Category Archives: Alumni Blogger

So you think you want to move to Boston… now what?

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

Before coming from the Midwest to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts for my Studio Art Post-Baccalaureate and M.F.A. programs, the only things I knew about Boston were from the films “Good Will Hunting” and “Last Stop Wonderland.” Both films I will point out offer a general and off-putting view of the MBTA (T) system. I also had associated the word tuft with the Dr. Seuss book “The Lorax” and “the bright colored tufts of the Truffula Tree.” A delightful but cautionary tale, which is actually available online by searching “Tufts Lorax.”

It’s funny how even moving states and regions within one country can feel like a complete divide. Through the graduate community of SMFA at Tufts and ASE, I have embraced these Boston and New England differences, which helped me get through the culture shock and feel at home in this vibrant, creative, and significant community.

Here is my Boston and New England glossary of specific themes or cheat sheet, if you will, of days to know, and even how to order coffee in this north east community.

New England Mentality

Attire: Flannel, L.L. Bean, duck boots, fleece vests, raincoats

I was confused my first winter when I saw people wearing rain jackets, instead of big puffy jackets. However, the amount of coastal influence on the weather affects the amount of water that is produced within the greater Boston area. Although the city can get quite cold and experience a heavy amount of snow it is entirely realistic to need both a rain jacket and winter coat. This New England town, has a very distinctive look come mid fall and into winter. The hearty brands seen through the streets are functional for the ever-changing weather and are also New England wardrobe staples. Umbrellas are useful; however, I have gone through at least seven since living in Boston. The wind is so strong that they can be swept upside down and rendered useless in mere minutes. You’ll never go wrong with a heavy rain jacket.

Accents and Language:

“The wicked awesome time she tried to park the car in the yard.”

I will never fully understand the Boston accent. Or why certain places don’t sound at all how they look (see Town Names). The accent is highly tied to living in various areas of the city, and socioeconomic factors. The accents are not as thick as they sound in the movies and on TV. But there is a sense of historic use within words tied to specific functionality and form. When I first moved to Boston, I thought people were trying to fake me out by using words that didn’t make any sense in the context they were giving them. There is a whole New England/Boston vocabulary. The terms bubbler, frappe, rotary, are only a few of the words that may be heard, mispronounced and misunderstood.

Town Names: Worchester (wou-ster), Haverhill (hav-r-ill), Billerica (Bil-ric-a), Leominster (lemon-ster ), Scituate (sitch-you-it), Gloucester (gla-ster).

Town names throughout new England region are mixed with Native Algonquian words and phrases and old English names. After four years I still get quite a few of them wrong, and just point on the map. Luckily, people here are helpful enough to enjoy the mistake, laugh with you, and then educate you on the correct pronunciation

New England/Boston specific foods: Whoopie Pie, Tasty Burger, marshmallow fluff, lobster roll, clam cake, “clear or white but no red” chowder, Sam Adams, Harpoon Brewery, Coffee Syrup (Rhode Island/Massachusetts), Awful Awful (New England style milkshake).

Seasonal, traditional, international, and experimental cuisines are all part of Boston’s rich cultural experience . There are several amazing breweries and food experiences in the greater Boston area to try these dishes throughout the year.

American Horror Story: September 1st in Boston – how to find an apartment and knowing your borough

September 1st is the turn over day for 2/3 of Boston’s apartment leases and has become known as Moving Day. This day is also known as Allston Christmas, a nickname for the tradition in which some people dump furniture and other household items on the curb while moving, which are subsequently scooped up to be reused by neighbors. However, moving into Boston, it is possible to find places to live that have different rental periods beyond September 1st or that will allow you to sublet the last couple of months before September so that you are not stuck in the crunch of college move-in day.

 Sports paradise…it is what it is…at least there’s passion

Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots, New England Revolution, Boston Bruins, Boston Celtics.

As the oldest major league baseball stadium in the country, Fenway Park serves as a symbolic home of New England and Boston pride. You may not be a Boston sports fan upon moving here, but if you stay long enough the chances are that you will be eventually. I have never seen a community come together in such a caring and sincere way to show such support for a group ideal like it does for its athletes and teams. People in Boston area show the kind of reverence that many would for a religious figure or beloved family member. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in that kind of infectious behavior.

