Author Archives: Amanda Franklin

Looking back: what Tufts gave me

Written by Amanda Franklin, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunset over Tufts campus after a winter storm.

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

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

Summer: Sun, travel and research

Written by Amanda Franklin, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

The dogwoods are flowering, there are tulips in the garden, and Tufts campus is becoming pretty empty: it’s summer break! It might not be summer break like in undergrad (several months of part time work and lying on the beach for me), but it does mean fewer commitments. I am no longer a teaching assistant, I don’t have lab meetings, and I don’t have a department seminar. So much more time for research, travel, and conferences!

And that’s exactly what I’ll be doing this summer.

In a few weeks, my family is visiting from Australia. We’re going to travel around some of the US national parks. Previously we’ve been to a bunch on the west coast, so this time we are heading to the Midwest and Northwest. It’ll be my first time in this region so I’m super excited not only for the national parks, but also to see a new part of the country. It’s great having the opportunity to see the US whilst living here!

My brother and I are going to fly into Denver, quickly check out the Rockies and then drive up to Rapid City, South Dakota to meet my parents. Many people have looked at me like I have no clue what I’m doing when I mention we’re going to South Dakota. But in South Dakota, there is The Badlands National Park, Black Hills National Forest and Mount Rushmore. From here we head to Grand Tetons NP and Yellowstone NP. I really hope we see some bison there and maybe, if we are really lucky, some wolves. We then take an 8-hour drive to Glacier National Park, which will still have a lot of snow and ice around, before finishing off in Banff National Park in Canada. It’s going to be a fantastic trip!

Summer is also when a lot of academic conferences are held. One of my favorite conferences is ISBE – International Society for Behavioural Ecology. It is held every second year in different places around the world. This July/August, it will be in Exeter in the UK. I am really lucky because I have secured funds from the Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences as well as ISBE to help cover the costs of attending this conference. It is going to be really beneficial for me to meet people in my field and hear about the latest research. I’m also hoping I can fit in a visit to Harry Potter Studios in London!

The last, and most important, benefit of summer is the extra time I have to do research! I can spend the days conducting experiments rather than fitting experiments in around my other commitments. This summer I am starting two new experiments, so the extra time is really beneficial to get them up and running. One project will be investigating whether changes in environmental conditions affects stomatopod (mantis shrimp) communication. Stomatopods are very visual, so any changes that affect the light environment could reduce the effectiveness of visual signals. The second involves recording stomatopod punch force. Stomatopods can punch extremely hard (they have been known to break aquarium glass) and I’m investigating whether they signal their strength before punching. The biology department at Tufts is really broad, so I have the opportunity to work with the Tytell lab to complete this project. They are experts in biomechanics, so it’ll be great to collaborate and learn from them.

Summer is a great time of year for a grad student. The extra time for the activities mentioned above is really wonderful. But in addition to that, events start popping up left, right, and center. Porchfest in Somerville, free jazz on the Harbor Islands, and outdoor craft and farmer’s markets all over. Everyone loves to get out and about after the winter. Summer in Boston really is my favorite time of year!

Spring Break!

Written by Amanda Franklin, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Last week was spring break. And it is actually starting to feel like spring! The crocuses are coming up, the weather is getting warmer–slowly)–and the days are getting longer. It’s my favorite time of year. I love seeing the flowers everywhere and it’s nice to know winter is as far away as possible (I am not a fan of the cold!).

This spring break I did not leave Boston. Instead I used the break to catch up on work. I’m a grad student in the Biology department at Tufts and I research communication in stomatopods (mantis shrimp—pods for short). If you don’t already know, stomatopods are the coolest animals ever! They have the most complex vision that we know of and they punch so hard that they can break glass! Seriously, you should google them.

Anyway, back to spring break. I needed to get new pods in the lab. This means I spent my spring break cleaning up The ‘Pod (yes, I do call my lab that). I realise this doesn’t sound enthralling, but it was a nice change from all the writing I’ve been doing recently. In a way, it was therapeutic. I just tuned into my favourite radio station, Triple J – it’s an Aussie station, I highly recommend it–and cleaned until the room was fit for 24 pods to live in.

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Me, cleaning my heart out.

This took a long time. You won’t believe how dirty a saltwater room can get. I hadn’t properly cleaned The ‘Pod since November – the last time I got new pods in. There was salt coating everything and a thin layer of algal growth on anything that was within a tank. I don’t use any bleach or soaps because this could harm the next animals I put in the tank. So it was all grunt work.

I also had to repair some tanks. Each tank is divided into three compartments. This is so I can have three pods in each tank. Without the dividers, the pods would fight each other. But I also need water to flow throughout the entire tank for filtration and aeration. So there are holes cut into the dividers which are covered with flyscreen. Unfortunately pods enjoy breaking through these. So I had to stick many of these back on. I also had to put dividers in two new tanks because two old tanks had a leak.

Me, cleaning my heart out.

