Cooking 101: How to cook in grad school with no money and no time

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

I’m sure most of you have been on your own for at least a few years. You’ve probably dabbled in cooking, maybe tried your hand at baking. You might make your own breakfast or bring lunch to the office. But a lot of you have probably (and totally understandably) been ordering food more often than you should be. It’s easy and delicious and even healthy on occasion. But it’s not cheap. And in grad school cheap is a top priority.

Alia’s turmeric-spiced garbanzo beans and chicken on rice with lime

This blog post is not intended to magically turn everyone into amazing cooks. I just want to show you that it is possible, even easy, to grocery shop, cook, and meal prep like a pro while in graduate school for way less than it costs to eat out.

The number one thing to figure out is what you have to have in your pantry at all times. My staples are pasta, rice, beans (black, garbanzo, and refried), tortillas, tomato sauce, chicken, yogurt, eggs, bread (probably in bagel form), some fruits and veggies, and hot sauce. I can make a different thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for a week out of those items. Oil and seasonings are also pantry staples, but they rarely need to be replenished so they don’t really count.

The next order of business is figuring out where to get your groceries. It’s really hard for me to get to a grocery store and back because I don’t have a car, so I use Amazon Fresh. It costs me less for a monthly subscription than a Lyft from the grocery store twice a month would. With that service, my pantry staples cost me less than $50 a week. I generally order food twice a month and pay about $80-$100 each time. I’ve never spent more than $200 a month on necessary groceries. Don’t ask me about my Pringles and Twizzlers budget, though.

Alia’s avocado toast with hard-boiled egg and Tajin seasoning

Next, plan your meals. You don’t have to go crazy and make a chart with dates, lists, and bullet points. Just know what you have in your pantry and make a list of things you can make that week. Then, when you get home you can check your list, find something that matches up with the energy you have left, and make that. Don’t try making a complicated feast when you’re dead on your feet or you will never try cooking again. My go-to lazy meal is to microwave some beans, pop them in a tortilla with some leftover chicken and rice, dash some hot sauce on there, and eat it without a plate because laziness and washing dishes do not mix.

Speaking of leftovers, here is an actual tip: make too much food. I know some people have weird issues with leftovers, but you are a grad student now and literally cannot afford the time or money to have wasteful beliefs about food. Make too much food on the weekends, pop the extras into containers, and then you have multiple meals for the week. Made too much chicken? Put leftovers in the fridge and have it with pasta or rice the next day. Made too much pasta because determining how much pasta to make probably requires the use of black magic? Pop some sauce (or some butter, I won’t judge) in it, portion it into containers, and – voila – you have lunches for a few days. Made too much rice? Make rice pudding for breakfast with flax or protein powder and use honey instead of sugar so you can pretend you’re not just eating pudding for breakfast (even though you are and that’s perfectly valid).

Pudding for breakfast is a reminder of the biggest point of this post: it’s important to not feel bad about food. You can ignore everything in this post as long as you remember this one thing. If you end up eating out more than you should have, if you eat unhealthy food for a few days, if you always put an extra bag of chips or pile of candy bars in your cart, you are not a bad person. You will always find something to beat yourself up about. Don’t let your personal method to replenish calories be one of them.

Dancing through graduate school: when passions and academia collide

Written by Gina Mantica, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Ever since the age of 5, I’ve been a dancer. I used to dance around my living room to Disney music, until my parents decided I needed some sort of outlet for my dancing habit. My parents signed me up for ballet classes shortly thereafter, and I’ve been taking dance classes and performing on stage ever since.

I was in my second year of undergrad when I was invited to perform in my first professional gig. I remember the moment vividly: I was at a retreat when my long-time mentor (and now, friend) left me a voicemail. I remember the feeling of butterflies in my stomach as I listened to my mentor say she had an opportunity for me to perform and get paid for my dancing. To this day, the voicemail is saved to my cell phone. That voicemail not only changed the trajectory of my dance career, but also altered how I now see myself “fitting into” academia.

Five-and-a-half years have passed since I performed in my first paid dance gig. Since then, I’ve danced in more professional productions than I can recall, ranging from a full-length production with Jazz Inc. Dance to a short-lived HGTV show “Spontaneous Construction”.

