Author Archives: Cera Gabrielle Dibattista

A Week in the Life of a First-Year Tufts EL-OTD Student

By TJ Pinto, OTD ’24

Medford/Somerville, Mass. – A view of the Jumbo statue on the Academic Quad with students walking to and from class. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

            Prior to coming to Tufts, I was so curious to learn what life as a graduate student was like. For me personally, graduate school at Tufts is quite a bit different from my experience at my undergraduate institution. For starters, my undergraduate institution was larger than Tufts, with many of my lectures having anywhere from 100-300 students in it. At Tufts, my cohort consists of only 32 people, and this group is sometimes split into even smaller groups for certain courses. The purpose of the first year of the Entry-Level Occupational Therapy Doctoral program is to create a solid foundation, making very unfamiliar concepts feel like second nature by the end of the first year. This allows us to enter our practice classes with an understanding of a lot of the basics of the profession, like how to write SOAP notes, common health conditions we’ll see in practice, and general developmental themes and theoretical models throughout the lifespan for children, adolescents, and adults. While my overall schedule may change a bit each week, this is what a week in my life is like as a first-year OTD student at Tufts.

Tisch Library, Medford campus.

Monday

            On Monday mornings, I make my way up to the library for my Topics in Emerging Practice Areas class. As someone who has always been very focused on the idea of working in a more medical setting, like a hospital or an outpatient clinic, this class has opened my mind up to numerous practice areas that I did not know were possible for OTs to work in. Many weeks, we have speakers come in to share about the emerging practice area that they work in, such as working in homeless shelters, refugee health, transgender health, and more. Throughout the semester, we are also working in groups to come up with ideas for our own emerging practice areas, practicing how to create an effective elevator pitch for our practice area, how to present to stakeholders, and of course, considering how OT would be crucial to this emerging practice area. My group’s project is focused on the idea of a canine training program for adolescents in the inpatient mental health setting, working on various occupations, such as education, vocation, Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs), and social participation.

In the afternoon, I have my Occupation & Adaptation (O&A) class. Last semester we had an O&A class focused on children and adolescents while this semester is specifically focused on adults. Through this class, we are learning about the developmental themes and theoretical models of the adult life cycle, ranging from early to late adulthood while considering physical, psychological, and social changes and the influences of numerous factors on one’s life experience. This class has a service learning component in which we volunteer with an organization in the community with the adult population. This class also has a lab component, allowing us to take the lecture material from earlier in the class and to apply our knowledge in a more hands-on way, which I have found to be useful in really drilling concepts down in my head.

Following O&A, the last thing that I have in the day is meeting with my Project Connect group. Earlier in the semester, a professor reached out to me and some classmates about being facilitators for Project Connect, an initiative through Tufts Counseling & Mental Health Services that allows graduate and undergraduate students to form meaningful connections with other students on campus. Each week, my classmate and I meet with a small group of graduate students to have guided conversations about our lives and experiences, working towards forming connections with one another. It has been a fun and enjoyable opportunity for me to interact with students from other programs that I normally may not have had the opportunity to meet.

Tuesday

            Tuesdays begin with my service learning placement for my O&A class at an adult day habilitation program for adults with developmental disabilities. My co-leader happens to be the same person I facilitate Project Connect with, my classmate and friend, Chloe. We actually ran groups at our current site last semester too, though, at the time, it was for our Group Theory class, where we were learning how to run effective groups as future OTs. Last semester, Chloe and I focused our groups on mindfulness and arts and crafts. Moving into this semester, we wanted to change our focus to Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs), creating weekly cooking groups. Fortunately, our service learning site has an accessible kitchen, allowing us to run these groups with a number of participants. We’ve made everything from pasta to cookies to quesadillas. With each group, we must use our OT-lens to adapt the group so that each person is able to participate. These groups are a fun challenge for me and Chloe while also being very enjoyable for our fantastic group members, who always seem to enjoy the process from start to end–– though of course, eating is by far the best part.

Following our service learning placement, Chloe and I will head back to campus for our Clinical Research class. To be completely transparent, this course was one that I was pretty intimidated by as someone who has been awful at math since the first grade and is easily intimidated by statistics. Fortunately, this course is not just a lecture-heavy statistics refresher. We also have the opportunity to work on a group research project throughout the entire semester, using this to implement lecture material in a way that is more enjoyable. For example, at the beginning of the semester, we all stated our preferences for our research project prior to being grouped together, with the topics including perfectionism, sleep, mindfulness, and positive emotions. After being placed in the positive emotions group and taking a pre-test, my group and I found an evidence-based treatment intervention for increasing positive emotions in one’s life. We then implemented this intervention in our lives for one month, then we took a post-test to inform our research paper. Eventually, we will present our findings at the end of the semester.

Wednesday

            I only have one class on Wednesdays, my Health Conditions II class. This is the second of three required Health Conditions courses, which are courses that focus on different conditions each week that we will see as clinicians. We focus on the incidence and prevalence, etiology, occupational consequences, short and long-term impacts, and OT interventions associated with each condition. One really great aspect of this course is that we commonly will have speakers come in from the community to speak about different conditions or practice areas related to certain conditions. For example, we have had OTs come in to speak about working with individuals with spinal cord injuries/disorders and low vision, as well as professionals from other fields, like a certified prosthetist to teach us about limb deficiencies, amputations, and prosthetics. We have also had certain lectures in which we learn about a specific condition, like stroke or Parkinson’s Disease, then have a community member living with this condition speak about their experience and how OT could help.

Following Health Conditions II, I have a mandatory open block set from 12-1:20pm, which is a time that is set aside each week for the department (including students) to hold meetings, speakers, events, and more. Students in the OT program are automatically considered to be members of the Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA), which is an organization that will often bring in guest speakers for these open blocks and will hold social events.

After the open block, I walk back up to Bendetson Hall, as I am a student worker in the Office of Graduate Admissions. In this job, I do everything from administrative work, writing blogs, assisting with virtual open houses, and giving in-person or virtual tours to prospective and admitted graduate students. I loved my job working in undergraduate admissions as a campus tour guide at my undergraduate institution, so it has been great having the opportunity to continue this in graduate school.

