Looking back: what Tufts gave me

Written by Amanda Franklin, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

I’m coming up to the end of my PhD which means I’ve spent almost five years at Tufts University. I’m becoming nostalgic as the time to leave comes closer, and I’ve been thinking more about all the amazing experiences I’ve had in the USA. I thought I’d share with you some of the good memories Tufts has given me (and hopefully it’s not too sappy!).

Me on fieldwork in Belize. I conducted my fieldwork at the Smithsonian research station on Carrie Bow Caye.

I moved to Boston in 2012 with my husband. When we moved, we knew no one in Boston and I’d never been to the USA before. Tufts has many facilities to help international students with the move. For example, the International Center can help with the essentials like paperwork and visas, and they also host events to help you get settled and meet other international grad students. One event that stands out is the international student orientation event. At that event I met some wonderful people that I could chat with about American culture. We became great friends and still regularly chat even though we now live in different states.

The Graduate Student Council also organizes many outings and activities which makes it easy to meet other grad students. At these events, I had the chance to get to know other students in the Biology Department, and also to meet grad students in other departments. I now consider these friends my “American Family”, and wouldn’t be able to live here without them. A good graduate student council is so helpful for meeting people in an unfamiliar land!

Tufts also provided great support for my research. As my research plan developed, it became clear that I was going to need a fair amount of research funds (I had decided that I wanted to conduct fieldwork in Belize). The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has a grad student grant program. This scheme was useful to me on several levels: I received feedback on my proposals, I was awarded research funds, and I had the opportunity to assess and provide feedback on other students’ proposals. In fact, this inside view of how grants are assessed was the most helpful part to improve my grant writing skills. I definitely recommend it if you get the chance!

One project I conducted was a collaboration with the Tytell lab. They lent their expertise in biomechanics so that we could measure force of mantis shrimp punches.

Throughout my time, I secured enough funds to go to Belize six times. Part of the reason I could schedule so many trips was that the Bio Department is very supportive. If necessary, we can TA two classes in one semester so that we can go on fieldwork in the next semester. We also are financially supported over summer, which is essential as most ecology grad students need to do fieldwork over summer. My field trips not only gave me that chance to dive the Belizean barrier reef, but I could conduct research in the natural environment of my study species (mantis shrimp), and meet marine biologists from across the US. It was an amazing opportunity I’ll never forget.

Another great thing about Tufts is the faculty. Everyone wants the grad students to succeed and are willing to help you out if you ask. Even better, they are all so enthusiastic about research and will gladly collaborate on research projects. I have collaborated with other labs in the Bio Department and also with labs outside of the Bio Department. This collaborative atmosphere has allowed me to learn about other research fields and develop different skills.

Sunset over Tufts campus after a winter storm.

When you need a break from academics, the Tufts campus is so beautiful to walk around. I will definitely miss seeing the four seasons pass by. I spent many days in summer sitting outside and reading papers. I loved to do this on the library roof which has a nice garden and a view out over Boston. Fall was gorgeous on campus with all the leaves changing color. I have a favorite tree that looks like it’s on fire if you catch it at the right time (pro-tip: it’s near the corner of Winthrop and Capen St). I also enjoy seeing Tufts campus with a fresh layer of snow, even though I hate the cold and slipping around on ice. And then my favorite season, Spring, comes along. Trees covered in colorful flowers in stark contrast to the lack of color during winter. It’s stunning.

I have so many fond memories of Tufts and my time here as passed way too quickly. It certainly does not feel like almost five years have passed. I’ve tried to see and do as much as I can while I’ve been here, but I still feel like there’s more to do (e.g. I never went whale watching! Don’t worry though, just booked it in for a treat after my defense). So, if you do choose Tufts, seize every opportunity (and there will be many)! Your time here will pass by before you know it.

