Reflections on Covid: What I Learned From Going to School and Working Virtually

By Lindsey Schaffer, Museum Education M.A. Candidate

Just like everyone else, my lifestyle has changed drastically during the pandemic. This time has taught me what I need to feel at my best. Balancing work and school has been challenging, but I learned a few lessons that have allowed me to achieve a better work life balance. Below are some of my biggest takeaways from quarantine.

The Necessity of Routine

Before the pandemic it was easy to jump out of bed and decide what I wanted to do that day. Now, I need structure so that I don’t get restless. I have found that my planner is a useful tool. I have always used a planner, but now it isn’t just for school and work-related dates, but also Zoom events, grocery runs, and workout classes. Scheduling these things ahead of time gives me something to look forward to and keeps me feeling productive and healthy. I have also gotten into the habit of scheduling Sunday as a ‘reset day.’ I use this time to clean around the house, meal prep, outline the next week in my planner, and do laundry. This helps me start the next week off with a blank slate.

Your Environment Matters

I have always loved decorating my room, but I never realized how important creating a space I loved was before I started spending all of my time there. Over quarantine I started considering how I could make my space as restorative and comfortable as possible. The book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo helped me do this. In the book, she has you examine each item that you own to see if it sparks joy. If not, it is unnecessary clutter that should be donated or re-gifted. The things that spark joy should be taken good care of and stored properly. This book allowed me to examine what objects I owned and how they reflected me personally. Was I partaking in retail therapy over quarantine or acquiring things that I actually needed? In addition to this, I filled my room with things full of life. Plants are an easy way to spruce up your room. Niche in Davis Square has a beautiful array of plants and pots (although they can be on the pricier side). Another way I livened up my space was by adding a vision board next to my bed. I filled this with pictures of what inspired me, whether it was professionals in my field, quotes, the lifestyle that I aspired for, and more.

Work/Life Separation is Hard but Important

I worked from home in the beginning of COVID and found that it was immensely difficult to separate my life from work when I was off the clock. I slept a few feet away from the desk where I spent my workday, and my email inbox was always looming. I learned that I needed to set boundaries with myself at the end of the workday so that I made time to do the things I wanted to do. It was hard to find time for myself working full time, but I found that utilizing my mornings before work was the most effective strategy. Every day before work I tried to have coffee outside and read or write for fun. This allowed me to pursue my creative passions as well as calm my mind. During my workday, I found it important to leave my room during breaks. Going on walks was a healthy and easy alternative to scrolling on social media during my free time.

In Conclusion

The pandemic has been a life altering event. Not everything needs a silver lining, but the quarantine allowed me to look inward and reassess my lifestyle. Ultimately, it taught me to hold my friends and family close while I can. It is great to be back on campus again. I forgot how much I missed it.

Asking for Letters of Recommendation

By Jennifer Khirallah, Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. candidate

Letters of recommendations are a key component in building your professional portfolio. They can make or break any application and leave lasting impressions. These letters unfortunately, need to be thought of months before you need them, so that you have the time to build connections with professors or professionals you wish to ask. Once you have chosen a list of professors to ask for recommendations you begin the daunting task of asking them to do this for you.

The key thing to remember is that you are asking a big favor of someone when you ask them to write you a letter of recommendation. Professors are busy and not all professors have the extra time to curate a special letter. It’s best to do everything you can to make their job as easy as possible.

When you email your professors asking for recommendations you should first explain to them why you want them specifically to write your letter. This includes what unique perspective they can offer. It is good to touch on some key points of your work with them and remind them of your relationship. Also, you want to tell them what aspects of yourself you want them to talk about (your independence, quick thinking, decision making, attitude, technical skills, etc.) so that each of your letters of recommendation touches on a different aspect of what makes you a great candidate.

An additional beneficial item to add in your email is an attachment of your resume or anything they could review when writing your letter. Another good thing to include is a small description of what you are applying for and a little information about the position so they can tailor their letter to your application.

Furthermore, when asking them to write this letter, make sure to give them more than enough time, at least one month, and make sure to tell them the due date is a week before it actually is in case there are major issues with what they wrote, or they are running behind. And do not forget to follow up with them a week before you tell them it’s due!