Also since then, I’ve grown a fondness for academia. I love learning and being able to research questions I am curious about. My time as a Ph.D. student here at Tufts is nothing short of a dream. However, academia is not always fond of me.

Since entering grad school, I have not stopped pursuing my passion for dance. Dance provides me with much more than just exercise; through dance, I find joy and a sense of comfort that I cannot get anywhere else. My refusal to give up something that I consider to be both a means of self-care and a crucial part of my identity rubs some academics, who, themselves, have lost sight of what a work-life balance should look like, the wrong way.

The pressures to conform to some academic ideal of a work-life balance (which, in reality, is not balanced at all) are not missing at Tufts. However, Tufts is such an incredibly diverse community and it is possible to find mentors and colleagues to surround yourself with that share your own opinion of what a work-life balance should look like. At Tufts, I have found friends in my department who will go take dance classes with me, or who will take a day off from work to go to the beach. I have found mentors who support my love of writing and outreach and who will provide me with opportunities to pursue my interests outside of the lab.

Most importantly, however, I have grown to realize that I don’t need to conform to some ideal of what an academic should look like; at Tufts, I am able to relieve myself of the pressures of “fitting into” academia and just be myself.

My Life as the Next Graduate Student Council President

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

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

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

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

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

 Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

So you think you want to move to Boston… now what?

Written by Lennon Wolcott, M.F.A. 2017

Before coming from the Midwest to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts for my Studio Art Post-Baccalaureate and M.F.A. programs, the only things I knew about Boston were from the films “Good Will Hunting” and “Last Stop Wonderland.” Both films I will point out offer a general and off-putting view of the MBTA (T) system. I also had associated the word tuft with the Dr. Seuss book “The Lorax” and “the bright colored tufts of the Truffula Tree.” A delightful but cautionary tale, which is actually available online by searching “Tufts Lorax.”

It’s funny how even moving states and regions within one country can feel like a complete divide. Through the graduate community of SMFA at Tufts and ASE, I have embraced these Boston and New England differences, which helped me get through the culture shock and feel at home in this vibrant, creative, and significant community.

Here is my Boston and New England glossary of specific themes or cheat sheet, if you will, of days to know, and even how to order coffee in this north east community.

New England Mentality

Attire: Flannel, L.L. Bean, duck boots, fleece vests, raincoats

I was confused my first winter when I saw people wearing rain jackets, instead of big puffy jackets. However, the amount of coastal influence on the weather affects the amount of water that is produced within the greater Boston area. Although the city can get quite cold and experience a heavy amount of snow it is entirely realistic to need both a rain jacket and winter coat. This New England town, has a very distinctive look come mid fall and into winter. The hearty brands seen through the streets are functional for the ever-changing weather and are also New England wardrobe staples. Umbrellas are useful; however, I have gone through at least seven since living in Boston. The wind is so strong that they can be swept upside down and rendered useless in mere minutes. You’ll never go wrong with a heavy rain jacket.

Accents and Language:

“The wicked awesome time she tried to park the car in the yard.”

I will never fully understand the Boston accent. Or why certain places don’t sound at all how they look (see Town Names). The accent is highly tied to living in various areas of the city, and socioeconomic factors. The accents are not as thick as they sound in the movies and on TV. But there is a sense of historic use within words tied to specific functionality and form. When I first moved to Boston, I thought people were trying to fake me out by using words that didn’t make any sense in the context they were giving them. There is a whole New England/Boston vocabulary. The terms bubbler, frappe, rotary, are only a few of the words that may be heard, mispronounced and misunderstood.

Town Names: Worchester (wou-ster), Haverhill (hav-r-ill), Billerica (Bil-ric-a), Leominster (lemon-ster ), Scituate (sitch-you-it), Gloucester (gla-ster).

Town names throughout new England region are mixed with Native Algonquian words and phrases and old English names. After four years I still get quite a few of them wrong, and just point on the map. Luckily, people here are helpful enough to enjoy the mistake, laugh with you, and then educate you on the correct pronunciation

New England/Boston specific foods: Whoopie Pie, Tasty Burger, marshmallow fluff, lobster roll, clam cake, “clear or white but no red” chowder, Sam Adams, Harpoon Brewery, Coffee Syrup (Rhode Island/Massachusetts), Awful Awful (New England style milkshake).

