Author Archives: Madeline Cheryl Key

Your First Semester as an Occupational Therapy Student

Madeline Zarro, Occupational Therapy doctoral candidate

Photo credits: Occupational Therapy’s Instagram: @tufts_O

If you’re reading this as a newly accepted or prospective student of the Tufts Entry-Level Doctorate of Occupational Therapy, welcome! We’re excited to get to know you. My name is Madeline Zarro, and I’m currently finishing the final semester of my first year in the Tufts OT program. Having recently experienced the transition into graduate OT studies myself, I wrote this article to give you a sense of what to expect upon arrival.  

Your first semester at Tufts will occur over the course of two summer sessions, and you’ll take a total of three courses: Anatomy, Neuroanatomy, and Occupational Therapy Foundations. Though you won’t have class every day (at maximum, you’ll attend courses three days a week), this first semester is known for being fast-paced and academically rigorous. That isn’t to say that it’s not enjoyable—it is! The summer of your first year offers plentiful opportunities for connection and exploration.  

Here are five suggestions to help you effectively engage with your coursework, all while making the most of what your new community has to offer: 

  1. Use studying as an opportunity to explore.  

Whether you prefer to stay local to Tufts or venture out to Boston, your options for intriguing new study spots are virtually limitless. Medford and Somerville have abundant cafes, restaurants, parks, and libraries. Middlesex Fells Reservation is easily accessible by bus, and can be a relaxing retreat for those who don’t mind studying outdoors—just pack a picnic blanket and your flashcards! With most people off campus for the summer, you’ll find available seats and whiteboards in nearly every academic building; moreover, exploring campus is a great way to start to feel at home at Tufts. Check out past blog posts and Joyraft’s The Boston Calendar to find your first destination. Or, wander out and find it on your own! 

07/14/2022 – Medford/Somerville, Mass. – Mossab Al Saedi, doctoral candidate in Chemical Engineering, and Ryan O’Hara, doctoral candidate in Chemical Engineering, pose for stock photos in Tisch Library on July 14, 2022. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)
  1. Organize a meal with new friends.  

We all know the feeling: you’ve got a looming deadline, an intimidating amount of material to study, and though there are a million things you’d like to do, you can’t seem to make time to do anything else but study and eat. That’s okay—you’re not in this alone! Cooking a group meal with new friends from your cohort is a great way to relieve stress and make connections while still staying on track with your studying. Many hands make light work when it comes to cooking, and you can help each other study over the meal you share.  

  1. Incorporate your interests.  

You’ll be asked to learn a lot of material over the course of the summer, and to spend a great deal of time outside of class reviewing it. Finding creative ways to interact with the content can make a world of difference when you feel bored or burnt out, as well as boost your retention of information. As someone who loves to make art, I’ve found that I can always motivate myself to study when I use a nice set of pens. I taught myself the blood vessels of the heart by painting them in watercolor. This was a refreshing change of pace from my hundreds of flashcards! I highly encourage trying this for your own interests. Create a dance for learning the bones, practice muscle actions while working out, or write a story about nerve tracts as if they were people. Don’t be afraid to try something silly—you’re more likely to remember the information that way! 

  1. Take advantage of free & discounted experiences offered by the Graduate Student Council & local libraries.  

Study breaks are important for both learning and wellbeing, so make sure you take them! Here at Tufts, we have a wonderful team of people (called the GSC) dedicated to enriching your time at graduate school with new experiences and friends. They organize frequent experiences perfect for new arrivals to the area. I was able to meet other new graduate students on a Duck Boat tour of Boston for only $5. Opening a free library card at the Somerville and/or Boston Public Libraries is also a great way to access new experiences. Your library card allows you to reserve free or discounted tickets at museums, the aquarium, and several other destinations.  

  1. Reach out within the program.  

It can feel daunting to ask for help during your first semester at graduate school. Many of us feel that we need to prove ourselves, or don’t know who to go to when assistance is needed. Luckily, you’re entering a profession of people who have made it their life’s work to help others and to promote accessibility. Tufts OT is a community, and we’re happy to support you as you adjust to graduate school! You’ll be assigned a peer mentor from the second-year cohort (we call this a SOTA buddy, since the partnership is made by the Student Occupational Therapy Association). You’ll also have Graduate Assistants in your summer classes, and an academic advisor from the beginning of the program. Each of these people will be happy to help you—whether that means academically, socially, or otherwise.  

