Jennifer Khirallah, Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. candidate
Spring break is a much needed mid-semester rest that everyone should take advantage of in some fashion. There are many ways to spend your spring break, whether its going somewhere warm, somewhere adventurous, or just staying home and relaxing! Regardless of what you do, it is a perfect time to prioritize rest and to do something that you enjoy.
There are plenty of vacation spots you can travel to (via car, bus, train) in the northeast, including Kennebunk, ME; Portsmouth, NH; Burlington, VT; and New York City, NY! The first two are quaint cities along the coast, with beautiful views and cute streets lined with shops. In Kennebunk check out Rococo Ice cream and the Marginal Way Walk (in adjacent town of Ogunquit, ME). In Portsmouth, make sure to go to Popovers on the Square and get some popovers to go! Burlington, VT is a little further north and you will see a picturesque city with breathtaking views of nature. Make sure to check out some of the thrift stores there for great finds! New York City is a bustling city full of life, especially at night. Go to Times Square, take the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, or go up to the Top of the Rock for an amazing view!
If you are looking for a staycation, there are so many
things to do in the Boston area. Go to some of the many spas and treat yourself
to a massage, facial, or body scrub! Some of these include G20 or the Mandarin
Oriental Hotel. Spend a day in the North End and eat your way through all the
delicious restaurants, my personal favorite being the Bricco store for a
sandwich during lunch and Euno for dinner (checkout the basement). Visit some
of the museums, such as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, zoos, such as the
Franklin Park Zoo, or the New England Aquarium (students free or discounted) in
Boston and surrounding areas! Get out of the indoors and go for a hike at Blue
Hills Reservation in Milton.
For my spring break, I am staying in New England and going
to do a spa weekend to relax and rejuvenate! In previous years I have gone to
NYC to see a show on Broadway and Washington, DC to visit friends!
No matter where you go, take some time to rest, relax, and
have fun. Use this time to recharge and finish the semester out strong! Enjoy
your spring break, you deserve it!
Maitreyi Kale, Human Factors Engineering M.S. Candiate
believe that acquiring books and reading books are two different
and perfectly valid hobbies. Whichever one you’re after, the unfortunate
reality of being broke college students is that we probably cannot afford to
shell out hundreds of dollars at bookstores or on Audible to build the personal
library of our dreams. Thankfully, there’s plenty of free or low-cost
sources of books as a college student at Tufts/in Boston, and in this post, I’m
going to introduce you to some of my favorite ones.
student, it’s easy to forget that Tisch Library and Lilly Music Library (and
the SMFA Library in Boston) are not just great study spots but also, well, libraries,
i.e., excellent sources of free books! Use JumboSearch to look
at the library catalog or check books out in person. A fun and less well-known
hack is that if Tisch doesn’t have a book you want to read, you can actually recommend
a purchase, and I promise they want you to use this resource!
The Women’s Center and LGBT Center on the Medford/Somerville campus have mini libraries with books on topics relating to women, gender, sexuality, and more. While these collections definitely fall within a more a niche theme, they’re an underrated source of new reads from educational, to self-help, to cute queer romance books and much more for the Tufts community.
bring up this resource, people often groan because they think getting a library
card is a long-complicated process that involves visiting the library in person
and talking to human beings, but… guess what! There are other ways! As a
resident of Massachusetts, you can sign up
for a free eCard at Boston Public Library. This eCard gives you access to
BPL’s massive collection of ebooks and audiobooks, which you can access
conveniently through an app called Libby (see item 4). Of course, you can visit
the library by taking the T to Copley Square or Back Bay and acquire a physical
library card and borrow resources like books, DVDs, museum passes, etc. in
Another library to keep on your radar is the newly renovated Somerville Public Library on College Ave, which is super close to campus. On your next walk to Davis Square, stop by Somerville Public Library with some form of Photo ID and proof of address and ask to sign up for a library card at the front desk. Fill out a quick form and walk away with a library card that allows you to borrow not only from SPL, but also from any other library that is part of the Minuteman Library Network! You can sign up for a temporary card online, but you must go in person to obtain a physical library card. Alternatively, you can visit Medford Public Library in Medford Square, which is also within the Minuteman Library Network.
