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NE GWiSE Spring to Action

Guest Post by Alyssa DiLeo (Neuro), Tufts Graduate Women in Science & Engineering (GWiSE)

Tufts was host to the first Spring to Action event organized by the newly formed New England Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (NE GWiSE). The group represents graduate women in STEM from universities across New England in advocating for greater representation and resources for women in STEM fields. Within the context of the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaign, the forum focused on sexual harassment within our scientific communities with the goal of reviewing and creating school specific policy to be presented to each school.

Organizing Executive Board, Courtesy – Siobhan McRee

Dr. Leena Akhtar, a lecturer in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality from Harvard University kicked off the event as the keynote speaker. She walked the audience through the history of sexual harassment in the workplace and the landmark court cases that ultimately provided protection against sex discrimination. The 1964 Civil Rights act banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex. But, it almost wasn’t. Apparently, the provision on sex was included to sink the bill. That’s right, protection against discrimination based on sex was considered the most unlikely and ridiculous concept to be included in the law at the time.

As the 60s and 70s went on, many court cases, mostly brought by African American women, reinforced the law and made sexual harassment and hostile work places unlawful. Liberal and radical feminist groups organized to hold the government accountable to enforcing these laws and provided resources to women suffering injustices, something that is still relevant today. However, the cultural and societal backlash to the feminist movement was brutal. Change was not welcome in historically male institutions and newspaper articles summed up the feeling over the new law through obscene political cartoons and agonized over the idea of qualified women applying for traditionally male jobs. To quote Mona Lisa Vito, “What a frickin’ nightmare!”

Fast forward to present day and women are still fighting pay disparities, sexual harassment, and gender discrimination. Power structures in academic sciences are still very much in place and institutions mostly want to protect their tenured professors who bring in grant money rather than expendable graduate students. Deviant behavior perpetrated by scientists are usually notorious and well-known within their institutions and can persist because of bystander inaction. A panel including title IX coordinators and sexual misconduct specialists from BU, Harvard, MIT, Brandeis, and Tufts answered questions from a NE GWiSE moderator and the audience inspiring conversation about policies and reporting guidelines in place at each university. NE GWiSE also provided an overview of sexual harassment policies and offices among the New England universities represented at the event. Surprisingly, many do not require sexual harassment training for faculty and staff, especially older faculty, which is an incredibly irresponsible decision that can easily be fixed.

Title IX Panel, Courtesy – Siobhan McRee

Breakout groups formed to discuss these existing policies and create a list of “asks” to be brought back to each school. Tufts will be proposing to mandate tailored Title IX training that includes mental health and cultural sensitivity modules every few years, as well as further incorporating sexual misconduct into ethics classes. In order to better inform these trainings, a climate survey will go out to students, faculty, and staff about sexual harassment and the workplace environment at Tufts. 

Breakout Groups, Courtesy – Siobhan McRee

Despite the fight laid out before us, everyone left this event with hope in their hearts and fuel to continue fighting for justice in academia. This past year we saw Nasty Women unite and march on Washington the day after the president was inaugurated. Powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and Louie C.K are facing consequences for their inexcusable behavior and the world is taking sexual harassment allegations seriously. The conversation about sexual harassment is finally shifting from the perpetrator to the victim and focusing on what can be done to stop these behaviors rather than suggesting the victim was asking for it. These situations are reinforced by power structures and vulnerability often found in the sciences, but it’s beginning to even out as women have the support to continue their careers into higher level faculty positions. Victims of sexual harassment and gender-based violence are being lent a voice to speak out about the injustices they face within the workplace. As Dr. Leena Akhtar said, “this movement is a reckoning” and we’re just getting started.

The NEGWiSE Spring to Action Attendees, Courtesy – Siobhan McRee

If you’re interested in getting involved at Tufts, GWiSE chapters on the Boston and Medford chapters have been established this year and welcome all members of the graduate and scientific community to attend events.