Bendetson Hall, Medford campus.

Thursday

            My Thursday mornings begin with Clinical Reasoning II, a foundational course that is focused on the evaluation process, interviewing skills, documentation, and more. Prior to taking Clinical Reasoning I last semester, the idea of sitting in a course like this sounded like it would be so dry. However, these courses have turned out to be a favorite of mine. Throughout the semester, I can genuinely see the improvement that is being made. I feel more and more like an OT each week. Lately, we have been focusing a lot on documentation, which is a really important subject area, as documentation is necessary for insurance coverage, justification of treatments, and more. My class has been practicing documentation skills through simulation cases this semester, whether it be through a real patient that we can access through an online video simulation library, or written cases. Each week we practice a new skill, whether it be goal writing, SOAP notes, or getting comfortable with using codes for evaluations and interventions in our notes. These are all skills we will very likely use on a daily and even hourly basis as future practitioners. I’m looking forward to seeing how I will continue to strengthen my clinical reasoning skills throughout this course and in future courses.

            My second and final class of the day is my DEC Seminar I course. This course is the first of three courses that are aimed at preparing us for the Doctoral Experiential Component (DEC) portion of the curriculum. The DEC is a 14-week experience in our final year of the program where we’ll work on a specific DEC project. This semester, I am preparing materials that will be viewed when pairing me with my mentor for my future DEC project, such as an ePortfolio containing my resume, OT vision, clinical interests, and more. In this course, my class is often broken up into three smaller sections, allowing each student to receive feedback on ePortfolio materials and assignments in class from our professors and/or classmates, which is much less intimidating and doable with 8-12 people rather than the entire cohort. I have found this course to be very helpful for my professional development as a whole.

Friday

            I actually do not have any classes on Fridays this semester! This means that I am able to work in the Office of Graduate Admissions in the morning, push myself to be productive and do some schoolwork in the afternoon, and then enjoy the evening however I see fit, whether that means I’m hanging out with friends or laying in bed watching Netflix to unwind after a long week.

Credit: Alonso Nichols/Tufts University

Weekend

            My weekends vary from week to week, though this semester, my friends and I have been making a more active effort to have fun on the weekends. We will often take the Red Line on the T (the main subway system for the Boston area) from Davis to places like Cambridge or Boston to get food, explore the area, and more. There’s also a new Green Line stop that is being constructed directly on campus, known as the Medford/Tufts stop, which will be another great way to get into the city. My current favorite place in Boston would probably be the North End, as I am a huge fan of Italian food and this area is amazing for this. There are also so many great coffee shops, parks, and places to hang out with friends as well. Of course, I’m still very new to the area, so I have a lot of exploring left to do.

As someone who spent the past ten years living in a rural town in Delaware, the change of pace has been incredible. I remember getting to campus last summer and sitting on top of the Tisch library as I talked to my friend from home on the phone, watching the sun as it set over the city and the Boston skyline began to light up beneath the night sky. I remember being so excited about the fun and spontaneous experiences that were to come, like the Red Sox vs. Yankees game my friends and I attended last minute for just $9 last summer. Being at Tufts has allowed me to broaden my horizons, learning from faculty with incredible connections and experiences in the field I am pursuing while being able to gain valuable hands-on experiences from the very start of my program, both in and out of the classroom. While my weekly schedule is jam-packed with classes, service learning placements, and numerous extracurriculars, I am truly so thankful to be here at Tufts.

Community: What is the GSC?

By Jennifer Khirallah, Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. Candidate

The Graduate Student Council (GSC) serves graduate students across all areas in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), School of Engineering (SoE), and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts (SMFA at Tufts). The GSC is responsible for organizing events, funding student research travel, and aiding and funding graduate student organizations (GSOs). Some of the notable events hosted by the GSC are Pub Nights, the Annual 5K Run/Walk, Apple Picking, the Graduate Student Research Symposium, and many more. These events aim to serve the needs of all the students in these graduate programs by bringing them together, giving them tools to succeed, and connecting them with necessary resources.

I am currently the Community Outreach Chair on the GSC’s Executive Board (e-board) and thus have a unique perspective on how it runs from the inside. It’s amazing to be part of such a great group that serves such a large community. By being involved on the e-board, I see how this large organization runs in order to anticipate and meet every need of these students. In this role I have organized a clothing swap, a beach cleanup, a food drive, valentine’s day cards for soldiers, and the annual 5k (happening on 4/22/22)! These events have united the Tufts and Medford community to allow students to give back while having fun and meeting other students.

The GSC e-board members each play a specific role in its smooth functioning. The President oversees all operations and plans Graduate Student Appreciation Week. The Vice President aids the chairs and runs the graduate student lounges at Curtis and West Hall. The Secretary manages the social media, advertising for the GSOs, and curating the newsletters. The Treasurer is in charge of managing the graduate student fund and distributing it to GSC chairs, GSOs, and graduate student travel awards. There are six GSC chairs that each aim to serve different groups and interests: Academic, Arts & Humanities, Community Outreach, International, Social, and Student Life. There are subcommittees of these chairs that have volunteers and department reps that help out with organizing and planning events. If you’re interested in getting involved in the e-board, there are elections on 5/3/22 and anyone and everyone is encouraged to apply for these positions! For more information check out the GSC’s website )!

If you have any questions or concerns about any aspect of your graduate life at Tufts, or if you would like to become involved in the GSC, please do not hesitate to contact us on our website. Check out Jumbo Life and the GSC website  and follow us on Instagram for upcoming events!

How to search for housing

By Mara Tu, Urban & Environmental Policy and Planning MA Candidate

New city, new people, new neighborhoods, where do I live! 

Looking for housing felt like a huge task to me. I was moving to a new state, a new city, and I hadn’t looked for housing by myself before. The sheer amount of housing options felt as threatening and overwhelming as an oncoming New England hurricane each time I even attempted to start looking. However, after going through the experience of finding housing in a pricey, fast-paced market like Boston, I now feel much more confident and capable in finding housing in the future!

