Life as a TA

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

As an undergraduate, you likely had classes that were taught in part by a teaching assistant or TA. They were most likely a graduate student who took courses at your university or from a nearby program. Maybe you thought you’d like to have that job someday. Now that you’re a grad student, you have the opportunity to fulfill that dream! I’m going to talk about my TA experience in the Civics Special Topics course, “Tweets, TikTok, and Talking Points: Modern Political Communications and Message Development.” I’ll also give you some tips on how to be a great TA, and to inspire undergrad students in the same way you were inspired years ago.

Getting the Job

Typically, TA jobs are referred to graduate students by their department to assist with undergraduate classes in that department. However, some departments and programs do not have undergraduate equivalents, as is the case for my branch of Museum Studies, Museum Education. Likewise, some interdisciplinary programs or departments do not have graduate programs. This is the case for Civics Studies classes at Tufts, as they are often cross-listed with courses in political science, philosophy, or history. Although I do have a wide breadth of knowledge on American civics and public policy due to my background in studying American history, my experience with Canvas, Zoom, and other online platforms makes me an ideal person for the job.

TAs may also be required to attend a TA orientation at the beginning of their job, typically at the beginning of the Fall semester. Because I was a last-minute hire in the Spring, I did not attend an orientation. However, I did attend a weeklong workshop called, “The Graduate Institute for Online Course Design.” This was an excellent bootcamp for learning how to lead a class and design lessons in a virtual environment. I highly recommend this type of workshop for any TA and anticipate that it will be offered again.

What does a TA do?

This brings us to the next important thing to note about being a TA. The job requirements vary widely depending on the class where you are assisting. However, many positions have the same characteristics. Here is a short list of things I do as a TA for the civics course:

  • Send emails to the professors, students, and guest speakers
  • Host and record classes via Zoom
  • Set up, organize, and maintain the Canvas website
  • Upload files, such as documents and videos, onto Canvas
  • Meet individually with students who need assistance on projects
  • Assist Civic Studies staff members as needed

TA Tips

Unless you were an education major or minor as an undergrad, you might not have any experience leading a class. Don’t worry about this! The professor or professors teaching the class have already shown confidence in your abilities by hiring you, and you will learn a lot as you work. Here are some tips to aid in your learning.

Communication is Key

You’ve heard this and you know this, but it is worth saying again that communication is extremely important. You need to make sure you stay in contact with the professors, students, and staff members. If you cannot be contacted for an extended period of time — you have the right to take the weekend off! — make sure to set this expectation ahead of time. My rule of thumb is to respond to emails, Canvas mail, calls, or any other method of communication within 24 hours to any email sent during the business week. Even if you cannot fully answer a question or complete an assignment within that time period, you are still acknowledging contact and reassuring the initial sender that you are working on the issue. Not every person that you work with will maintain this standard, but this level of prompt response will set you apart and lead to positive recommendations. If communication is not your strong suit, GSAS offers workshops throughout the year that will help you to improve these skills, along with aiding in personal development and leadership, among many other topics.

Canvas as an Instructor

Canvas is the platform Tufts uses to hold course information. Students can use Canvas to connect to Zoom classes, read the syllabus, post to discussions, download weekly readings, upload assignments, email classmates and professors, and complete a seemingly endless number of other tasks. Despite its many positive attributes, a Canvas course page can appear chaotic, with countless links and modules to explore. This chaos is exponentially increased on the instructor side of the program, and the system can be overwhelming.

However, Canvas does have an extensive online manual that explains how to use the many features and add-ons in the program as an instructor. Use this manual to better understand the function of different parts of Canvas. You should also consider “disabling” unused features to hide them from the student view. The large number of links on the left side of the page can be distracting and confusing for undergrads. Minimizing the number of options will allow them to have a more straightforward and relaxing experience.

Be Flexible and Willing to Help

The tasks of teaching and learning during a “regular year” are hard enough, but teaching and learning during social distancing restrictions are even harder. Changes to schedules, cancelled Zoom meetings, lost internet connections, and assignment extensions are all part of the new normal. As a TA and graduate student,, you’re in a great place to understand what both professors and students are going through. Make sure that the people associated with your class know when you are available to help, whether a professor needs assistance with grading, a student wants to go over an assignment, or department staff members have additional projects outside of class needs. If you are paid hourly as a TA, you are eligible for up to ten hours of work each week. If you have the time to help your department, you will also be able to maximize your payment.

Perks of Being a TA

Payment

As I mentioned before, TAs are paid for their time, whether they are assisting with a class or helping the department. You will need to complete paperwork and an online onboarding questionnaire before you can get paid. You will also need to submit your hours every week to a supervisor.

Audit a Class for Free!

While this may not be as exciting if you have already taken the class, I find the civics course to be a fun way to learn about modern political communication without the stress of assignments and grades.

Meeting Guest Speakers

Not all classes have guest speakers, but some have a weekly lineup. In the case of the civics course, I get to communicate with many guest speakers and their assistants in the weeks prior to the class, along with watching their presentation during the class. It’s exciting to meet people in a field that holds my interest.