Why Tufts? Part 5

Written by Alexandra Carter, English Ph.D. Candidate

Because I am currently serving as the Outreach Coordinator for the Tufts English Graduate Organization (TEGO), I have been speaking to a lot of prospective students and answering a lot of questions about graduate student life at Tufts. Not surprisingly, many have asked me, “Why Tufts?” These conversations have, of course, prompted me to think back to that time when I too was a (very) nervous prospective student, and reflect on my own choice to make the move to Boston for graduate school.

Let me begin by saying that I am so glad I chose Tufts. As a graduate student, one meets a lot of other graduate students, and through these interactions I’ve come to realize what a generous intellectual environment the Tufts English Department fosters. Not only are graduate students generous with one another–with time, energy, brainpower, snacks—but our faculty are also clearly invested in our students. I always feel as if professors are interested in hearing from me, helping me, and maybe even learning from me. Doors are always open.

I went to NYU for undergrad, so I’m pretty comfortable being an academic lone ranger. I was in NYC and at a huge university, and that worked for me. Tufts, then, was an interesting transition. Our department is quite small, and when I walk around East Hall I feel like I know everyone—and they know me, too. While I loved NYU, and I wouldn’t trade my time there for anything, working in a small department has shown me how important community is for good scholarship. For example, I am an Early Modernist, and the members of Tufts Medieval and Early Modern working group (MediMod) have been instrumental in pushing my ideas farther than I could have taken them sitting by myself in the corner of a library.

Finally, I have had an excellent experience with the teaching expectations at Tufts. In the first year, PhD students are on fellowship and do not teach. This means that your first year is a time to get acclimated to the program and get used to graduate student life. In my second year I was a Teaching Assistant for the General View of English Literature survey course. This was a great introduction to teaching at Tufts and a nice window into what it would be like to have my own students the following year. PhD students in the English Department teach in the First Year Writing (FYW) program, which is great experience teaching students from across the university (as opposed to simply English majors). What I most appreciate, though, is that I felt like there was a lot of support built in to the program, especially as I began to plan and teach my own FYW class. My teaching obligations are also not so burdensome that I am unable to accomplish my own research and work. There are also other opportunities for teaching at Tufts, such as the GIFT program, that students can take advantage of toward the end of their degree.

 

Why Tufts? Part 4

Written by Ellen Lain, School Psychology M.A. 2019

Hello! This blog post marks my first contribution to the Grad Blog, and I’m very excited to share with you my experience at Tufts as a graduate student of School Psychology. As a first year student, I can only speak from what I’ve observed in only seven months of my grad school career. However short that time may seem, I feel certain of the trajectory laid out by the structured learning environment in these last 1.5 semesters.

The School Psychology program falls under the umbrella of the Education Department alongside other programs like Educational Studies, Museum Education, and Science Education. Tufts’ School Psychology program is nationally certified and graduates from this program are prepared to practice both locally and out of state.

One characteristic of nationally certified programs is the emphasis on hands-on experience. In my first semester, my cohort (group of fellow first year students) were each assigned to a public school for what is called Pre-Practicum. Pre-Practicum is structured so that once a week, for the entire school year, our learning environment is in a real public school. Each of us is also paired with a practicing clinician who supervises us as we shadow them in their normal routine as a school psychologist. During our weekly visits, we have the opportunity to gain firsthand knowledge in a real public school setting through sitting in on parent/teacher meetings, facilitating peer support groups at lunchtime (we call them “lunch bunches” clever, right?), being called on to teach social and emotional coping skills, leading group and individual counseling sessions with students referred to the school psychologist, attending staff meetings, and observing as well as administering academic or cognitive assessments.

In our weekly Pre-Practicum visits, we apply what we learn in our graduate school classroom. For example, at Tufts, we learn about theories of counseling and theories of learning, and immediately get to see them in context, in the real world.

Having the opportunity to practice classroom knowledge early on in a graduate program is invaluable. Personally, I feel like one of the program’s strengths is that it integrates head knowledge and practice. As someone who entered school psychology from a completely different field (finance), I feel confident that one day I will be ready to step into my future profession as a school psychologist.

