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!

 

 

How to manage working full-time as a Certificate student

 Written by Penelope Seagrave, Human Computer Interaction Certificate

Working full-time while attending classes in the evening has been quite an exciting juggling act. I have completed my audiobook, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which should provide sufficient explanation for how much driving I’ve had to do to accommodate this lifestyle (for those who don’t know, this book is over 1000 pages – also, definitely recommend). I’ve sacrificed many precious Sundays and weekday evenings to the Tisch Library. My evening exercise routine has now become a distant memory. I’ve even had to ask for an extension on this very blog assignment. Nonetheless, the satisfaction I receive from working towards this dream of mine has made the whole experience so fulfilling and worth it.

I get to spend my once expendable free time with those who share my interests and listening to brilliant professors explain theories and studies that are beyond fascinating to me. My assignments, while challenging and often time consuming, are so enjoyable for me. I absolutely love learning and I especially love learning the material covered in the Human-Computer Interaction Certificate.

I am so happy to be studying at Tufts. The pursuance of this dream more than outweighs the sacrifices I’ve had to make for it. I truly do believe that you can always find time for the things that matter to you.

That being said, beside my excitement and positive approach to this experience, there are definitely a few tips I have for those considering working full time while pursuing graduate school:

  1. Get a planner, one you enjoy using and can manage carrying with you. Mine has alpacas on the front cover. It is important to stay on top of deadlines – both work and school. It’s nice and comforting to know that you are organized and it substantially reduces the chaos that comes with balancing all of your obligations.
  2. Make friends with your classmates and, more importantly, your teammates. If you can look forward to spending your cherished weekends and evenings with people you can laugh with, it makes all the difference.
  3. Get an audiobook or find a podcast you enjoy listening to. You’re most likely going to be driving or taking the T quite a lot. Instead of seeing this as an idle waste of time, devote this opportunity to learning something new and it won’t feel like such an expense.
  4. Classes aren’t free. Be sure to understand how much your program is going to cost, and make sure to plan ahead. Of course, it will all be worth it in the end.
  5. Take the classes that fascinate you. Now that you are no longer are an undergrad, you should have a better sense of what you enjoy and want to understand. Pursue your interests and class will be full of exciting wonder and curiosity.

This has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. I am so happy to be back in school and learning. Working makes it possible, and allows me to make headway in my career at the same time. I strongly recommend considering this option if you are able to.

 

Biology Department Retreat!

 Written by Gina Mantica, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Giving game-playing instructions to the Biology Department with my megaphone and my helpful assistant, Mike Fath. IMAGES COURTESY RACHAEL BONOAN.

Last semester, the Biology department hosted its first ever departmental retreat, and I was lucky enough to be on the organizing Committee! The Biology department is separated on the Medford campus; half of the faculty are located in the new Science and Engineering Complex (SEC) while the other half are located at 200 Boston Avenue. The SEC is about a fifteen-minute walk from 200 Boston Avenue, and the only time during the academic year that people from both buildings come together is on Fridays for our departmental seminar series. The Biology department retreat was born from the idea of bringing all faculty, staff, and students from both buildings on campus together in a relaxed setting for a day of learning, bonding, and fun. During the first half of the retreat, faculty and post-docs from both buildings presented their current projects. As a second year student relatively new to Tufts, it was great to hear about the work going on in other labs within my

 

Professor Mitch McVey and PhD Candidate Marcus Lehr working together to finish the relay race. IMAGES COURTESY RACHAEL BONOAN.

          During the second half of the retreat, students, faculty, and staff participated in team-building games organized by yours truly. I was a camp counselor for a few years during my undergraduate career, so organizing outdoor games and activities was really a treat for me. I planned a hula hoop passing game, a relay race, and a human knot activity for retreat participants. I got to use a megaphone when directing the activities, and I got to watch the influence of my camp counselor enthusiasm on adults.

