Tag Archives: grad school

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.

My Life as the Next Graduate Student Council President

I was never a student council kind of person. I never joined when I was a high school student, and always found myself too busy with other extracurricular activities to join in college. It’s as much of a surprise to me as to anybody else that I find myself becoming the new Tufts Graduate Student Council President for 2018-2019. So, how did this happen?

Like a lot of people on the Executive Board (E-Board) of the GSC, I was convinced to run by other members of my department. I first became the academic and career development co-chair, a position in which I helped organize academic events, like the Graduate Student Research Symposium. During this time, I quickly realized that I genuinely enjoyed these kinds of activities that brought me out of the lab, enabled me to meet and interact with people from all sorts of departments, and discuss graduate student concerns with administrators. This passion has driven me to stay in the GSC, this past year filling the role of vice president, and next year as president.

As the new GSC President, I am most looking forward to simply helping graduate students across Tufts. My first role as president will be to work together with our other officers and chairs to put together some amazing events for grad students. Traditionally we have held social and academic events during the fall and spring semesters. But in this upcoming year, I am particularly excited to expand our community outreach and international student events. We are also really interested in having some activities over the summer; plenty of students stay on campus during the summer months and it would be great to bring people together to unwind and de-stress. We are hoping to have an ice cream social and an outdoor movie night with a popcorn machine!

I’m also looking forward to continuing to work with the Tufts administration to address graduate student concerns. Each semester we hold one or two deans’ coffee hours at which our student life chair organizes a discussion around a grad student issue. Several deans and other pertinent university staff members are also invited. Together, we look for creative solutions to a variety of problems with the goal of improving grad student experiences. As president, I am looking forward to continuing these events and helping our new student life chair expand involvement.

I can’t wait to take on new challenges as the president. In May, the GSC held its annual transition weekend during which the old and new E-Boards meet, orient each other, and plan for the following year. I can say—without hesitation—that the new members of the E-Board are going to be amazing. They already have some great ideas for new events. Be sure to be on the lookout for events this summer and in the fall semester! We can’t wait to meet you!

 Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Making the Most of a Boston Summer

Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Summer in Boston is my favorite. I grew up in the Northeast and definitely appreciate the seasons, but being able to enjoy the city in the warm weather is fantastic! Here are some of my favorite things to do around Boston, especially when it’s nice out.

Let’s go to the beach…and river…and pool!

One of the best things about Tufts is how close it is to the water. I love escaping campus to head to the beach. There are plenty of ocean beaches within an hour or so of Tufts, but one of my favorite spots is just 10 minutes from campus at Mystic Lake. Access to Shannon Beach is free and it’s a great spot to swim, barbeque, and enjoy the sun!

A classic Boston summer also includes kayaking on the Charles. There are a bunch of places from which you can rent equipment all along the river. I went kayaking on my first birthday in Boston and it’s still one of my favorite memories of my time here.

Another thing I’ve only recently discovered are the public pools around campus. Of course there’s the indoor Tufts pool, but when it’s so nice out, you don’t want to be cooped up inside. Depending on whether you’re a Somerville or Medford resident you may have limited access to certain pools. The Dilboy Pool, just a 10 minute walk from 200 Boston Avenue, is open to everyone for just $2! It’s a great place to enjoy the sun and relax away from the lab or library for a bit.

Hiking and biking around town

I’m a big fan of hopping on my bike and hitting the roads to escape the city. The Somerville Community Path is an awesome, car-free path that connects Davis Square to some surrounding areas. This summer I learned that it connects to the Minuteman Bikeway in Arlington and you can ride all the way out to Lexington, Concord, and Bedford. It’s one of my favorite ways to explore the Greater Boston area. The paths also feature some of Boston’s cutest dogs so if you’re looking for some puppy love, that’ll be your go-to spot.

There’s also some fantastic state and local parks for hiking around Boston. The Middlesex Fells is only 10 minutes from campus and has a ton of hiking trails. There are so many beautiful lakes and reservoirs in the Fells to spend an afternoon hiking. Further away from Boston, the White Mountains offer some more intense hiking and backpacking options in New Hampshire. I haven’t made it up there yet, but am looking forward to going this fall to enjoy the leaf colors!

And once you’re exhausted from playing outdoors, drink indoors

If you like hanging out at breweries, Boston is the place for you. Somerville and Cambridge have a bunch of really great, locally-owned craft breweries that are great for hanging out, playing board games, and drinking delicious beers. Many of them even have home-brewed non-alcoholic options! My favorites include Night Shift in Everett, Aeronaut in Somerville, and Lamplighter in Cambridge.

Remember—your work will always be there, but summer only lasts for three brief, beautiful months. So get out there and explore!

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.