 

Why Tufts? Part 3

   Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate


Collaboration, community, and teaching at Tufts

There are two main reasons why I chose Tufts: collaboration and community. When picking my graduate school, I chose based on the Biology Department specifically. Now, after having been at Tufts for four years, I can say that these two reasons also apply to Tufts in general.

Collaboration: I loved that the Biology Department was collaborative, not competitive. Since we are one Biology Department, there is a range of expertise: from DNA repair to animal behavior, there is likely someone that can help with any project you propose. There are grad students that are co-advised and many labs collaborate. I am currently working on a project with the Wolfe Lab, a lab that studies microbial communities in fermented foods! I am working with the Wolfe Lab to determine if honey bee diet affects the community of microbes that live in the honey bee gut.

In general, I find the atmosphere on the Tufts campus to be a collaborative one rather than a competitive one. There are opportunities for grad students to collaborate with labs outside of their own department. Tufts even has an internal grant, Tufts Collaborates, which is specifically for this purpose! In my department, I know of biologists who work with chemists, engineers, and computer scientists.

Community: Even though we are divided into two buildings, the Biology Department strives to stay united. Every Friday, we have a seminar with cookies and tea before, and chips and salsa after. After seminar, I have the chance to catch up with faculty, staff, and students that work in the other building.

Outside of my department, the Tufts Graduate Student Council (GSC) strives to create a sense of community within the grad students. There are monthly GSC meetings where you can meet other grad students, hear about things going on, and voice your own opinions. The GSC also hosts academic, social, and community outreach events. Just last month, the GSC held their annual Graduate Student Research Symposium (GSRS). This symposium is for all grad students on the Tufts University Medford/Somerville campus and School of the Museum of Fine Arts. The GSRS is not only a place to meet other grad students, but it’s a place where you can learn about all the cool research happening at Tufts, and maybe find a collaborator!

A couple other reasons specific to me: I grew up in a small town and while I enjoy visiting the city, I am not much of a “city girl.” The location of Tufts is great for the small-town girl in me: it’s easy to visit the city but it’s also easy to find beautiful places to hike and enjoy nature. Just about an hour south of New Hampshire and an hour east of Central Mass, there are plenty of gorgeous hiking trails and mountains within a manageable driving distance.

Since I would one day like to teach at a primarily undergraduate institution, I also like that Tufts has unique teaching opportunities for grad students. There is the Graduate Institute for Teaching where grad students attend workshops on teaching during the summer, and then co-teach a class with a faculty member during the fall. There is also the ExCollege which awards Graduate Teaching Fellowships for students who want to create and teach a class on their own. This coming Fall, I will be teaching my own class on insect pollinators and applying basic science to conservation practices!

Enjoying the talks at the 2017 GSRS.

Enjoying the poster session and reception after the 2017 GSRS.

Hiking Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire, equipped with my Tufts Jumbos winter hat!

Enjoying Boston Winter in Downtown Boston! (I also have my Tufts Jumbos hat on here but it’s covered by my hood.)

Midterm Season Tips and Tricks

Written by Keri Carvalho, Psychology Ph.D. Candidate

Ah, yes, it is that time of year again. Midterm season. Despite the beautiful foliage surrounding us, we are all moving a bit slower, becoming ever more stressed and are very much sleep deprived. In a time where it seems like due dates and assignments are never ending, it may seem that the only goal is to survive the madness. However, as a time management consultant, I can tell you there are some things to consider that just might make your life a bit easier once and for all.