Book Review: The Scientist’s Guide to Writing

It’s not uncommon to hear young, aspiring scientists say, “I hate writing. That’s why I’m going into science!” Plot twist: we do a lot of writing as scientists. Writing is pervasive in this field. We write to disseminate our research to the wider scientific community, to get funding, to get hired. It’s surprising that, as a community, we don’t devote much time to formally training students in the writing process.

Enter Stephen Heard, an evolutionary ecologist, who wrote “The Scientist’s Guide to Writing” to help address this gap in training. He draws from the scientific study of scientific writing, filling in the gaps with his own experiences with the writing process. The result is a book that not only advises readers on what to include in different written works, but also provides exercises that can be used to improve their use of the craft.

When scientists write about their research, the goal is mainly to convince other scientists that the body of work is important, and completely necessary, to the advancement of a particular scientific field. To do this, any arguments made need to be clear and well-founded, easily transferable from the page to the reader’s brain. Heard addresses this by offering his reader details about what writing actually is, beginning with the history of scientific writing and its unique evolution.

Throughout the book, Heard draws his reader to several conclusions, including three crucial tips: first, that any body of work must be crystal clear (in his words, it should “seem telepathic”); second that making note of things you like when you are reading can bolster your own writing; and third, that every word should be considered and removed if unnecessary. These conclusions apply across the board—not just to manuscripts, but also to grants and other types of scientific communication.

While a book on writing may not seem especially interesting, Heard’s advice is invaluable to the developing writer. Reading this, or a similar book, should be considered critical training for every student of the sciences.

Rosie’s Place Donation Drive Sheds Light on Pervasive Gender Bias

Last December, the newly formed student organization, Tufts Graduate Women in Science & Engineering (GWiSE, Tufts chapter of New England GWiSE), participated in a city-wide philanthropic effort. A donation drive was organized for Rosie’s Place, a shelter focused on helping poor and homeless women; founded in 1974, it is the first women’s shelter in the US. The drive was meant to run from Dec 11-15, and collect tampons, pads and any other menstrual hygiene products.

However, when Siobhan McRee, a Genetics grad student who co-founded Tufts GWiSE, went to place a donation box in the Jaharis lobby, she was informed that she wasn’t allowed to do it, as there is already a “Toys for Tots” box in the lobby. Additionally, the security personnel informed her that she would need approval from the Friedman nutrition school to place a box in the lobby. McRee had already obtained permission from Associate Dean Dan Volchok, following precedence of other donation drives (e.g. – GSC winter clothing drive 2015). Dan V was quick to solve the problem, according to McRee, but she didn’t feel comfortable putting the bin in the lobby anymore. Instead, she decided to try the program offices in M&V 5th floor.

McRee was surprised to find that there was resistance from the administrators too. “You don’t expect pushback from certain groups of people”, McRee explained (most of the office admin are female). The general consensus among the admins, led by one strong proponent, seem to be that the donation bins and the flyer for the drive (approved by the dean’s office) were inappropriate and would make men uncomfortable. She was told to post the flyers and put the bin in the women’s bathroom. A supporting admin later offered their office space to host the bin and collect the donations. Tufts GWiSE informed the student body accordingly and donations were effectively collected from Dec 13-15.

Despite the pushback, McRee believes that the drive was successful, “we filled up the back of a car”. She added that the pushbacks might have actually helped the drive in some way. But, she was dismayed to find that people at Tufts would harbor such old-fashioned views that women’s reproductive issues should not be discussed in public, especially on the biomedical campus of a liberal institution. She believes that this is an indication that sexist attitudes towards women’s health, that are rooted in patriarchal ideology, need to be addressed to create a safe working environment for women and to fight against discrimination and sexual violence. When asked for his comments, Dan V stated that the events that transpired are not representative of the greater Tufts community, and Dean Dan Jay mentioned that he had not heard of the pushback from department admins. Contrary to expressed opinions as to how the drive might offend men, male community members actively participated in the drive, further supporting Dan V’s convictions re: the Tufts community. 

While the Dean’s office at Sackler was very helpful, the response from Tufts university administration seemed lukewarm in comparison. McRee’s husband, after learning of the incident, tweeted to the university and the president. Patrick Collins, executive director of the Tufts PR department, reached out to McRee to take note of what happened. However, as McRee described, there was no followup afterward and she felt that they weren’t proactive about the matter and didn’t offer an apology that a Tufts employee would pose such roadblocks in holding a donation drive for women’s health.