Finally, keep in mind that some professors may ask you to write your own letter that they will sign or to make them an outline. This is completely normally since professors are so busy. Take your time to curate a letter/outline saying specifically what you want to say about yourself and if you need help just ask a friend. Also, if professors say “no” to writing your letter is it okay, they are likely only saying no to you it because they don’t feel they would write a good enough one that would actually help you due to either lack of time or memory of your relationship with them. One final thing to keep in mind is if you know your professors are not always timely, it may be beneficial to ask one extra professor, so you have an extra to choose from or enough if one doesn’t follow through.

Below is an example of an email sent to a professor asking for a letter of recommendation for a graduate school application.

Example:

Dear Professor Happy,

I hope you had a great weekend. I am writing to ask you if you would write me a letter of recommendation for my graduate school applications. I am applying for a PhD program in Biomedical Engineering at Tufts University. I would like you to write a letter as I worked in your lab for one year working on various projects including X, Y, and Z. You would be able to offer a unique perspective on my skills in a laboratory setting. I am hoping you would touch on how I have played a key role in the progress of projects A and B, how I work well independently, and how I have shown success in designing my own experiments.

The due date for this letter of recommendation is X/(X-7)/X. I am attaching my resume for your reference. Please let me know if this is something you are willing to do and if so if you have any questions for me. Thank you!

Best,
Jenn

Why Tufts?

By Lan Anh (Bella) Do, Ph.D. Cognitive Psychology PhD Candidate

Applying to graduate schools, for me, was a process of searching for a P.I. whose research interests fit with mine. In other words, professors were the main motivation for all my applications, rather the schools themselves. At Tufts, I was interested in working with Dr. Ayanna Thomas who is currently the editor-in-chief of the journal Memory & Cognition. Her work in memory, learning, and metacognition was in line with my research experience and more importantly, she examines such topics in the context of stress, an important but understudied factor that is highly relevant to education. Fortunately, she offered me admission to Tufts, but it was not the only offer that I received. That was when I had to truly think about the question: Why Tufts?

Everyone has their own criteria when selecting a graduate school but perhaps the ultimate aim is to find a place that matches their needs and values. For me, an ideal program is the one that, first, allows me to work with not only my advisor but also other top-notch experts in the field of my interest, and second, financially supports me through the duration of my study. I see myself as a realistic person so typically I don’t need a beautiful story to back up my decision, but in this case I looked at the facts. Tufts is one of the R1 institutions that is well known for its high research activities. Also, at Tufts, the PhD in Psychology is a fully funded program, which allows students to work with payment as an RA and/or TA during the semester. Besides the stipend, Tufts provides a wide range of other funding for research related activities and travel grants for attending conferences. This is especially important for an international student like me because I probably wouldn’t be able to complete a 4- or 5-year PhD program if I had to worry about my budget.

When I think of Tufts, it feels like a tree to me – a huge oak with a big trunk and spreading boughs – a tree that can cover my head on both sunny and rainy days, but it also has a young vibe of a blue sky that allows people a lot of freedom to come up with new ideas. When I imagined myself flying away from South Korea, my second hometown, and moving to America, to live and study at Tufts for the next 4-5 years, I was not nervous, but rather excited. I listened to my instinct, and I picked Tufts to be the next destination of my journey.

After my first one-and-a-half months at Tufts, I have discovered many other advantages of being a student here, besides its prestige and generous financial support. Everyone is friendly and reaches out to me to ask if I need any help. I am able to call all the faculty in my department by their first names, so it is comfortable to communicate with them. This is a big difference and a nice surprise for me, a student coming from Asian cultures, specifically, Korean and Vietnamese, where there was always a hierarchy between students and professors, and such hierarchy forms the way we behave and talk to one another. There seems to be more room for open conversation and for students to express their opinions when they can talk to their professors in a more casual way.

Also, probably due to its smaller size, people at Tufts are very responsive. Whenever I have a problem and email the school offices to ask for help, they always respond quickly with a proper solution. From an international student’s perspective, this is a huge advantage of Tufts. I have faced quite a number of troubles since I moved to America, from course registration, mobile phone number, payment and countless other situations I have had to handle to start a new life. I’m glad that there is always someone whom I can reach out to for help.