There are eight of these fly screen coverings in each of eight tanks. Lucky I didn’t have to repair every one!

After all this, I refilled all the tanks, checked all the filters and heaters were working and voila! I had a clean pod room. It did take me the entire week, but it’s worth the effort to keep the stomatopods happy!

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Sparkling clean! I didn’t take a ‘before’ photo so you’ll have to trust me, it’s MUCH better.

And this week I got a delivery of new pods! I have an excellent supplier, Keith, in Florida. He catches as many pods as I need and ships them overnight to Tufts. I have never had one die during transit when ordering from Keith. I am now a proud mum of dozens of stomatopods!

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Two new pods in the lab! The left is a female and the right is a male.

Even though I didn’t travel for my spring break. I made excellent progress on my research. It is nice to use the time when I don’t have teaching or mentoring commitments to get a lot of work done. Also, it means I can take some time off in the summer to explore national parks with my family when they visit from Australia!

Making the most of your time at Tufts – Workshops

Written by Amanda Franklin, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

As I’m nearing the end of my degree things have been getting busy! I’m trying to publish results from my first two experiments, writing grants for a summer project, working with undergraduates on two ongoing research projects and teaching a biostatistics class. I’m also starting to think about what I want to do when I finish. It’s all very exciting, but I decided it’d be helpful to find out some tips for managing my various grad school commitments and more information about life after grad school.

Luckily for me, Tufts coordinates professional development workshops. These workshops cover sooooo many topics: grant writing, time management, conflict resolution, presentation skills…. the list goes on!

The most recent workshop I went to was actually coordinated by the Tufts Postdoc Association. It was about preparing a resume for jobs outside academia. It is great to have this kind of info available since many professors can’t help much with this career path. Well, at least in my field most professors don’t have much experience outside academia.

The workshop was great. It’s been so long since I’ve had to have a proper two page resume. Mine was in terrible form (which I knew before the workshop). It was run by White Consulting and they gave us a bunch of tips about how to focus on output and achievements rather than just on skills and experience. Also, what information should be included and what information should be forefront on the resume (hint: not education!). Really useful stuff!

I also recently went to a workshop called “Taming Your Grad School Schedule”, about time management and organization.  Sounds like basic information that you should already know by the time you’re in grad school, but I found it really useful and it kicked me into gear.

They gave us several tips on how to organize your time, and schedule in work. Several ideas were things I’d heard of before but had forgotten about (or been too lazy to do). But it was nice to be reminded of them and hear how other grad students manage their time and writing projects (I always find starting to write is the hardest part!). After the workshop I made much better progress on my writing and on meeting deadlines.

The next workshop I plan on attending is about interviewing skills. I’m hoping this gives me that extra boost to land a job when I’m finished at Tufts. I’m also planning on attending the next Editing for Style workshop when it runs again. Could always use to tips to polish off my writing!

A Rey-lly Fun Night

The Force Awakens Poster

Photo from Star Wars Website

Written by Amanda Franklin, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

A few weeks back, people were queuing up overnight to see Star Wars. Even now, everyone is still talking about the new movie. As a grad student at Tufts, I was lucky enough to see it opening night! The Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences organized a screening for the grad students at the Assembly Row cinemas.

After everyone was in the cinema, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences made quite an entrance. He marched into the theatre in a Darth Vader outfit, complete with red light sabre. A few jokes later, he introduced the panel that Tufts had organized for a pre-film discussion. There was Professor Malcolm Turvey, a film and media studies professor; Professor Danilo Marchesini, an astronomy professor who researches galaxy formation; and Professor Marie-Claire Beaulieu, from the Department of Classics at Tufts University. Even President Tony Monaco was there to give some opening remarks.

Now, I guess here is the part where I tell you my little secret – I’ve never seen Star Wars. Well, I have seen Episode 1, but I fell asleep and all I remember is Jar Jar Binks (apparently everyone’s favorite character =P  ). Anyway, I learnt a lot in that pre-film discussion. I don’t know if I should warn you about spoilers for the old Star Wars films since most people have seen them, but here’s some spoilers. I learnt that Darth Vader died. I also learnt the Luke and Leia were siblings. Probably useful information before watching Episode 7.

The movie started quick sticks after the discussion. There were no ads or trailers which was nice. With the big comfy seats at Assembly Row, a beer in one hand and M&Ms in the other, it was quite an enjoyable cinema experience.

After the movie we all walked over to Papagayo to mingle. I think almost everyone turned up, from faculty to alumni and current grad students (of course current grad students never pass up free food). Delicious appetizers and margaritas were provided so everyone was in great spirits. It was definitely an ideal atmosphere to socialize in.

Overall, it was another successful event for grad students. I spoke to people from other departments, and got to catch up with people from my department who I don’t see very often. Can’t wait for the next grad student event to break up the long cold winter (I’m Australian, even this ‘warm’ winter still counts as cold in my books). I think the next event is one of my favorites – Moo and Brew! Basically cheese and beer for an evening. Two of my favorite things!