I hope this was helpful. I can’t wait to see you on campus! 

PS– for a peek ahead into the second year in the program, check out this Instagram post from the OT department.

Step Out of the Lab and Into the Tufts Community: Tufts extracurriculars and engagement opportunities for grad students

Ash Sze, Data Science MS candidate

09/14/2021 – Medford/Somerville, Mass. – From Left: Kartik Lakhotiya, 1G and Uma Maheshwari Dasari, 1G at the fall BBQ for Graduate Students in Arts and Sciences, and School of Engineering on Tuesday, September 14, 2021. (Jake Belcher for Tufts University)

When I’m home for the break, I reflect on all the experiences I treasure at Tufts. I think about how my friends and professors are doing and the exciting things that await me when I return. As you can imagine, the pressure in academics as a grad student is very real, and I was scared that transitioning from Tufts undergrad to grad would mean losing access to the clubs and events I looked forward to so much. I wanted to continue having dim sum nights with HKSA (Hong Kong Student Association), playing board games with people at the LGBT and Asian American center, eating ‘Dave’s Fresh Pasta’ catered sandwiches with the International Center and dancing with my Burlesque troupe. 

As September rolled around, I was overjoyed to discover that all the clubs I participated in before continued to be available for grad students. There were new clubs founded every year, and of course, I had to join the Cheese Club, because who can say no to free provolone? Speaking of free cheese, the quest for free stuff was endless. Tufts and its community knows its students well, and have a way of tempting people to come together with the promise of exam goody bags, hot chocolate, tarot card readings, Bingo (I was one letter away from winning a TV!) and a performance by Rupaul’s Drag Race contestant Kerri Kolbi (sorry you missed this). 

An exciting part of each semester is waiting for TUSC (Tufts University Social Collective) to announce the next fun event. As a broke undergrad, there was no short of fun, and free things to do. As a graduate student, they really stepped up the game to suit our more tight-knit and age-diverse group. Apple picking, baseball games, and Boston tours are a given, but a trip to King Richard’s Faire is something I didn’t know I needed. Singing silly songs on the bus, dressing up as a DnD party and eating a humongous Turkey leg was the last thing I expected to do with people from my machine learning class. Who knew so many grad students were nerds? 

Fall Fest is the time to eat fried dough drenched in caramel sauce and line up in the cold for the best, fresh lemonade ever. People arrive early, hoping to get the highly coveted, limited edition, Fall Fest t-shirts and to try food from every food truck. I remember being thrown off a mechanical bull for the first time, entering the ‘Fortnite’ truck, and going down a big bouncy slide. Fall fest marks the beginning of the year, when no one is worried about grades yet, new students are making new friends, and returning ones bump into people they least expect. Not to mention, Fall Fest is followed by the Spring Carnival and Spring Fling, which I won’t spoil, but the carnival definitely had a Ferris wheel. 

Original Artwork by Ash Sze

And best of all? Tufts either brings you everywhere or keeps the fun closeby, so no car required. 

Working as a Graduate Resident Assistant

Christine So, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice Leadership MA candidate

As a Graduate Resident Assistant (RA), I had the opportunity to live on Beacon Street near the SMFA campus in Fenway. You can hear the bells ringing from the green line train right in front of us with the original Tatte Bakery and Cafe just a few steps away. These brownstones we get to live in have the unique history of seeing various types of first-year undergraduate BFA students in these old, yet very aesthetic buildings. The three buildings 1047, 1025, and 1023, each have such a unique character and all the residents that reside in it each get an unforgettable living experience in their first years as a student in Boston. Fun fact: 1023 used to be a Bed and Breakfast!

Prior to coming to Tufts, I had been a RA for two years. In my role, there are some key goals we have to hit. Those goals being connecting with our residents, building community, and supporting our residents to be academically and personally successful as a student at Tufts. A challenge I had found for our first year BFA students is that we live a bit farther from Medford campus, which I feel may take away from their first year experience. Hence, community building in our Beacon Street community has been very important. In total there are four RA’s who are in charge of roughly 80 residents. Programming is a very important part of this role so we can hold events that benefit our community. So far we’ve done self-care related programming, study sessions, and for the holidays we made hot cocoa and chai. For Halloween, we decorated our buildings and painted mini pumpkins while having too much candy. 