One team working together to untangle their “knot”. IMAGES COURTESY OF RACHAEL BONOAN.

          My favorite part of the retreat was directing and watching the human knot activity. I separated the department into four equal teams and instructed everyone in each team to cross their left hand over their right hand in a tight circle facing inwards. I then told everyone to grab the hands of two different people in their group, and work together, once connected, to untangle the “knot”. The human knot activity requires every individual to actively work with others to uncross not only their own hands but also the hands of their teammates. Additionally, the human knot activity tends to be successful only when teammates communicate their thoughts and ideas with others in their group. For example, if one individual tries to untangle the knot by themselves, they could end up dragging their teammates along and pulling people to the ground instead of helping others up or helping the team get out of the knot.
            Many scientists pride themselves on being independent thinkers and workers, so the human knot activity proved especially hard for some teams. I coached struggling teams on openly discussing their ideas with their teammates and pushed for some of the more reluctant team members to participate in the open discussion. In the end, all teams successfully untangled their “knots”!

              The memories made at the retreat and the experiences shared between students, faculty, and staff created a noticeably more inclusive and welcoming environment within the Biology department. I look forward to attending the next Biology department retreat and welcoming the newest cohort of graduate students into our Tufts Biology family!

The first team to successfully untangle their human knot. IMAGES COURTESY OF RACHAEL BONOAN.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Being a TA

Written by Priyanjana Pramanik, Economics M.A. 2018

I’ve been a TA now for a little more than a year, which means that I have wisdom to share (not really, but I’ll try). Being a teaching assistant has been exhausting, rewarding, and, much to my surprise, quite enjoyable. Now, this might be a little disorganized, but I’ll try to make it as educational as possible. I’ll skip the basics: you know the absolute no-no’s! I’m going to go straight to the stuff that I think is making me a better TA than I was before.

When I started out last year, I was absolutely terrified. I remembered every tiny bit of advice that I’d been given, including ‘never apologize’, ‘don’t let them know you’re afraid’, ‘never give out your cell phone number’, and loads more, but honestly, all that stuff just scared me more. My first recitation didn’t go well. Nor did the second. In fact, I don’t remember feeling like I’d done justice to a single recitation session the entire semester.

Which brings me to my first don’t. Don’t make the recitation about yourself. It’s very easy to do that because you’re in front of a classroom, and you have performance anxiety, and you feel continuously judged. But it isn’t about how you do. Your job is to get through the material that you’ve been told to cover, because the students in your recitation need help with it. They’re struggling with concepts that you, the grad student, already know, and you can help them! It’s all about them. While it may seem pretty basic, making my recitations about the students and what they needed, instead of focusing on how I was doing, improved my performance in recitations a great deal.

However, all the best intentions in the world aren’t going to help you if you aren’t familiar with the material. This is especially true for concepts that you’ve known for a very long time. For me, as an economics grad student, that includes things related to probability, random variables and other statistical matters that I’ve been working with now for about five years. (Yes, five years.) And the problem with being over-familiar with concepts is that they seem simple to you, and you don’t simplify them enough when explaining them. You skip steps because in your mind, they’re obvious. The way out is simple. Prepare for recitations! Especially if it’s stuff you know. Sometimes I practice my spiel for lab sessions on my classmates. Occasionally I’ve practiced over Skype on my long-suffering boyfriend.

There are two other very good reasons for preparing for recitations. One is that it makes you feel less nervous. The other is that you can focus less on the material and more on how students are responding to it. You become more aware when they understand something you just said, and when it wasn’t clear enough. Making eye contact also helps. For someone like me, that can be a challenge, but it’s extremely useful.

Try and make things interactive. This year, for example, when I’m doing practice problems with my recitation section, I’ve had them make little groups. I give them a few minutes to work on it, and then we go through it together. Students feel more comfortable sharing their work when they’re not alone. They get nervous too!