Seasonal, traditional, international, and experimental cuisines are all part of Boston’s rich cultural experience . There are several amazing breweries and food experiences in the greater Boston area to try these dishes throughout the year.

American Horror Story: September 1st in Boston – how to find an apartment and knowing your borough

September 1st is the turn over day for 2/3 of Boston’s apartment leases and has become known as Moving Day. This day is also known as Allston Christmas, a nickname for the tradition in which some people dump furniture and other household items on the curb while moving, which are subsequently scooped up to be reused by neighbors. However, moving into Boston, it is possible to find places to live that have different rental periods beyond September 1st or that will allow you to sublet the last couple of months before September so that you are not stuck in the crunch of college move-in day.

 Sports paradise…it is what it is…at least there’s passion

Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, New England Revolution, Boston Bruins, Boston Celtics.

As the oldest major league baseball stadium in the country, Fenway Park serves as a symbolic home of New England and Boston pride. You may not be a Boston sports fan upon moving here, but if you stay long enough the chances are that you will be eventually. I have never seen a community come together in such a caring and sincere way to show such support for a group ideal like it does for its athletes and teams. People in Boston area show the kind of reverence that many would for a religious figure or beloved family member. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in that kind of infectious behavior.

Gruff but gracious accents

There is a common misconception that the people of the greater Boston area may be unfriendly or unwilling to help newcomers. This is something I have found to be wholly untrue by and large. It has been my experience that often those who meet you with a cold and hard exterior at first are the same that will make sure that you have whatever you need. They may make fun of the situation but are more than willing to help. Whether it be directions, recommendations, or a conversation. New Englanders don’t like to waste time and get to the point, but they will engage for it all.

Lastly, finding time to stop and smell the Dunkin

Dunkin Donuts is a Boston area staple. In almost every area, you are bound to run into one every once and a while. Like Boston itself, there is a unique order and specific language to ordering from this shop.

 How to order a coffee

A “regular coffee” comes with cream and sugar (3 cream, 3 sugar). If you want a black coffee, you need to ask for a black coffee.

You can specify your order by having cream or milk added in 1,2,3, amounts and the same with sugar.

If you ask for a flavor—it’s without sugar added.

Any flavor swirl has a healthy dose of flavored sugary syrup added.

If you get an Iced coffee

Boston area residents have been frequently known to ask for a Styrofoam cup with iced coffee. I thought this was strange, however it makes sense. It keeps the cup cool in the spring/summer and your hands warm-er in the winter. Bostonians are not afraid to drink ice cold drinks throughout the winter!

Making the Most of a Boston Summer

Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

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

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

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

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

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

Hiking and biking around town

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing to Defend

 

Preparing to defend my thesis was the most mentally, emotionally, and at times, physically, challenging part of graduate school. After my final field season, I thought it was going to be easy. All I have to do is write. I’ve written a ton. Piece of cake.

I was so wrong.

Yes, as graduate students we write a lot. During my time in graduate school, I wrote scientific papers, grant proposals, popular science articles, blog posts, etc. But I had never written about the same subject so continuously. I started to get sick of my study system (honey bees), which made me sad, because I love honey bees!

When I finally handed my thesis in to my committee, I had to prepare for the actual defense. This was also a challenge. What papers should I read? What is my committee going to ask me? What if they hate my thesis?

In the end, it all worked out. I successfully defended my thesis and the defense was enjoyable! I didn’t need to stress as much as I did.

Preparing to defend your thesis is going to be challenging, but here are some things I realized that may keep you from psyching yourself out too much.

Use a citation manager!

First, a specific piece of advice: start using a citation manager when you get to grad school, keep it updated, and use it consistently! This will make the references section of your thesis much easier to deal with. I didn’t start using a citation manager until year three, and when it came time to write the thesis in year five, I was not happy with past Rachael. I use EndNote but there are many other options and the library hosts workshops on almost all of them.

Keep your committee in the loop.