In this semester (Fall 2021), I’m taking three classes and one of them is Advanced Statistics I. There is homework almost every week and a quiz every month. It may sound like a huge burden for some students, but as an educational psychologist, I’m aware that it’s actually a good teaching and learning method. Repeated retrieval practice and rehearsal can strengthen our memory and help us remember more of what we learned and for a longer period of time. Making such activities, however, can be demanding especially for the instructor (Dr. Daniel Barch). Thus, I’m grateful for the effort he spent on creating all the learning materials, and I expect to learn a lot from this course.

One bonus point that I like about Tufts is the huge and beautiful lawns on campus. It’s probably the first time in my life seeing this much green around me and having the freedom to walk on it. Hopefully, this amount of freshness can help everyone, including me, make the best of our education at Tufts, given the pandemic situation.

Why Tufts?

By Lindsey Schaffer, Museum Education M.A. Candidate

My whole life I have been torn between two passions: English and History. It wasn’t until I discovered museums that I realized the two could be combined. Because to me, museums are just another venue for stories, except instead of using words they use objects to convey a narrative. I knew that I needed an advanced degree to get my foot into the museum field which is why I decided to apply to multiple graduate programs. I wanted to find somewhere that was challenging traditional narratives and actively seeking to make museums a more inclusive space. After deliberating over six schools, I knew that Tufts was right for me. Their Museum Education program focuses on fostering community, confronting social issues, and creating innovative lesson plans, which set them apart from the other programs I was looking at. I know that upon graduation I will not only be prepared for a career in the field, but also for a life in an ever- changing world.

Before I confirmed my enrollment at Tufts I met (virtually) with a few second-year graduate students in my program. Although I was originally intimidated, I was quickly put at ease by how warm and supportive they were. It assured me that the dynamic at Tufts would be collaborative, not competitive. This has been reflected so far in all my classes. Everyone brings a unique perspective to class and I am always so happy to listen and contribute. Being an introverted person, I was nervous about participating in discussions. However, I have found it easy and worth-while to share with the class.

Another plus of my program is that Museum Education is a small group of people. This year’s cohort was only 10. This reminded me of my undergraduate experience at the College of Saint Benedict, which also had small, discussion-based classes. In this setting I can make deeper connections with my teachers and colleagues.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

I have always had a dream of moving to Boston. Little did I think about the smaller areas outside of the city that could provide me with the same access at less cost. Living in Somerville near campus has allowed me to live near Boston without the noise and traffic of the city itself. It has been so fun to learn to navigate the MBTA’s Red Line and discover all the places it leads. I have not had that much time to explore yet, but what I have gathered so far is that each area of Boston has a unique feel to it. I have spent a day visiting museums in Fenway-Kenmore, walked along the Charles River and stopped at a brewery along the way, watched live music at an Irish pub in Davis Square, and so much more. Davis Square is about a mile away and it is where we go if we want to get coffee, dinner, or need to pick up some necessities. I know that regardless of what I need (directions or otherwise) the Tufts community will help me get me to where I need to be.

Why I Chose Tufts!

By TJ Pinto, OTD ’24

For the past few years, my two cousins, my sister, and I have selected one weekend in October to travel to a new location for the weekend. Our first trip was to Washington D.C., where we stayed in an Airbnb with an incredible host on a street that just happened to be having a crazy block party on the exact weekend we were visiting. Our most recent trip was to a log cabin in the Shenandoah Valley, where we spent the weekend playing games and hanging outside on the deck in the middle of the valley as we laughed and talked until the sun came up. In 2019, our destination of choice was Boston. At the time, I was a recent college graduate who had just officially decided to pursue a career in occupational therapy. This weekend was a mini-vacation away from all the daily tasks that had transformed my Google Calendar into an abstract art piece of colored time blocks. At this point, my average week consisted of working as an exercise technician at an outpatient rehabilitation clinic, shadowing OTs in school, outpatient, and acute care settings, and taking my remaining prerequisite courses at a local college. When looking back on this weekend, I remember standing in front of the Old State House in Boston and being mesmerized by the contrast between this historic building and the modern high-rises surrounding it. As I walked the city, I found myself falling in love with it, actually being able to see myself living there at some point in my life. After a morning of sightseeing and walking the Freedom Trail with my cousins and sister, I remember everyone wanted to take a quick break to rest our legs and grab some coffee. As we sat in a little coffee shop, I pulled my phone out and quickly searched the American Occupational Therapy Association’s website and looked for programs that were near Boston. During this quick search, I found Tufts, promptly added it to the long list of schools I was interested in at the time and then continued on with my weekend trip in Boston.

