Tag Archives: Research

Why Attend Graduate School?

Written by Alia Wulff, Psychology Ph.D. student

I was fairly young when I discovered that getting a doctorate meant something other than becoming a medical doctor, which meant that I was fairly young when I decided that I was going to get a doctorate. I’ve been working towards this since I was five, and even though the path to get here was hard and full of unexpected gap years and tough situations, I am very happy to finally be here.

But my story isn’t everyone’s story. Not everyone learns about doctoral programs when they are five years old and decides to get their Ph.D. before they even start going to full-time kindergarten. Some people might be considering this fresh out of undergrad, wondering if they need graduate school or even if they made the right decision to apply. So I asked some friends for their stories, gathered up ideas, and wrote a list of common reasons why people should (or shouldn’t) go to grad school.

You have a dream job that needs a graduate degree

This one is very common. If your dream job is to become a professor at a university and mentor undergraduates or graduates while working on your own research, it is almost guaranteed that you need a Ph.D. Similarly, there are many lab manager, industry professional, and administrative positions that require a master’s degree, at minimum. Research what you need in order to succeed in your field and go for that. 

You need to advance in your career

On a related note, sometimes getting that master’s or Ph.D. will help you go further in a career you already have. That is awesome! I know many people, especially teachers, who go this route. Getting a graduate degree can help advance your knowledge of the field, increase your salary, or even land you a promotion.

Side note: don’t get more than you need if the previous two reasons are why you are attending graduate school. If you need a master’s, don’t go to a Ph.D. program. It will take at least twice as long, is much more likely to be full-time, and may even make you overqualified for your desired position.

You want the opportunity to improve your research capabilities

While there are plenty of industry jobs that require you to do research, they generally don’t give you the same educational support that grad school does. If you’re working on Project X for a company, you might learn exactly how to complete the necessary tasks A, B, and C. If you’re working on Project X in grad school, you might learn the theoretical backgrounds of tasks A and B, the reasons why task C is so important to the project, and how to do related tasks D, E, and F, along with the research another professor is doing regarding Project Y. And, maybe you work with them for a bit to see if that is interesting, and if it will help you develop Project Z for your dissertation. The breadth of knowledge and understanding you develop for your work is built into the graduate program. You might get this depth of experience in industry depending on your field, so it’s up to you to decide if a graduate degree will get you an education your field cannot provide you with.

You love to learn

This does not mean the same thing as “you like school.” Graduate school isn’t set up to be the same school experience as high school or even undergrad. It is more challenging, more demanding, and designed to expand your mind more than it is designed to teach you things. If you have a passion for learning and growing, and love what you are learning, grad school is likely worth it. This is the reason I decided to go to graduate school when I was five, and it is still one of my most important reasons for staying. I love being here, I love learning, researching, and growing every day. It’s hard, but I don’t regret it.

Of course, these are not all of the reasons to attend grad school. There are many, many, many more. And there are just as many reasons to not attend grad school. What matters is that you make the decision for yourself, based on your own desires and goals. You can talk to your advisor, your friends, current graduate students, potential schools, or your employer, but when it comes down to it, the decision is yours to make. Make sure that you know you are doing what is best for you, so that you are as prepared as possible should you decide to pursue applying to graduate school.

My Favorite Class at Tufts

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

I have completed my fourth semester here at Tufts and have taken nine classes. Every single one of those classes had unique insights and learning experiences that make them impossible to compare. So I’m afraid the title of this blog post, “My Favorite Class at Tufts,” is basically just clickbait. I can’t pick a favorite class. It would be like making me choose a favorite between chocolate chip cookies, waterslides, and cute videos of unlikely animal friends. How could I choose between things that are so different and all so amazing?

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to write about. I may not have a specific class, but there certain factors that I look for when planning my class schedule. The first of these factors that affects my enjoyment of a class is my comfort with class discussion. This is really important in graduate school specifically, as most (if not all) classes are seminars. Even for the classes that aren’t seminars, it is important that the students are able to comfortably ask questions and interact with others in front of the class. My public speaking anxiety has gone down since entering graduate school, but it is still nerve-wracking to voice an opinion in front of a group of people. Anything that lessens that anxiety helps me to find my voice and engage directly with others’ ideas and opinions.

Secondly, I find direct application to be really important. Whether it is to my research, my teaching ability, or even my life, being able to apply the information I learn to my own experiences is really important. Being able to get something out of the class beyond a grade is an essential part of keeping the class relevant.

Finally, it is really important that I’m interested in spending 13+ weeks discussing the topic. This seems like a no-brainer, but it actually is more important than I expected. My undergraduate colleges were on a quarter system, so our classes took a max of 10 weeks. Going back to a semester system like I had in high school, feels like a big jump. Making sure the classes can engage my interest for such a long period of time is an important factor when I make my schedule. If there is a subject you want to learn about but don’t want to spend a whole semester studying, check if you can sit in on a few of the more pertinent classes or find a related workshop or talk you could attend.