A quick note: My journey to find housing near Tufts was rather unconventional and honestly not recommended, so if you are looking for a helpful guideline and steps on how to find housing, feel free to skip this next section and scroll down to my suggestion on steps to finding housing near Tufts’ campus.

The summer before my first semester started, I had already secured one roommate through a mutual friend who also wanted to live in the Somerville area. After feeling each other’s “vibes” out and confirming that we wanted to live together, we discussed our checklist for a place to live: budget (less than $1000/month per person), aesthetic (good sunlight was a must!), transportation situation (neither of us had a car so parking was unnecessary but we did want to be near a T stop), preferred relationship with the landlord (we wanted to be communicative with our landlord and to be able to actually contact them directly/not a big landlord), pet situation (neither of us had pets but we hope to get a cat someday down the line!), and other must-haves. This was important and so helpful to have some guidelines to narrow down our search for housing. 

A month before moving to Boston, I had scheduled a day where I would drive up to Boston and tour as many places as I could. After hustling and emailing landlords/real estate agents through Zillow (no shame, I contacted at least 20 different people to schedule a showing- many did not reply), I filled up my day with 7 different viewing tours. Looking back, I recognize now that my roommate and I are much pickier than I’d originally thought, as none of those 7 places really excited us/felt like they were worth the rent. We, thus, entered September with no secured housing.

My roommate couldn’t move in until a month into the semester, so I had decided to crash with my sister’s ex for a month (don’t worry, they are still on good terms and have a wonderful relationship) while I continued to search for housing with an October 1st lease start date. I honestly don’t recommend this, since living temporarily with a friend threw me off in the beginning of the semester more than I had anticipated.

Yet, with a stroke of luck, I was able to get in contact with a real estate agent (a Tufts alum!) who was kind enough to show me about 10 listings within the span of 2 hours that included wonderful properties below our budget even (big shout-out to Maven Realty!). Within a few days, my roommate and I discussed the options, decided on a wonderful 3-bedroom home right in Davis Square at $875/person, and were able to sign the lease with a delightful third roommate. It felt like the wait was worth it and everything was meant to be when I found out that my landlord was, in fact, an alum of my program! 

Tips on Searching for Housing as a Tufts Graduate Student

Before looking for housing, it was helpful to get some context in knowing what situations other students were living in. The following website/social media groups were really helpful to find housing options, possible roommates, and open housing listings:

Suggested steps on how to find housing as a grad student at Tufts:

  1. Criteria: Figure out your criteria for housing. Consider things like budget, location, if utilities are included, types of utilities, apartment/bedroom size, if pets are allowed, parking, in-unit laundry, if broker’s fee is on landlord or tenant, aesthetics, kitchen appliances, number of rooms, etc. 
  2. Roommates: If you already have roommate(s) in mind, great! Make sure you’re a good fit and have clear communication on the housing you are looking for. If you‘re looking for roommates, you can either visit one of the listed pages above and look for people posting about an open room to see if you are compatible or you might want to look for housing first and be the one making a posting on one of those pages to pick and fill in your future housemate(s)!
  3. Search: With your criteria in mind, the internet is your oyster! Go ahead and get searching for housing through the abundant real estate websites/resources. A neat and very helpful tool I found was the Zillow Draw tool that allows you to “draw” a shape on the map of the geographical area you are looking in and save that search so that any time there is a new rental listing in your search area and in your search criteria, you can get immediate (or daily) emails about them. You can also potentially work with a specific realtor/real estate office if you want to make the process a little easier on yourself, so that they can use their database to connect you with properties that uniquely fit your criteria. If you are lucky, some landlords will pay for the broker’s fee, so you can ask your agent for landlord-covered broker’s fee properties only if you want to avoid paying an extra fee!
  4. Touring: I personally really like seeing spaces in person, so feel free to book a tour to places you feel are a good fit/are interested in. You might even look at places at different locations or budgets if you are flexible about those things to see what different properties look like when you give a little in certain criteria. The Boston rental market moves quickly, so if you find somewhere that feels right, I’d say go for it!
  5. Lease: When you have found the right living situation, make sure to go over the lease and even have a second pair of eyes go over it to make sure your needs/expectations from the landlord are met and that you are ok with the landlord’s requirements. When everything is all set, send over your deposit/rent, sign your lease, and get ready to move into your new home!!

Extra Tips:

  • Find out about the communication style/effort/basic background of the landlord. It is totally ok to ask the realtors about this. A bad landlord situation is no good!! If the landlord gets to know all this information about you, you have the right to know about them as well. 
  • You will likely not find the perfect housing if you have budget constraints and that is ok! You might need to make a few compromises to match your budget.
  • The more roommates you have, the cheaper your housing likely can get. 
  • If your other roommates can’t make an in-person tour, take videos for them.
  • If it doesn’t seem like too competitive of a property, you can negotiate! You might be able to get the landlord to pay half of or even the whole broker’s fee to bring down the cost a little.
  • After moving in, I highly recommend joining different Facebook community groups like the Everything is Free Somerville or Curb Alert Page for cheap or even free furniture! The Facebook Marketplace site is also incredibly helpful.

Finding my way Back to School

By TJ Pinto, OTD ’24

When I was in high school, I was known as the dental guy. I attended a vocational-technical high school where I took the typical courses that are offered at most high schools, like math, science, history, and English, however, I also had the opportunity to take dental assisting courses, even becoming certified in dental radiology when I was 16. Throughout high school, I had competed at the national level in Dental Science competitions through an organization called HOSA Future Health Professionals, even medaling in the top 3 in the nation two times. A fire had ignited deep within me. I was going to be a dentist, and no one could tell me otherwise.

TJ practicing clinical skills on his friend in his high school dental assisting course.