Just a matter of months later, the world had changed drastically, as we had entered the beginning of a pandemic. After being furloughed from my job in March, my day-to-day life was pretty repetitive. I would make avocado toast in the morning, finish all of my schoolwork for the week by Tuesday or Wednesday each week, go for a bike ride around the neighborhood in the afternoon, and color in my anatomy coloring book while simultaneously bingeing any and every Netflix series I could find in the evening. With OT applications opening in just a matter of months, I decided to sign up for as many virtual information sessions as I could, taking notes and trying to narrow down the number of schools I would actually apply to once applications opened in July. At one point, I must have attended ten separate information sessions in a three-week period. On one evening in May, I closed my bedroom door, adjusted the lighting in my room, and opened Zoom like I had done for the numerous other information sessions before this one. I remember Jill Rocca starting the meeting and introducing herself as a Tufts OT graduate and a current Admissions Coordinator. She was so genuine and happy to share her personal experiences from the program while also allowing current OTD students to talk and answer questions about their experiences as well. I could feel myself becoming more and more excited by the idea of joining this program, as I loved how many opportunities there were for hands-on learning, from the service-learning opportunities that take place in your first Fall semester to your fieldwork experiences. As someone who is particularly interested in the idea of working in hand therapy and wound care down the road, the fact that students in the OTD program could take upper extremity and hand rehabilitation courses alongside practicing OTs overjoyed me. Most importantly, all of the current students expressed how approachable the OT faculty was and how supportive everyone in the program has been from the very beginning, from the faculty to their fellow classmates. I remember going downstairs after the information session concluded and walking straight up to my mom and saying, “I have to go to Tufts.” It just felt perfect.

Fast forward to November. I had submitted all of my graduate school applications and had been back to working as an exercise technician for a few months. I had the poor habit of refreshing the email app on my phone approximately eighty times a day, just hoping that I would eventually see an update about my Tufts application. At this point, I knew that decision letters could be sent out at any moment, but I just didn’t know exactly when. However, on November 17th, 2020, at 10:02 am, the email notification popped up on my home screen. I immediately felt my stomach drop and a sense of panic overwhelmed me. After weeks and weeks of trying to convince myself (and others who asked me about it) that I would be completely fine if I was not accepted at Tufts, it all flew out of the window the second as I received this email. Without even taking a second breath, I rushed to open my phone and clicked on the email. I then read the one word that I truly was not expecting to see, “Congratulations!” I fell to the ground and started quietly screaming to myself, “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe it! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!!” Later, when my mom had gotten home from work, I shared the news with her and she immediately burst into tears. After listening to me gush over this program for months and share how much I would love to attend, it was now a real option for me. It truly was a feeling like no other.

TJ Pinto with Jumbo the Elephant.

This past April, my mom and I drove up from Delaware to Massachusetts together in order to visit Tufts for the first time. My mom is the reason I wanted to become an OT in the first place. After a tragedy that had occurred back in 2017, she was in critical condition and was bed-bound for months, requiring intense physical and occupational therapy to get back to living her life independently. Years later, my mom and I were sitting together at Tufts, enjoying a beautiful day on campus together. As we sat on campus together on this cool Friday afternoon, we both experienced such a huge feeling of relief. After the long two-year journey that I had taken on following my graduation from the University of Delaware, I finally knew where I would be taking the next steps in my professional journey and it was exactly where I wanted and needed to be.

Welcome to the SMFA Community

By Lennon Wolcott PB’15 MFA’17

I’ve spent the last 4 years in graduate art admissions, after completing my MFA (’17) and Post-Bac (’15), I hear a similar story from prospective Master of Fine Arts students every year. Artists coming to grad school are looking to expand their voice, hone their practice, as well as find and develop a connection with a network of other artists. 