I have a pretty good system to assess these factors ahead of time when registering for classes. It’s very easy if the class is in my department. I generally know the professor and their teaching style. I know the people taking the class or can ask around until I find them. I might even know people who have taken the class in the past and can give me information from a student’s perspective if needed. This is probably the main reason why I haven’t taken any classes I haven’t enjoyed at Tufts: I spend time making sure the class is pertinent and interesting before registering. 

It does get trickier when the class is in a separate department. I have only taken one outside of my department. The course was designed to be cross-discipline and therefore other members of my lab had taken it, so I didn’t have to do too much investigating. If your program involves a lot more interdisciplinary classes you may have to do more research to ensure the class is a good fit, but it will be worth it. One of the perks of graduate school is you don’t have to go through two years of “trying classes out” before finding an area you actually enjoy. 

You may have heard that classes don’t matter in graduate school. This is not true at all, at least in my case. While research is important and takes more time, every class I have taken so far has directly led to me being a better graduate student and researcher. Taking care with my class schedule and making sure I will benefit from every class I take is essential to my learning. Take classes seriously and you will receive serious benefits, I promise!

My Favorite Spots on Campus

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

I originally titled this “My Favorite Spot on Campus”, but then I just couldn’t narrow down my list to only one space. That is because of one simple fact: Boston weather is the least stable thing in the world. Honestly. I come from one of the rainiest states in the United States. There is a rainforest, a desert, a mountain range, multiple lakes, and over 150 miles of ocean shoreline, all with wildly different weather systems. I always thought Washington State was a weather marvel. But Boston weather makes Washington weather seem boring. For example: over a single period of three days in April I wore my huge puffy jacket with leggings under my pants, then shorts and a tank top, and finally a t-shirt with jeans. Non-meteorologists have no hope of preparing for the weather unless you were born here. That is all to say that my favorite spot on campus changes from hour to hour depending on what it is like outside, so I decided to include spots for every weather situation.

When it’s slightly drizzly without being too cold:

I love a gentle rain. Just enough to cool down the pavement and water the plants, but not enough to paste my hair to my head and soak through my jeans. This type of weather is ideal for heading to the graduate student lounge in Curtis Hall, as it’s not quite rainy enough to give you an excuse to stay in your office all day but also not nice enough to go outside for an extended period of time. There you can buy a snack, microwave your lunch, and then settle down onto a cozy couch to work for a few hours.

When it is pouring rain outside:

This is the weather that is rainy enough to give you an excuse to stay in your office all day. Therefore, when it’s raining so hard that my water-resistant coat is basically equivalent to a thin sweater, my office is my favorite spot. I have spent time making sure my desk has things on it that make me happy, like notes from my family, pictures, and little fidget toys. Listening to the rain while drinking a cup of tea, snuggled in my blanket, and getting some good writing in is honestly one of my favorite things.

When there is snow on the ground:

While I dislike the snow, I will admit that it is beautiful. So while I’m not going to make a concerted effort to go out in the snow, I do make note of the particularly beautiful visuals when it snows. My favorite spot when there is snow is the front lawn by the Memorial Steps. The beautiful old iron fence and brick buildings look so regal against the snow-covered ground and spindly trees. It is a good reminder that snow is not all bad.

When the sun is out and it’s too hot to be outside:

It can get really hot here. To be fair, I am a delicate flower who can’t stand temperatures above 70°F, but I think it’s not too presumptuous to say 90°F is pushing it for almost everyone. When this happens, I like to go into the Science and Engineering Complex, order an iced drink or smoothie from the café, and sit in the atrium. It has a ton of windows, so you can still enjoy the sunshine, but the temperature-controlled air and plethora of seating options means you can still enjoy your day.

When it’s a breezy and sunshiny day in March/April:

This is a very specific situation and there is a very specific spot on campus associated with it. Along the Memorial Steps sprout hundreds of daffodils and trees that grow pink flowers during this time. Sitting on the cement border of the stairs, feeling the breeze and enjoying the flowers, is an ideal way to spend a few minutes on a beautiful spring day. Not everyone likes plants or the sunshine or even the outdoors but stopping to appreciate beautiful details like these always puts a spring in my step. 

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.

