Insect pollinators and real-world science

Most of my twenty-two ExCollege students in the Starks Lab “bee hut” on a field trip to see my honey bee hives.

   Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

This semester, I have the honor of being one of Tufts Experimental College’s Robyn Gittleman Graduate Teaching Fellows. As a Gittleman Fellow, I got the opportunity to design my own 13-week, undergraduate-level seminar course. And now, I am teaching that course! My course is titled “From Bees to Beetles: Insect Pollinators and Real-World Science,” and is open to students of all majors. I have students who are majoring in English, Psychology, Anthropology, Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, and more! The diverse perspectives of the students in my class make preparation and teaching challenging, yet rewarding.

In my class, we are learning about more than just honey bees (as the name suggests); we are covering bees, butterflies, flies, and beetles. On the first day of class, each student picked a pollinator species out of a hat and was tasked with researching and presenting on the natural history of their pollinator. Now halfway into the course, we have learned about pollinator ecology, coevolution, and tonight, we will be learning about pollinator nutritional ecology (which is my specific area of PhD expertise, so I am extra excited!). In the final third of the course, students will be able to put what they’ve learned to the test and design a pollinator protection plan tailored to the pollinator they picked at the beginning of the semester.

One of the biggest challenges I find when preparing my lectures is figuring out the balance of “science.” This course is for both STEM and non-STEM majors, so I must make sure the science is clear. Also, this course counts as a distribution credit for the natural sciences, so I must make sure the science is accurate. Preparing these lectures has been great practice for talking to the public about my research and broad science topics in general (such as evolution). I push myself to define jargon, explain methods, and decode statistical analyses for someone outside of my field.

Another challenge I face is knowing when to stop prepping. As a fifth-year graduate student, I am writing my thesis. Oftentimes, I find preparing for class a bit more fun than editing a paper I’ve been staring at for months; it’s easy to get sucked into coming up with elaborate discussion questions and perfecting my slides. To deal with this, I am strict with myself about blocking out time for writing and time for preparing lectures/discussions, and sticking with it.

Although this is my first time designing my own course, and independently teaching, I’d say things are going smoothly so far. As a Gittleman Fellow, I get to meet with Howard Woolf, the director of the ExCollege, and the other Gittleman Fellows every other week. We discuss lesson planning, grading, and facilitating discussions. As a first-time teacher, this is a great sounding board for new ideas and group activities that may/may not go as planned. Overall, the students are engaged, and teaching is a blast! Sometimes I am having so much fun teaching and leading discussions that I forget to give the students a break during the two-and-a-half-hour time slot (something I’m working on).

I am only about halfway through the semester, but so far teaching in the ExCollege has been extremely rewarding. Aside from gaining valuable teaching experience, I am helping students to take a moment and observe the natural world. One Monday night, a student told me about a hike he went on over the weekend. On his hike, he noticed various insects that he would have completely overlooked before taking my class.

 

After learning about coevolution, students applied what they know about their own pollinators to create the “perfect flower” for various groups of pollinators.

A Day in the Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Moving to Tufts

Written by Michelle Connor, Music M.A. 2017

      Bucket List Item: Attend Graduate School in or near Boston. Fall 2015: Check!
      Ever since high school, I dreamed of moving to Boston as an undergraduate student. Unfortunately, many people told me that I would not be able to afford the cost of living and that I would be better off moving to another region in the United States. Taking advice, I listened to them and did not apply to any universities in my dream city. Instead, I attended a university in the south of Ohio but every so often fantasized of my time in Boston. After four and a half years of undergraduate study and two degrees under my belt, I was determined to make it happen. When it came time to apply for graduate school, I applied to Tufts and two other schools, and all of them were in the Boston area. Once again, I was reminded that I would not be able to afford or manage the Boston housing market as turnover is very quick and I would be navigating the tricky market from a distance. But I got into Tufts, and look where I am!

First off, if you are considering applying to Tufts, but you are concerned about the housing market – do it anyway. Tufts is located outside of Boston, in Somerville/Medford. You’ll make it work if you really want to be here! And sure, you may find it a little stressful and realize that you need to put some time in to figuring out the resources as well as the options, but it’ll all be okay. I started looking with some other students in March and secured a place by May. It didn’t happen overnight, but it all happened. Where do I begin? Let me guide you through the Boston area housing market with some advice:

1. Connect with your department and see if there is any ongoing communication regarding housing among current graduate students as well as prospective graduate students.

2. Use the University resources. Tufts’ Office of Residential life has information for Off-Campus Housing! They have even done most of your research for you and can give you access to a list of available housing.