The goal of a grad program in interdisciplinary contemporary art is to expand and refine who we already are as artists, and much of that can’t happen in a bubble, without our peers. The connections we make in graduate school, are more than colleagues in the classroom; our graduate cohorts become our support systems, our curators, our collaborators, our gallerists, our teachers, our recommenders, and (if we’re lucky) our good friends.

Nearby Gallery, 101 Union Street, Newton Centre – Opening Reception of “In Mid Air”

Last month, I stopped into the newly opened Nearby Gallery in Newton Center, for the exhibition opening of “In Mid Air”. Nearby Gallery was founded by Cal Rice (MFA ’18) and Sam Belisle (MFA ’18). The show was a fabulous and experimental collection of work, from 3 recently graduated SMFA at Tufts undergraduate students, Lightbringer, Calla King-Clements, Daria Bobrova. In the crowd of the reception, there were families, community members, and an assortment of SMFA alumni. At one point as a group of alumni discussed the show and gallery, I realized I was in conversation with MFA graduates from 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and a current MFA candidate, set to graduate in 2022. There is excitement in watching people meet, reminisce, and connect; artists sharing their work, talking about their galleries or studios, planning to collaborate, and celebrating the work of both the artists and their expanded cohort success.

Sally Lee (MFA ’20), Sam Belisle (MFA ’18), Cal Rice (MFA ’18)

What I love is that this group support is not an isolated incident. Each month artists of Boston flock to First Friday events in SOWA to see our peers in juried or solo shows. We work with SMFA alumni like Alexandra Photopoulos (MFA ‘10), Allison Gray (MFA’17),and Doug Breault (MFA’17) who run exciting galleries in Cambridge, like Gallery 263; spaces that offer opportunities to submit proposals or join group shows and residencies. We leave our studios and solitude to attend each other’s events, and to celebrate our work and community, creating lasting connections. 

450 Harrison Ave, SOWA Galleries

Each year, as I work to recruit and admit classes to the MFA and Post-Bac programs, I feel a little bit selfish (in the best way) to be able to invite in future members of our extended SMFA graduate cohort. I am excited this year to welcome to campus, the next class of MFA and Post-Bac students who will join our conversations, shows, and the greater community. We’re thrilled to have you. 

Comic Relief

By Khushbu Kshirsagar, M.S. 2021 in Education

This comic was born out of the pandemic-induced stress (of course). I am an international student from India, dealing with the crazy COVID situation there, topped off with imposter syndrome of a student who’s about to graduate. The comic signifies inner strength and the need for self-care, but in a rather wacky way. It is also one of my first attempts of turning my journal writing into a comic strip with personalized illustrations.

Take Day Trip to the Blackstone River Valley

Photo by Abigail Epplett

Written by Abigail Epplett, M.A. 2021 in Museum Education

Need to get away from campus for the day? There are plenty of things to do away from the hustle and bustle of Boston. If you love to spend time outdoors or learn about history, check out the region where I am from: the Blackstone River Valley. Extending from Worcester in south-central Massachusetts to Pawtucket in northern Rhode Island, this National Historical Park offers a wide variety of activities and destinations, from zoos and museums to hiking trails and bikeways. You might even check out the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at the Tufts University campus in Grafton, MA. As I continue to shamelessly plug my home region, here are some suggestions for what to do on your day in the Valley.

Visit Worcester

Worcester is the second largest city in Massachusetts, edging out Springfield by about 30,000 residents. While diminutive in comparison to Boston, the city offers art, culture, and history without the high price of parking or traffic. See fine art from around the world at the Worcester Art Museum, whose exhibits range from an enormous Greek floor mosaic and a medieval armor collection to special exhibits highlighting baseball-inspired fashion and early American folk art. Explore local history at the Worcester Historical Museum & Salisbury Mansion, where an entire exhibit is dedicated to Harvey Ball, the Worcester native who created the smiley face. If you’re traveling with children, or you’re young at heart, visit the eclectic Ecotarium, part children’s museum and part zoo. Be sure to say hello to my favorite residents, Salton and Freyja, the mountain lion siblings who live at the museum’s Wild Cat Station. If indoor adventures aren’t your style, swing by the Blackstone Heritage Corridor Visitor Center in Worcester to check out the exhibits and grab maps of local trails before heading south for a day of biking & hiking. If you miss this venue, don’t worry! Similar visitor centers are located in Whitinsville, MA and Pawtucket, RI.