  • Do not underestimate the importance of self-­‐care! This includes showering, eating, and sle Now, these might seem like the basics (and they are), but during hectic times, we students have the tendency of letting our academic lives overtake the importance of these other basic needs. For some of us, our stress leads to lack of appetite and for others binge eating. Know your tendencies and keep an eye on them during midterm season. Perhaps keep a food journal, or maybe just remember not to keep too many of the sugary or salty snacks that you’re drawn to in your room. And of course, there’s sleep. Sleep is much too important for our body’s proper functioning to give up. This is the time when we consolidate information, and recalibrate our bodies to work for us the next day. Make sure that you are getting at least 7 hours of sleep to help stay alert the next day, and of course to keep the flu at bay!
  • Along the same lines, get to the gym. The doctors are not telling us to get exercise for no reason. It’s not only good for your heart and lungs; it’s good for your brain! Regular exercise can help your memory, thinking skills, and perhaps most importantly, your mood. We all know this, and yet, so many of us don’t make time for it. You might wonder when you could possibly have time. While starting a new exercise routine is not advised during midterm season when an intensive routine could become another stressor, it is advised to consider exercise as part of a daily habit as soon as midterms are over. You will have another tool in your belt to deal with the stress when it comes time for final exams. For now, if you don’t have a regular exercise routine, get outside! Walking around the hilly campus in the crisp fall air just might make your heart and mind a little happier.
  • Reward yourself. Exam season is tough, and there is nothing less satisfying than handing in a midterm paper only to turn around and immediately move into studying for an exam. You don’t need to take the whole weekend off, but don’t be afraid to spend an hour or two doing something that feels rewarding to yo Haven’t seen your best friend in a few days? Spend an afternoon together. Haven’t eaten your favorite food in awhile? Go to Davis Square and explore your options.
  • Mini-­‐breaks are I know this comes as a surprise, but we are not robots-­‐ not even during midterm season. We cannot possibly continue to study, write, edit, review, and on and on for hours on end. Our minds simply cannot focus so intensively for an extended period of time. Therefore, let’s consider the mini-­‐break. What’s a mini-­‐break? It really depends on an individual’s preference and what works best for you, but it’s the idea that we give ourselves some time after working for a certain amount of time to do something that feels good for us. It usually works in cycles, so for example, if you work for an hour straight, maybe you then take 15 minutes to watch Netflix. I know, I know, you might not be able to pull yourself away, which brings me to my next point.
  • Timers can If you do decide to take mini-­‐breaks, it’s important to not only time your breaks, but also time how long you’re working for. Knowing how long certain kinds of work takes can be really helpful when planning out your daily schedule moving forward in the semester. It also can be helpful to know how long we’re actually doing work. Many people think they’re spending a lot of time doing work, when in fact they are spending much more time worrying about completing the work than actually doing it! Just don’t forget to stop that timer when you start socializing.

Managing Time as a Graduate Student

Written by Priyanjana Pramanik, Economics M.S. 2018

Having been a Jumbo now for one semester, I now feel entirely qualified to pass on the wisdom I have learned since arriving at Tufts in September. During orientation week, one of the pieces of advice I heard a lot were ‘You’re going to have to learn how to manage small amounts of time’. Another was this: ‘No matter what, try to maintain some semblance of work-life balance’. And I thought, ‘Piece of cake.’ As you can imagine, I was very, very wrong. In grad school, the workload creeps up on you: it is very reasonable and completely manageable, but you have to stay on top of it, all the time.

It’s Monday. You have an assignment due Thursday, and you think you have lots of time, because you do. You can’t get to it until Wednesday, but that should be okay, right? Except that on Wednesday, you receive a stack of papers to grade, plus there’s a recitation section you have to teach immediately after class, and now there’s a paper you have to read for Friday’s class. You wanted to go to office hours before your Thursday class, but now you won’t have time because of everything you need to do. And you need to do the dishes. And laundry.

Oh yeah, and next week, you have a project due, and your partner for it tells you he’s leaving town tonight and won’t be back until the day before.

That kind of snowballing kept happening to me towards the beginning. So I ended up staying up late to grade, waking up ridiculously early to finish assignments and generally turning into a sleep-deprived mess. I felt like I was working all the time, but was never getting on top of my work. I’m pretty sure this is a pretty common problem in grad school, but when it happens to me I feel like I’m out of control and everyone else has it all figured out, which is probably not true.

Anyway, while I haven’t figured everything out (I’m writing this at 7 a.m., think what you will), things are definitely better. I set a few rules for myself, and since I started making an effort to follow them, my workload hasn’t been quite as overwhelming.