Gruff but gracious accents

There is a common misconception that the people of the greater Boston area may be unfriendly or unwilling to help newcomers. This is something I have found to be wholly untrue by and large. It has been my experience that often those who meet you with a cold and hard exterior at first are the same that will make sure that you have whatever you need. They may make fun of the situation but are more than willing to help. Whether it be directions, recommendations, or a conversation. New Englanders don’t like to waste time and get to the point, but they will engage for it all.

Lastly, finding time to stop and smell the Dunkin

Dunkin Donuts is a Boston area staple. In almost every area, you are bound to run into one every once and a while. Like Boston itself, there is a unique order and specific language to ordering from this shop.

 How to order a coffee

A “regular coffee” comes with cream and sugar (3 cream, 3 sugar). If you want a black coffee, you need to ask for a black coffee.

You can specify your order by having cream or milk added in 1,2,3, amounts and the same with sugar.

If you ask for a flavor—it’s without sugar added.

Any flavor swirl has a healthy dose of flavored sugary syrup added.

If you get an Iced coffee

Boston area residents have been frequently known to ask for a Styrofoam cup with iced coffee. I thought this was strange, however it makes sense. It keeps the cup cool in the spring/summer and your hands warm-er in the winter. Bostonians are not afraid to drink ice cold drinks throughout the winter!

Preparing to Defend

 

Preparing to defend my thesis was the most mentally, emotionally, and at times, physically, challenging part of graduate school. After my final field season, I thought it was going to be easy. All I have to do is write. I’ve written a ton. Piece of cake.

I was so wrong.

Yes, as graduate students we write a lot. During my time in graduate school, I wrote scientific papers, grant proposals, popular science articles, blog posts, etc. But I had never written about the same subject so continuously. I started to get sick of my study system (honey bees), which made me sad, because I love honey bees!

When I finally handed my thesis in to my committee, I had to prepare for the actual defense. This was also a challenge. What papers should I read? What is my committee going to ask me? What if they hate my thesis?

In the end, it all worked out. I successfully defended my thesis and the defense was enjoyable! I didn’t need to stress as much as I did.

Preparing to defend your thesis is going to be challenging, but here are some things I realized that may keep you from psyching yourself out too much.

Use a citation manager!

First, a specific piece of advice: start using a citation manager when you get to grad school, keep it updated, and use it consistently! This will make the references section of your thesis much easier to deal with. I didn’t start using a citation manager until year three, and when it came time to write the thesis in year five, I was not happy with past Rachael. I use EndNote but there are many other options and the library hosts workshops on almost all of them.

Keep your committee in the loop.

Throughout your time in graduate school, talk to your committee. Update them on data at committee meetings, discuss methods, ask for suggestions on writing when relevant. If you do this throughout graduate school, your committee won’t be surprised at defense time, and neither will you. If you take the time to get to know your committee members, you may be able to anticipate their questions.

I realize this doesn’t work for that external committee member you may be required to have. When choosing your external committee member, choose someone who knows your field, and read his/her relevant papers. I did this for my external committee member, and I was able to successfully anticipate some of her questions. Also, when it comes to your external member, don’t be afraid to ask around. Ask past graduate students from your lab who they chose and why; ask about their experience in the closed defense.

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Remember, the written thesis you hand in to your committee is technically a draft. As a perfectionist, this was difficult for me. I was working so hardto make every chapter, every figure, every page, so that it could be publication ready. But with a document that long, it may not be possible in the time you have. And that’s ok. Part of your committee’s job is to suggest edits, which you can then use when/if you publish.

It’s a conversation.

On defense day, I was most worried about the closed defense. What if they hate my research? What if they ask me a question I can’t answer?

Part of these nerves will be alleviated by fostering a relationship with your committee. Also, think of the closed defense as a conversation rather than a “grilling” session. Your committee asks you questions, you answer the questions as best you can. Some questions lead to other questions. It’s just a discussion– a discussion about something you’ve been studying for 4 – 6 years and you know really well.