Biking & Hiking

The Blackstone Valley Greenway is a project to connect Worcester to Providence through a series of bike trails. Currently, three sections of off-road, paved trails make up seventeen miles of the bikeway, with further expansion in progress. The path crosses through many of the towns in the Valley and is a great way to get some exercise while touring the area, with plenty of signage along the way. Visit the Captain Wilbur Kelly House Transportation Museum beside the path in Lincoln, RI to learn more about the Blackstone Canal and the Industrial Revolution.

Photo by Abigail Epplett

Follow the remains of the canal by biking or hiking on the historic towpath from Plummer’s Landing in Northbridge to Stanley Woolen Mill in Uxbridge. Take note that some areas of this path are badly eroded. If you want a less arduous trip, stick to the walking tour near the Canal Heritage State Park portion of the trail. The visitors’ center at River Bend Farm also provides parking and restrooms, along with areas to picnic, fish, and canoe or kayak. Just down the street is West Hill Dam Reserve, which is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. The reserve permits dog walking and horseback riding on the trails, and swimming is permitted on the beach.

For more easy biking and walking, head south to Lincoln, Rhode Island for two different outdoor experiences. First, you can roam the fields of Chase Farm, located between the Hearthside House Museum & Hannaway Blacksmith Shop and Historic New England’s Eleazer Arnold House. The blacksmith shop holds classes for smiths at any level on most Sundays, while both houses offer led tours. If you would rather stick to a path, visit Lincoln Woods, part of the Rhode Island State Parks. This slightly hilly three mile loop takes walkers and bikers around a pond suitable for swimming, fishing, and boating. When looking for more extreme outdoor adventures, check out Purgatory Chasm State Reservation in Sutton, managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Hike the trail through the chasm, or bring your own rock climbing gear to scale the walls. Make sure to wear closed-toe shoes and carry plenty of water. The hike back is longer than you think! If you enjoy long walks without a climb, try Douglas State Forest, also managed by DCR. This trail system connects to the Southern New England Trunkline Trail, which runs near the Massachusetts – Rhode Island border for twenty-two miles.

Even More History!

If you’re a tinkerer or inventor, you’ll love the Willard House & Clock Museum in North Grafton, MA. The small museum showcases over 80 clocks made by the Willard family during the 18th and 19th centuries. The building itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and retains its original character. The spacious lawn of the museum makes it an ideal place for plein air painting and photography. Museum of Work & Culture in Woonsocket, RI houses multiple exhibits on the lives of mill workers in the Blackstone River Valley, focusing on the experience of French-Canadian immigrants to the region. Life-sized reproductions of houses, a church, a parochial school classroom, and a union hall combine with video presentations and sound effects to create an immersive experience.

To see the mill that started the Industrial Revolution in the United States, visit Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark in Pawtucket, RI. The building is currently closed as its programs undergo a transformation after its purchase by the National Park Service. Current signage around the building tells the story of the mill, although it’s unclear when tours will begin again.

Nature within Your Grasp

Animal lovers might hesitate to travel abroad to see their favorite species, but here in the Blackstone River Valley, exotic animals are never more than a few minutes away. You can see over 850 species from around the world by visiting family-owned Southwick Zoo in Sutton, MA. My favorite exhibit is the Deer Forest, where visitors can pet and feed tame fallow deer. While you can’t take a deer back to campus, you can bring home fresh fruits and vegetables from nearby farms. Visit Wojcik Farm in Blackstone, MA; Foppema’s Farm in Northbridge, MA; and Douglas Orchard in Douglas, MA to buy locally grown produce, jams, and baked goods from an old fashioned farm store. If you would rather get your fruit directly from the field, Sunburst Blueberry Farm in Uxbridge, MA offers pick-your-own blueberries in July. Be sure to come early! Between the efforts of long-time local pickers and the birds, there aren’t many ripe blueberries left by the afternoon.