This kerfuffle may seem an isolated incident in a largely liberal institution which has vowed a fight against sexual harassment and violence against women. However, from a broader picture, this doesn’t seem so isolated. It is true that Massachusetts sets a higher standard for women’s rights compared to other states across the nation – from popular support for Planned Parenthood to not having any taxes on feminine hygiene products (otherwise known as “tampon tax”, a discriminatory legislature considering that Viagra enjoys a tax-free status). However, just as racial inequality in the city of Boston exists in a hidden but structural manner, the same is true for violence against women. This violence takes the shape of entrenched patriarchal views that still seem to be pervasive in a liberal community, besides the ubiquitous, more overt forms of violence such as domestic abuse & rape. These views and barriers impede the improvement of women’s health, as McRee’s experience shows, in a manner that is hard to fight against (re-routing, administrative bureaucracy). “I was told to just do it and ask for forgiveness later, but I’m a non-confrontational person, and, this shouldn’t be the norm” McRee explained as to how she felt discouraged regarding putting a donation bin in the lobby.

Such structural barriers to women’s health issues have disproportionate effects along the racial line – the city of Boston reported in 2015 that 69.7% women living in poverty are non-white. Additionally, these barriers affect an even more marginalized community, that of the transgender population, who are routinely turned away from homeless shelters and therefore are at greater risks of harm to their health especially since a significant portion of them turn towards sex work to meet basic needs. The need for menstrual hygiene products are even greater in this community, considering the myths surrounding their bodies and the taboo regarding their identities. In recent years, Boston’s aid to the homeless has grown scarce, especially after the closure of Long Island shelter and with a sizeable portion of this population yet to be rehabilitated. This drive probably could have been more effective and served the needs of a greater portion of the homeless population, if not for such roadblocks.

In the wake of the #MeToo and #Time’sUp movements, agency and ownership of a woman’s body has come into the limelight once again. The belief that women’s health should not be discussed in public is rooted in patriarchy, and that menstruation can cause discomfort to men serves to solidify its ideological grasps on men and women alike. These ideas also rob a woman of her agency and ownership of her body, while adding stigma and shame. These methods of structural violence are more subtle and harder to disavow compared to assault and rape, as the Aziz Ansari case has shown, but they need to be faced and dismantled as well if gender equality is to be achieved at Tufts, Boston or any other community for that matter. McRee believes that both men and women should be part of the conversation surrounding such issues and that men, just as they helped with the donation drive, can play an important supporting role in advocating for better policies to improve women’s health. 

A step towards addressing such issues is already being organized by Tufts GWiSE, in partnership with New England GWiSE – “Beyond breaking the silence, building a collective”, a gender-inclusive forum focusing on sexual harassment in academia will be taking place on March 3rd, 12-6 pm in the Sackler building. The forum intends to discuss sexual harassment issues in the STEM fields, explore current policies at local graduate schools that address such issues and develop a plan of action to collectively advocate for improved policy action. If interested, please RSVP here.  Additionally, events by other groups on campus are also being organized to discuss the state of women in biomedical science. For future events and more information, keep a lookout on the weekly Goods and social media outlets – you can follow @TuftsGWiSE on Twitter and Facebook

Notes from the North – Collaboration and Communication

March is just around the corner, so there are just a couple of weeks before the CMDB and Genetics program students and faculty will be joining me for a weekend in Portland! As much as I want to advertise for the retreat and mention that it is student driven in that talks will be on topics selected by students, the day is structured based on student feedback, and the Saturday night social trivia session was voted in by students, I don’t want readers from other programs to feel left out of my article’s audience. Note on image: lobster coloration really can display Tufts support, the pattern occurs in bilateral gynandromorphs (half male, half female) where one side has normal black/brown color and the other side has a rare color mutation causing a blue carapace. The chance of a half blue/half brown lobster may be as little as 1 in 100 million.