Fast forward a few years and I was pursuing my undergraduate degree at the University of Delaware with a concentration in pre-dentistry. Among other prerequisite courses, I remember sitting in my Organic Chemistry class and constantly thinking, “This is not for me,” though I kept moving forward, nonetheless. At this point, I had convinced myself that I would be better off suffering through numerous dental school prerequisites that I was not passionate about rather than giving up on the career that I had been interested in since I was in the sixth grade. The idea of having to start over and find a new career path was just too daunting for me to even fathom, yet I couldn’t help but notice that the fire within me was slowly dimming.

In the Fall of 2017, this fear suddenly felt insignificant, after a tragic event occurred back at home, feeling like my world had stopped completely while the rest of the world continued to fly past me. As a result of this tragedy, my mom was critically injured, ultimately having to receive intense physical and occupational therapy. I watched her go from being intubated in the ICU to using a walker around the house to now being fully independent and working as a nurse again. My mom’s strength was truly undeniable. Her resilience inspired me and the work that her therapists did to help her to heal both physically and mentally opened my eyes to a new field of careers. By the winter of 2019, just months before graduating from undergrad, I decided to shift my focus to a career in the rehabilitation sciences.

When considering this new field of careers, I initially decided to pursue physical therapy. I had a general idea of what the role of a physical therapist was from accompanying my mom to physical therapy appointments when I was home from college. When I was younger, I even went to a PT myself for a rotator cuff injury. During my final semester of undergrad, I started volunteering for a few hours a week at the University of Delaware Physical Therapy clinic—a clinic run by clinicians and student PTs from the university. Being able to see patients on a weekly basis and ask questions about their treatment excited me. I ended up even attending a career fair held by my university for students to find jobs and summer internships specifically focused on PT. At this fair, I met numerous representatives from different companies and the small, welcoming family feel that I received from the Premier Physical Therapy & Sports Performance team pushed me to hand over my resume. Just around a week or two later, I had landed a job working with them as an exercise technician beginning a few days after my graduation in May of 2019.

TJ and his sister at his graduation from the University of Delaware.

Working at Premier was such an incredible opportunity for me. I was able to receive hands-on experience working with patients, observe treatments being performed by PTs, and ask as many questions as my heart desired. Though, I slowly found myself gravitating toward the back corner of the clinic, an area where people were constantly talking and laughing, even being referred to as the “fun corner” by my clinic director on a few occasions. I began speaking with the clinician working in this area, an occupational therapist working in hand therapy as a Certified Hand Therapist (CHT). At this point, I knew almost nothing about what an occupational therapist was, but I was interested in learning more.

In August of 2019, I began shadowing Katie, an occupational therapist working in both an outpatient setting and an acute care setting. I remember the very first patient that I had observed her working with, an individual who had experienced a stroke and was having difficulty performing several of their activities of daily living (ADLs) independently. On this day in particular, Katie was working with them to straighten their pointer finger, which was tightly flexed as a result of a trigger finger. Katie set up a Jenga tower and played with them, encouraging them to focus on straightening and using that one pointer finger specifically. On a different day, this same patient came in and stated that they were unable to buckle their seatbelt without assistance from their partner. Katie then brought us all outside, had the patient get into the passenger seat like they normally would, and then observed them attempting to buckle themselves. She quickly noticed that the center console was what was getting in the way and that once it was flipped up, the patient could fully extend their pointer finger, reach down, and buckle themselves on their own. Katie made treatment fun, but it still had purpose. She listened to the specific concerns and goals that mattered to her patients and did everything she could to support them so that they could live their lives to the fullest. After a few sessions of shadowing Katie, the fire within me that had almost completely extinguished a few years earlier was now ignited all over again—fueled by the idea of one day becoming an occupational therapist, providing holistic care and helping people to do the things that matter most to them.

Once I had officially decided that I wanted to become an OT, it was time to start preparing. I decided that I would take a full year to finish up my remaining prerequisites, gain hours shadowing in multiple settings, and continue to work as an exercise technician. In the fall of 2019, I was shadowing in a school-based setting, an outpatient setting, and a hospital while taking two classes at a local community college and working throughout the week. While things were overwhelming at times, I loved everything that I was doing and grew to appreciate how my schedule was structured despite having so much going on. In each setting that I was shadowing, I was learning more and more about how the role of the OT is similar over-all, but still noticing specific differences. For example, one morning I could be in a school-based setting observing an OT that was working on pre-writing strokes with younger children and the next morning I could be observing an OT helping a post-operative hip replacement patient to learn how to use adaptive equipment before being discharged from the hospital. I sometimes envied my friends who had done their observations over the summer during undergrad, not having to worry about schoolwork, work, and other responsibilities that I had at this time. Though simultaneously, I felt like this experience was incredibly valuable, allowing me to have time to really research a field that was new to me, giving me the opportunity to broaden my personal scope of what I understand OT to be.

The chaotic schedule that I had come to love was promptly interrupted in March of 2020, when the whole world shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was suddenly furloughed from my job, being promised that I would be brought back as soon as possible, though we all had no idea how long this pandemic would last. Suddenly, my busy days of work, school, and shadowing experiences had turned into monotony. I woke up at 9 or 10 AM each day, sitting on the couch and doing all my homework within the first two days of the week. For the rest of the week, I mainly just sat around the house, only leaving for daily bike rides around the neighborhood in an attempt to keep myself sane. One afternoon, as I was looking up information about different graduate schools, I decided to sign up for as many virtual information sessions as possible. I had attended almost 10 in a one-month period, eventually even having a pre-Zoom routine that I would follow. I would go upstairs about 15 minutes early, wash my face and brush my hair, put on a polo or a button-down shirt (though I was almost always wearing shorts or joggers from the waist-down), adjust the lighting in my room, and then pull up a master document that I had created with information about every single school I was interested in. On May 6th, 2020, I attended the Tufts OTD information session, knowing almost nothing about the program but knowing that it was a strong school overall. I still remember how friendly and passionate Jill Rocca was, an Admissions Coordinator for the OT department who had attended Tufts for her Post-Professional Masters and her Post-Professional Doctorate in OT. When listening to the current students in the program speak about their experiences, they seemed so happy with their decision to attend Tufts and seemed to have a lot of support from their classmates and faculty. At the end of this Zoom call, Tufts had risen to the top of my list and I was going to do everything in my power to try to be in their next cohort.