This is by far my personal favorite resource (when combined with the one above), and I still cannot quite believe it’s real. Download the app Libby on your smartphone or tablet, enter a library card number, and instantly acquire the ability to (virtually) borrow from your chosen library. Libby makes it easier to find your next read through features like filters, curated lists, and smart tags, that will help you navigate Boston Public Library’s extensive collection of ebooks and audiobooks! You can listen to borrowed audiobooks on the app, and ebooks can be read directly on the app or sent to your Kindle. In true library fashion, you do have to wait to borrow books sometimes and your (extendable) loan ends after 2 weeks, but if you’re indecisive like me, you’ll appreciate this natural narrowing down of options to choose from. I also always look out for the “Lucky Day” shelf, which lets you skip the line and borrow from a list of fairly popular books instantly.
If you’ve walked around the Medford/Somerville area, you’ve probably come across one of these cute tiny wooden house-shaped bookshelves on sidewalks. The concept is simple: take a book or leave one! I always feel like a winner when I find a free copy of a book that’s on my to-read list in a Little Free Library, but also equally so when I discover treasures, I might not have come across otherwise. Sometimes the books in LFLs have little annotations or dedications penned by previous owners, which always add a bit of meaningful magic to the reading experience. Find Little Free Libraries near you!
This section could be its own blog post, really, because there are several used or secondhand bookstores in the Greater Boston Area! You can also sell copies you own in exchange for bookstore credit that you can then use to purchase your next read. I’d recommend googling used bookstores in the area and planning a visit (maybe with friends!), but here’s some of the popular stores: The Book Rack, Raven Used Books, Book Wonder, Brattle Book Shop, Brookline Booksmith, Harvard Bookstore, More Than Words, etc.
I know Facebook feels like old news, but if you’re a college student, you probably use your account to access Facebook Groups, Pages, and Events specific to your school. If you’re looking for a particular book, consider posting an in search of, or “ISO” post on a Facebook group. Chances are, someone will comment or reach out saying they have the book you want, and maybe you’ll even make a new friend to discuss that book with! If you live on or around campus, I’d also recommend joining either Everything is Free Medford or Everything is Free Somerville, because these Facebook Groups are excellent for ISO posts like these and will significantly expand the reach of your request beyond just the Tufts community.
With the help of the above resources and more, I’ve managed to expand my personal collection of books, broaden my reading taste, and do some serious damage to my to-read list without emptying my wallet in the past three years, and I hope they help you achieve your bookish goals too!
Jennifer Khirallah, Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. candidate
Often times as a graduate student you are tasked with
mentoring undergraduate students. This may be a daunting task to some while
others view it as an easy assignment. There is a lot of time and consideration
that must go into mentoring other students. I think one of the biggest things
overlooked is that the whole point of mentoring is to teach or inspire the
student, and that goal needs to be constantly considered when you’re in this
I work in a research lab at Tufts where graduate students
can mentor undergraduates on their projects. There is nothing official about
the process, its more or less just finding students (or them finding you) that
are interested in your research. They help with various aspects of the
experiments including design, execution, and analyzing data. However, its
beneficial to keep in mind that there is a learning curve, and they are there to
learn and not necessarily to contribute right away. If they know that you want
them to learn and practice instead of just being an extra set of hands, it
takes a lot of pressure and expectations out of the relationship and keeps it
purely educational. If they make a mistake in one of their experiments, they’ll
be honest with you and you can solve the problem together.
To be a good mentor is to be human. You have to be empathetic
and understanding. You have to want to teach them something they are interested
in, and help them in all areas of their professional, academic, and personal
development when asked. If you can be a good mentor to undergraduates, then you
can learn something about yourself and develop your communication and teaching
skills along the way.