Conclusion

Having a TA position is a great experience for a grad student. You’ll learn how to manage a class, help out your department, learn new things, meet amazing people, and get paid while doing it. As long as you remember to stay open to changes, maintain communication, and view the opportunity as an experience to grow, this job will have a positive impact on both your grad school experience and your career path.

Vacation in the Times of Corona

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

I was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, and spent over 20 years there before moving to the states and becoming your favorite Mediterranean in the midst of lovely New England weather. My family owns a summer house, as many Istanbullu families do, in a small coastal town right by the Aegean Sea. The town is called Geyikli, which literally means “the place with deers,” yet no one has ever seen a single deer so far. We used to go there every summer since I was 5. It is a place where locals make their own olive oil and wine. Everybody knows each other. People grow their own food in their backyards, share their highest quality produce with their neighbors, make canned tomatoes and pickles for the upcoming winter. My family and I enjoy taking the ferry to Bozcaada (Tenedos in Greek), a charming little beautiful island with its old rustic homes and colorful windowpanes, spending the days in deserted sandy beaches; and nights in local vineyards and traditional meyhanes or tavernas.

Bozcaada, photo by Ebru Ece Gulsan

The older I became, the less time I spent in Geyikli. While I used to stay there for the duration of an entire summer in early 2000s, as I grew up, I had to prioritize summer internships and jobs over beach time. But I made sure to spend at least a few weeks to soak up the sun and reset my body before the next academic year, until 2020.

Due to some obvious reasons, I failed to visit home in the summer of 2020, the year when avoiding a visit to your family means love and respect, rather than hugging them. I missed out on not only connecting with my family members, but also the opportunity to reset myself and start fresh for the upcoming fall term. It would have been a much-needed break during this extra stressful academic year; writing my thesis proposal, battling with quals, cancelled conferences and meetings, then rewriting my thesis proposal, all peppered with the flavor of a global pandemic felt like they would never end.

I was desperate to have a beach vacation. I ended up dragging my poor boyfriend to the local beaches every single weekend, but it was not enough. It did not feel like a vacation with all the planning, remembering our masks, hand sanitizers, packing our food, and answering emails from my Principal Investigator and students.

I realized over time that what I needed was not the beach itself, but the “forced restfulness” that came from lying down under a beach umbrella with my loved ones, where my biggest concern is what to eat for my next meal, all day and every day. I needed to disconnect – whether it was on a Mediterranean beach or at my own porch in Medford.

It is especially difficult now to plan a trip to another city or get together with friends to blow off some steam. The places we can go and the people we can see are very limited, which is not what most of us expect when we need a break; so, I had to re-learn the idea of vacation and construct myself a 2020 version of it sponsored by COVID-19. Instead of thinking “what I can do in a very limited radius,” I switched my focus to the questions of “what would make me feel good about myself at this very moment” and “how I can do these things.”

Bozcaada, photo by Ebru Ece Gulsan

I started with planning a break. I know it sounds counterintuitive; you are seeking for ways to escape from this planned work/study life of yours in the first place. But planning your breaks helps you complete your tasks in a more timely manner. Once you have a set deadline, you are more likely to get things done and feel accomplished, which helps you perceive this upcoming break as well-deserved rather than feel guilty for taking some time off.

Then I took some time to structure my break and made sure it is purposeful and enriching. Think about what kind of a break you need. Are you sleep deprived or physically exhausted? You might need some extra days to sleep in and rest your body. If you are mentally tired, it might be a better idea to choose another fun activity that suits and benefits you. For example, you can attend online events of Tufts Art Galleries or follow virtual concerts organized by the Music Department. If being outdoors energizes you, plan a hike to a less traveled mountain to disconnect from your daily life. Watch the movies you have always wanted to binge on. Schedule virtual meetings with your friend who studies abroad. Check out AirBnB live experiences. Your favorite chef might be hosting an online cooking class. The point is that scrolling through social media does not count as a break. Choose something that is entertaining yet valuable and put that on your calendar as motivation.

I added some new activities to my routine to make that break count. As graduate students, we constantly deal with projects that do not even have a set end date, and sometimes (OK, maybe most of the time) they do not go as expected. That ambiguity can be frustrating and demotivating. Hence, it is important to have some other tiny achievements in our lives. Choose some minor activities that are different from your work, such as taking a dance class, volunteering for a cause you care about, learning another language or getting into painting to remind yourself the feeling of accomplishment. Share this idea with your friends and suggest starting together. It always increases your motivation to have a buddy right next to you, even though they are connecting with you via Zoom.

Taking a vacation (even now) is so crucial for our physical and mental health, but it is so easy to overlook. It is one of those things that we know it is good for us, but we fail to actually commit to it, just like eating celery (or collard greens, or okra, you name it). We all need to relax and it is not as hard as we thought. Taking that well-deserved break will make you more efficient and productive at whatever you are doing, so go ahead and plan your next vacation in the times of Corona!

The Side Hustle

Ways to earn extra money as a graduate student

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

Are you strapped for cash? Do you feel buried in debt? While these side gigs may not make you a millionaire, they will help with your monthly bills. Here are some ways I have made extra money — and you can, too!