The Premier Physical Therapy and Sports Performance team dressed up for the holidays.

In June of 2020 I was finally called back into work, where I gradually went from working one or two days a week to working five days a week once I had completed my last prerequisite courses. I was the only exercise technician at the clinic and felt a bit overwhelmed. However, this helped me to work on my time management skills, prioritizing tasks, and working on my overall self-care before, during, and after work. In July, I began to apply to schools. I was only able to focus on applications in the evenings and on the weekends due to my busy work schedule. Nonetheless, I was diligent and submitted all my applications by mid-August since I completed my personal statement back in May and reached out to my references in advance.

Once I started to receive interviews, things began to feel so much more real and my Zoom meeting routine had now turned into a Zoom interview routine, requiring me to leave work early or come in late. In November, I had received my acceptance letter from Tufts and genuinely could not believe it—quite literally falling to the floor in disbelief when I had received the email. The conversations that I was having with patients at work began to shift from, “I’m preparing to apply to graduate school” to “I will be attending graduate school,” which was such a surreal feeling. As my last day of work approached and the reality of moving away for school truly began to sink in, I felt overwhelmed about finding roommates, buying furniture, making sure my financial aid was in place, and so much more—something that I had forgotten about after being out of school for a few years.

Something that I struggled with more than I was expecting was the overall adjustment to being a full-time student again. The first 6-week summer session of the OTD program consisted of an OT Foundations course and Gross Anatomy for the first half of the summer, then Neuroanatomy for the second half of the summer. While I had taken prerequisite courses a full year prior to this, I could hear the comments of people I had talked to in the past echoing through my head, telling me how hard it would be to get back into school after taking time off. Once the semester began, those voices progressively got louder. I felt lost navigating Gross Anatomy, as this course was so densely compacted with challenging material. I realized that my study strategies from undergrad weren’t holding up very well in graduate school and that I would need to adjust quickly. Though it took some trial and error, I eventually decided to make Quizlet flashcards, creating one study set for each lecture and one specific study set with all the muscles and their attachments, actions, and nerve innervations. I wrote most of my flashcards as questions, creating a practice exam that I could randomize and add images to if I wanted. I also carried around a small whiteboard and markers in my backpack, drawing the brachial plexus, arteries of the upper and lower extremity, and whatever else I needed to see visually over and over. While it was frightening to make these big changes so early in the semester, I feel like it was helpful to realize that I am not the exact same student that I was in undergrad. Similarly, the program I am in is very different from my undergrad program, which means that changes are to be expected.

Another challenge I faced when beginning grad school was my struggle with the overall transition. In undergrad I experienced homesickness in my first semester, though, after that I began to love college, the people I had met, and the freedom I had. When I started at Tufts, I assumed that it wouldn’t be so bad since I had already lived away from home before. Nevertheless, after just a few weeks, I quickly began to miss my family and my dogs. I was extremely nervous about having to meet so many new people in a graduate-level program. I had an overwhelming feeling of imposter syndrome, like everyone around me was so intelligent and had such remarkable life experiences, and I was constantly comparing myself to others. The times where I really struggled to get out of my own head or had trouble grasping concepts, I turned to the OT faculty. I appreciated their willingness to listen to me and to help me.

Some of these meetings were more personal and would range from talking about things I was struggling with in a specific lesson to delving deeper into what is important to me as a student and what I want out of my education. Fortunately, as time passed, these negative thoughts began to diminish, and I began pushing myself out of my comfort zone and immersing myself in the many great opportunities that are available at Tufts.

TJ and classmates from his cohort

In the summer, I mustered up the courage to run for a position within Tufts’ Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA), and I was elected to the Student-Faculty Representative position for my cohort. I was so excited to have the opportunity to bridge the gap between my cohort and the OT faculty, working to make sure everyone’s voices are heard. In the Fall, when the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) was coming for an on-site visit with our program, I was one of the students that was selected to help represent the students of our program, which meant a lot to me. Though the most meaningful experiences for me, outside of my education, have been the close relationships I have formed over the months that I have been here. From the casual summer get-togethers with my cohort, to the Annual Fall BBQ and apple picking events hosted by the Graduate Student Council, to the tight-knit relationships I have made with individual classmate’s one-on-one. I genuinely feel like I have become a valued member of the Jumbo community, making Tufts feel like home for me.

TJ and 3 of his friends from his cohort apple picking together.

Seeing all my hard work pay off, the loud voices of negativity within my head gradually silencing, and the support I have felt from classmates and faculty have proven that I genuinely deserve to be here. I now view the time that spent out of school as a positive. I had time to work out in the real world, make connections, and grow in a way that I may not have been able to do if I had come straight to graduate school from undergrad. Since starting at Tufts, the fire within me continues to roar as my passion for this profession only increases as I learn. I’m seeing myself grow into the clinician that I had hoped to become.

Reflections on Covid: What I Learned From Going to School and Working Virtually

By Lindsey Schaffer, Museum Education M.A. Candidate

Just like everyone else, my lifestyle has changed drastically during the pandemic. This time has taught me what I need to feel at my best. Balancing work and school has been challenging, but I learned a few lessons that have allowed me to achieve a better work life balance. Below are some of my biggest takeaways from quarantine.

The Necessity of Routine

Before the pandemic it was easy to jump out of bed and decide what I wanted to do that day. Now, I need structure so that I don’t get restless. I have found that my planner is a useful tool. I have always used a planner, but now it isn’t just for school and work-related dates, but also Zoom events, grocery runs, and workout classes. Scheduling these things ahead of time gives me something to look forward to and keeps me feeling productive and healthy. I have also gotten into the habit of scheduling Sunday as a ‘reset day.’ I use this time to clean around the house, meal prep, outline the next week in my planner, and do laundry. This helps me start the next week off with a blank slate.