Throughout your time in graduate school, talk to your committee. Update them on data at committee meetings, discuss methods, ask for suggestions on writing when relevant. If you do this throughout graduate school, your committee won’t be surprised at defense time, and neither will you. If you take the time to get to know your committee members, you may be able to anticipate their questions.

I realize this doesn’t work for that external committee member you may be required to have. When choosing your external committee member, choose someone who knows your field, and read his/her relevant papers. I did this for my external committee member, and I was able to successfully anticipate some of her questions. Also, when it comes to your external member, don’t be afraid to ask around. Ask past graduate students from your lab who they chose and why; ask about their experience in the closed defense.

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Remember, the written thesis you hand in to your committee is technically a draft. As a perfectionist, this was difficult for me. I was working so hardto make every chapter, every figure, every page, so that it could be publication ready. But with a document that long, it may not be possible in the time you have. And that’s ok. Part of your committee’s job is to suggest edits, which you can then use when/if you publish.

It’s a conversation.

On defense day, I was most worried about the closed defense. What if they hate my research? What if they ask me a question I can’t answer?

Part of these nerves will be alleviated by fostering a relationship with your committee. Also, think of the closed defense as a conversation rather than a “grilling” session. Your committee asks you questions, you answer the questions as best you can. Some questions lead to other questions. It’s just a discussion– a discussion about something you’ve been studying for 4 – 6 years and you know really well.

My closed defense was a fun, productive experience. Sure, I couldn’t answer some of the bigger, theoretical questions, but it was fun to brainstorm and discuss ideas.

Take care of yourself.

Even if you follow all my advice, preparing to defend is going to be difficult. Graduate school is supposed to be hard. Throughout this process (and all of graduate school), remember to take care of yourself.

Countless hours of sitting at a computer takes a toll on your body (this is the physical challenge). Take breaks to stretch or go for a walk. Give your eyes a break from the screen. Drink water. Eat food. (Both sound simple but trust me, you might forget.)

Stay active, whatever that means to you. Do yoga, go for a run, kickbox, get outside, play a board game, grab coffee with friends. And don’t feel guilty about taking time away from school to stay active! Your mental health is important. Your mental health is important. Your mental health is important.

 Remember, you are not alone.

Writing a thesis is an inherently isolating process. Don’t let it get to the point where you feel like you’re alone, because you’re not. Talk to past graduate students from your lab (this was my greatest therapy while writing/preparing to defend), attend the graduate writing exchange, visit family, grab coffee with friends (yes, I’m saying it again).

Graduate school takes a village and you have a support system in your mentor, your committee, your friends, your family. Use that support system.

 And finally, celebrate!

Following your defense, take time to celebrate your accomplishment! Getting a higher degree takes dedication, ambition, and a lot of hard work. You deserve to be proud of yourself!

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. 2018

When Home is 2,500 Miles Away

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

It has been well over a year since I made the decision to attend Tufts for graduate school, yet I still occasionally feel the pang of homesickness hit me. I moved here from Washington state and those 2,500 miles separating me and everything I have ever known are still hard to deal with sometimes. When you come to Tufts, whether it’s from a city in Massachusetts, somewhere on the West Coast, or another country entirely, there will always be differences that make you feel like you are on an alien planet.

Alia’s mountain view leaving Washington for Tufts

For me, the little things hit me the hardest. People stop by Dunkin’ Donuts before work rather than Starbucks, they giggle at my pronunciation of aunt as “ant”, and I am forced to say “Washington state” instead of just Washington so people don’t confuse my beautiful home state with D.C. I used to go days feeling just fine, and then someone would mention they never had earthquake drills in elementary school or they’ve never heard of Jack in the Box and suddenly the thousands of miles between me and my home became very prominent in my mind.

 

It is true that new experiences help you grow as a person, and Tufts has been full of those, so I have never regretted moving here. However, it is still a good idea to have coping mechanisms and strategies to deal with the move.

My first plan of action when I decided to move here was looking up where I would live. I don’t just mean knowing what my address was going to be. I opened Google Maps, searched my future address, and then hunted down every important place within a two-mile radius until I knew exactly where to find anything I would need. I looked for restaurants, grocery stores, libraries, the best places for milkshakes, parks, art studios, museums, the nearest Target, and anywhere else I thought I might need to go. I planned out routes and checked transit schedules until I was confident I could get from my front door to Stop & Shop without getting totally lost.