Write Guest Blogs

Many organizations, including Tufts Graduate Admissions Blog and some programs and departments, have blogs where they disseminate information to their members or followers. There’s a wide range of pay for these blogs, and some don’t pay at all. If the blog is part of an organization that you admire — like the blog for your department (see my posts with the Tufts Museum Studies Blog here and here) or an association that has helped you on your career path (see my post at Personal Historians Network Northeast) — you may not mind working “for exposure,” especially because these are great pieces for your portfolio. However, if you need cash fast, it’s best to work with an organization that you trust, has good paths of communication, and is upfront about their rates. For example, the Tufts Graduate Admissions has a blog, and in connection to my main job as an Office Coordinator (i.e. layperson manager) for a church, I’ve also blogged for Back to God Ministries International (BTGMI), which pays $125 for a four post set. The work at BTGMI was much more technical and required several revisions, which accounts for the difference in price.

Teach a Class

You are learning so much in your grad school classes. Why not share it with other people? I currently lead Study Groups with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), which has a branch at Tufts. This program is for retirees who want to keep learning at a high level. It’s essentially a snippet of grad school level courses geared towards people ages 65+. These groups are typically hosted on campus, but due to COVID-19, they are currently held online.

So far, I have taught two study groups. I used research I conducted for the course “Exhibition Planning” in Spring 2020 and my Practicum in Summer 2020 to create a study group called “Abby Kelley Foster: Freedom, Faith, and Family” in November 2020. I also used my knowledge from my Practicum and a lifetime of living in a national heritage corridor to create “The Industrial Revolution and the Blackstone River Valley” in December 2020. In January and February 2021, I hope to “switch gears” and use my knowledge from competitive athletics to lead “Exercise: Theory & Practice,” a mix of gentle exercises and kinesiology geared towards senior citizens.

Sessions for these courses typically are 2 hours long and run once a week for four weeks, but they range between one week and eight weeks in length. Study Group leaders are paid $25 per hour. If you want to learn more about leading groups with OLLI, contact the director of OLLI at Tufts once you matriculate into your graduate program.

Transcribe Audio

Are you a fast typist and a good listener? Do you have a niche interest? Maybe you speak multiple languages? Audio transcription might be a good job for you. I work as an independent contractor with Audio Transcription Center in Boston (ATC). It’s easy to apply online, and you will receive a sample test within a few weeks. Once you are a contractor with ATC, you’ll receive emails about available transcription jobs and can email the office to request work. ATC pays $60 per audio hour. An hour-long job will take between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the worker’s experience and the material given. One learning curve in this job is that you need to use Express Scribe, a free program that allows users to play, stop, rewind, skip ahead, speed up, and slow down audio, just like on a cassette tape. Once you have gotten the hang of this program, transcribing will be faster and easier.

Sell Designs Online

While this method of work is not as reliable as being paid by an organization — like what happens as a guest blogger, teacher, or transcriptionist — if you are an artist, you can make extra money selling your art online. Although many online marketspaces exist, and I have tried several, I’ve personally had the most success with Society6. Once I upload my designs, I don’t have to worry about fulfilling orders; the company takes care of that for me, and payments are sent automatically to my PayPal account each month. The profit margins are small, but it’s a good way to test which of your designs are saleable if you’re interested in opening an independent business in the future.

Pet Sitting

If you love cats, dogs, birds, or any other of the many animals that people keep as pets, this is a pretty good gig. Pet sitting comes in many different forms. Dog walking might be a daily activity lasting over several months, while vacation sitting will last between five and ten days. The price of pet sitting varies depending on how much care an animal needs, and how long it needs to be watched. In my area, $17 for a walk and $20 for a day of mealtime drop-in visits is fairly standard. Although pet sitting apps exist, I do not use them and instead rely on word of mouth. That way, I already have a connection with the pet owners, which makes communication and negation easier, and they’re more likely to trust me with their “furbaby.”Make sure you know the pet’s needs ahead of time, including any directions for feeding or medications. Also, be careful not to bring animals to your house, as boarding spaces and kennels require special licenses.

As Always, Time Management

I’ve offered you five different ways to earn extra money while in grad school, great ways to pay the bills and keep from accruing (more) debt. One important thing to keep in mind while working multiple side hustles is to manage your time. Multi-tasking may seem like a great way to get many things done at once — Why not study for that final exam while walking your neighbor’s dog? There’s no way that could go wrong… — but ultimately, our brains can only handle one task at a time. Instead, if you like variety, try breaking up your jobs into smaller segments, and keep a calendar schedule of everything you need to accomplish. For example, in a given day, I might work my main job, take classes, prepare to teach a class, and pet sit. My workday might look like this:

9:15 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.Pet Sit
9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.Main Job
3:30 p.m. – 3:45 p.m.Pet Sit
3:45 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.Break
6:00 – 7:30 p.m.Take Class
7:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.Prep for Class
8:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.Pet Sit

That’s 7.5 hours of paid work, but it’s broken up into segments to be more manageable. Plus, there’s plenty of variety, so you won’t get bored from a single task.

Don’t be afraid to try new side jobs to earn extra money while in grad school! Your wallet will thank you, and you will learn new skills that will help further your career path.

Oh no, I have to do a practicum!