I have found mentoring to be extremely rewarding. I have
taught my students the value of research, and they have become better
scientists and have learned about their own personal interests and dislikes. I
have learned about myself as well, including how to act in a leadership
position and how not to act. Relationships like these have the ability to shape
both participants in various aspects and can be such a gratifying experience.
Cyrus Karimy, Biomedical Engineering M.S. Candidate
Even before my master’s program officially started, I knew I would need to up my game. I have always worked hard in my academic career. However, I felt like I needed to work smarter to succeed. Success for me now is more than grades. It’s overall positive mental health (and having time to focus on it), having time for my loved ones, going to the gym multiple times a week, truly learning the material at hand, and succeeding in my laboratory work. I felt that working hard without the addition of working smart did not leave enough time in my schedule to do the other things that make me a complete person.
In the second week of school, I decided to get ahead and schedule an appointment with the Student Accessibility and Academic Resources (StAAR) Center. The StAAR Center offers academic support through one-on-one academic coaching, writing consultations, tutoring, study groups, study strategies, and discipline-specific workshops. I went into my meeting knowing what I wanted, more time to do things that were important to me, but I didn’t really know how to get there. The StAAR center tutor was so kind and patient with me. In the first half of our session, we talked about who I was and what I was looking for. She quickly evaluated that I needed better time management, self-assessment, and breaking skills.
Self-assessment was step one. What do I need to succeed and feel ready each day? Figuring these out and having them as non-negotiable activities would keep me in a place I needed to be. It’s important to know what you need in your life so that you don’t burn out while staying as happy and fulfilled as you can. For me, it was asking myself who are the people that take me out of the capitalistic matrix we live in? What are the activities that bring me forward toward my career, mental, physical, and spiritual goals?
The activities I came up with are:
Developing a proper
morning routine to help me get in the best mindset I could for the day (stretching,
Going to the gym at
least 5 times a week keeps my confidence and health in check
Making time for fun with
friends and loved ones on the days when I don’t have classes brings me a lot of
Time to work on each
course during the week so I don’t fall behind on my classes
Dedicating time to going
to the laboratory for training
Developing a nighttime
routine that would help me prepare for the next day, and having activities that
calm my mind so I can fall asleep easier (meditation, staying off social media,
writing my schedule for the next day, etc.)
Now that I have my activities set up it’s time for step 2. With time management, I now take all the activities I mentioned above and plug them into my new schedule. I had been carrying around a small calendar and trying to squeeze my agenda into every little box that represented a day in the month. The tutor saw that and actually gave me a new calendar book, that had the month laid out on one page, as well as additional pages that allow you to really dive into detail with what you want to accomplish that day.
The setup I chose for the overall calendar (image 1) was only to write the big due dates and events going on in my life. I’d go into detail about what I was going to do each day in the focused daily calendar (image 2). This helped me stay aware of what was coming in the future while allowing me to focus on what was happening day to day in an organized and visibly pleasing fashion.
Step 3 is breaking
skills (how to take breaks efficiently). This one really got me. The first
thing my StAAR Center mentor told me is “don’t go on your phone, especially
using social media as a break.” This pointer has definitely helped me the most,
I didn’t realize how draining absorbing content is. I’ve been trying to look
outside my window, go on walks, or text my loved ones instead of going on
Instagram, Youtube, etc., for my study breaks. This hasn’t been the easiest
adjustment because I’m so used to going on these apps for my study breaks. I
wish I knew beforehand that this was not actually resting my brain.
Overall, I can see
myself succeeding more in my classes and life in general. I’m getting good
grades, I’m able to see the people that make me happy, my sleep has been
better, and I’m going to the gym more than before! My planning skills allow me
to get all the things done that I want to. It has taken some trial and error
though. I’ve been learning how much time certain tasks are going to take.
Sometimes things don’t go as planned, and that’s ok! That’s life really,
because nothing is perfect, including us. But what I’ve learned in these past
few weeks is if I try my best to generally prepare, I can’t ask more of myself,
and that’s good enough for me. Thanks for reading, until next time!