Your Environment Matters

I have always loved decorating my room, but I never realized how important creating a space I loved was before I started spending all of my time there. Over quarantine I started considering how I could make my space as restorative and comfortable as possible. The book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo helped me do this. In the book, she has you examine each item that you own to see if it sparks joy. If not, it is unnecessary clutter that should be donated or re-gifted. The things that spark joy should be taken good care of and stored properly. This book allowed me to examine what objects I owned and how they reflected me personally. Was I partaking in retail therapy over quarantine or acquiring things that I actually needed? In addition to this, I filled my room with things full of life. Plants are an easy way to spruce up your room. Niche in Davis Square has a beautiful array of plants and pots (although they can be on the pricier side). Another way I livened up my space was by adding a vision board next to my bed. I filled this with pictures of what inspired me, whether it was professionals in my field, quotes, the lifestyle that I aspired for, and more.

Work/Life Separation is Hard but Important

I worked from home in the beginning of COVID and found that it was immensely difficult to separate my life from work when I was off the clock. I slept a few feet away from the desk where I spent my workday, and my email inbox was always looming. I learned that I needed to set boundaries with myself at the end of the workday so that I made time to do the things I wanted to do. It was hard to find time for myself working full time, but I found that utilizing my mornings before work was the most effective strategy. Every day before work I tried to have coffee outside and read or write for fun. This allowed me to pursue my creative passions as well as calm my mind. During my workday, I found it important to leave my room during breaks. Going on walks was a healthy and easy alternative to scrolling on social media during my free time.

In Conclusion

The pandemic has been a life altering event. Not everything needs a silver lining, but the quarantine allowed me to look inward and reassess my lifestyle. Ultimately, it taught me to hold my friends and family close while I can. It is great to be back on campus again. I forgot how much I missed it.

Asking for Letters of Recommendation

By Jennifer Khirallah, Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. candidate

Letters of recommendations are a key component in building your professional portfolio. They can make or break any application and leave lasting impressions. These letters unfortunately, need to be thought of months before you need them, so that you have the time to build connections with professors or professionals you wish to ask. Once you have chosen a list of professors to ask for recommendations you begin the daunting task of asking them to do this for you.

The key thing to remember is that you are asking a big favor of someone when you ask them to write you a letter of recommendation. Professors are busy and not all professors have the extra time to curate a special letter. It’s best to do everything you can to make their job as easy as possible.

When you email your professors asking for recommendations you should first explain to them why you want them specifically to write your letter. This includes what unique perspective they can offer. It is good to touch on some key points of your work with them and remind them of your relationship. Also, you want to tell them what aspects of yourself you want them to talk about (your independence, quick thinking, decision making, attitude, technical skills, etc.) so that each of your letters of recommendation touches on a different aspect of what makes you a great candidate.

An additional beneficial item to add in your email is an attachment of your resume or anything they could review when writing your letter. Another good thing to include is a small description of what you are applying for and a little information about the position so they can tailor their letter to your application.

Furthermore, when asking them to write this letter, make sure to give them more than enough time, at least one month, and make sure to tell them the due date is a week before it actually is in case there are major issues with what they wrote, or they are running behind. And do not forget to follow up with them a week before you tell them it’s due!

Finally, keep in mind that some professors may ask you to write your own letter that they will sign or to make them an outline. This is completely normally since professors are so busy. Take your time to curate a letter/outline saying specifically what you want to say about yourself and if you need help just ask a friend. Also, if professors say “no” to writing your letter is it okay, they are likely only saying no to you it because they don’t feel they would write a good enough one that would actually help you due to either lack of time or memory of your relationship with them. One final thing to keep in mind is if you know your professors are not always timely, it may be beneficial to ask one extra professor, so you have an extra to choose from or enough if one doesn’t follow through.

Below is an example of an email sent to a professor asking for a letter of recommendation for a graduate school application.

Example:

Dear Professor Happy,

I hope you had a great weekend. I am writing to ask you if you would write me a letter of recommendation for my graduate school applications. I am applying for a PhD program in Biomedical Engineering at Tufts University. I would like you to write a letter as I worked in your lab for one year working on various projects including X, Y, and Z. You would be able to offer a unique perspective on my skills in a laboratory setting. I am hoping you would touch on how I have played a key role in the progress of projects A and B, how I work well independently, and how I have shown success in designing my own experiments.

The due date for this letter of recommendation is X/(X-7)/X. I am attaching my resume for your reference. Please let me know if this is something you are willing to do and if so if you have any questions for me. Thank you!

Best,
Jenn

Why Tufts?

By Lan Anh (Bella) Do, Ph.D. Cognitive Psychology PhD Candidate

Applying to graduate schools, for me, was a process of searching for a P.I. whose research interests fit with mine. In other words, professors were the main motivation for all my applications, rather the schools themselves. At Tufts, I was interested in working with Dr. Ayanna Thomas who is currently the editor-in-chief of the journal Memory & Cognition. Her work in memory, learning, and metacognition was in line with my research experience and more importantly, she examines such topics in the context of stress, an important but understudied factor that is highly relevant to education. Fortunately, she offered me admission to Tufts, but it was not the only offer that I received. That was when I had to truly think about the question: Why Tufts?

Everyone has their own criteria when selecting a graduate school but perhaps the ultimate aim is to find a place that matches their needs and values. For me, an ideal program is the one that, first, allows me to work with not only my advisor but also other top-notch experts in the field of my interest, and second, financially supports me through the duration of my study. I see myself as a realistic person so typically I don’t need a beautiful story to back up my decision, but in this case I looked at the facts. Tufts is one of the R1 institutions that is well known for its high research activities. Also, at Tufts, the PhD in Psychology is a fully funded program, which allows students to work with payment as an RA and/or TA during the semester. Besides the stipend, Tufts provides a wide range of other funding for research related activities and travel grants for attending conferences. This is especially important for an international student like me because I probably wouldn’t be able to complete a 4- or 5-year PhD program if I had to worry about my budget.