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

If you’re a newly minted grad student or looking to join a program, you’re probably aware that many master’s and certificate programs require students to complete a practicum. What does this mean? Think of a practicum as an independent work-study class where you gain experience in your chosen field. In some ways, it is similar to an internship, but practicums may require classwork, depending on the program. The method of placement varies between disciplines. Since my area of expertise is in Museum Studies, I’m going to focus on this model of practicum.

Looff Carousel, Slater’s Park in Pawtucket, RI – photo by Vicki Francesconi-Sullivan

What do you need? Who do you know? What can you do?

The first step to completing a practicum is finding an institution willing to host you. As I mentioned earlier, the method of placement varies between disciplines. Some departments place students in practicums. In Museum Studies, the student find their host institution on their own. As you can imagine, finding a host institution during the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions adds some challenges. Yikes! To make the process easier and less scary, try asking yourself these three questions: “What do I need?”, “Who do I know?”, and “What can I do?”.

Let’s start with the first question: What do you need? What is required for your practicum? Are there any limitations or deadlines to keep in mind? Each practicum lasts a certain number of hours and must be completed at a specific type of organization. For example, my practicum needed to last for at least 125 hours over the Summer 2020 session, and it needed to be held at a cultural institution. Due to the complications surrounding COVID-19, students in the Summer 2020 session could petition for extra time to complete their practicum. I did not need additional time, but it’s something to keep in mind if you are worried about getting your hours completed, especially if you already work a full-time job.

While the requirement to work at a cultural institution might initially seem pretty limiting, a wide range of organizations fall into this category. Working at a museum is an obvious choice, but during the Spring and Summer 2020, most museums were closing and furloughing staff. Visitors centers, university galleries, and museum-related businesses were likewise closed. What was I going to do?

This brings me to the second question: Who do you know? What are your connections to the industry? Who understands your potential? The idea of networking is frequently discussed in any academic setting, whether visiting a fair or workshop held by career services or learning from professors during class time and office hours. During COVID-19, I reached out to my network to find an organization to host my practicum and found a willing organization a few miles from my house: Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc. (BHC). This opportunity was so obvious that I nearly overlooked it. I had run or driven past the building that housed the BHC offices two or three times a day for most of my life, and had begun volunteering with BHC in January 2020, a mere four months before applying for a practicum there. This short amount of time was enough for them to see my potential and offer me a practicum opportunity.

Finally, we’ve come to the final question: What can I do? What talents make me stand out from other practicum-seeking students? How will I bring a unique skillset to the organization? If you are in the museum program, it’s a given that you know a lot about art, history, and education. Similarly, someone looking for a teaching practicum needs to know a lot about classroom management and pedagogy, while someone seeking a laboratory practicum understands scientific practices and research methods. But there are many skills outside of standard curriculum that are part of daily work and valuable to organizations. Do you design beautiful and engaging presentation slides? Are you great at troubleshooting problems with technology? Are you experienced in photography and video editing? These skills are important for any organization, especially cultural institutions with limited funding and small staffs, and will make you stand out to your potential host.

A Brief Note on Supervisors

A major component of the practicum is the onsite supervisor. This is an employee of the organization who will act as your mentor during your practicum. They make up your practicum “team”, which also includes you and your academic advisor. The supervisor has to fill out paperwork and attend at least one meeting with you and your advisor during your practicum. That being said, while it is not always possible to choose your supervisor, like when your department places you in a practicum, if you are required to find your own practicum, make sure your personality meshes with that of your supervisor. Try to meet them in person ahead of time before making a commitment. During my practicum at BHC, I worked with Suzanne, the Volunteer Coordinator, which was a great match. I had previously met Suzanne through volunteering at BHC, so I knew we would get along well.

Talk to Me, Baby

“Hunt House” – photo by Suzanne Buchanan

A less interesting title for this section might be, “Communication is key.” You’ve heard this throughout undergrad, high school, and even earlier, but this is still a difficult concept for some people, especially because there is such a range of communication methods and styles. On one end are people who view communication as a biweekly, five-minute phone call. On the other end are those who want frequent updates via email, text, and video chat. When these two people work together, chaos ensues.

Communicating with your supervisor is a major aspect of the practicum, especially when many practicums must happen remotely during COVID-19 restrictions. What helped me to communicate during my practicum was setting up a schedule of the entire practicum and sharing it with Suzanne. The schedule showed when we needed to have face-to-face meetings, whether they were over Zoom or in person, and what projects I needed to work on. I also sent regular updates on my projects and asked questions via email. Because we had agreed upon a schedule ahead of time, I never felt confused through lack of communication, even when the schedule inevitably changed.

Finally, Paperwork

The main difference that I found between a practicum and an internship was the classwork. The Museum Studies practicum comes with its own course on Tufts’ online course management site, Canvas, where students answer questions, complete self-evaluations, and submit a final paper. During my practicum, this component happened asynchronously, and I had no trouble completing the work, but it is one more thing to remember. Also, time spent completing classwork does not count toward your practicum hours, so you need to figure that into your schedule.

Your practicum supervisor also has to fill out a small amount of paperwork, mainly to verify that you are indeed working at the organization. This is where having a personality match with your supervisor is especially helpful: someone who enjoys working with you is much more likely to leave a glowing review than someone who dislikes you or is ambivalent about your existence.