My closed defense was a fun, productive experience. Sure, I couldn’t answer some of the bigger, theoretical questions, but it was fun to brainstorm and discuss ideas.

Take care of yourself.

Even if you follow all my advice, preparing to defend is going to be difficult. Graduate school is supposed to be hard. Throughout this process (and all of graduate school), remember to take care of yourself.

Countless hours of sitting at a computer takes a toll on your body (this is the physical challenge). Take breaks to stretch or go for a walk. Give your eyes a break from the screen. Drink water. Eat food. (Both sound simple but trust me, you might forget.)

Stay active, whatever that means to you. Do yoga, go for a run, kickbox, get outside, play a board game, grab coffee with friends. And don’t feel guilty about taking time away from school to stay active! Your mental health is important. Your mental health is important. Your mental health is important.

 Remember, you are not alone.

Writing a thesis is an inherently isolating process. Don’t let it get to the point where you feel like you’re alone, because you’re not. Talk to past graduate students from your lab (this was my greatest therapy while writing/preparing to defend), attend the graduate writing exchange, visit family, grab coffee with friends (yes, I’m saying it again).

Graduate school takes a village and you have a support system in your mentor, your committee, your friends, your family. Use that support system.

 And finally, celebrate!

Following your defense, take time to celebrate your accomplishment! Getting a higher degree takes dedication, ambition, and a lot of hard work. You deserve to be proud of yourself!

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. 2018

Looking back: one year after graduation

It’s already the end of May, which means that we got to watch our graduates take the stage at Commencement this past weekend! While graduation might mean the end of their time as a student at Tufts, it also signifies the beginning of many exciting things to come. Two of our alumni bloggers, Lennon Wolcott, M.F.A. 2017, and Michelle Connor, Music M.A. 2017, look back at their first year out of graduate school. 

How you were feeling this time last year?

Michelle Connor: This time last year, I was feeling a little bit nervous about beginning my search on the job market, especially since I had planned a trip to Italy during the summer months after graduation.  I wanted to stay in Boston due to my love for the city as well as my relationship; however, I felt overwhelmed with all of the opportunities and job descriptions. I spoke with some of the faculty members closest to me as well as former supervisors and they suggested that I continue my work in Admissions. I applied for a position in the Graduate Admissions Office, and I was super excited to be hired for the position and continue my service to the university, especially as an alum. Everything worked out for me!

Lennon Wolcott: This time last year, I was overwhelmed. I was trying to finish and install my master’s thesis show centered on decolonization and the rebuilding of community after a loss of culture through sculpture/paper-arts/craft/performance. While at the same time interviewing for AICAD art school faculty printmaking jobs and deciding what kinds of choices I could afford to make after graduation with the cost of living and student loans to pay back.

How would you describe your first year after your graduate program?

MC: During the first year after my graduate program, I realized that there is more to experience than what is found in the classroom. I have grown so much as an individual and coworker over this past year. I am starting to realize where my strengths and passions lie as well as the tasks that I feel the most comfortable with. I learned what matters most to me, where I am meant to be, and how I want to build my avenue to career growth and success. Not be cliché, but life is what you make it. Use your skillset, take advantage of opportunities, and do not be afraid to explore outside of your comfort zone.

LW: It was hard, after 2+ years of immersive art making, to find myself in a space where I had to juggle full time work responsibilities and find time to keep up a practice as an artist. After graduation my instinct was to jump back into art making immediately. However, I needed time to decompress and think through what I learned during grad school. It took time for me to find how my process and work needed to evolve outside of the academic institution. Re-learning how to adapt and create a life for two full time jobs (art and another) have been my primary goal over the year.  It has taken about a year for me to add art into my full-time work/life routine, and I hope by next year I will be on more solid footing.

How have you been using your graduate degree?

MC: Although I have not been using my graduate degree in the field of research, I use my graduate experience and degree on a daily basis. One of the most beneficial aspects of a Master of Arts is the chance to focus on your writing while writing about a favorite topic. Moreover, in the humanities and arts, you have the many opportunities to explore your potential as a communicator, presenter, and professional. In the Admissions Office, I spend most of my day constructing concise, clear e-mails and communicating with my co-workers, supervisor, and potential applicants. I do my best to write well and in a style that reflects conversational, yet professional, communication. I credit Tufts to my success as a member of the Admissions team. Writing is one of the most important takeaways from the M.A. degree.

