Tag Archives: Engineering

What Makes a Good Graduate Program?

The most prominent factors I considered when looking at graduate school programs

By Audrey Balaska, Mechanical Engineering: Human-Robot Interaction Ph.D. Student

As you may have figured out, I am a graduate student at Tufts University. Specifically, I am a first-year student in the Mechanical Engineering and Human-Robot Interaction joint Ph.D. program. Before coming to Tufts, I received my B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of New Hampshire in May 2019.

Since I’m such a new student, the application process is still fresh in my mind. One of the steps I found the most challenging was deciding which schools to apply to and then which position to actually accept. I’m going to talk about my personal journey, and if this doesn’t resonate with you, that’s ok! There are many paths one can take to get to graduate school

Deciding where to apply to

When I was considering schools, I learned about them in a variety of ways. Some I found through online research on labs which had rehabilitation engineering as a research area. Others I remembered from my search for undergraduate programs. Some I learned about because faculty recommended them to me based on my research interests. And some, like Tufts, I learned about at a graduate school fair.

Rather than inundate you with further information regarding every school I looked at, I’m going to explain to you why I decided to apply to Tufts, and why I ultimately decided to come here for my graduate degree.

Like I said, I learned about Tufts University from a graduate school fair – specifically, the one at the Tau Beta Pi (the oldest engineering honors society in the United States) National Convention in Fall 2018. While a decent number of schools were represented at this fair, I did not apply to all of them. I first decided to look more into Tufts because the representative from Tufts University showed genuine enthusiasm for the school, and was able to tell me some specific aspects of Tufts University I might find interesting after I told her my research interests. Having someone so knowledgeable about the school at the fair reflected really well to me. Just because someone you meet from a school isn’t in your research area, doesn’t mean they don’t reflect the university’s community and environment.

Meeting someone from the graduate admissions staff wasn’t enough to get me to apply, though. That occurred when I researched the program more and found classes and research labs closely related to my own research interests.

Deciding to Attend Tufts

Then, I got into Tufts University, along with a couple of other schools. That was when I had to make the big decision of where to spend the next 4-6 years of my life.

One thing that I didn’t consider much when applying to schools, but definitely did at this stage, was the location. I realized after some thought that I really wanted to be close to a city, or even in one. That caused me to decline one school, and pushed Tufts even higher on my list.

Another thing that I really liked about Tufts was the graduate student environment. Tufts University has some awesome graduate student organizations, and hosts multiple professional and social events each semester. Not all universities have this, and it was something I was excited to see existed at Tufts.

Most importantly, however, was my advisor. I got to speak with him via Skype during my winter break after I applied, and then got to meet him in person once I had been accepted to the program. Both times I found that I liked his personality, his research, and his leadership style. Honestly, having met him, it became very easy to say yes to Tufts. If you are applying to doctoral programs, make sure you take the time to try and meet your potential advisors. I had other potential advisors whose research appealed to me, but found that when talking to them our personalities were not a great match.

Ultimately, when deciding on a graduate program it is crucial to decide what is most important to you. I realized I cared a lot more about my location than I initially thought, but some people I know really had not cared about where their school was. Before deciding on a school, take the time to decide what is actually important to you. Maybe, one day, the school that you pick will be Tufts!

Effective Communication: How to create a working relationship with your advisor

Written by Michael Ruiz, Bioengineering M.S. 2020

We often find ourselves isolated in books and papers while in graduate school. It is easy to forget how to communicate effectively or openly with other people, but the one person you need to communicate effectively with is your advisor. I encourage graduate students to foster a culture of open and effective communication with their advisor. In my experience, communicating effectively with my academic advisor is one of the most important factors which will determine my success and happiness in my graduate education. 

The first step towards developing an effective communication strategy is to define a set of ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ from your program. This may seem like a daunting task, but it will help you later down the road when you want to translate your experience from your coursework, group projects, thesis projects, and experiments into transferrable skills to list on your resume. 