Last pieces of advice. Don’t sweat the grading. Put some music on, be as consistent as you can, and don’t think too much about it. Set boundaries. Don’t set a precedent for always responding to emails in half an hour, or having extra meetings for students who can’t make it to office hours. I try to be as accommodating as I can, but it’s important to get the message across that you have a lot on your plate too. A lot. Don’t look at other TAs and think, I wish I could do such a good job. Be yourself, and you’re going to find a teaching style that makes you absolutely awesome. Finally, ask for help whenever you’re unsure. The professor you work with will be happy to clear up any doubts you have.

Anyway, remember those horrible recitations I was having last fall? When I got back to school for the Spring semester, I found a card in my mailbox from one of my students, thanking me and telling me that they really appreciated what I’d done in recitations. Guess I wasn’t such a bad TA after all.

 

Maintaining a social life on and off campus as a graduate student

 Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

One of the many stereotypes that everyone has heard is that graduate students have no social lives. They’re shackled to the lab bench or desk, never to leave the fluorescent lights of the one building they know the name of. And yes, I’ll admit it—early on in graduate school it seemed inappropriate or taboo to admit that I had a social life. I made a pretty conscious decision in these early days to make it clear to my advisor, my peers, and myself that setting a work-life balance was very important for me. I realized that maintaining my emotional and physical health also meant maintaining a social life.

So how did/do I do it? Through a lot of trial and error (what can I say, I’m a scientist!), I have figured out four things that help get me outside the lab and socializing with others. Firstly—do things with people in your department. This seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes graduate school feels like a very solitary experience and it can be incredibly beneficial to surround myself with those who are going through similar struggles. And don’t stop with just the people in your lab, your specific group, or your cohort. For me, this means participating in events sponsored by my Graduate Student Organization, BUGS. These events range from pumpkin carving to career counseling to Easter egg hunts. They have been excellent times for me to forge connections with others in my department that I don’t necessarily see every day.

Secondly—do things with people outside your department. Now I’m not trying to sound harsh, but sometimes your own department can drive you nuts. Sometimes, I just don’t want to talk biology anymore. When I sense these feelings creeping in, I seek out more university-wide events that help me connect with students in other departments. For the most part, these are sponsored by the Graduate Student Council (GSC). Last year, I joined the GSC as the co-chair of the Academic and Career Development Committee. In this role, I helped organize the Graduate Student Research Symposium—a fantastic event in the spring semester—which enabled me to meet people from the English, Fine Arts, Chemistry, Biomedical, Urban and Environmental Planning, and Computer Science departments. As Vice President of the GSC, I continue to meet and socialize with people across all the Tufts schools. These opportunities have helped re-center me when I’m feeling particularly bogged down with biology.

Thirdly—do things with “real adults” AKA people outside of academia. Don’t get me wrong—I love academia and all the amazing people I have met through my journey. But it’s a bubble. And sometimes you need to get outside that bubble and remember that there is life outside of Tufts. For those times, I turn to my community sports leagues. When I first moved to Boston, I had no idea how many sports leagues there actually are. Two of the main ones are Boston Ski and Sports Club (BSSC) and Social Boston Sports (SBS). Through these two organizations, I have joined lacrosse, kickball, bocce, and inner tube water polo leagues. Yes, that would be a “sport” in which you sit in a blow-up inner tube and “play” water polo. The competitiveness and athleticism varies depending on the league and sport, but no matter what, these are great ways to meet people all across the city.

And finally, and this one seems a little backwards, but—do things on your own. Speaking for myself, sometimes I need some alone time. I have found that taking some time to wind down on my own can be incredibly beneficial. Whether it’s by reading a book, listening to music, going for a walk, or just watching Netflix, this time recharges me and prepares me for the challenges of graduate school.

So don’t be afraid to admit you have a social life. I hope that this post has provided some great resources if you need help jump-starting that social life!

Me with other board members of Graduate Student Council. Through the GSC, I have met people from all different departments including the English, Computer Science, Physics, and Engineering Departments. Photo courtesy of Taylor Sands-Marcincowski.