Tiffany Wu, Environmental Policy & Planning M.S. Candidate
Hi there, my name is Tiffany and I am one of the new Graduate Bloggers this year. I’m a first year MS student in Environmental Policy and Planning and am excited to share a little about myself and my program!
I am from coastal Los Angeles and graduated from Cornell
University in 2018. I spent two years working at a climate research lab at UC
Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and knew I wanted to attend graduate
school to strengthen my technical skillset in data science and econometrics. A
yearlong internship with the Stockholm Environment Institute at their Tallinn,
Estonia office cemented my burgeoning interest in GIS and smart cities, which I
hope to pursue in depth at Tufts.
During the graduate school application process, I looked into a variety of programs at different institutions, including MS, MPP (public policy) and MSEM (environmental management) programs. I ultimately chose Tufts UEP because I wanted an interdisciplinary program that was well-established and involved working on real-world projects as part of the curriculum. This program is fully accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board and has a unique focus on sustainability and social justice.
The Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning Department (UEP) offers an MA/MS in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, a mid-career Master of Public Policy, and an MS in Sustainability. While the core requirements for each program are different, students see each other in elective classes and at campus events. The Planning and Sustainability students also jointly participate in Field Projects during their first spring semester, where student groups partner with community organizations and agencies to come up with a proposal or solution. You can learn more about UEP’s programs from the Practical Visionaries blog (which is run by UEP faculty)!
Getting to learn from professors, policy experts and practitioners
in my classes has been a great feature, with some bringing their research and
academic expertise, and others their decades of experience in consultancies and
design firms. I also liked the smaller cohort sizes at Tufts that I knew would
allow me to get to know people better — I would categorize the atmosphere of
UEP as friendly, close-knit, and collaborative.
I have only been on campus for a month and a half, but it feels like longer as I already know my way around the buildings well and have gotten to know many of my classmates through our coursework, student organizations, and hanging out. I’m also starting to notice how UEP punches well above its weight and have met alumni in the Greater Boston area and beyond who are doing incredible work in the planning and policy fields. In fact, when I volunteered at the Southern New England Planning Conference in October — Professor Julian Agyeman was the keynote speaker — there were at least two dozen of us who were affiliated with UEP!
I’m looking forward to what these next two years at Tufts may bring and am thrilled to be spending them in the Somerville / Medford / Cambridge area. Thanks for reading!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Abigail Epplett, M.A. student in Museum Education
If you’ve read one of my previous blogs on completing a practicum, you already know that I created an exhibit called “Abby Kelley Foster: Freedom, Faith, and Family” for the National Park Service. I decided to share this information with the Tufts community and signed up to participate in GS3.
What is GS3?
GS3 stands for “Graduate Student Speaker Series”. It’s open to any graduate student in the School of Arts and Sciences who wants to share their research with a general audience. I chose a topic in American history, but talks can be given in any area of study.
How to Prepare
Like any presentation, you will need to prepare ahead of time. Don’t try to “wing it”! I found the three most important steps to preparing for my GS3 talk were having a script, designing beautiful slides, and practicing my talk.
Have a Script
I had previously written a script for a short video documentary on the life of Abby Kelley Foster, which I created for the Abby’s House women’s shelter earlier this year. The runtime on the video was about 21 minutes, so I did not have to add much to the script. Because the talks are held over Zoom in their current format, I wasn’t worried about reading off the script; the attendees would watch my slides instead of my face. However, I wasn’t “married” to my script. Although I sometimes read verbatim what I had written, I also elaborated on different points depending on how much time I had left in the talk. Plus, having a script allows me to easily lengthen or shorten the talk depending on time constraints. I was able to give a longer version of the talk to volunteers at the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor using a lengthened script.
I had previously designed many of the slides as part of an online exhibit I created for the National Park Service in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote in local, state, and national elections. I had designed additional slides to use in the documentary for Abby’s House, a women’s shelter in Worcester, MA named after Abby Kelley Foster.
While my background in graphic design definitely helps me to create beautiful slides, anyone can create engaging slides by following a few basic rules.