When I think of Tufts, it feels like a tree to me – a huge oak with a big trunk and spreading boughs – a tree that can cover my head on both sunny and rainy days, but it also has a young vibe of a blue sky that allows people a lot of freedom to come up with new ideas. When I imagined myself flying away from South Korea, my second hometown, and moving to America, to live and study at Tufts for the next 4-5 years, I was not nervous, but rather excited. I listened to my instinct, and I picked Tufts to be the next destination of my journey.

After my first one-and-a-half months at Tufts, I have discovered many other advantages of being a student here, besides its prestige and generous financial support. Everyone is friendly and reaches out to me to ask if I need any help. I am able to call all the faculty in my department by their first names, so it is comfortable to communicate with them. This is a big difference and a nice surprise for me, a student coming from Asian cultures, specifically, Korean and Vietnamese, where there was always a hierarchy between students and professors, and such hierarchy forms the way we behave and talk to one another. There seems to be more room for open conversation and for students to express their opinions when they can talk to their professors in a more casual way.

Also, probably due to its smaller size, people at Tufts are very responsive. Whenever I have a problem and email the school offices to ask for help, they always respond quickly with a proper solution. From an international student’s perspective, this is a huge advantage of Tufts. I have faced quite a number of troubles since I moved to America, from course registration, mobile phone number, payment and countless other situations I have had to handle to start a new life. I’m glad that there is always someone whom I can reach out to for help.

In this semester (Fall 2021), I’m taking three classes and one of them is Advanced Statistics I. There is homework almost every week and a quiz every month. It may sound like a huge burden for some students, but as an educational psychologist, I’m aware that it’s actually a good teaching and learning method. Repeated retrieval practice and rehearsal can strengthen our memory and help us remember more of what we learned and for a longer period of time. Making such activities, however, can be demanding especially for the instructor (Dr. Daniel Barch). Thus, I’m grateful for the effort he spent on creating all the learning materials, and I expect to learn a lot from this course.

One bonus point that I like about Tufts is the huge and beautiful lawns on campus. It’s probably the first time in my life seeing this much green around me and having the freedom to walk on it. Hopefully, this amount of freshness can help everyone, including me, make the best of our education at Tufts, given the pandemic situation.

Why Tufts?

By Lindsey Schaffer, Museum Education M.A. Candidate

My whole life I have been torn between two passions: English and History. It wasn’t until I discovered museums that I realized the two could be combined. Because to me, museums are just another venue for stories, except instead of using words they use objects to convey a narrative. I knew that I needed an advanced degree to get my foot into the museum field which is why I decided to apply to multiple graduate programs. I wanted to find somewhere that was challenging traditional narratives and actively seeking to make museums a more inclusive space. After deliberating over six schools, I knew that Tufts was right for me. Their Museum Education program focuses on fostering community, confronting social issues, and creating innovative lesson plans, which set them apart from the other programs I was looking at. I know that upon graduation I will not only be prepared for a career in the field, but also for a life in an ever- changing world.

Before I confirmed my enrollment at Tufts I met (virtually) with a few second-year graduate students in my program. Although I was originally intimidated, I was quickly put at ease by how warm and supportive they were. It assured me that the dynamic at Tufts would be collaborative, not competitive. This has been reflected so far in all my classes. Everyone brings a unique perspective to class and I am always so happy to listen and contribute. Being an introverted person, I was nervous about participating in discussions. However, I have found it easy and worth-while to share with the class.

Another plus of my program is that Museum Education is a small group of people. This year’s cohort was only 10. This reminded me of my undergraduate experience at the College of Saint Benedict, which also had small, discussion-based classes. In this setting I can make deeper connections with my teachers and colleagues.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

I have always had a dream of moving to Boston. Little did I think about the smaller areas outside of the city that could provide me with the same access at less cost. Living in Somerville near campus has allowed me to live near Boston without the noise and traffic of the city itself. It has been so fun to learn to navigate the MBTA’s Red Line and discover all the places it leads. I have not had that much time to explore yet, but what I have gathered so far is that each area of Boston has a unique feel to it. I have spent a day visiting museums in Fenway-Kenmore, walked along the Charles River and stopped at a brewery along the way, watched live music at an Irish pub in Davis Square, and so much more. Davis Square is about a mile away and it is where we go if we want to get coffee, dinner, or need to pick up some necessities. I know that regardless of what I need (directions or otherwise) the Tufts community will help me get me to where I need to be.

Why I Chose Tufts!

By TJ Pinto, OTD ’24

For the past few years, my two cousins, my sister, and I have selected one weekend in October to travel to a new location for the weekend. Our first trip was to Washington D.C., where we stayed in an Airbnb with an incredible host on a street that just happened to be having a crazy block party on the exact weekend we were visiting. Our most recent trip was to a log cabin in the Shenandoah Valley, where we spent the weekend playing games and hanging outside on the deck in the middle of the valley as we laughed and talked until the sun came up. In 2019, our destination of choice was Boston. At the time, I was a recent college graduate who had just officially decided to pursue a career in occupational therapy. This weekend was a mini-vacation away from all the daily tasks that had transformed my Google Calendar into an abstract art piece of colored time blocks. At this point, my average week consisted of working as an exercise technician at an outpatient rehabilitation clinic, shadowing OTs in school, outpatient, and acute care settings, and taking my remaining prerequisite courses at a local college. When looking back on this weekend, I remember standing in front of the Old State House in Boston and being mesmerized by the contrast between this historic building and the modern high-rises surrounding it. As I walked the city, I found myself falling in love with it, actually being able to see myself living there at some point in my life. After a morning of sightseeing and walking the Freedom Trail with my cousins and sister, I remember everyone wanted to take a quick break to rest our legs and grab some coffee. As we sat in a little coffee shop, I pulled my phone out and quickly searched the American Occupational Therapy Association’s website and looked for programs that were near Boston. During this quick search, I found Tufts, promptly added it to the long list of schools I was interested in at the time and then continued on with my weekend trip in Boston.