Now, the real reason I mention the retreat is that over the last three months I have been collaborating with student and faculty colleagues at three separate campuses along the New England coast to help bring this retreat together. It has required learning and practicing organizational skills, shared decision-making skills, delegation, and diplomacy. These are all skills worth cultivating for anyone who may participate in scientific collaboration, so it is helpful to seek out collaborative experiences early in a scientific career. Here is how helping to plan a retreat becomes practice for collaboration and communication:

Integration of multiple viewpoints. One of the great advantages of working as a group toward a common goal is that collectively the group has abundant experience to draw from in order to propose ideas and predict where problems may arise. While planning the CMDB/Genetics retreat we felt it was important to be respectful of all organizer opinions and concerns and at the same time try to incorporate as many ideas from the retreat participants as possible. This of course meant instances when compromise and diplomacy were necessary. Delegation of point people for specific tasks also helped mitigate conflict because one person has had primary responsibility while others advise.

Faculty as peers as well as advisors. Speaking of advising, I have found that a benefit of helping to organize such a large event for the CMDB and Genetics programs has been the need to interact with many faculty and staff in a capacity slightly different from that of my usual student role. Over the course of our academic careers our view of academic mentors shifts from their being “sages on the stage” in high school, undergrad, and early graduate school, to being approachable human beings with advice that ranges far beyond the scholarly later in graduate school, post-doctoral fellowships, and early career. The increase in responsibility that comes with becoming a peer as well as an advisee is not something I think consciously about very often, so this has been a valuable exercise in examining the evolution of these relationships. Recognition of this changing role can facilitate collaborative scientific work because it gives you confidence in your value to a project.

Interaction at a distance. The CMDB/Genetics retreat brings together students and faculty from four campuses in two states, making it imperative that we utilize methods of communication that are speedy and reliable. Now imagine if we were on different continents! For the most part this has meant heavy reliance on email, but we have also found it helpful to setup online video conferencing for regular face-to-face interaction. Meetings can be tricky to schedule for groups comprised of very busy individuals, and it is easy to fall into the trap of holding too many, however they are important for quickly refocusing the group after a period of productivity. Another tool we have made extensive use of that is suitable for both near and far collaborative efforts are online workspace platforms such a Google Drive that allow multiple users to work and edit simultaneously. This is especially helpful in generating a living record of how the group’s ideas and priorities change over time. I think one of the greatest lessons I have learned from helping to organize the retreat has been realizing the importance of keeping a centralized record of decisions. It has allowed the retreat planning committee to understand the logic that got us to a particular point, and then guided us as we moved forward on a number of occasions.

The best way to improve any set of skills is to go out and practice them, so look for those collaborative opportunities!

“The Prize” by Geoffrey M. Cooper, PhD is a thriller for the dramatic scientist in all of us

I was excited to learn a few months ago that my former PI from BU, Dr. Geoffrey Cooper, was publishing a fictional novel about the competitive world of scientific discovery and competition. I’m sharing a short review for you guys to hopefully inspire you to pick up a copy of your own to enjoy this entertaining and relatable thriller!

A fictional novel that tells the story of two professors racing to discover the first successful Alzheimer’s drug, written by Geoffrey Cooper PhD., a professor of Biology at BU. The story follows a chronological timeline to detail how the insatiable need to achieve a novel discovery can drive scientists to perform inconceivable acts. Pam Weller acts as the protagonist, a young assistant professor studying Alzheimer’s, vying for tenure at the fictional Boston-based research institute, the Langmere. Opposing Pam is Eric Prescott, a well-established and older professor at the Institute for Advanced Neuroscience in Cambridge, also a fictional and supposedly more established institute, compared to the Langmere. Whereas Eric is credited with the establishment of an Alzheimer’s mouse, Pam is building her budding career on a novel cell culture model of Alzheimer’s in which primary mouse brain cells grow plaques and die in vitro. Pam’s lab’s efforts are directed towards screening tens of thousands of compounds in her cell culture model in hopes of identifying a drug that can stop or reverse the formation of plaques to rescue the cells—a much speedier technique, compared to the screening of compounds in Alzheimer’s mice. With Pam’s tenure review coming up quickly, the pressure is on for her to make a truly groundbreaking discovery. When Pam’s postdoc Holly happens to identify the right compound, she greedily decides to keep the data to herself in hopes of advancing her own career. In an exciting and dreadful twist, Holly uses her discovery to team up with Eric to steal the drug, destroy Pam’s credibility, and walk away with all the glory and a Nobel Prize to boot.