  • I take sleep very, very seriously, and would probably spend more than sixteen hours a day at it if I could. One thing I’ve learned is that the less you sleep, the less you get done.
  • Do things before you need to do them. In my admittedly limited experience of grad school, there are times when you have a mountain of work and times when you have none, at not too many in between. Get things over with long before they’re due, and you can stop worrying about them.
  • Make notes on everything you need to get done. Until I got here, I’d never had a planner, or used the calendar app on my phone. Now, I use both. I schedule obsessively.
  • If things are already overwhelming, get a handle on it before you take on more. If you feel like you’re completely swamped, communicate. If you’re behind on your grading, or struggling with an assignment, talk to the professor you TA for, or your course instructor.

Problems with time management take away from how much rewarding and enjoyable graduate school really is, exhausting as it might be. And it’s okay not to have things completely under control from the beginning: we’re all learning as we go along.

The Sweet Sweat of the Sauna

Written by Sam Woolf, Mechanical Engineering M.S. 2017

A university campus is a perfect place for ideas to evolve and and grow. I am drawn to the specific locations that enable this idea incubation, places that foster interactions with interesting people of varying backgrounds. A handful of of these places on campus come to mind; the small coffee shop (Brown and Brew), the president’s lawn on a beautiful day, sharing a table in the dining halls. Though, the most fruitful location is the Tufts Sauna.

There isn’t a strong sauna culture, in the US, and definitely not in California, where I grew up. So, I wasn’t fully convinced of the virtues of pure sweating, until the jolliest Swede you’ll ever meet dragged me in. The first few sessions were painful, hot humid air overwhelming my senses, reducing my conversation to a slow trickle. Though, as my mind and body adapted, I began to see the true magic of the place.

The Tufts Coed Sauna is a small cedar walled room in the heart of the gym. The brown walls, and benches are lit by a warm incandescent bulb, and by the light that trickles through the windowed door. A single heating unit keeps the room at a balmy 105 degrees Fahrenheit and humid. Each time a ladle of water is tossed on the rocks, a wave of even hotter air washes over the place, tingling nose celia and jolting the senses. Unless you were specifically seeking it out, you could easily trot by, completely missing the best place on campus.

It is here, throughout the day, that minds from across the university meet to share a 10 minute sweat. In the sauna, everyone is equal. Occupants embrace the fact that they are a sweaty mess, and all cloaks of social preconceptions fall away. Whereas in the external world, things like appearance, power dynamics, and new friend anxiety permeate. Here, they fall to the floor, encapsulated in that first drip of perspiration.

A simple, “How is your Tuesday going?”, opens the levee, and my favorite conversations pour through. People share their hearts, thoughts, and stories. In just the last few weeks, I’ve shared sweat with a wide population of people who have stretched my mind.

I chatted with a Fletcher student who is currently attempting to solve an impossible problem: looking at Arctic oil drilling, how do we balance the economic benefits with the inevitable social and environmental costs? A friendly and heated conversation ensued, as we discussed the fallibility numbers, and the poorly placed incentives of capitalistic businesses.

I sparked a conversation with a retired firefighter, who spent 45 years working for the Medford Fire Department. His eyes lit up as he described the old Davis Square, a cross roads containing a handful of Dive Bars and Sandwich joints. He reminisced about the long weekend nights spent waiting for his twin 6’4” sons to stumble in, and give him the full details of what ever brawl had occurred that evening. Though be warned, this gentleman likes his saunas quite hot, and I had to excuse myself to a cool shower before I caught the end of his story.

Another day, two chatty Seniors in the Psychology department joined me. The conversation whisked me back a few years to when I was considering my life after undergrad. Their words were laced with both excitement and anxiety as they pondered what a future could look like.

There is no other place in my life where I deeply connect with people from so many walks of life. Every person that enters the room has gems of wisdom stored in their mind, the sauna provides a safe place where these ideas can be shared and expanded. Each time I enter the room, I am reminded of the genuinely interesting and interested people who spend their time around this Somerville-Medford hill. All it takes is a few words shared in a humble place to feel connected to this community.