Wrap It All Up

Ultimately, your practicum is intended to be an experience in the “real world” of your industry under the guidance of seasoned professionals and your academic advisor. It’s a great way to learn your likes and dislikes in the field, along with gaining new skills and making connections. Good luck finding the practicum that is perfect for you!

2020 SMFA Art Sale

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

This year, Covid-19 has impacted many facets of life, including the ability to connect directly with others.  The need to create and share art is as important as it has ever been; art is a powerful uniting force that engages humanity through difficulty, turmoil, and despair. Though out the pandemic, artists have continued to make work and art students at SMFA began taking virtually instructed classes.   Art institutions like museums and art schools now face the challenge of how to safely showcase art to large-scale crowds as they had before. In response to this moment and for the first time, SMFA at Tufts will host its annual Art Sale completely online. 

Running November 9-23, The SMFA Art Sale will showcase the work of 300 diversely talented students, alumni, faculty, and friends, that is beautiful, thought-provoking, and responsive to what’s happening in the world. Not only do proceeds directly support participating artists and student financial aid at SMFA at Tufts. This is a chance for many students to begin selling and discussing their work within their SMFA community, and the greater New England community at large, many for the first time!

Featuring a curated selection of student, alumni and faculty work chosen by curator Akili Tommasino, artist Shinique Smith and gallerist Nina Johnson, I was excited to submit my work and have it seen by the juried panel. I was also grateful to have the work accepted into the Sale where it will be shown alongside the community that came before and after me. There is always an air of excitement when you see your work or that of someone you know on the gallery wall next to Tara Donovan, John Baldessari, or SMFA faculty and alumni such as Jim Dow, Mags Harries, Gerry Bergstein, Gonzalo Fuenmayor, Lalla Essaydi, Kate Costello, Evelyn Rydz, Nan Goldin, or Doug and Mike Starn. Continuing in that tradition, Instagram has become the new gallery landscape within the @SMFAARTSALE account. Each day I revel in seeing who I will find featured, like a who’s who of SMFA.

The Art Sale creates a space where gallerists, curators, collectors, faculty, alumni, and students come together to share stories of travel, exhibitions, process and research, a celebration of art. This year the conversations run virtually!  Boston-area art critic Cate McQuaid will interview three SMFA alumni: Mima McMillian, Cobi Moules, and Jamal Thorne for a pre-sale event on November 5th, 2020. The conversation will focus on unpacking the inspiration for their work and talk about the social issues that guide their creations. The SMFA Art Sale is a chance to be inspired by and find work that moves you. Highlighting the community spirt of SMFA at Tufts, an institution where talented and curious students become artists with strong purposeful voices.

Working with the Nolop Makerspace at Tufts

Written by Audrey Balaska, Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering: Human-Robot interaction

There have been a lot of changes this semester as we adjust our campus environment to keep people safe during a pandemic.  Now, this is understandably a difficult transition, and there are some things that just aren’t possible right now.  But, there are some resources that are still available, just in a different format!

Specifically, I’m talking about the Nolop Fabrication, Analysis, Simulation and Testing (FAST) Facility located in the Science and Engineering Complex at Tufts. Nolop was founded thanks to a generous gift from the estate of Keith Nolop, and includes the Stricker Family Genius Bar funded by Jane and Rob Stricker, E69, and the Byrne Advanced Machining Area made possible by Dan Byrne, E76. Normally a popular spot for students to hang out, work on projects, and let their creativity thrive, Nolop is understandably closed to in-person involvement this semester.  However, Nolop is offering remote services, where the makerspace employees will fulfill your requests for laser cutting, 3-D printing, or soldering!

More detailed information is located on the Nolop webpage, or you can read about the types of projects made by students last year in this Tufts Now article. As an example, though, here is the process for how I got some laser-cut parts for my home project of making a place to hang my masks.

Step 1: Using a CAD software (OnShape), I created my design for what I wanted cut.

Step 2: I shared my design with Nolop employees on the laser cutting channel (of the Nolop Slack group).  When I explained that I wanted my design cut out so that I could paint it, they gave me advice on what material would be best for painting (a list of materials available for purchase from Nolop are located here).

Step 3:  When the parts were ready, I picked them up from the station outside of the makerspace.

Step 4:  And using wooden boards, clothespins, paint, and glue, I created my final product!

Now, I’m an engineering student, but Nolop is open to everybody at Tufts!  This semester, they are offering 3 services remotely: 3D Printing, Laser Cutting, and Soldering.  You can use these services for personal projects, class assignments, or just to learn more about technology and design.  The Nolop slack channel is also a place where people ask for advice on projects they are working on, share interesting links, and are just a general part of the Nolop community. 

Why I Was Drawn to Tufts’ Child Study and Human Development Program

Written by Olivia Hobert, M.A. student in Child Study and Human Development

I’ve officially been a graduate student at Tufts for a little over two weeks now, and I have to admit things are not as I had imagined they would be six months ago. 