Just a matter of months later, the world had changed drastically, as we had entered the beginning of a pandemic. After being furloughed from my job in March, my day-to-day life was pretty repetitive. I would make avocado toast in the morning, finish all of my schoolwork for the week by Tuesday or Wednesday each week, go for a bike ride around the neighborhood in the afternoon, and color in my anatomy coloring book while simultaneously bingeing any and every Netflix series I could find in the evening. With OT applications opening in just a matter of months, I decided to sign up for as many virtual information sessions as I could, taking notes and trying to narrow down the number of schools I would actually apply to once applications opened in July. At one point, I must have attended ten separate information sessions in a three-week period. On one evening in May, I closed my bedroom door, adjusted the lighting in my room, and opened Zoom like I had done for the numerous other information sessions before this one. I remember Jill Rocca starting the meeting and introducing herself as a Tufts OT graduate and a current Admissions Coordinator. She was so genuine and happy to share her personal experiences from the program while also allowing current OTD students to talk and answer questions about their experiences as well. I could feel myself becoming more and more excited by the idea of joining this program, as I loved how many opportunities there were for hands-on learning, from the service-learning opportunities that take place in your first Fall semester to your fieldwork experiences. As someone who is particularly interested in the idea of working in hand therapy and wound care down the road, the fact that students in the OTD program could take upper extremity and hand rehabilitation courses alongside practicing OTs overjoyed me. Most importantly, all of the current students expressed how approachable the OT faculty was and how supportive everyone in the program has been from the very beginning, from the faculty to their fellow classmates. I remember going downstairs after the information session concluded and walking straight up to my mom and saying, “I have to go to Tufts.” It just felt perfect.

Fast forward to November. I had submitted all of my graduate school applications and had been back to working as an exercise technician for a few months. I had the poor habit of refreshing the email app on my phone approximately eighty times a day, just hoping that I would eventually see an update about my Tufts application. At this point, I knew that decision letters could be sent out at any moment, but I just didn’t know exactly when. However, on November 17th, 2020, at 10:02 am, the email notification popped up on my home screen. I immediately felt my stomach drop and a sense of panic overwhelmed me. After weeks and weeks of trying to convince myself (and others who asked me about it) that I would be completely fine if I was not accepted at Tufts, it all flew out of the window the second as I received this email. Without even taking a second breath, I rushed to open my phone and clicked on the email. I then read the one word that I truly was not expecting to see, “Congratulations!” I fell to the ground and started quietly screaming to myself, “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe it! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT!!” Later, when my mom had gotten home from work, I shared the news with her and she immediately burst into tears. After listening to me gush over this program for months and share how much I would love to attend, it was now a real option for me. It truly was a feeling like no other.

TJ Pinto with Jumbo the Elephant.

This past April, my mom and I drove up from Delaware to Massachusetts together in order to visit Tufts for the first time. My mom is the reason I wanted to become an OT in the first place. After a tragedy that had occurred back in 2017, she was in critical condition and was bed-bound for months, requiring intense physical and occupational therapy to get back to living her life independently. Years later, my mom and I were sitting together at Tufts, enjoying a beautiful day on campus together. As we sat on campus together on this cool Friday afternoon, we both experienced such a huge feeling of relief. After the long two-year journey that I had taken on following my graduation from the University of Delaware, I finally knew where I would be taking the next steps in my professional journey and it was exactly where I wanted and needed to be.

Welcome to the SMFA Community

By Lennon Wolcott PB’15 MFA’17

I’ve spent the last 4 years in graduate art admissions, after completing my MFA (’17) and Post-Bac (’15), I hear a similar story from prospective Master of Fine Arts students every year. Artists coming to grad school are looking to expand their voice, hone their practice, as well as find and develop a connection with a network of other artists. 

The goal of a grad program in interdisciplinary contemporary art is to expand and refine who we already are as artists, and much of that can’t happen in a bubble, without our peers. The connections we make in graduate school, are more than colleagues in the classroom; our graduate cohorts become our support systems, our curators, our collaborators, our gallerists, our teachers, our recommenders, and (if we’re lucky) our good friends.

Nearby Gallery, 101 Union Street, Newton Centre – Opening Reception of “In Mid Air”

Last month, I stopped into the newly opened Nearby Gallery in Newton Center, for the exhibition opening of “In Mid Air”. Nearby Gallery was founded by Cal Rice (MFA ’18) and Sam Belisle (MFA ’18). The show was a fabulous and experimental collection of work, from 3 recently graduated SMFA at Tufts undergraduate students, Lightbringer, Calla King-Clements, Daria Bobrova. In the crowd of the reception, there were families, community members, and an assortment of SMFA alumni. At one point as a group of alumni discussed the show and gallery, I realized I was in conversation with MFA graduates from 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and a current MFA candidate, set to graduate in 2022. There is excitement in watching people meet, reminisce, and connect; artists sharing their work, talking about their galleries or studios, planning to collaborate, and celebrating the work of both the artists and their expanded cohort success.

Sally Lee (MFA ’20), Sam Belisle (MFA ’18), Cal Rice (MFA ’18)

What I love is that this group support is not an isolated incident. Each month artists of Boston flock to First Friday events in SOWA to see our peers in juried or solo shows. We work with SMFA alumni like Alexandra Photopoulos (MFA ‘10), Allison Gray (MFA’17),and Doug Breault (MFA’17) who run exciting galleries in Cambridge, like Gallery 263; spaces that offer opportunities to submit proposals or join group shows and residencies. We leave our studios and solitude to attend each other’s events, and to celebrate our work and community, creating lasting connections. 

450 Harrison Ave, SOWA Galleries

Each year, as I work to recruit and admit classes to the MFA and Post-Bac programs, I feel a little bit selfish (in the best way) to be able to invite in future members of our extended SMFA graduate cohort. I am excited this year to welcome to campus, the next class of MFA and Post-Bac students who will join our conversations, shows, and the greater community. We’re thrilled to have you.