Why Tufts? Part 1

Written by Jiali Liu, Philosophy M.A. 2017

Coming to Tufts for philosophy was no minor deviation from what I was doing in college. I majored in English and International Relations as an undergraduate and my school offered no philosophy class (it was a petite institution affiliated with the Chinese Foreign Ministry and it was highly specialized in diplomacy studies). I came to formal contact with philosophy when I was a visiting student at Barnard College in New York. It was a short semester, but that one Intro to Philosophy class intrigued me enormously. In retrospect, I still could not pinpoint the exact reasons for how that happened—to be shaped by one single class and then make a two-year, or even longer, commitment to the subject matter. Graduate schools are different from college in significant ways. They are more expensive. They are more specialized. They bear more relevance to and influence on one’s future career path and prospects. To make a decision about what to do at when and where for a Master degree sometimes calls for a deep soul search. My own guess is that I was exposed to philosophy in a myriad ways much earlier than Barnard, only that I was not fully conscious of its presence and power of osmosis with time in my thinking and action. I probably felt dissatisfaction with only an answer to how things are and wanted to seek why they are such.

But Tufts? First of all, I knew the program because I had a professor who graduated from here back in 2003. The continuity of tradition and legacy presented itself beautifully and ignited my initial interest in knowing more about Tufts. On the other hand, I did not want to mass-produce a dozen of applications (interestingly graduate schools do not work the same way as colleges in this aspect either: to apply for more places barely increases one’s chance to get into any of them). So I had to concentrate on a few programs that are (1) academically top-notch; (2) not discriminating against non-philosophy majors; and (3) cost-efficient. According to the Philosophy Gourmet report, Tufts’ Master in Philosophy program is number one in the country. It has the highest faculty quality. It actually invites different majors who are interested and determined in making a career in philosophy and helps them to prepare for a PhD program. And it is generous in money and TA opportunities! I doubt that anyone who has received the Tufts’ offer would decline it unless she has a PhD letter of acceptance from somewhere else. There was another reason equally important to me. I like intimate communities and a close work-together spirit with my cohort. In total, Tufts’ program has around 20 people, including both first and second years. People have plenty of chance to invest in friendships and intellectual connection and graduate students are treated as peers by the faculty and staff. Choosing Tufts was not nearly as hard a decision as the one on philosophy. It felt almost natural for what has happened to unfold the way it did once I knew philosophy was what I wanted.

What are we ready to risk? Academia, advocacy, and activism

**Guest Blogger**

This blog post was originally posted on Mimi Arbeit’s personal blog on May 18, 2015. Mimi recently earned her Ph.D. in Child Study and Human Development and can be reached at mimi.arbeit@gmail.com.

I graduated from Tufts University this weekend, with a Ph.D. in Child Study and Human Development. I was honored to be the student speaker for the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Doctoral Hooding Ceremony. Here is what I said.

As the non-indictment verdict arrived, I was working on my dissertation. Darren Wilson, the officer who killed Michael Brown, will have no trial. The people of Ferguson protest: Black Lives MatterThey call for an end to business as usual, but my business as usual was just getting good. I wanted to write my dissertation and I really, really wanted this degree.

And I was tired. Business as usual is exhausting and there’s no energy left for protests and movement building and solidarity.

Abigail Ortiz taught me that solidarity means sharing risk. I ask myself what risks I am willing to share as a white person in solidarity with people of color: Am I willing to risk arrest? Injury? Reputation? Career?

The system is built to maintain itself.

In the first month of 2015, four black trans women were murdered. Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia. The intersectionality of oppression is life and death.

Alicia Garza writes:

“Black Lives Matter affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum.

Morgan Collado writes:

Support for trans women dwindles when we are still alive… It points to who is valuable and who is disposable. If you’re not a trans woman… think long and hard about the ways that you’re supporting trans women in your community. Do you see trans women in public community spaces? How are your actions pushing them out? 

I learned to do academic work that could inform advocacy. I wrote a guide for youth development programs about queer-inclusivity, racial justice, and trauma-informed practice. What is life anyway but one giant youth development program? These principles can guide both the work we do and how we run our workplaces.

But these systems are built to maintain themselves.

As PhDs, we are pronounced producers of knowledge. We can use our position within the system – and the peer-reviewed knowledge that we produce – to advocate for change. That’s our professional work; activism is the personal work. But activism, solidarity, is risky. I want a job, tenure, grants, clout. I want those things for myself and for my advocacy – I am building power and building knowledge with hope that I can leverage my power and my knowledge to make a difference.

Can I continue working on that, while also working to break down the systems that grant me this power?

These systems are built to maintain themselves. And I am a part of that.

But these systems are not okay. We need an end to business as usual, and we all need to commit to that end, as knowledge-producers and as human beings, each situated at various sites of power, within White Capitalist Heteropatriarchy.

So now that our degrees are not on the line anymore, what are we ready to risk?