Back in early March, right before the country went into lockdown due to the Coronavirus pandemic, I had this vision of the fall: moving into my first apartment in the Medford/Somerville area. Walking around Tufts’ campus in between my classes. Making new friends in my program and eating lunch together. Back in March, I was so excited to begin grad school. Flash forward to now, and my grad school career is off to a bit of a strange start – don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely grateful to be where I am. Tufts is an excellent university with an outstanding reputation. But my day-to-day routine is a bit different than I’d expected. To state the obvious, the COVID-19 regulations have been put into place: everyone you see is wearing masks, and staying six feet apart. Everyone gets tested for coronavirus at least once a week, and there are barely any in-person classes. College life has surely changed drastically over the last six months, but despite the physical distance between everyone, there’s a sense of community in the air. And for that reason, I’m very happy with my decision to enroll in a graduate program at Tufts.

Photo by Olivia Hobert

So, what made me apply to Tufts in the first place? To be completely honest, I applied on instinct. I applied without believing in the possibility of actually being accepted. Growing up in the Boston area, I knew Tufts as this extremely competitive, high-end, rigorous university. I didn’t apply to Tufts for undergrad because I didn’t think I would get in. Last fall, though, when I was applying to grad school programs, I came across the Tufts’ Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development’s website and thought it sounded pretty close to perfect.  After doing some thorough browsing of the program, I decided to fill out an application for the heck of it. I had a feeling I’d be rejected, but I figured there was no harm in applying. 

I initially applied to the PhD program. However, about a month and a half after submitting my application, I received an email from Ellen Pinderhughes, professor and admissions coordinator at Eliot-Pearson, inviting me to apply to the MA CSHD program instead. I was completely shocked to get that email – I had not been expecting the program to show interest in me. Of course, after corresponding with Ellen about my academic and career interests, I applied to the MA program, and was accepted in early February.

“Imposter syndrome” is a term a lot of grad students become familiar with. Essentially, it’s the belief that you don’t deserve to be where you are today. In the context of grad school, a lot of students feel as if they don’t truly belong in their program. I can admit I still feel this way: I have many moments throughout the day where I think Wait, what? I’m actually in grad school at Tufts? Me? It feels too good to be true. If you’re a prospective grad student reading this, I encourage you to take a risk and apply to that program you’re excited about. Even if you’re absolutely sure you won’t get accepted, you never know when the unexpected will occur. 

Learning Failure as an Overachiever

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

We have all heard horror stories about grad school. We knew advancing our research and coursework, while balancing our finances and life outside of grad school, would be challenging. But knowing and experiencing something is different. Maybe as an undergraduate, we were one of those students who seldom struggled with the assignments. Maybe our friends and family used to point at us as the overachiever of the crew. Maybe we played sports, planned events for social clubs, volunteered at animal shelters, or got straight A’s and graduated in Dean’s List of Honor. We know we were more than capable of overcoming the struggles of grad school. But, maybe we thought it would be just like a breeze, that we thought we would be an exception. But are we really an exception?

Maybe you come here as an overachiever and the very first experiment you designed fails. Graduate level classes are actually really hard, and now you have to assist undergraduates about a class that you took 3 years ago and barely remember the basics. Then maybe your second and third experiments fail, and your self-confidence falls through the floor. You realize you are not giggling while incubating your bacteria and start questioning if you are actually happy or meant to be in grad school.

So here is the deal:

It is OK to experience failure in grad school. You are literally creating knowledge and performing cutting edge research – and that science is built by figuring out what doesn’t work as much as by figuring out what does.

It is OK that your experiments take more time than you thought they would. There will always be bottlenecks and inevitable setbacks on your timeline and sometimes they are not predictable.

It is OK that some weeks you will have to work day and night, but some weeks there will not be much to do. You will not be burnt out every single day. Having ups and downs is completely normal. Steady state assumption only works for solving hypothetical chemical engineering problems.

It is OK that your initial hypothesis on your thesis proposal was wrong. It would be a miracle if you guessed it right on your first time. I know it can be frustrating to come up with a new idea, but do not forget about what you have learned along the way. You deep dove in the literature and read a tremendous amount of research articles, did numerous experiments, defended your ideas in rigorous discussions. You know much more than you used to – even though you are not aware of it yet! You will be surprised how natural it will be to come up with a new hypothesis.

It is OK that you mixed up the bottles when you were preparing your solutions. So what? You can make them again! I guarantee you that even the third year PhD student in your lab, who you think is very confident in their work, once made the same mistake.

Everybody fails.

Grad school is a place where pretty much everybody is brilliant. Your group members are brilliant, your faculty is brilliant, your classmates are brilliant, your advisor is brilliant (probably the most brilliant person you have ever met in your life). Everybody has certain personality traits that brought them to grad school: time management skills, dedication, organization; the very same skills that brought YOU to the grad school! So please remind yourself that there is no smooth way to achieve your goals.  Even the people you consider successful scientists have failed many times on their way to where they are standing right now.

Luckily, Tufts offers numerous resources we need to balance our countless responsibilities as graduate students. I tend to see exercising and fitness as a “binding agent” for all my other tasks; moving my body always gets me through my daily responsibilities smoothly. The Tisch Fitness Center provides a safe and healthy environment for those who would like to use the exercise studios and gym equipment upon reservation. Counseling and Mental Health Service (CHMS) understands the unique challenges of being a graduate student and offers short- and long- term counseling, group meetings, and telehealth services. The International Center always has an annual calendar filled with events for Graduate Students and all students, even in the middle of a pandemic, to assist us in our journey and increase the knowledge of immigration laws and international student rights.