This book is a true thriller as Pam works to uncover the truth and gain credit where it is truly due. The Prize is an easy-to-read page-turner. It’s an exciting and relatable story that is sure to entertain, especially for us, as we are deep in the trenches of scientific discovery!

That being said, hopefully none of us are resorting to tactics as evil and dramatic as Eric and Holly. It’s just a Nature paper and full tenure and the Nobel Prize… nothing worth murdering anyone over, right?

The Prize is available for purchase on Amazon.com

Sci-Art Contest 2017: And the winner is…

Last month the Sackler Insight hosted a contest to find the best science-based art (“sci-art”) at Sackler. All twelve entries were posted to the Sackler Graduate Student Council Instagram account (@SacklerGSC) and the Sackler student Facebook group. The winning contributor will receive a $25 Visa gift card!

The results are in! 174 voters from both Instagram and Facebook weighed in on their favorite pictures. Our lucky first place winner is Mary H. from Microbiology with her photo “An enteroid supernova,” which received 65 votes. Runners-up included Rana A. from PDD with “Making the best of a bad Western” (61 votes) and Rob C. from CMDB with “Monday Blues – Screening One-Bead-One-Compound Peptide Libraries” (39 votes).

Congratulations Mary, and thank you to everyone who participated! You can check out the pictures below:

Science Sketches at MMCRI

Very recently I found myself in a revelationary conversation with a non-scientific colleague as we were planning our annual exhibition for the Maine Science Festival. We needed a display that would highlight the molecular biology work we do at MMCRI that would be exciting and comprehensible to a broad audience plus a related hands-on activity that could be completed in just a few minutes. Pulling from the expertise of the folks attending the festival, I proposed that we have a display on our use of 3D silk scaffolds in modeling cancer. One of the hallmarks of the cancer cells compared to healthy cells is reduced lipid content, so the hands-on activity could be a demonstration of dye solubility with the explanation that this is how we measure lipid content in our cell populations.

Well, about halfway into the conversation I found that I had completely failed to convey A. the link between the silk scaffold models and the hands-on activity and B. the importance of dye solubility in highlighting specific structures and substances. Fortunately, my colleague asked me to take several steps back and was able to ask very specific questions such that I was able to reform my explanation for her. In the end, my idea was passed along, but the episode highlighted to me that despite all the opportunities I have to explain my science to both scientific and lay audiences I still need lots more practice.

This past summer at MMCRI we had an excellent opportunity to think in great depth about how to present our work in a concise and comprehensible manner: we produced Science Sketches! A Science Sketch is a two-minute or less video summary of a scientific topic. I have seen examples of more universal basic scientific principles as well as very specific projects.

All sketches start as an idea or concept that the writer wants to convey to their audience. The writer must decide who their audience will be, as this will dictate the vocabulary and the level of explanation that needs to be employed. Science Sketches has a great tutorial to help writers as they get started telling their stories. They recommend a 300-word script with no jargon that has been proofread by several colleagues and assessed using online tools that highlight terms above a given reading level. With a complete script, you can start putting together a storyboard that illustrates every sentence.

The sketches generally utilize pen and ink drawing on copy paper or white board, but they can also employ cut paper shapes, building blocks, or other props to illustrate an idea. They can be made very rapidly and at very little expense as they are often filmed using a cell-phone camera mounted on a ring stand.  The writer films him or herself drawing or moving paper cut outs, records his or her script, then uses video editing software to compress the video and match it to the audio. The writer can take as long as he or she likes drawing the images as they can be sped up to whatever speed is necessary using the editing software.