“Checking Out” What’s On Offer at the Tufts Libraries

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

As a graduate student at Tufts, it is a given that a lot of your time will be spent studying, writing papers, and preparing for classes throughout the semester. Although you will find that there are an ample number of resources to help you adequately prepare for everything you will be up against during your time as a graduate student, I have found that there’s no place quite like the Tufts Libraries. In all there are four libraries on the Medford/Somerville and SMFA campuses available for student use: W. Van Alan Clark, Jr. Library at SMFA, Ginn Library at the Fletcher School, the Lilly Music Library in the Granoff Music Center, and of course Tisch Library. That being said, these spaces offer a lot more than just a quiet place to study or find books for your next assignment. Below are a few of my favorite resources available to students through the Tufts Library system. There is so much to offer at all of these libraries, making them well worth a visit! 

Study Space

Of course, what would a library be without space for studying, reading, and generally getting some work done? All four libraries provide ample space to allow you to study in almost any way at almost any time. Need to get a project done with friends? No problem! Reserve a group study room so you’re not worried about distracting others. Looking for a relaxed work environment that also has snacks? Try the Tower Cafe in Tisch Library! Need to cram for a last-minute deadline? Late night study from 1:00 AM to 3:00 AM has you covered! Personally, I find the quiet study areas among the book stacks to be where I’m able to focus and work most productively. Regardless of how or when you like to get your work done, at least one of the libraries will be a good place to turn to when many other places on campus may be closed or just not the right fit for you.

Digital Collections and Archives

Located in the Tisch Library, the Digital Collections and Archives (DCA) are home to the university’s extensive holdings of archival materials. These collections contain objects related to the history of the university, as well as a wide variety of other topics including the history of medicine, broadcast journalism, and more! Among the more unique items held in the collections are Tufts student protest posters from the 1970s, ancient scarabs, and even the tail of the university’s mascot: Jumbo the elephant. DCA is open Monday to Friday for use by students and other researchers to uncover a little bit more about the history of Tufts and beyond! Visit the Digital Collections & Archives website for more information.

Digital Design Studio

Tucked away on the third floor of the Tisch Library, the Digital Design Studio (DDS) is your go to resource for all things digital media. Whether you need to produce a video, create a website, design and print a poster, record an audio narration, or even do some 3D printing, the DDS has you covered. The studio is equipped with multimedia workstations, a recording room, and even a green screen, making work on any sort of digital project a breeze. If all of this sounds great but you don’t quite know how you would ever go about utilizing this great resource, not to worry! The DDS offers online tutorials for everything from using equipment to creating credits for your work. They even have their own in-house “Digital Design Expert” to help you out. Check out the Tisch Library website for more information. 

Boston Library Consortium and Interlibrary Loan

Although the combined collections of the four libraries may seem to have every title and piece of information you could ever need or imagine, there are still plenty of books and documents that fall outside the scope of the university’s holdings. That’s where the Boston Library Consortium (BLC) and interlibrary loans come in handy. By submitting a request for a book or article using interlibrary loan, you can have almost any item you may need from other institutions around the world delivered directly to you at Tufts! Tufts is also part of the BLC with 18 other area institutions, which allows you to check out books at other school libraries with a BLC card. Between all of these resources, you won’t ever have to worry about not being able to get your hands on that specific source you need to make your research project perfect! Find out more about interlibrary loan.

Workshops and Support Services

If all of this information sounds exciting but also daunting, not to worry! The libraries also offer a variety of workshops and other support services to help students put these great library resources to use. Workshops cover everything from research methods, citations, and writing skills to database usage, media design, and more! A wonderful team of librarians and other support staff are also on hand to provide one-on-one assistance on any of these topics. In fact, each department is assigned its own librarian who can provide assistance tailored to the individual needs and challenges of research in that field. I can personally attest to the fact that the Tufts librarians are a fantastic help and a lot of fun to work with so don’t hesitate to reach out with questions

Now, all of this only begins to scratch the surface of the exciting stuff going on within the Tufts Libraries. For more information, visit the library website or visit a library and start “checking things out” for yourself. Happy exploring!

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. 

Event Spotlight – Graduate Student Research Symposium and 3-Minute Thesis

Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

As a member of the Graduate Student Council, I’ve had the pleasure of helping organize a number of events. From roundtables with administrators, to pub nights, to community service opportunities, one of the primary goals of the GSC is to provide meaningful experiences for all graduate students within the Tufts community. 

One of the most popular events is the annual Research Symposium. Every year in early March, graduate students from across campus come together to present their research in a variety of different formats; posters, speed talks, long talks—there’s something for everyone! And as usual, we aim to feed attendees with plenty of food. This year we even had the Frozen Hoagies  food truck, a local ice cream sandwich favorite. Graduate students present their research while faculty members and post-doctoral fellows provide feedback and ultimately choose the top 3 from each category. The winners get awards, but everyone gets free food and has a great time.