Last but not least, it is crucial to build a supportive community especially with the folks who go through similar experiences with you. Along with the welcoming environment of Tufts University, the Graduate Student Council (GSC) is always there as a representative body and a priceless catalyst for us to meet other graduate students and engage in valuable conversations with our peers.

My advisor once said if he already knew everything he had learned throughout his PhD before he started, his PhD would have only taken 6 months. There is a reason why PhD takes 5+ years. Just because you struggle with this aspect of your work, that does not reflect on you as a person. Making mistakes does not make you a bad scientist; it makes you a human. We are here to learn; this is a part of the process and should not be locked out of the experience. Failure is natural. It is organic. It is expected. The only superpower we need to have is hard work. We just need to learn how to pick ourselves up and move along.

Why and How: An Introduction in Two Parts

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

Hello, readers! My name is Abigail Epplett, and I’m a master’s candidate at Tufts University in the Museum Studies program with a concentration in Education. I also love American History, so I’ve taken classes about that as well. I actually entered the Museum Studies program through the certificate track, but I moved to the master’s track over the summer.

Today, I’m going to talk about two important parts of my experience: why did I choose Tufts over other programs, and how do you transfer from the certificate to master’s track?

Part One: Why Tufts?

I was specifically looking for a museum studies program within commuting distance of my home and my current job. Tufts is about 60 to 75 minutes by highway from my house, depending on traffic and weather conditions, and I anticipate the traffic being much lighter in the coming semester because of COVID‑19. I enjoy taking on-campus classes, because it gives me the chance to talk with other people in my field before and after classes. Additionally, all the on-campus courses I have taken have been scheduled for a three-hour session once a week. This is super convenient for someone with a fairly long commute. Of course, I have to mention that the center of Tufts campus is so pretty, regardless of the season! I love the statue of Jumbo the Elephant in front of the Barnum Building, where I took my first on-campus class.

I also appreciated that Tufts had online learning options even before the pandemic. My first semester, I took an online class about Digital Technology & Museums, which was taught online using Canvas. I had experience taking online classes in middle school and high school, so this was easy for me to learn. Plus, the topic lent itself really well to being taught online. One tip to succeeding with online learning is to go into the course module as soon as it opens and look everything over. Every professor organizes the module in a different way, so knowing how to navigate the virtual space beforehand is super important.

The third reason I chose Tufts was because of the Practicum, which is required of both certificate and master’s track students. This is an opportunity for Museum Studies students to work with a museum or non-profit organization and hone the skills they have learned in class, along with making connections with other people in the field. I took my practicum over the summer with Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc., a non-profit organization that works in collaboration with the National Park Service to preserve the history and environment of my area. It was a great way to see how non-profits and public agencies can work together to support local communities.

Part Two: How do I move from a Certificate to a Master’s program?

Because of COVID-19, museums are currently laying off workers, rather than hiring them, so I decided that entering the job market was not a good idea. Once the market improves, a master’s degree will be considered more valuable to employers than a certificate. I had also made a lot of new friends and connections while in the program. Another important factor was that I was not going into serious debt to earn the degree, so the investment was financially feasible.

Moving from the certificate to the master’s programs is advertised on the Tufts Museum Studies website, but the actual process is individualized and takes some pre-planning and organization. I imagine that the process is similar for other departments. Here are some things to keep in mind during the process.

Start by talking to your advisor and/or the head of the department. These people are professionals and have helped many other students transfer between tracks. They can often connect you with whoever you might need to talk to in Graduate Admissions or Financial Services.

Make sure you know what tests you need to take. Some departments require GRE or GMAT scores to be submitted with the move to a new degree program. Because COVID-19 has stopped much of this testing, this requirement was waived for me. Your application also requires a final transcript, which you already submitted when applying to the certificate program. Email Graduate Admissions to make sure this document is transferred between applications.

Once your transfer is successful within Graduate Admissions, you still need to manually transfer your credits in SIS, the online database that controls all of Tufts billing, financial, class schedule, course selection, and feeding times for Jumbo. (Okay, I made that last part up…) This is also called “petitioning to the head of the department,” and it can be somewhat confusing. For example, Museum Studies operates within the spheres of Education, History and Art History, so I had to petition to the Chair of the Education Department even though I had taken all Museum Studies classes, some cross-listed in different departments. Just remember to transfer your credits, or they will look like they have disappeared from your account, not to mention that your billing will not be correct.

In the Museum Studies program, certificate classes were paid per credit at a discounted rate. Master’s classes are paid in bulk in the first two semesters of the program, while only fees are paid for the second (or third) year, although the amount of fees might surprise you. If you feel as though you cannot afford to pay for the entire program up front but find payments over four semesters more feasible, start with the certificate program and then move to the master’s program.