Video summaries of scientific concepts have been around for a long time, and I am particularly fond of this trippy vintage recording of translation, but organizing an approachable tutorial that anyone can carry out is a novel model. Science Sketches arose at the Max Plank Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden Germany as a collaboration between the institute’s postdoc program manager, Lisa Dennison, PhD, and the Hyman lab. More recently, Science Sketches has focused on improving their public engagement, so Liam Holt, PhD of NYU, became involved and helped them develop their science fundamentals video series.

I found this summer’s workshop challenging but rewarding. I had to take a high altitude view of my project again after months of detailed experiments in order to highlight the key features of my work and keep my audience’s attention for the full two minutes. It also gave me an excuse to binge watch lots of science vignettes, making me feel really well rounded and intelligent for a day, as I decided how I wanted to construct my own video. Hope you enjoy!

NIH signs PACT with big pharma to boost immunotherapy

On October 2017, the NIH announced a formal collaboration between the public and private sector as a new leap in the War On Cancer. The collaboration, termed PACT for “Partnership for Accelerating Cancer Therapeutics”, is a five-year project that will focus first on cancer biomarker identification & validation and then on developing novel immunotherapies. As Dr. Francis Collins, Director of NIH, stated to the press, “we have seen dramatic responses from immunotherapy… We need to bring that kind of success – and hope – for more people and more types of cancers, and we need to do it quickly.” He believes that this collaborative effort between the NIH and 11 heavyweight pharmaceutical companies (see below for complete list) will “help achieve this success faster.”

This new collaboration will allocate $215 million over the five years, with NIH contributing $160 million over 5 years (depending on availability of funds) and each pharma company contributing $1 million/year (totaling 55$ million over 5 years). The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), a congressionally established nonprofit, and the U.S. FDA will be supervising this partnership. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a trade group found in 1958 to advocate for public policies that encourage drug discovery for patients, will also provide support for this initiative.

PACT seeks to identify why certain patients respond so dramatically to immunotherapy, as evidenced by the recent observations of near-complete eradication of pediatric lymphomas, and how such treatments can be expanded to a larger patient population and a wider range of tumors, especially solid tumors which have not had much success with immunotherapy despite a lot of initial promise. To that end, this program will first perform cancer biomarker discovery, validation and standardization and then integrate these biomarkers for patient recruitment into oncology trials for immunotherapy and combination trials. PACT also aims to embrace the data sharing aspect of collaboration to “better coordinate clinical efforts, align investigative approaches, reduce duplication and enable more high-quality trials to be conducted.”

As part of the Cancer Moonshot program and PACT collaboration, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently awarded cooperative agreements to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Stanford Cancer Institute, Precision Immunology Institute and the Tisch Cancer Institute to Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, and MD Anderson Cancer Center. These cancer centers will serve as Cancer Immune Monitoring and Analysis Centers (CIMACs) where tumors will be deep sequenced and immune profiled. The data obtained will be archived in a immune response biomarker database created at Dana Farber, which is slated to act as a Cancer Immunologic Data Center (CIDC). These cancer centers will form a network of laboratories that can support both basic research efforts and adult and pediatric immunotherapy trials.

Dr. Thomas Hudson, vice president of oncology discovery and early development at AbbVie, who represented the industry at the PACT press conference, stressed on the need for collaborative efforts to drive innovations in immunotherapy, despite the competitive nature of the field. Based on his prior experience in large scale public-private sector collaboratives, such as the International Cancer Genome Consortium, he believes that this collaboration will ultimately prove to be more fruitful than expected for all parties involved. Besides Abbvie, the other pharma partners include Amgen, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Celgene Corporation, Genentech, Gilead Sciences, GlaxoSmithKline, Janssen Pharmaceuticals (Johnson & Johnson), Novarits and Pfizer.

 

Sources –

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-partners-11-leading-biopharmaceutical-companies-accelerate-development-new-cancer-immunotherapy-strategies-more-patients

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/multimedia-partnership-accelerating-cancer-therapies

https://www.statnews.com/2017/10/12/nih-pharma-cancer-moonshot/

https://cen.acs.org/articles/95/web/2017/10/Big-pharma-joins-NIHs-Cancer.html

The Perks of Resting Your White Matter

All images used here are released under Creative Commons CC0. The author would like to thank her good friend E.C. for help in editing this article.