The Story of Us All

Written by Alexandra Carter, English Ph.D. Candidate

After two years as a graduate student at Tufts, I have learned a lot, but one thing sticks out to me as I sit down to write this blog post: writing is perhaps the most demanding, anxiety inducing, and gratifying work we undertake as graduate students, especially in the humanities. And yet, I actually don’t believe this challenge is limited to humanities students. Indeed, what I am really suggesting is that we are all writers, no matter our discipline, and, additionally, that writing is hard work.

Because I am a Ph.D. student in the English department, I spend basically all of my time reading and writing. Thankfully, these are (not surprisingly) my two favorite things to do. But just because I take tremendous pleasure in reading and writing does not mean that they are easy tasks. Novel fatigue is real, and saying what you truly mean is actually quite difficult. In fact, sometimes it feels like reading and writing get harder and harder, despite the fact that I’m theoretically getting better and better at both.

I’m not alone in this. As graduate students, we all devote a lot of time and energy to reading and writing. Right now, though, I want to focus my attention on the issue of writing as a graduate student. While it may not be the only thing we do—we might find ourselves in the lab, on a stage, or conducting fieldwork—it remains a challenging aspect of nearly all of our graduate student careers.

My aim here is twofold. First, I want to acknowledge that figuring out how you write might be one of the trickier things you do during your time as a graduate student. I know that I am still very in much in the process of pinpointing how I do my best work. In truth, teaching in the First Year Writing program here at Tufts has prompted serious self-reflection on my own process, which has been an invaluable, albeit stressful, experience.

Second, I want to offer some suggestions and resources. The Academic Resource Center (ARC) offers writing tutors for graduate students in any discipline. I cannot urge you enough: go meet with one. Just try it. The tutors are trained to help with writing at any stage in the process, and they can be instrumental in getting you un-stuck and back on the right track.

This leads me to my next point: share your work with your colleagues. If you wait for what you have done to be perfect before you let anyone else see it, you will never let anyone else lay eyes on your work. If the spirit behind all of our work is communicating complex ideas with as much rigor as possible, then we should use the resources at our disposal: each other. (Plus, sometimes you just need to talk things out to see if you are making any sense.)

Finally, just get started. As a graduate student, it can be so easy to spend too much time second guessing yourself and not enough time allowing your ideas to flow. Questioning our work is one of the most important things we do, but don’t allow that to keep you from getting started. Challenges will undoubtedly arise along the way, but try not to let them get you down.

In fact, writing this blog post prompted a series of peculiar challenges for me. How do I write about writing? Is it possible to make my readers chuckle while talking about graduate level writing of all things? Can I make my readers realize that they are not alone in the pursuit of perfect prose? I suppose what I would like whoever is reading this to take away from my own experience is that yes, you are a writer, and while writing may be a challenge (and it likely always will be), it is not one that you have to tackle on your own.

New Year, New Bloggers!

Medford/Somerville, MA 4/23/08 -- Bendetson Hall on the Medford Campus on Wednesday April 23, 2008.

Greetings from the Office of Graduate Admissions! I’m Gabrielle Thomas, one of the many faces behind the scenes in admissions, and our Tufts ASE Grad Blogs! When our office started this blog a year ago, we wanted it to be a space where our graduate students could connect across the two schools, the many academic disciplines, and social platforms. However, this connection is not limited to our current students. We hope to give prospective applicants a peek into life as a graduate student here at Tufts, as well as provide our alumni with the opportunity to remain up to date on all things Jumbo. Basically, these blogs are diary entries of our students that thread the story of our past, present, and future as part of the Tufts community.

Of course a diary would have no pages without someone to write them, and in this case that would be our amazing graduate student bloggers. We started with a wonderful group of 4 bloggers that helped to launch the site last year. They spanned both the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and School of Engineering with research that included stomatopods, clever robots, and bees! They shared updates on their research, how to maintain a social life while in graduate school (!), and the paths that have ultimately lead them to Tufts.