My inner tube water polo team celebrating our season championship. Sports leagues have gotten me out of the Tufts bubble and out and around Boston to meet some great people, and play some fantastic sports. Photo courtesy of Social Boston Sports.

How To Survive in Grad School

 Written by Kate Cottrell, Classics M.A.T. 2019

        So you’re considering taking the plunge into graduate school and Tufts. Welcome! You should know that there is no typical grad student. Sure, we all share traits, e.g. weirdly specific information on an obscure topic or an (un)healthy relationship with our favorite lab, library or coffee shop, but there is no typical path to grad school. This is great because it means whatever path gets you there is the right one. Some of us arrived at Tufts directly from undergrad, some took a few years off, some are returning after decades. Some, like me, are returning to school—again—and possibly forever. I graduated with my BA in Philosophy in 2011, took 4 years off and then did my first MA in Theological Studies at Harvard. I made the short move from Cambridge to Medford and now I’m here offering lessons learned during my first program.
        1. Set Boundaries

          Burnout is real. Boundaries are necessary. Our innate curiosity and intellectual drive combined with the demands on our time as students, TAs, and humans with family, friends and lives academia-adjacent is dangerous and volatile. Boundaries will look different for everyone. One limit I’ve set is that I don’t check my school email overnight between 9pm and 7am and only once a day on weekends. Learning what works for you, what will keep you sane, requires trial and error, and failure. But it doesn’t mean it can’t be fun along the way; give yourself the space to indulge in that Netflix binge, or to read that novel that you really want to read just for the hell of it, or go to that concert on a school night.

        2. Protect Your Mental Health

          There are some troubling studies about the mental health of graduate students. I suggest not looking at these in the middle of a 3 am “what am I doing with my life?” spiral of worry. We are (mostly) all scared or insecure and stressed. This, of course, manifests vastly differently for each person. This is a call for you to take responsibility for your mental health. Tufts offers mental health services for graduate students if that’s what managing your mental health means for you. This isn’t something I, a stranger on the internet, can pretend to advise you on: know yourself, know your needs, find the help necessary to support yourself.

        3. Find Your People

          Making friends as an adult is hard. It is especially difficult if it involves moving to a new city. Luckily, school is a great catalyst for building friendships. Practice setting boundaries with your academic work and taking care of your mental health by doing fun things with your cohort—go to restaurants, or hiking, or have a board game night. Really, anything really that drags you off campus and into the bustling city that is Boston is ideal. Spending hours in the library/coffee shop/your apartment pursuing academic questions only you seem to be asking can be isolating, but there’s no reason to go it entirely alone. I mean, who else are you going to frantically text about the homework due tomorrow?

        4. Trust Yourself

          Remember that you belong in graduate school. No, you did not trick the admissions committee into getting in. You put in the work and have built the skills that will help you be successful. There is work still to do—there is always work to do—but trust yourself to do it. Whether this means trusting your gut in proposing hypotheses, offering to sight read in a language class, or submitting and giving papers at conferences, try it. It will likely go really well. But if it doesn’t, trust yourself in failure. It does not mean you do not belong here. It’s a sign of growth and growth is uncomfortable.

        5. Remember Why You’re Here

          This second degree is humbling in ways I did not anticipate. After all, I have mastered material. I am a classically trained scholar with an oversized piece of heavy stock paper to prove it. And yet I still find myself struggling to translate participles and don’t even get me started on the way my brain shorts out when gerunds and gerundives are mentioned. I never thought I knew everything—learned that lesson from Socrates during my bachelor’s—but I did and still do have parts of my identity intimately tied to excelling in school, to being smart, and to performing intelligence. This process takes patience and self-forgiveness. Being healthy in grad school, as in life, takes work. The first step of that work for me is reminding myself daily that I am here to learn. We are all here to learn.

 

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.