I also made sure I had things to make me feel comfortable in my new place. I love baking and it always reminds me of home, so I made sure I could get my KitchenAid shipped to my apartment. Baking bread or cookies or something equally carb-filled always brightens my day. Paying for your old guitar to be checked on your flight here, buying houseplants that are native to where you are from or covering your bedroom with your favorite posters may seem silly or juvenile, but you will not regret it later when you have a physical reminder of home.

My worst fear was that I would not be able to meet new people, which is often a big problem due to my anxiety. I started small, within my own department. I lucked out and met some great people right away, but it’s okay if you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone for a bit. Join some graduate groups on campus, check if any of the students in your department do trivia nights, attend an art class at a studio in town. Having people around is so important. Consistent contact with people back home through phone calls and Skype conversations are not guaranteed and are no replacement for face-to-face interaction.

Alia’s view of her new home – landing over Boston at sunset

I will admit that it occasionally feels ridiculous that I get homesick. I’m an adult. I have lived on my own for years. I pay taxes. It seems as though when you get accepted into graduate school you are no longer able to feel things, because you chose to do this. I did choose to come here. I am so excited I get to be here. That doesn’t mean that it’s not hard at times. This is a huge metropolitan area, filled with new people, new food, and new weather. No matter your age or subjective level of adulthood, moving is hard. But when classes start, or you have your first lab meeting, or you find the place that makes the best pizza, some of the stress and homesickness melts away.

I’ve gone back to the West Coast four times this year, and each time taking off from the Seattle airport feels a little bit less like I am leaving my family and more like I am coming back home, where the Starbucks isn’t as good anyway and linguistic differences are a fun anecdote at parties rather than a reminder of the distance.

Looking back: one year after graduation

It’s already the end of May, which means that we got to watch our graduates take the stage at Commencement this past weekend! While graduation might mean the end of their time as a student at Tufts, it also signifies the beginning of many exciting things to come. Two of our alumni bloggers, Lennon Wolcott, M.F.A. 2017, and Michelle Connor, Music M.A. 2017, look back at their first year out of graduate school. 

How you were feeling this time last year?

Michelle Connor: This time last year, I was feeling a little bit nervous about beginning my search on the job market, especially since I had planned a trip to Italy during the summer months after graduation.  I wanted to stay in Boston due to my love for the city as well as my relationship; however, I felt overwhelmed with all of the opportunities and job descriptions. I spoke with some of the faculty members closest to me as well as former supervisors and they suggested that I continue my work in Admissions. I applied for a position in the Graduate Admissions Office, and I was super excited to be hired for the position and continue my service to the university, especially as an alum. Everything worked out for me!

Lennon Wolcott: This time last year, I was overwhelmed. I was trying to finish and install my master’s thesis show centered on decolonization and the rebuilding of community after a loss of culture through sculpture/paper-arts/craft/performance. While at the same time interviewing for AICAD art school faculty printmaking jobs and deciding what kinds of choices I could afford to make after graduation with the cost of living and student loans to pay back.

How would you describe your first year after your graduate program?

MC: During the first year after my graduate program, I realized that there is more to experience than what is found in the classroom. I have grown so much as an individual and coworker over this past year. I am starting to realize where my strengths and passions lie as well as the tasks that I feel the most comfortable with. I learned what matters most to me, where I am meant to be, and how I want to build my avenue to career growth and success. Not be cliché, but life is what you make it. Use your skillset, take advantage of opportunities, and do not be afraid to explore outside of your comfort zone.

LW: It was hard, after 2+ years of immersive art making, to find myself in a space where I had to juggle full time work responsibilities and find time to keep up a practice as an artist. After graduation my instinct was to jump back into art making immediately. However, I needed time to decompress and think through what I learned during grad school. It took time for me to find how my process and work needed to evolve outside of the academic institution. Re-learning how to adapt and create a life for two full time jobs (art and another) have been my primary goal over the year.  It has taken about a year for me to add art into my full-time work/life routine, and I hope by next year I will be on more solid footing.

