety of different requirements that can quickly become difficult to keep track of. To stay on top of applications and deadlines, I found it helpful to make a list of each program I was applying to, the application deadline, and the various steps I needed to complete before I could submit it (completing writing samples, letters of recommendation, transcripts, etc.). As I completed steps in the process, it felt rewarding to be able to cross items off before moving on to the next one. Other systems might work better for different people. However, as long as you have some sort of system to organize what you need to do on time, that’s what’s important!

2. Identify recommenders early

Requesting letters of recommendation from professors or supervisors you have worked with is perhaps one of the most stressful parts of the application process because it is the one you have the least amount of control over completing. However, you can make things a lot easier on yourself and the person writing a recommendation for you by identifying recommenders who can best speak to your skills and requesting their assistance as soon as possible. Typically, a month or so should be the minimum amount of notice you give when requesting a letter of recommendation. In addition to simply being considerate of your recommender’s time, it also ensures that you have time to find another person to ask should a prospective recommender reject your request for whatever reason. Being clear in providing your recommenders with deadlines for each of your applications and any additional information that might help them write their letter (such as your resume or CV) can also make the process easier for you both.

3. Get thinking about the path you want to take

If you are considering applying to a graduate program, you are probably already pretty passionate about the field you want to spend your time studying in depth. However, you will likely find it useful to start thinking about what your specific area of focus within that field might be. Of course, there is no expectation that you will concretely decide exactly what you will be studying and how you will be studying it before you have even been accepted into a program. However, many programs request that you provide a bit of information about a potential area of focus in your application. Some may also ask you to identify a professor or two in the department who you think would best serve as an advisor to you based on similar research interests. Having at least begun to think about your focus can also help you to narrow down specific programs that might be best for you to spend your time applying to and will only serve to benefit you once you are accepted to a program and begin your studies.

4. Be yourself and don’t stress!

This is something I always make sure to emphasize. Many people seem to think that admissions committees are only looking for very specific things when making an admissions decision and that they need to somehow embellish their application in order to appeal to exactly what the committee is looking for. Of course, sell yourself as the awesome applicant you are, but at the same make sure to be yourself! Though the people reading applications are certainly looking for good students who will positively contribute to their community, this is all relative to the individual applicant and program. There isn’t a specific personal statement topic or GRE score that will automatically guarantee that you will be admitted, so why add extra stress to what is already a stressful process? That being said, make sure to put your best foot forward! Double and triple check your personal statement and maybe ask a friend to read it over too. Set aside some time to study and take some practice GRE tests. But remember, each item is just one part of your overall application.

5. Questions? Don’t Be Afraid to Ask!

There are so many aspects of applying to grad school that simply cannot be covered in a few quick “tips and tricks”, especially in regard to the specifics of each graduate program’s individual requirements. As a result, if you ever find yourself confused about application requirements or have other questions about applying to programs at Tufts, you should not hesitate to reach out to one of the wonderful staff members in the Office of Graduate Admissions via email at gradadmissions@tufts.edu or telephone at (617) 627-3395. You can also reach out to the department you are applying to directly using the contact information on their website.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dancing through graduate school: when passions and academia collide

Written by Gina Mantica, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing to Defend

 

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

I was so wrong.

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

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

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

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

Use a citation manager!

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

Keep your committee in the loop.

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

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

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

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

It’s a conversation.

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

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

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

Take care of yourself.

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

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

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

 Remember, you are not alone.

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

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

 And finally, celebrate!

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

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. 2018

When Home is 2,500 Miles Away

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

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

Alia’s mountain view leaving Washington for Tufts

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking back: one year after graduation

It’s already the end of May, which means that we got to watch our graduates take the stage at Commencement this past weekend! While graduation might mean the end of their time as a student at Tufts, it also signifies the beginning of many exciting things to come. Two of our alumni bloggers, Lennon Wolcott, M.F.A. 2017, and Michelle Connor, Music M.A. 2017, look back at their first year out of graduate school. 

How you were feeling this time last year?

Michelle Connor: This time last year, I was feeling a little bit nervous about beginning my search on the job market, especially since I had planned a trip to Italy during the summer months after graduation.  I wanted to stay in Boston due to my love for the city as well as my relationship; however, I felt overwhelmed with all of the opportunities and job descriptions. I spoke with some of the faculty members closest to me as well as former supervisors and they suggested that I continue my work in Admissions. I applied for a position in the Graduate Admissions Office, and I was super excited to be hired for the position and continue my service to the university, especially as an alum. Everything worked out for me!

Lennon Wolcott: This time last year, I was overwhelmed. I was trying to finish and install my master’s thesis show centered on decolonization and the rebuilding of community after a loss of culture through sculpture/paper-arts/craft/performance. While at the same time interviewing for AICAD art school faculty printmaking jobs and deciding what kinds of choices I could afford to make after graduation with the cost of living and student loans to pay back.

How would you describe your first year after your graduate program?

MC: During the first year after my graduate program, I realized that there is more to experience than what is found in the classroom. I have grown so much as an individual and coworker over this past year. I am starting to realize where my strengths and passions lie as well as the tasks that I feel the most comfortable with. I learned what matters most to me, where I am meant to be, and how I want to build my avenue to career growth and success. Not be cliché, but life is what you make it. Use your skillset, take advantage of opportunities, and do not be afraid to explore outside of your comfort zone.