Use pictures. Your audience members already are hearing the information. Why not give them some interesting visuals as well? Good pictures are large enough to be easily recognizable but not so large that they overpower the entire slide.
Use fewer words. Although I am definitely guilty of breaking this rule, using fewer words makes the slide more effective. A text-heavy slide can make your audience members to feel like they are reading a book instead of listening to a presentation.
Keep the slides short. My rule of thumb is 60 to 90 seconds per slide. A 25-minute talk like GS3 should have 20 to 25 slides. Longer talks should have more slides. When I led a study group on the life of Abby Kelley Foster for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Tufts, I averaged 100 to 125 slides per class.
Between presenting the pop-up poster exhibit, leading a study group, and creating a documentary, I had plenty of practice giving my talk on the life of Abby Kelley Foster. Even so, I still went over my slides a few times in the days leading up to the talk. This also allowed me to practice a component of the talk that you might not initially consider; be sure to drink enough water! Make sure to have water on hand during your talk, and practice drinking the water between slides. You will be talking almost non-stop for half an hour, and your throat will get dry.
The Moment of Truth
My presentation went great! I was not nervous at all, because I knew I was prepared. Several of my classmates from the Museum Studies program came to support me. Questions from knowledgeable audience members are a lot of fun to answer! As an added bonus, the video was recorded and will appear on the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences YouTube channel. It’s a great way to share your work with friends and relatives around the world.
You Can Do It, Too!
If you still have doubts about giving a talk with GS3, don’t forget these benefits:
The talk gives you a chance to present your newly acquired research knowledge to your peers, along with faculty and staff at Tufts.
Giving a talk at Tufts looks great on your resume and CV.
You will even receive an honorarium, a $50 gift card to Amazon.
If you are interested in participating in GS3, be sure to contact Angela Foss in the GSAS Dean’s Office. You won’t regret having this experience!
Written by Ebru Ece Gulsan, Ph.D. student in Chemical Engineering
As graduate students, we are lucky enough to have the opportunity to pursue what we are passionate about on a daily basis. The training we get at Tufts is beyond excellent. We learn to become independent and curious researchers. Our work is meaningful and intellectually challenging. The notion of seeking solutions for today’s global challenges is priceless, and many more questions arise from every single step we take. But in order to have the greatest impact on society, we must make our work accessible to general audiences. I think it is crucial to find ways to break down our findings, clearly communicate who we are, how scientific processes work, and how our research benefits the public. But why take these extra steps when we already have so much on our plates?
From a very selfish point of
view, I believe scientists need that type of outreach as much as society does,
if not more. Pursuing scientific research is a very isolated profession and
limits non-scientist human interaction. Scientific outreach not only enlightens
the society we live in, but also helps us see our work from a new set of eyes.
We get to understand different perspectives and expand our horizons. But most
importantly, we might receive deep appreciation from a wider community. Think
about that way; the only place we share the details of our work is probably our
research group meetings, where everybody is pretty much an expert in the field.
Our labmates will not be as impressed by our results as a non-expert would be.
We all need a reminder about how awesome we are doing, and science outreach is
an excellent way to feel appreciated.
Communicating our work in a
research group meeting is easy; because those people often already understand
the technical details, challenges, and findings. But in reality, breaking down
and disseminating science is a muscle that we need to work on, especially when
our audience is not familiar with us. Note to self: probably 99.9% of people do
not care about the ring cleavage reaction of naringenin; but they would
love to hear about why eating an orange is good for them. I find that
scientific outreach significantly improved my communication and teaching
skills. As I forced myself to look at my work from other perspectives in order
to simplify, I gain a better understanding of all my findings, methods, goals,
and next steps.
Another attractive aspect of
science outreach is the feeling of accomplishment. It is an easy way to put a
tick next to one of your tasks on your to-do list. It does not even feel like a
chore. In fact, I would say it is actually pretty fun. This entire science
communication thing is very rewarding and let’s be honest; our research is not
ALWAYS rewarding. We have mastered celebrating micro-achievements among many
failures in the lab, so we might as well benefit from feeling fully
accomplished once in a while.