We found these blogs to be such delightful reads that we’re continuing the fun! A new school year of course means…new graduate bloggers. We now have 9 bloggers to continue filling the pages of our diary, and their stories will provide you with some great reading material. Our new cohort of bloggers can be found in many places around campus; the psychology department researching the role of media in body image issues, working on the social committee of the Graduate Student Council, or making the sauna in the gym the new social hub of campus.

We are very excited for the second year of our blogs and hope you all enjoy! Don’t forget to keep in touch by following us on Twitter and Instagram.

Happy holidays & happy reading!
Gabrielle

Pollen. It’s what’s for dinner.

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Imagine if your diet changed with the seasons. And it was out of your control.

During the spring, you can only eat cheese pizza. That’s it.

During the summer, you can eat pizza with any toppings you want. Finally, you have variety!

During the fall, you can either eat mushroom pizza or pepperoni pizza. No more variety.

And then during the winter, you must survive on any leftover pizza you might have saved.

That’s essentially what it’s like for honey bees.

I study nutritional ecology in honey bees; I am interested in how seasonal changes in honey bee diet affect honey bee behavior and health. Honey bees get most of their nutrients from nectar and pollen in flowers. Their diet naturally shifts with the seasons, and they have no control over it.

In New England, honey bees start the spring with mainly dandelions. In the summer, they have lots of diverse wildflowers and weeds to choose from. In the fall, there is basically only golden rod and aster available. And then in the winter, honey bees survive on the honey they made from the nectar they collected throughout the year. Their leftovers are really important.

This past summer, my interns and I set up 9 bee hives at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine (more on that here). Once our hives were set up, 3 hives were left alone as our control hives, 3 hives were fed a semi-synthetic protein-diverse diet, and 3 hives were fed a semi-synthetic protein-deficient diet. The protein-diverse diet represented a diet made up of lots of flowers, or a polyfloral diet. The protein-deficient diet represented a diet made up of just one type of flower, or a monofloral diet.

Throughout the summer, we asked a couple questions.

First, would the bees fed the monofloral diet spend more time looking for food than the bees fed the polyfloral diet? To answer this question, we sat outside each hive and counted the number of bees leaving the hive. Since bees only leave the hive when they’re on the hunt for food, these counts gave us a good idea about the time spent collecting food. With 9 hives to collect data from, I had a lot of help this summer. Data collection would not have been possible without my interns!

Rachael Bonoan 10-26-16 blog pic 4

Tufts NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates intern Joanna Chang measuring foraging effort of a hive.

Lexington High School student Adam Winter measuring foraging effort of a hive.

Lexington High School student Adam Winter measuring foraging effort of a hive.

Second, would bees fed the monofloral diet collect pollen from more diverse floral sources than bees fed the polyfloral diet? In contrast to bees fed a nutrient-rich polyfloral diet, bees fed a nutrient-deficient monofloral diet likely need to supplement their diet. A way to supplement your diet? Eat different foods! For this question, we installed pollen traps on our hives. The pollen traps allow the bees to forage freely but there is an extra barrier to get through when they return to the hive with pollen. Bees carry pollen back to the hive on their legs.

Video of honey bees returning to the hive with pollen

The pollen trap has bee-sized mesh holes that returning bees need to crawl through. Since the mesh holes are just bee-sized, the pollen pellets get knocked off their legs and fall into a drawer. The drawer can be pulled out from the back of the hive and we have our pollen samples!

Rachael Bonoan 10-26-16 blog pic 2

Pollen trap drawer full of pollen.

Rachael Bonoan 10-26-16 blog pic 1

Close-up of inside the drawer of pollen.

Just last week, I sent our pollen samples out to Jonah Ventures, a company that will run DNA metabarcoding analyses on our samples. DNA metabarcoding allows Jonah Ventures to take our mixed sample of pollen, and identify which plants our bees collected pollen from. I should have that data back from Jonah Ventures by the end of the week!

The data analysis is ongoing so I don’t have any conclusive answers to our questions just yet but stay tuned!