09/19/2022 – Medford/Somerville, Mass. – Houston Hall’s glass atrium glows in the evening dusk as students study and move about on September 19, 2022. (Alonso Nichols/Tufts University)

Many people around me ask why I continue to be an RA (outside of the benefits of housing being covered). I cannot deny the challenges that come with the role in moments of conflict, crisis, or living in the environment that is your job. However, I just love bridging people and communities together. Beacon poses a lot of challenges in comparison to when I was an RA at my undergraduate institution. Even in comparison to Medford campus, we have to change our thought process to serve our residents in a whole different way. Being a prior music major, I understand the challenges of an unconventional education process in comparison to other majors. The challenges are different, so as an RA staff we do our best to make sure the events we hold are meaningful. Being an RA has taught me countless skills that I have been able to hone in my three years of being in housing. And of course, I value all of the connections I have been able to create in my first semester at Tufts in the Beacon Street community. 

This year I am an Assistant Residential Life Coordinator (ARLC) in the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ORLL). I will help with individual neighborhoods within the Medford/Somerville campus, purchasing, and offering leadership development to our RA staff. Working in housing in an institutional setting for my fourth year is a rewarding experience and one I’ve gained many professional skills through. Working in housing has its challenges, but similar to being an RA, the connections you make are everlasting. 

Myth-busting the Start of Grad School: From the eyes of a student and staff member in the Education Department  

Lida Ehteshami, School Psychology MA/ Ed.S. candidate and Matt Suslovic, administrative coordinator, Education department

06/11/2023 – Medford/Somerville, Mass. – An aerial view of the plants that spell out Tufts on the roof of Tisch Library on the Medford/Somerville Campus of Tufts University on June 11, 2023. (Boston Aerials for Tufts University)

As you know, it takes stumbles to grow into your shoes as a grad student. We’ll dive into a few common anxieties and hopes we see unfold in the first semester of grad school, from Lida’s experiences as a student in Tufts’ M.A./Ed.S. in School Psychology program and Matt’s eyes as a staff member. 

Lida (first-year in School Psychology)

One of the first anxieties I felt was assuming that everyone already had it figured out. I thought I might need to be a superhuman with exceptional intelligence, unwavering focus, and boundless energy to succeed. It was easy to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone around me had it all together while I was struggling to balance my jobs, classes, and life. As I saw myself getting more and more overwhelmed, I reached out to fellow students who all related with the same feelings and helped me set realistic expectations for myself. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and graduate school is a journey of growth and development for everyone. 

Given that I had just moved from another state and knew no one in Massachusetts, one of the biggest anxieties I faced was a sense of isolation. Between the academic workload, going to my practicum site, and working two jobs to support myself, I felt disconnected from the world outside. While I am still working on widening my social connections, I am very happy to have found a warm, welcoming, and fun group of friends in my cohort and have gone to a couple of events run by the Graduate Student Council. I’m sure to schedule time with a friend at least every other weekend, using that time to explore beautiful Boston and make this city feel like home. The support and camaraderie I find in my fellow graduate students is the most invaluable part of this journey so far. 

09/01/2022 – Medford, Mass. – Various campus photos taken on October 22, 2022 during Parents Weekend (Jenna Schad / Tufts University).

Along the same lines, I also feared having to sacrifice everything for graduate school given how busy my schedule was about to become. During my first few weeks of graduate school, I was entangled in the web of this myth. The stress it induced was suffocating, leading to burnout and a decline in my work quality. I am slowly realizing how self-care is not a luxury but a necessity. I am now beginning to prioritize activities that rejuvenate my spirit, such as cooking, spending time outdoors, and finding time to sketch. Engaging in these hobbies offered a welcome break, helping me strike a better balance and reignite my enthusiasm for learning, which, in the end, gave my academic performance a boost. 