How have you been using your graduate degree?

MC: Although I have not been using my graduate degree in the field of research, I use my graduate experience and degree on a daily basis. One of the most beneficial aspects of a Master of Arts is the chance to focus on your writing while writing about a favorite topic. Moreover, in the humanities and arts, you have the many opportunities to explore your potential as a communicator, presenter, and professional. In the Admissions Office, I spend most of my day constructing concise, clear e-mails and communicating with my co-workers, supervisor, and potential applicants. I do my best to write well and in a style that reflects conversational, yet professional, communication. I credit Tufts to my success as a member of the Admissions team. Writing is one of the most important takeaways from the M.A. degree.

LW: This year I’ve worked on smaller art pieces, while looking at residencies, gallery shows and trying to incorporate art into my daily practice. I have been fortunate enough to get to work in a full-time position with artists coming into graduate programs. I speak to prospective students about what it’s like to enter a graduate program, look at work, and have conversations about pursuing a terminal degree in fine art.

What advice do you have for graduate students who are graduating this year?

MC: I encourage graduate students to truly take the time to explore the many opportunities on the job market. I’m not directly using my primary degree in the context of teaching or research; however, I am using the skillset that I have learned over the course of my undergraduate and graduate career. There are so many jobs available, especially in the Boston area. Take the time to apply to the ones that strike your interest and continue to build confidence to pave your own route to success. Keep in my mind: success is defined by you, yourself.

LW: As graduate students, you have spent two years treating art as an important full-time position in your life. As a Master of Fine Arts, you have gained the skills in the SMFA at Tufts program to further your practice and find the artist who you need to be. It will not be easy, but you have the ability through research, skill, and conceptual based creativity to succeed if you are willing to continue the work.

 

One Year Down – What I’ve Learned So Far

A cherry blossom tree in full bloom outside of the admissions office

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

Writing a post on the best things I learned my first year of graduate school was a seemingly insurmountable task. Boiling down nine months of hard work, constant research, and new experiences into a few paragraphs is daunting. I finally narrowed it down to these, my biggest takeaways. These have helped me through the amazing days and the not-so-amazing days.

1) Classes are important, but only if they are useful to your interests.

I have determined that the best process of selecting classes is to separate them into two categories: intriguing and pertinent to your area of study. Then you simply sign up for classes that fall into both categories. This way, you are much more likely to enjoy the classes, while also gaining knowledge that may actually be useful for your future. While it may be tempting to take a class purely because it seems fun, you may regret it later when your knowledge of medieval architecture still hasn’t come in handy and you have to take an extra class to get all of your credits in time. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have fun with classes, just make sure you aren’t being flippant about your choices.

2) Listen to students who are well into graduate school.

They are the most important sources of information in your life, I promise you. These students know crucial information like the closest places to get coffee on campus, which professors teach what classes the best, where the office supplies are located, and when buildings are locked for the night. You may receive a small packet of information from the administration when you first arrive that describes basic things like how to register for classes, but nothing compares to the advice from higher level graduate students. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions. It’s better to ask and feel ridiculous about it than blunder around looking for something that has a simple solution.

3) Make sure you take consistent breaks.

This is so important. This does not mean deciding to take a break when you feel like it, because occasionally you will not feel like taking a break and suddenly it’s dark outside, you haven’t moved from your computer in seven hours, and stretching causes your joints to make horrible noises. Taking consistent breaks means making a conscious effort to remember to stand up and move around at least once every two or three hours. While it may feel like you are disrupting your productivity, you are actually helping your brain function properly by improving blood flow. This advice could also be phrased as “make sure you exercise enough!” but I’m not going to pretend I did that regularly. Taking the few steps to the water fountain to refill my water bottle is often all I have time for, and that’s okay.

4) Taking longer breaks away from the office is also necessary.

For example, I made the decision at the beginning of the year that I would not come into the office on Sundays. I work on my laptop at home and try to be productive, but I do not focus all of my attention on school. This allows me time to focus on other things that often fall to the wayside during the week, such as cleaning my apartment or doing the laundry that somehow always manages to have more clothes in it than I’ve worn. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t do this regularly but trying to relax is better than not relaxing at all.