LW: It was hard, after 2+ years of immersive art making, to find myself in a space where I had to juggle full time work responsibilities and find time to keep up a practice as an artist. After graduation my instinct was to jump back into art making immediately. However, I needed time to decompress and think through what I learned during grad school. It took time for me to find how my process and work needed to evolve outside of the academic institution. Re-learning how to adapt and create a life for two full time jobs (art and another) have been my primary goal over the year.  It has taken about a year for me to add art into my full-time work/life routine, and I hope by next year I will be on more solid footing.

How have you been using your graduate degree?

MC: Although I have not been using my graduate degree in the field of research, I use my graduate experience and degree on a daily basis. One of the most beneficial aspects of a Master of Arts is the chance to focus on your writing while writing about a favorite topic. Moreover, in the humanities and arts, you have the many opportunities to explore your potential as a communicator, presenter, and professional. In the Admissions Office, I spend most of my day constructing concise, clear e-mails and communicating with my co-workers, supervisor, and potential applicants. I do my best to write well and in a style that reflects conversational, yet professional, communication. I credit Tufts to my success as a member of the Admissions team. Writing is one of the most important takeaways from the M.A. degree.

LW: This year I’ve worked on smaller art pieces, while looking at residencies, gallery shows and trying to incorporate art into my daily practice. I have been fortunate enough to get to work in a full-time position with artists coming into graduate programs. I speak to prospective students about what it’s like to enter a graduate program, look at work, and have conversations about pursuing a terminal degree in fine art.

What advice do you have for graduate students who are graduating this year?

MC: I encourage graduate students to truly take the time to explore the many opportunities on the job market. I’m not directly using my primary degree in the context of teaching or research; however, I am using the skillset that I have learned over the course of my undergraduate and graduate career. There are so many jobs available, especially in the Boston area. Take the time to apply to the ones that strike your interest and continue to build confidence to pave your own route to success. Keep in my mind: success is defined by you, yourself.

LW: As graduate students, you have spent two years treating art as an important full-time position in your life. As a Master of Fine Arts, you have gained the skills in the SMFA at Tufts program to further your practice and find the artist who you need to be. It will not be easy, but you have the ability through research, skill, and conceptual based creativity to succeed if you are willing to continue the work.

 

One Year Down – What I’ve Learned So Far

A cherry blossom tree in full bloom outside of the admissions office

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

Writing a post on the best things I learned my first year of graduate school was a seemingly insurmountable task. Boiling down nine months of hard work, constant research, and new experiences into a few paragraphs is daunting. I finally narrowed it down to these, my biggest takeaways. These have helped me through the amazing days and the not-so-amazing days.

1) Classes are important, but only if they are useful to your interests.

I have determined that the best process of selecting classes is to separate them into two categories: intriguing and pertinent to your area of study. Then you simply sign up for classes that fall into both categories. This way, you are much more likely to enjoy the classes, while also gaining knowledge that may actually be useful for your future. While it may be tempting to take a class purely because it seems fun, you may regret it later when your knowledge of medieval architecture still hasn’t come in handy and you have to take an extra class to get all of your credits in time. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have fun with classes, just make sure you aren’t being flippant about your choices.

2) Listen to students who are well into graduate school.

They are the most important sources of information in your life, I promise you. These students know crucial information like the closest places to get coffee on campus, which professors teach what classes the best, where the office supplies are located, and when buildings are locked for the night. You may receive a small packet of information from the administration when you first arrive that describes basic things like how to register for classes, but nothing compares to the advice from higher level graduate students. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions. It’s better to ask and feel ridiculous about it than blunder around looking for something that has a simple solution.

3) Make sure you take consistent breaks.

This is so important. This does not mean deciding to take a break when you feel like it, because occasionally you will not feel like taking a break and suddenly it’s dark outside, you haven’t moved from your computer in seven hours, and stretching causes your joints to make horrible noises. Taking consistent breaks means making a conscious effort to remember to stand up and move around at least once every two or three hours. While it may feel like you are disrupting your productivity, you are actually helping your brain function properly by improving blood flow. This advice could also be phrased as “make sure you exercise enough!” but I’m not going to pretend I did that regularly. Taking the few steps to the water fountain to refill my water bottle is often all I have time for, and that’s okay.

4) Taking longer breaks away from the office is also necessary.

For example, I made the decision at the beginning of the year that I would not come into the office on Sundays. I work on my laptop at home and try to be productive, but I do not focus all of my attention on school. This allows me time to focus on other things that often fall to the wayside during the week, such as cleaning my apartment or doing the laundry that somehow always manages to have more clothes in it than I’ve worn. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do this regularly but trying to relax is better than not relaxing at all.

5) You have to be kind to yourself.

My final takeaway is the most important thing I have learned. I know that sounds like a terrible motivational poster, but it’s true. It is so easy to receive criticism or a bad grade or a terrible review and hate yourself for it. Graduate students have been told time and time again that we are the best students, the top researchers, the brightest minds and that is why we were accepted into graduate school. Just remember that this is still true, even when you make mistakes. Your worth as an academic is not determined by these small and almost entirely inconsequential problems.

My first year of graduate school, aside from a few papers due at the end of May, was officially over on Friday, May 4th. I completed my last final and gave my last presentation before I headed home for a much-needed weekend of doing absolutely nothing. I was back in my office at 9:00am on Monday. I’ve got participants to run, papers to write, an office to clean, exams to sort, and code to edit. My first year may be finished, but I’ve got four more to get through.