While the stigma of mental health issues has begun to lessen somewhat in recent years, it’s still very present in our society. Let’s take a moment to talk honestly about mental health and work/life balance.

Graduate students have a high risk of having or developing mental health issues
In a paper published in the Journal of Medical Education in 1984, Heins et al. studied perceived stress in medical, law, and graduate students. While the authors acknowledged that stress is related to doing graduate work regardless of program, they caution that overabundance of stress is, paradoxically, likely to be detrimental to the learning process (Heins et al. 1984). Even in the 80s, scientists were studying and acknowledging mental health issues resulting from too much stress, and the importance of its management in post-secondary education. So why has it taken so long to address this, even in everyday society?

Aside from the inertia created by social norms, there doesn’t seem to be a reasonable answer to this. Graduate students face an extraordinarily high amount of pressure, including the their own expectations and those of their peers, funding concerns, publishing, and finding a job once their degree is finally obtained (Hyun et al. 2006). A small study of Ph.D. students in Flanders, Belgium indicated that the risk having or developing a common psychiatric disorder, such as anxiety or depression, was 2.43 times higher in Ph.D. students than in the highly educated general population (Levecque et al. 2017). A similar pattern was published in the Graduate Student Happiness & Well-Being Report from University of California, Berkeley, where 28-64% of graduate students scored as being depressed (depending on the field of study; biological sciences scored 43-46%) (University of California, Berkeley 2014). This study’s top ten predictors of overall graduate student well-being are:

1. Career Prospects
2. Overall Health
3. Living Conditions
4. Academic Engagement
5. Social Support
6. Financial Confidence
7. Academic Progress & Preparation
8. Sleep
9. Feeling Valued and Included
10. Advisor Relationship

So, what does this mean?

Work-life balance is important
You may be protesting, “I am in graduate school. I am extremely busy and I simply don’t have time to do things outside of work.” Good news: studies show that taking breaks can boost your focus (Ariga and Lleras 2011; Finkbeiner et al. 2014; Zacher et al. 2016). There are lots of opportunities hidden within your day-to-day life that you can seize, if you know where to look. Not convinced? Try taking just one extra hour of time for yourself per week for a few months and see if your stress levels decrease. Here are some beneficial things to try during that hour:

Get some exercise
The gym in Sackler is free and readily accessible for students, but there are lots of other things you could do. Running is a great, rhythmic option that can double as a jam session to your favorite tunes. High-impact exercise not your style? Try taking a stroll with a friend to get some bubble tea and fresh air! Or take advantage of the weekly “Walk with the Dean” that Dean Jay recently implemented. The Student Advisory and Health Administration Office has also sponsored beginner’s level yoga and meditation, which will hopefully continue in future semesters.

Catch more zzz’s
Most of the time, caffeine does a passable job at convincing us that sleep isn’t all that important after all, right? As miraculous (and delicious!) as coffee is, the caffeine-induced buzz just isn’t a substitute for getting enough sleep. It’s very difficult to commit to a full 8 hours every night (and some of us may not even need quite that much), but if you are consistently running low on sleep, try committing to just an extra half hour each night. At the very least, you’ll get another 3.5 hours per week, which is a step in the right direction!

Start talking
Open a dialogue with your colleagues about mental health and well-being. You might be surprised by how many people have something to say on the topic, and by starting a conversation, you will play an active role in decreasing the stigma surrounding mental health. This can be a particularly helpful and important step if you are feeling alone, frustrated, helpless, or overwhelmed. If opening up to a friend is too daunting, you can also take advantage of peer-to-peer mentoring. Groups like Tufts Mentoring Circles aim to support students (and Postdocs!) through topics such as applying for jobs, time management, conflict resolution, and, of course, work/life balance.

Know where to go for help
Did you know that Tufts has a Student Wellness Advisor? This resource is available to all students on the Boston Health Science Campus. Our Wellness Advisor, Sharon “Snaggs” Gendron is here to help us manage the everyday stress of being graduate students. She can also refer students struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health challenges to clinicians who can help. You can read more about how to get in touch with the Wellness Advisor here.