So Much to Do, and So Close By!

When you need a day away but don’t want a long commute, the Blackstone River Valley is the perfect place to take a break. Whether it’s learning the history of the region, exploring on a trail, eating fresh food, or simply relaxing at one of the many parks, you can be sure to find something that interests you. I hope you enjoy your next trip to the Valley! Be sure to tell them that I sent you.

I spoke in GS3! Here’s what to expect.

By Abigail Epplett, M.A. student in Museum Education

If you’ve read one of my previous blogs on completing a practicum, you already know that I created an exhibit called “Abby Kelley Foster: Freedom, Faith, and Family” for the National Park Service. I decided to share this information with the Tufts community and signed up to participate in GS3.

What is GS3?

GS3 stands for “Graduate Student Speaker Series”. It’s open to any graduate student in the School of Arts and Sciences who wants to share their research with a general audience. I chose a topic in American history, but talks can be given in any area of study.

How to Prepare

Like any presentation, you will need to prepare ahead of time. Don’t try to “wing it”! I found the three most important steps to preparing for my GS3 talk were having a script, designing beautiful slides, and practicing my talk.

Have a Script

I had previously written a script for a short video documentary on the life of Abby Kelley Foster, which I created for the Abby’s House women’s shelter earlier this year. The runtime on the video was about 21 minutes, so I did not have to add much to the script. Because the talks are held over Zoom in their current format, I wasn’t worried about reading off the script; the attendees would watch my slides instead of my face. However, I wasn’t “married” to my script. Although I sometimes read verbatim what I had written, I also elaborated on different points depending on how much time I had left in the talk. Plus, having a script allows me to easily lengthen or shorten the talk depending on time constraints. I was able to give a longer version of the talk to volunteers at the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor using a lengthened script.

Slide Design

I had previously designed many of the slides as part of an online exhibit I created for the National Park Service in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote in local, state, and national elections. I had designed additional slides to use in the documentary for Abby’s House, a women’s shelter in Worcester, MA named after Abby Kelley Foster.

While my background in graphic design definitely helps me to create beautiful slides, anyone can create engaging slides by following a few basic rules.

  1. Use pictures. Your audience members already are hearing the information. Why not give them some interesting visuals as well? Good pictures are large enough to be easily recognizable but not so large that they overpower the entire slide.
  2. Use fewer words. Although I am definitely guilty of breaking this rule, using fewer words makes the slide more effective. A text-heavy slide can make your audience members to feel like they are reading a book instead of listening to a presentation.
  3. Keep the slides short. My rule of thumb is 60 to 90 seconds per slide. A 25-minute talk like GS3 should have 20 to 25 slides. Longer talks should have more slides. When I led a study group on the life of Abby Kelley Foster for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Tufts, I averaged 100 to 125 slides per class.

Practice!

Between presenting the pop-up poster exhibit, leading a study group, and creating a documentary, I had plenty of practice giving my talk on the life of Abby Kelley Foster. Even so, I still went over my slides a few times in the days leading up to the talk. This also allowed me to practice a component of the talk that you might not initially consider; be sure to drink enough water! Make sure to have water on hand during your talk, and practice drinking the water between slides. You will be talking almost non-stop for half an hour, and your throat will get dry.

The Moment of Truth

My presentation went great! I was not nervous at all, because I knew I was prepared. Several of my classmates from the Museum Studies program came to support me. Questions from knowledgeable audience members are a lot of fun to answer! As an added bonus, the video was recorded and will appear on the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences YouTube channel. It’s a great way to share your work with friends and relatives around the world.

You Can Do It, Too!

If you still have doubts about giving a talk with GS3, don’t forget these benefits:

  • The talk gives you a chance to present your newly acquired research knowledge to your peers, along with faculty and staff at Tufts.
  • Giving a talk at Tufts looks great on your resume and CV.
  • You will even receive an honorarium, a $50 gift card to Amazon.

If you are interested in participating in GS3, be sure to contact Angela Foss in the GSAS Dean’s Office. You won’t regret having this experience!