5) You have to be kind to yourself.

My final takeaway is the most important thing I have learned. I know that sounds like a terrible motivational poster, but it’s true. It is so easy to receive criticism or a bad grade or a terrible review and hate yourself for it. Graduate students have been told time and time again that we are the best students, the top researchers, the brightest minds and that is why we were accepted into graduate school. Just remember that this is still true, even when you make mistakes. Your worth as an academic is not determined by these small and almost entirely inconsequential problems.

My first year of graduate school, aside from a few papers due at the end of May, was officially over on Friday, May 4th. I completed my last final and gave my last presentation before I headed home for a much-needed weekend of doing absolutely nothing. I was back in my office at 9:00am on Monday. I’ve got participants to run, papers to write, an office to clean, exams to sort, and code to edit. My first year may be finished, but I’ve got four more to get through.

 

Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze? – The five people I met at SMFA at Tufts and how I knew I was in the right spot

Written by Lennon Wolcott, M.F.A. 2017

When I was considering graduate and post-baccalaureate programs, I was worried about the cost, location, and resources of the school. Would I feel comfortable enough to do my best work and make the time worth the cost? From having sat in the back of my mother’s college classrooms at the age of five, I have learned the “tells” of any good educational institution. There are common traits to look for in a school where students can succeed and you can tell this by the people you meet. It is the alliance of support that makes a place special, something beyond great studios and shops.

    While on my first tour at SMFA, I met five people. Their support and inspiration were why I decided to build my community here.

Keena (Former Grad Student): The first person I interacted with was then a current graduate student named Keena. Not only was she friendly and welcoming, but open about the program. She encouraged me to ask any questions that I may have. I learned about the ins and outs of the program, the best kept secrets, and things to look for in the building and studios. She informed me of places and resources that she appreciated that could also be beneficial to me. I was able to see first-hand what she was gaining from the program and learn how she would use this experience when she left. Keena shared a vision of who I could be and urged me to make myself at home in the potential of my own space here. After our conversation, I could see myself sitting in her place, happily working on producing my best work and developing a strong sense of self.

Nan Freeman (Director, Post-Bacc Program): After the tour, I had lunch with a group of prospective graduate students and the director of the post-bacc program, Nan Freeman. She asked us what had led us to SMFA at Tufts and to share what our backgrounds were. Being able to share our backgrounds and learning that this would be a resource in our art making was vital. I felt able to express a variety of passions and use my individual skillset as an asset in my practice, encouraging my research, and pushing my vision. I knew from this conversation, that a structure of interdisciplinary experimentation was built into the SMFA at Tufts model.

Peter Scott (Professor of the Practice, Printmaking): The next person I interacted with was Peter Scott. From my first conversation with him, I knew that he was going to be my favorite faculty members at SMFA at Tufts (shhh, do not tell that to all of my other favorite SMFA faculty). Peter, a practicing and ridiculously talented artist in the field of printmaking, talked “shop” with me about facilities and working with print media at the school. He is whip-smart with a conceptual understanding and a sense of humor. He made me feel at home and that this was the place I wanted to be. Luckily for me, I would find that same amazing dynamic with so many of the faculty I have come to admire.

After a half a day engaging with faculty members, current students, going on tours, and listening to a panel, I walked around the school trying to decide if I would be comfortable at the SMFA. I wandered into the library where I was greeted by Ashley Peterson and Darin Murphy, the Research and Instruction Librarian and the Head of the Fine Arts Library respectively. The three of us sat and talked for over 45 minutes about art, research, and resources that the library could provide. They pulled out artists’ books and references for me to view and told me about individual research visits. The SMFA library is small but mighty and they let me know that it is part of a consortium which provides students with access to books from around the world in addition to the SMFA and Tisch libraries’ collections. I remember thinking how lucky I was to be in a place where people were so passionate about their subjects and eager to help others find their own.

Leaving the library, I knew that the SMFA at Tufts would be the right choice for me. I looked forward to continuing conversations with the faculty, staff, and students on a regular basis. Meeting these five people helped me to take a leap of faith, knowing that I would have the resources and support to develop myself as an artist.

No matter what happened, the juice would be worth the squeeze!