3. When you’re admitted, the Office of Graduate Admissions will provide access to a forum as well as a Shared Wiki. Here you can discuss with other Tufts graduate students, also looking for roommates, about the housing availability near Medford. I found two roommates from the Biology department through this forum, who ended up being some of my closest friends at Tufts! One of them is from Montana and the other one is from Virginia. We both cracked the housing market together and found a three bedroom on a street near the Tufts’ gym for only $2,100 a month! This is the most ideal situation, as you want to live close to campus where the majority of Tufts students are located! Otherwise, you might have to drive/walk/take the T to campus in this:
4. Another option is searching through Craigslist. I know what you are thinking, but you’re intelligent and you’ll be able to tell the difference between a scam and a real listing! You may also stumble upon other Tufts graduate students also searching for housing which is how I met one of my friends from the history department. Although we couldn’t get ourselves together for a housing option, she understood and we continued to be friends throughout graduate school. And we still joke to this day about how we met.

5. Be prepared to have at least the first month’s rent, a security deposit (one month’s rent), and the Boston broker’s fee (one month’s rent). Some places even require last month’s rent. In other words, if you are looking to rent a room for $700, be prepared to have $2,800 and celebrate if you aren’t required to pay the broker’s fee. When thinking about the broker’s fee, consider it as part as your monthly rent. If your rent and broker’s fee are both $700, divide $700 by 12 months and consider it an extra $59 as part of your monthly rent that you must pay upfront.

6. I highly recommend looking for two other roommates from Tufts, so that you are on the same schedule for leasing an apartment. The housing market isn’t so bad. There is constant turnover and if you start looking in April and feel a little worried about finding a September 1st lease, there are always options for an August 1st Moreover, sometimes there are more options for August 1st than September 1st. And who wouldn’t want to have a month to themselves, exploring Boston sights such as these…

Copley Square, in front of the Boston Public Library

Skyline view from East Boston

One of my favorite places: Boston Public Garden

You won’t regret moving to Boston. You’ll see the beauty and charm of the city, convenience of the public transportation, learning opportunities at cultural centers, and the affordability of a city frequently travelled. Sure, you may have stressful days during the search but you’ll see – you will find a place that you are able to afford too!

A Tufts life in retrospect

Written by Jiali Liu, Philosophy M.A. 2017

As my tenure at Tufts is approaching an end (graduation is this month and my dear mother is travelling from China to the ceremony!), I come to think about my past two-year experience in this community and I feel truly lucky and honored. In philosophy, I have met and studied under devoted professional philosophers who introduced me to their scholarly research and showed me their dedication to teaching. These philosophers also care deeply about my personal growth and wellbeing, besides providing strong support to my academic learning. I would miss the Monday night dinner date with Professor Jody Azzouni where we joke about politics and engage in endless bantering. I would miss Professor Christiana Olfert’s office hours where we share with each other ideas about the Protagoras, the Pyrrhonian skepticism, or the intersectional feminism and resistance. I would miss Professor George Smith who told me about me his departure from and eventual return to philosophy when I made the difficult decision to not go into a PhD program. It is in this kind of mentor environment that I spent my past every day, gradually acquiring the ability to read philosophy, to use critical analysis, and to argue for what I believe in.

Tufts has also given me numerous opportunities to expand my professional interests and interact with the wider community. As a Graduate Writing Consultant, I work with students on a daily basis on their writing projects, from term papers to dissertations, from applications to research proposals, and I have never stopped being fascinated by their ideas and experiences – there was a qualitative research thesis about water collection systems in Ghana; there was a summer fieldwork fellowship on the effect of new charter schools on public educational resources in Boston; there was a heartbreaking personal story about living in contemporary America as a South Sudanese refugee struggling to cope with homesickness and identity issues. In helping my students navigate their thoughts and arguments, I joined their journey to becoming better writers and thinkers and to a better understanding of themselves. In turn, I thoroughly enjoyed this collaborative writing process and developed a keen interest in public service.

Last, but of course not the least, Tufts has given me a network of awesome colleagues and friends. After more than a year of teaching and tutoring, I would run into my students on campus and catch up with their new developments. Every thank-you they said to me means tremendously as I know I took part in their story. My colleagues from the Academic Resource Center continue doing workshop lunches together, sharing teaching methods and encouraging each other for future endeavor. Many of my friends from the program are also going onto top-notch PhD programs or law schools, and I know I could count on them for support whenever I need any. This precious group of people whom I have met at Tufts through all different ways greatly enriches my life and I put trust in their potentials in shaping the world and making a difference.

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.