This year was no different. The day began with a poster session. Students from Biology, Chemistry, and other departments all presented their research during an informal reception. We were grateful to have judges from diverse, interdisciplinary backgrounds. One of the best things about Tufts is being surrounded by such interesting and broad research. At these kinds of academic events, we emphasize communicating research in an accessible way. Though I’m a biologist, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from students in the English, History, and Child Study and Human Development departments. As a Tufts graduate, I can guarantee you that you’ll have your elevator pitch down and that you’ll be able to clearly discuss your research with anyone who might listen.

The posters were followed by 15-minute talks, during which I learned about triple-stranded DNA, how climate change is impacting the use of bike share programs, and whether cupcakes and muffins are statistically distinguishable. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a symposium that is more diverse than that!

While the Research Symposium is the biggest academic event that the GSC runs, we have also begun a 3-Minute Thesis competition in the fall. 3MT is an international event that began in Australia, but any school can create its own version. It’s pretty much all in the name—you have to describe your thesis research in 3 minutes, using only a single PowerPoint slide with no animations. It is definitely challenging to say the least. This year we had nearly 15 participants from across the campus. Competition was fierce, but Alec Drobac from the Physics and Astronomy department prevailed. We’re looking forward to continuing to expand this event, and possibly even including other Boston-area schools in the future.

These academic-focused events give students the opportunity to practice communicating their research to the broader Tufts community. It’s also a great chance to meet and connect with students outside of your department. You never know where your next collaboration might be, even right on campus!

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.

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

A Day in the Life

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

7:30am My alarm wakes me up. I press snooze. It goes off again. I press snooze again. It goes off again. I finally give in and grab my phone to check my emails and social media. I am so not a morning person.

8:30am A full hour after the initial alarm went off I decide it might be time to get out of bed. I wash my face, fix my hair and makeup, and make breakfast. Eggs on toast, a yogurt smoothie, a banana, and a full water bottle. The water is important. I often forget to drink water while I’m working. Dehydration is extremely detrimental to brain function, so I always drink a full bottle in the morning as preparation.

8:45am I anxiously check my phone because I know my research assistant is beginning a study session right now. I don’t have any messages and I sigh in relief. I’ve had to run to campus to avert disaster before and that’s never fun.

9:30am I walk to school, which normally isn’t terrible since I live so close. However, it’s raining today so by the time I get to school my coat is soaked through and I think I smell like a wet dog. It’s unpleasant.

11:30am I’ve been working on my computer for two hours straight. I’ve read two ten-plus page papers, taken multiple pages of notes on each, graded forty activities for the class I am the teaching assistant for, and answered all my emails. So far, so good.

12:00pm It’s time to go to my lab meeting. We have one every couple of weeks with all the graduate and undergraduate students. This is one of my favorite parts of the week, because I get to hear about all the amazing projects my lab is doing. Most of the time graduate students in the same lab are working on completely different projects, so it’s good to get together and discuss ideas and issues. Today we are presenting our posters for the conference several of us are attending soon. I make my first mug of tea for the day, so I have something warm to hold. I don’t drink coffee. Cue jokes about how I could ever survive grad school without coffee.

1:10pm The lab meeting ran long, and now I only have five minutes to get ready for the class I TA for. It’s across campus, so the walk isn’t short. I check my email, throw my notebook in my backpack, and put on my coat. It’s still damp from this morning.

3:00pm I’m back in my office and I have four more papers to read, two more emails to deal with, and forty more activities to grade. I make some microwave mac and cheese and a mug of tea. I have leftover spaghetti in my fridge from last night that was supposed to be my lunch for today, but I didn’t remember to grab it before I left my apartment. I kind of prefer mac and cheese anyway, so I’m not that sorry.

5:30pm I finished grading, dealing with emails, reading papers (I only got through two more, but even I have to admit that over fifty pages of reading in one day is pushing it), taking notes, and merging and converting data files from my study. I even managed to write discussion questions for class on Monday. A huge tip for graduate school: if you have time to do something right now, even if it’s not due for another week, do it. You’ll thank yourself later, because you are never guaranteed to have time to finish it in the future.

5:45pm I listen to music on the walk home. It’s been an eight-hour day, which is fairly average so far. Some people can work from home, but I am not one of those people. Everything I need to do, I do at the office. There are far too many distractions at home for me to be productive.

6:00pm I get home and make my third mug of tea for the day while I reheat my spaghetti. It wasn’t too rainy when I walked home, but it’s still dreary out and nothing goes better with a grey day than some hot tea. I eat my dinner while watching Netflix in bed. There is no shame when it comes to self-care.

9:50pm My roommates are both still out and I’m getting ready for bed. It’s a Wednesday, and since I have plans for the weekend, I don’t have to be social at all this week. Right before I go to bed I check my phone. Three new emails, but they’ll have to wait until tomorrow.