LW: This year I’ve worked on smaller art pieces, while looking at residencies, gallery shows and trying to incorporate art into my daily practice. I have been fortunate enough to get to work in a full-time position with artists coming into graduate programs. I speak to prospective students about what it’s like to enter a graduate program, look at work, and have conversations about pursuing a terminal degree in fine art.

What advice do you have for graduate students who are graduating this year?

MC: I encourage graduate students to truly take the time to explore the many opportunities on the job market. I’m not directly using my primary degree in the context of teaching or research; however, I am using the skillset that I have learned over the course of my undergraduate and graduate career. There are so many jobs available, especially in the Boston area. Take the time to apply to the ones that strike your interest and continue to build confidence to pave your own route to success. Keep in my mind: success is defined by you, yourself.

LW: As graduate students, you have spent two years treating art as an important full-time position in your life. As a Master of Fine Arts, you have gained the skills in the SMFA at Tufts program to further your practice and find the artist who you need to be. It will not be easy, but you have the ability through research, skill, and conceptual based creativity to succeed if you are willing to continue the work.

 

Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze? – The five people I met at SMFA at Tufts and how I knew I was in the right spot

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

When I was considering graduate and post-baccalaureate programs, I was worried about the cost, location, and resources of the school. Would I feel comfortable enough to do my best work and make the time worth the cost? From having sat in the back of my mother’s college classrooms at the age of five, I have learned the “tells” of any good educational institution. There are common traits to look for in a school where students can succeed and you can tell this by the people you meet. It is the alliance of support that makes a place special, something beyond great studios and shops.

    While on my first tour at SMFA, I met five people. Their support and inspiration were why I decided to build my community here.

Keena (Former Grad Student): The first person I interacted with was then a current graduate student named Keena. Not only was she friendly and welcoming, but open about the program. She encouraged me to ask any questions that I may have. I learned about the ins and outs of the program, the best kept secrets, and things to look for in the building and studios. She informed me of places and resources that she appreciated that could also be beneficial to me. I was able to see first-hand what she was gaining from the program and learn how she would use this experience when she left. Keena shared a vision of who I could be and urged me to make myself at home in the potential of my own space here. After our conversation, I could see myself sitting in her place, happily working on producing my best work and developing a strong sense of self.

Nan Freeman (Director, Post-Bacc Program): After the tour, I had lunch with a group of prospective graduate students and the director of the post-bacc program, Nan Freeman. She asked us what had led us to SMFA at Tufts and to share what our backgrounds were. Being able to share our backgrounds and learning that this would be a resource in our art making was vital. I felt able to express a variety of passions and use my individual skillset as an asset in my practice, encouraging my research, and pushing my vision. I knew from this conversation, that a structure of interdisciplinary experimentation was built into the SMFA at Tufts model.

Peter Scott (Professor of the Practice, Printmaking): The next person I interacted with was Peter Scott. From my first conversation with him, I knew that he was going to be my favorite faculty members at SMFA at Tufts (shhh, do not tell that to all of my other favorite SMFA faculty). Peter, a practicing and ridiculously talented artist in the field of printmaking, talked “shop” with me about facilities and working with print media at the school. He is whip-smart with a conceptual understanding and a sense of humor. He made me feel at home and that this was the place I wanted to be. Luckily for me, I would find that same amazing dynamic with so many of the faculty I have come to admire.

After a half a day engaging with faculty members, current students, going on tours, and listening to a panel, I walked around the school trying to decide if I would be comfortable at the SMFA. I wandered into the library where I was greeted by Ashley Peterson and Darin Murphy, the Research and Instruction Librarian and the Head of the Fine Arts Library respectively. The three of us sat and talked for over 45 minutes about art, research, and resources that the library could provide. They pulled out artists’ books and references for me to view and told me about individual research visits. The SMFA library is small but mighty and they let me know that it is part of a consortium which provides students with access to books from around the world in addition to the SMFA and Tisch libraries’ collections. I remember thinking how lucky I was to be in a place where people were so passionate about their subjects and eager to help others find their own.