Matt (administrative coordinator)

The moments I see the student-teacher dichotomy fall away and transform into a colleague-mentor relationship are the ones I wish I could preserve to show to grad students when they’re having one of those “ohhh, what did I sign myself up for?” reactions to the first semester. It’s a great thing as a staff person to watch the ease and familiarity increase between student and teacher over a semester. I see it happen often in the spill-over moments of teacher-student interactions (i.e. serendipitous conversations in the kitchen waiting in line for the microwave, the post-class meandering exodus of humans through the hallways, etc.). It comes up all the time in my conversations with faculty how they’re still lingering on a learning they took away from what was shared in class or are excited to share a story of something that happened to them in the field and get their students’ takes. I believe we’re all stumbling towards learning and figuring out the questions that need asking – faculty, students, staff, and administrators alike. I know that soothes my anxiety as each new semester unfolds.  

Navigating Graduate Life: Tufts Graduate Student Council

Natasha Keces, Child Study and Human Development PhD candidate and Graduate Student Council President

02/10/2023 – Medford/Somerville, Mass – Scenes from the first day of classes at Tufts on September 5, 2023 (Photo by Jenna Schad).

By now we are nearing the end of the Fall semester, making it halfway through another (hopefully not horribly treacherous) academic year at Tufts. Whether this is your first semester at Tufts, you are deep into your program, or you are thinking about Tufts as a potential school, I think that it is important to celebrate where you are and how you got here and to take some time for yourself. 

When celebrating your hard work and considering your future at Tufts, you may also be looking for a like minded community to lift you up and offer more support. Although you, without a doubt, deserve to be here and have so much to offer not only the university but also your peers, understanding your place within the graduate student body can be a struggle. Departments, specific research teams, or learning environments are often physically or socially siloed within their respective spaces so connection with other people may not be immediate or seem natural. This can be hard (I know it was a transition for me!) but luckily support systems have been created by the university and other students.  

In what probably won’t come as a surprise to you as a reader that I am very passionate about understanding and supporting graduate student life. This year I am the president of the Graduate Student Council, a wonderful team of elected graduate student representatives that have the sole mission of understanding the needs of the current graduate students and creating targeted support. Support can look like truly anything – including but not limited to decreasing the barrier to having a headshot by offering free photoshoots every semester, giving the opportunity for social connection and engagement with fun social events like bar nights, bowling, and pumpkin carving, fostering academic rigor and bolstering your CV with thesis and research competitions within the university, and creating the opportunity to give back to the broader Somerville community through community services events. In all of these spaces, you will meet people from all departments with all types of interests, experiences, and knowledge and get to know people you may have never interacted with otherwise. At the end of the day, we have all been thrown together in a similar environment at Tufts, gaining a unique shared experience as a member of the Tufts graduate student body that we can collectively grow from. 

This photo features our Community Outreach committee, which facilitates community engagement and volunteer opportunities. Events include Charity 5Ks, Local Beach Cleanups, Clothing Drives, and more!

You can learn about all the events run by the Graduate Student Council and what we do on our social media (Instagram @tufts_ase_gsc, Facebook at Tufts ASE Graduate Student Council), monthly newsletter, Slack Channel, and website ( More than focusing only on what we currently do, I consider our role as constantly thinking of ways to consider how we can adapt in the future to support graduate students in new ways. I always encourage emails to to give me and the other GSC members more insight into your lives and how we can support you! 

I also think in order to do your best work, to allow you to continue growing more in your time in your Tufts grad program, and to ease any other concerns that may be hindering your progress in your program, it can be important to know more about other resources that Tufts can offer graduate students. Here are just a few of my favorites: 

The team at Tufts Student Support ( has been created to meet individual student needs and to direct you to other places that can help you flourish at Tufts. You can schedule individual appointments with them to talk about where you are at and how you can continue to succeed! 

You may also be feeling the weight of financial burdens as they impact your ability to purchase food that sustains you to do your work. Various resources have been compiled and are available here ( in order to speak to food insecurity both on Tufts campus and in the larger community.  

The university provides free graduate writing support and academic success coaching ( – you can book up to weekly appointments during your time here. 

If attending a social event held by the graduate student council feels too big and overwhelming, specific identity based centers ( offer opportunities for connection with individuals of similar identity groups through fun events and physical Medford campus spaces. 

At the end of the day, you have made it so far and will only continue to grow in your time at Tufts (maybe even with the support of the Graduate Student Council or other Tufts resources!).