Another layer gets added if you are eligible for scholarships and federal work-study. When moving to the master’s program, be sure to ask your advisor if there are scholarships available. This can take a lot of money off your bill. Make sure you fill out your FAFSA ahead of time, even if you aren’t sure if you will receive aid, because this information is often required to receive scholarships. You also have a chance to receive Federal-Work Study hours. Once you receive your bill, make sure to look at it right away – if you are not understanding what you see, contact Financial Services. They are really good at explaining each item on the bill and explaining future billing. For me, my second semester bill will be pro-rated to account for the classes I took while in the certificate program. Please note that there is currently a three-day waiting list for Financial Services emails on account of COVID-19, so be patient and kind while emailing them! They will certainly return the favor.

Conclusion

I hope that answers the questions you may have about why I chose Tufts for my master’s alma mater, and how to move from a certificate track to a master’s track. If you have any more questions about my experience or the process of moving to a certificate to a master’s program, feel free to reply in the comments, and I’ll try to answer you in a timely manner. Enjoy your time at Tufts!

Keep Calm and Stay Organized

How I beat my inner sloth during self-quarantine

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

I bet none of us imagined the rest of the semester going like this after Spring Break. We are slowly transitioning to distance learning and a home office routine not only as a community, but also as students from around the globe. Although staying at home gives us some extra time for our hobbies and self-care, eliminates our commute time, and maybe saves us some money, it could also hinder our productivity and motivation to maintain our routine.

Personally, I always need to be in an office, library or a coffee shop to get things done. Knowing that I’m 5 steps away from my bed and there are tons of snacks in the fridge is never helpful. I am sure other Jumbos are on the same page, so I wanted to share some useful apps that I use to keep myself on track, no matter how inclined I am to procrastinate at home. These apps are not only for your daily tasks like research or homework, but also for other productive activities like reading or exercising.

Having said that, you do NOT have to be productive ALL THE TIME. If you are failing to make the most of your time at home, this does not mean that you are not self-compassionate. Please do not feel pressured by the fact that Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” in quarantine, while you might have had cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner yesterday because you couldn’t bring yourself to cook. Everything is upside down now and you get to define what success is for you.

Be gentle to yourself, make time for your hobbies, relax, and do not forget to call your loved ones. In the meanwhile, there is no harm sharing what helps you stay organized during this time.

An all-in-one workspace for your notes

Notion provides you a workspace you can access through all your devices. This is by far my favorite productivity and organizational tool I have used. You can create and keep track of to-do lists, tasks, projects, notes, and ideas, and even enrich them with media, icons, webpages, publications, or any other useful reference you can imagine. The best thing is that when you add references to your lists, you have the chance of accessing them even if you are not online. It is also possible to share your lists and collaborate with other Notion users. The app operates on nested pages which saves us from messy folder organizations. Overall, for me Notion is a very versatile, smooth, user friendly and useful app that helps with my routine (and is free!).

Journaling App

Having weekly or daily to-do lists is great for productivity; but for me documenting long term goals and my progress towards those is key to staying motivated. Day One is an excellent journaling app not only for tasks and projects, but also for personal growth. It provides you a safe digital space to store your memories, thoughts and dreams, either with pictures or words.

Set Yourself a Reading Challenge

Is there a better time than a stay-home period to finish those books you had started months ago but have not had time to get back to? In theory, yes! But in practice, not really. I don’t know if it is just me, but I find it very difficult sometimes to reach to that book sitting on my nightstand although I have all the time in the world.

This app is such a life saver; you can use Goodreads to set a “reading challenge” and keep track of your progress. The app also sends you notifications and reminders to motivate you to get back on track. You can see what your friends are reading, where they are at their own challenge, how they felt about their books, what they want to read next. The app will also use an algorithm to give you recommendations for your tastes and interests over time, which motivates you even more to finish that book and start those new excellent recommendations.

Track Your Workouts

It is especially difficult for folks in Boston to stay home all day, considering the year-round 5 AM runners all around the city. I love being active, and have been lucky enough to have access to excellent athletic facilities provided by Tufts. I have been using the Strong app to keep track of my exercises, make customized workout routines, and record my progress. The additional benefit of Strong is that it allows the user to define details about their workouts.

You do not have to be outside to be active! There are plenty of exercises and reasonably priced weights to purchase online. My personal favorites are resistance bands, a kettlebell (preferably on the heavier side to use for full body exercises which engage bigger muscle groups, mine is around 20 pounds for reference) and dumbbells. They last a lifetime, are compact and easy to store. For inspiration, YouTube has some excellent free channels to safely guide you through creating your home exercise routine, and many yoga studios also started live streaming for their clients.

Please do not forget that this is stressful time for all of us, but we are doing our best. Extend some grace to yourself and appreciate how we adjust ourselves to a situation which seemed unimaginable a few weeks ago. The most helpful approach I took during this transition was to treat the day as a regular day in my office. I woke up early and got ready for the day, had my gear together, set up a workplace, and most importantly, I set boundaries for my work hours and leisure hours. But there were also days I did not get any work done, which I learned to be okay with.

So, do not overwhelm yourself and find what works for you. Stay in touch with your co-workers, classmates, and principal investigator. Organize get-togethers with that friend who you studied abroad with, who you never get a chance to FaceTime anymore. Call your parents. Treat yourself with some self-care. Most importantly, be gentle to yourself and to your loved ones.