The Underrated Joy of Science Outreach

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

As graduate students, we are lucky enough to have the opportunity to pursue what we are passionate about on a daily basis. The training we get at Tufts is beyond excellent. We learn to become independent and curious researchers. Our work is meaningful and intellectually challenging. The notion of seeking solutions for today’s global challenges is priceless, and many more questions arise from every single step we take. But in order to have the greatest impact on society, we must make our work accessible to general audiences. I think it is crucial to find ways to break down our findings, clearly communicate who we are, how scientific processes work, and how our research benefits the public. But why take these extra steps when we already have so much on our plates?

From a very selfish point of view, I believe scientists need that type of outreach as much as society does, if not more. Pursuing scientific research is a very isolated profession and limits non-scientist human interaction. Scientific outreach not only enlightens the society we live in, but also helps us see our work from a new set of eyes. We get to understand different perspectives and expand our horizons. But most importantly, we might receive deep appreciation from a wider community. Think about that way; the only place we share the details of our work is probably our research group meetings, where everybody is pretty much an expert in the field. Our labmates will not be as impressed by our results as a non-expert would be. We all need a reminder about how awesome we are doing, and science outreach is an excellent way to feel appreciated.  

Communicating our work in a research group meeting is easy; because those people often already understand the technical details, challenges, and findings. But in reality, breaking down and disseminating science is a muscle that we need to work on, especially when our audience is not familiar with us. Note to self: probably 99.9% of people do not care about the ring cleavage reaction of naringenin; but they would love to hear about why eating an orange is good for them. I find that scientific outreach significantly improved my communication and teaching skills. As I forced myself to look at my work from other perspectives in order to simplify, I gain a better understanding of all my findings, methods, goals, and next steps.

Another attractive aspect of science outreach is the feeling of accomplishment. It is an easy way to put a tick next to one of your tasks on your to-do list. It does not even feel like a chore. In fact, I would say it is actually pretty fun. This entire science communication thing is very rewarding and let’s be honest; our research is not ALWAYS rewarding. We have mastered celebrating micro-achievements among many failures in the lab, so we might as well benefit from feeling fully accomplished once in a while.

Now let’s get back to why science outreach is good for the society, aka the less selfish reasons to volunteer for science communication. As scientific work becomes more global and collaborative, it is important to build healthy relationships among scientists and general public. The ivory tower of academia creates an unnecessary gap between scientist and non-scientist communities. For our science to be well understood and accepted, first we need to find ways to demonstrate that scientists are also part of society. They should be approachable and represent someone with whom anyone would like to grab a drink with.

Think about what mesmerized you so much in the past, and inspired you to deep dive into a scientific career. It might be a combination of many different occasions, but I bet some experts and/or passionate people were involved in your decision-making process. Science outreach is your chance to do the same for the youth by being their inspiration. Communicating your work passionately and explaining where you came from is a great way to show that pursuing science is accessible to anyone and it is definitely something to love. You are the BEST person to explain what YOU are doing in the entire world. So do not let anyone else to do it for you.

So where do you start? Being located in the center of  a university is a fantastic opportunity when it comes to finding science outreach opportunities, even in the middle of a pandemic. Tufts is doing an excellent job in letting us know about possible outreach opportunities, so keep an eye on weekly newsletters or be proactive and try something on you own! There are so many local museums and schools that you can reach out to and offer help, even remotely. Currently, I am a part of the Science Coaches program, a joint American Chemical Society (ACS) and American Association of Chemistry Teachers (AACT) science outreach initiative, which pairs science students with chemistry teachers over the course of a school year. Despite the social distancing requirements, we have managed to use virtual tools to make it work for both sides. Massachusetts also hosts many science and engineering fairs, and they are always in search for experts to volunteer as judges. Tufts usually hosts or contributes to the Massachusetts Region IV Science Fair, so if you are looking to participate, watch out for an email about call for judges! There is also “Skype a Scientist,” a virtual science outreach initiative, which connects scientists with educators and students from all around the world. You can host Q&A sessions and find a remarkable audience to discuss your work with. Maybe you could start a science blog or join us at Tufts Graduate Blogs and let your voice be heard!

Science outreach is truly a gift for both the giver and receiver. It is a privilege and a responsibility to connect with society through our work, and we all should take the time to participate in scientific outreach as much as we can!