Ask yourself questions like: “After I graduate, what is my ideal job?” and “What skills will I need to be successful in that role?”. These are difficult questions to ask, but it’s important to take the time and think it out. As a result of this practice, I was able to adopt more open and effective communication methods with not only myself, but with my advisor. These methods have contributed to success within my graduate program. The more independent you become, and the easier you make it for your advisor to support you by communicating your wants and needs, the better your relationship will be. By becoming more self-sufficient in your graduate program, you will become more prepared for your future career.

In a culture of effective communication, it is important to be direct. It is essential to focus on work-related issues and state the objective realities that concerns you. Clarify your thoughts about the situation, and why it bothers you. Are you concerned that your project is not being completed properly?  Is it taking too long?  Is it too expensive?  Is it difficult to get along with someone else on the project? Explain what your goals are and how you would like the situation to be resolved. Before the meeting, plan out your thoughts and ideas to make the most of your time.

As students, we can sometimes forget that professors are busy people. Most of them teach, serve on committees, write grant requests, travel to conferences, and mentor graduate students. While problems with your research and coursework are central to you, they are only one of the many items on your professor’s radar. This makes effective communication central to a working relationship with them. If you feel stuck in your research or academic work or the writing of a paper or manuscript, then it is time to utilize your effective communication skills and schedule a meeting with your advisor.

Why Ece Chose Tufts

Written by Ece Gulsan, Chemical Engineering Ph.D. student

In this multi-part blog series, we will be exploring why current #TuftsGrad students chose to pursue their graduate education at Tufts University. Today, we hear from Ece Gulsan, Chemical Engineering Ph.D. student, in part 3 of our ‘Why Tufts?’ series.

Tufts. 

T-U-F-T-S. 

Great, but what does that stand for? 

Although many of you grew up with the dream of being a part of one of the best universities in the country, Tufts was a name that I had to explain over and over again to my parents back in Turkey. I knew how prestigious Tufts was, because I did my homework before I applied to grad schools. However, my parents needed to hear a lot more about Jumbo before being convinced to send me to the other side of the world. So here is what I told them about Tufts from an engineering perspective, and why I did not choose to go to any other place for my graduate studies.

Location, location, location…

Tufts is located on top of the hills of Medford, very close to beautiful reservations and lakes, and also only a 30-minute subway ride away from the city center. If you missed my previous blog post about why I chose Boston, check it out here!

Another one of the biggest reasons why I chose Tufts is the fact that Tufts values research and provides a wonderful environment for us to communicate our ideas with like-minded folks across departments. Science and engineering require multidisciplinary approaches, and the Tufts community is well aware of this. You can easily join informal group meetings with other graduate students or researchers having similar scientific interests, and share your ideas with them for feedback. Faculty members are very accessible and always happy to help students. Class sizes are relatively small, which allows for better communication with professors and other researchers. Tufts also has very strong connections with other excellent schools in Greater Boston Area; you get to know eminent researchers and are able to follow all the hot topics in your field. Moreover, you are not limited by your undergraduate background here. As long as you are willing to put effort and learn, you are always encouraged to perform research on a topic that you are passionate about. For example, during my time as an undergraduate, I used to work with applied catalysts, but I have now switched to metabolic engineering and started working on human microbiome studies thanks to the endless support of my advisor, colleagues, and department.

No matter how much you love what you are doing, your working environment is what actually shapes your overall experience. Tufts is known to be a “quirky” school – and nothing could describe the Tufts community any better. You will be sharing your lab space or office with extremely intelligent folks who have very interesting hobbies and passions. Those people have an excellent work-life balance and inspire others to learn new skills and start exciting hobbies. Also, Tufts welcomes a lot of international students, and it is really cool to have close friends from all around the world. 

If you want to strengthen your skills and improve your scientific knowledge, be challenged to become an independent researcher and work with awesome people, Tufts is the place. If you had asked me where I would want to be in the future, I would have described exactly where I am today. 

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. 

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.