If any of this sounds familiar and you want to try changing your habits, you’re in luck! There are two Wellness Gatherings coming up, one on November 15th from 3 PM – 4:30 PM and one on December 14th from 2:30 PM – 4 PM, in the Sackler 4th floor Reading Room. Take a few minutes to stop by and meet the Wellness Advisor (and a Canine Companion)!

A final note…
TL;DR? You are important and your health is paramount. Keep in mind that the definition of ‘health’ is not limited to the physical realm; you need to take care of your mind and feelings just as much as the rest of you.

Finally, and this cannot be emphasized enough, if you are struggling with mental health challenges like anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts, please seek help. You are not alone. In the event of a crisis, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1 (800) 273-8255.

Literature Cited
Ariga A and Lleras A. (2011) Brief and rare mental ‘‘breaks’’ keep you focused: Deactivation and reactivation of task goals preempt vigilance decrements. Cognition 118:439-443.

Finkbeiner KM, Russell PN, and Helton WS. (2016) Rest improves performance, nature improves happiness: Assessment of break periods on the abbreviated vigilance task. Conscious Cogn 42:277-285.

Heins M, Fahey SN, and Leiden LI. (1984) Perceived stress in medical, law, and graduate students. J Med Educ 59:169-179.

Hyun JK, Quinn BC, Madon T, and Lustig S. (2006) Graduate student mental health: needs assessment and utilization of counseling services. J Coll Stud Dev 47(3):247-266.

Levecque K, Answeel F, De Beuckelaer A et al. (2017) Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Res Policy 46:868-879.

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Michael Irwin, MD, to deliver 42nd Charlton Lecture, Oct 25

The 42nd annual Charlton lecture will be held on Wednesday, October 25, 4-5.30 pm, in the Sackler DeBlois Auditorium. The lectureship, established in 1975 in honor of Mr. Earle P. Charlton, has since evolved to include a poster competition that serves as a platform to recognize outstanding research work performed by graduate and professional students on the medical school campus. This year, the poster competition will be held on Tuesday, October 24 and Wednesday, October 25 in Sackler 114. 

The keynote lecture will be delivered by Dr. Michael Irwin, the Norman Cousins Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Science  at UCLA Geffen School of Medicine, Director of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the UCLA Semel Institute, Director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at the UCLA Semel Institute, and Director of the Center’s Inflammatory Biology Core. 

Mr. Earle P. Charlton was a renowned entrepreneur and a social benefactor, as exemplified by his legacy, the Charlton Trust. Mr. Charlton established a chain of stores throughout Massachusetts back in 1890, before merging with the Woolworth company and expanding to the west and Canada. The Woolworth company would later go on to acquire several brands throughout the twentieth century. However, due to increased competition in the retail sector, the company chose to focus on a select brands and is today represented by the Foot Locker stores. Mr. Charlton passed away in 1930, and is commemorated by the Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River, MA, a town which benefitted greatly from his entrepreneurship and generosity. (Source – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._P._Charlton_%26_Company)

About the Speaker

Dr. Michael Irwin, the Norman Cousins Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Science  at UCLA Geffen School of Medicine, Director of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at the UCLA Semel Institute, Director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at the UCLA Semel Institute, and Director of the Center’s Inflammatory Biology Core. His ongoing work is focused on the “reciprocal interactions between the immune- and central nervous systems, and the role of sleep disturbance on the molecular and cellular inflammatory signaling pathways that influence depression- and physical health risk with a focus on cancer survivors and older adults” (source). 

Dr. Irwin is best known for his pioneering studies that showed the relation between stress and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, and the immune system through receptor activation mediated mechanisms. He also showed that b-adrenergic receptors played a major role in inflammation and anti-viral immunity in a variety of disease conditions ranging from physiological to psychosomatic ones. His broad range of work integrates data at various levels of biological investigation – from the mechanistic details of signaling pathways to epidemiological data and clinical case studies. He is also the recipient of a large number of awards for his ground-breaking work. More details on his work can be found here