Leaving the library, I knew that the SMFA at Tufts would be the right choice for me. I looked forward to continuing conversations with the faculty, staff, and students on a regular basis. Meeting these five people helped me to take a leap of faith, knowing that I would have the resources and support to develop myself as an artist.

No matter what happened, the juice would be worth the squeeze!

 

 

Moving to Tufts

Written by Michelle Connor, Music M.A. 2017

      Bucket List Item: Attend Graduate School in or near Boston. Fall 2015: Check!
      Ever since high school, I dreamed of moving to Boston as an undergraduate student. Unfortunately, many people told me that I would not be able to afford the cost of living and that I would be better off moving to another region in the United States. Taking advice, I listened to them and did not apply to any universities in my dream city. Instead, I attended a university in the south of Ohio but every so often fantasized of my time in Boston. After four and a half years of undergraduate study and two degrees under my belt, I was determined to make it happen. When it came time to apply for graduate school, I applied to Tufts and two other schools, and all of them were in the Boston area. Once again, I was reminded that I would not be able to afford or manage the Boston housing market as turnover is very quick and I would be navigating the tricky market from a distance. But I got into Tufts, and look where I am!

First off, if you are considering applying to Tufts, but you are concerned about the housing market – do it anyway. Tufts is located outside of Boston, in Somerville/Medford. You’ll make it work if you really want to be here! And sure, you may find it a little stressful and realize that you need to put some time in to figuring out the resources as well as the options, but it’ll all be okay. I started looking with some other students in March and secured a place by May. It didn’t happen overnight, but it all happened. Where do I begin? Let me guide you through the Boston area housing market with some advice:

1. Connect with your department and see if there is any ongoing communication regarding housing among current graduate students as well as prospective graduate students.

2. Use the University resources. Tufts’ Office of Residential life has information for Off-Campus Housing! They have even done most of your research for you and can give you access to a list of available housing.

3. When you’re admitted, the Office of Graduate Admissions will provide access to a forum as well as a Shared Wiki. Here you can discuss with other Tufts graduate students, also looking for roommates, about the housing availability near Medford. I found two roommates from the Biology department through this forum, who ended up being some of my closest friends at Tufts! One of them is from Montana and the other one is from Virginia. We both cracked the housing market together and found a three bedroom on a street near the Tufts’ gym for only $2,100 a month! This is the most ideal situation, as you want to live close to campus where the majority of Tufts students are located! Otherwise, you might have to drive/walk/take the T to campus in this:
4. Another option is searching through Craigslist. I know what you are thinking, but you’re intelligent and you’ll be able to tell the difference between a scam and a real listing! You may also stumble upon other Tufts graduate students also searching for housing which is how I met one of my friends from the history department. Although we couldn’t get ourselves together for a housing option, she understood and we continued to be friends throughout graduate school. And we still joke to this day about how we met.

5. Be prepared to have at least the first month’s rent, a security deposit (one month’s rent), and the Boston broker’s fee (one month’s rent). Some places even require last month’s rent. In other words, if you are looking to rent a room for $700, be prepared to have $2,800 and celebrate if you aren’t required to pay the broker’s fee. When thinking about the broker’s fee, consider it as part as your monthly rent. If your rent and broker’s fee are both $700, divide $700 by 12 months and consider it an extra $59 as part of your monthly rent that you must pay upfront.

6. I highly recommend looking for two other roommates from Tufts, so that you are on the same schedule for leasing an apartment. The housing market isn’t so bad. There is constant turnover and if you start looking in April and feel a little worried about finding a September 1st lease, there are always options for an August 1st Moreover, sometimes there are more options for August 1st than September 1st. And who wouldn’t want to have a month to themselves, exploring Boston sights such as these…

Copley Square, in front of the Boston Public Library

Skyline view from East Boston

One of my favorite places: Boston Public Garden

You won’t regret moving to Boston. You’ll see the beauty and charm of the city, convenience of the public transportation, learning opportunities at cultural centers, and the affordability of a city frequently travelled. Sure, you may have stressful days during the search but you’ll see – you will find a place that you are able to afford too!