Now let’s get back to why science
outreach is good for the society, aka the less selfish reasons to volunteer for
science communication. As scientific work becomes more global and collaborative,
it is important to build healthy relationships among scientists and general
public. The ivory tower of academia creates an unnecessary gap between
scientist and non-scientist communities. For our science to be well understood
and accepted, first we need to find ways to demonstrate that scientists are
also part of society. They should be approachable and represent someone with
whom anyone would like to grab a drink with.
Think about what mesmerized you
so much in the past, and inspired you to deep dive into a scientific career. It
might be a combination of many different occasions, but I bet some experts and/or
passionate people were involved in your decision-making process. Science
outreach is your chance to do the same for the youth by being their
inspiration. Communicating your work passionately and explaining where you came
from is a great way to show that pursuing science is accessible to anyone and
it is definitely something to love. You are the BEST person to explain what YOU
are doing in the entire world. So do not let anyone else to do it for you.
So where do you start? Being
located in the center of a university is
a fantastic opportunity when it comes to finding science outreach opportunities,
even in the middle of a pandemic. Tufts is doing an excellent job in letting us
know about possible outreach opportunities, so keep an eye on weekly
newsletters or be proactive and try something on you own! There are so many
local museums and schools that you can reach out to and offer help, even
remotely. Currently, I am a part of the Science Coaches program, a joint
American Chemical Society (ACS) and American Association of Chemistry Teachers
(AACT) science outreach initiative, which pairs science students with chemistry
teachers over the course of a school year. Despite the social distancing
requirements, we have managed to use virtual tools to make it work for both
sides. Massachusetts also hosts many science and engineering fairs, and they
are always in search for experts to volunteer as judges. Tufts usually hosts or
contributes to the Massachusetts Region IV Science Fair, so if you are looking
to participate, watch out for an email about call for judges! There is also “Skype
a Scientist,” a virtual science outreach initiative, which connects scientists
with educators and students from all around the world. You can host Q&A
sessions and find a remarkable audience to discuss your work with. Maybe you
could start a science blog or join us at Tufts Graduate Blogs and let your
voice be heard!
Science outreach is truly a gift
for both the giver and receiver. It is a privilege and a responsibility to
connect with society through our work, and we all should take the time to participate
in scientific outreach as much as we can!
By Abigail Epplett, M.A. student in Museum Education
As an undergraduate, you likely had classes that were taught in part by a teaching assistant or TA. They were most likely a graduate student who took courses at your university or from a nearby program. Maybe you thought you’d like to have that job someday. Now that you’re a grad student, you have the opportunity to fulfill that dream! I’m going to talk about my TA experience in the Civics Special Topics course, “Tweets, TikTok, and Talking Points: Modern Political Communications and Message Development.” I’ll also give you some tips on how to be a great TA, and to inspire undergrad students in the same way you were inspired years ago.
Getting the Job
Typically, TA jobs are referred to graduate students by their department to assist with undergraduate classes in that department. However, some departments and programs do not have undergraduate equivalents, as is the case for my branch of Museum Studies, Museum Education. Likewise, some interdisciplinary programs or departments do not have graduate programs. This is the case for Civics Studies classes at Tufts, as they are often cross-listed with courses in political science, philosophy, or history. Although I do have a wide breadth of knowledge on American civics and public policy due to my background in studying American history, my experience with Canvas, Zoom, and other online platforms makes me an ideal person for the job.
TAs may also be required to attend a TA orientation at the beginning of their job, typically at the beginning of the Fall semester. Because I was a last-minute hire in the Spring, I did not attend an orientation. However, I did attend a weeklong workshop called, “The Graduate Institute for Online Course Design.” This was an excellent bootcamp for learning how to lead a class and design lessons in a virtual environment. I highly recommend this type of workshop for any TA and anticipate that it will be offered again.
What does a TA do?
This brings us to the next important thing to note about being a TA. The job requirements vary widely depending on the class where you are assisting. However, many positions have the same characteristics. Here is a short list of things I do as a TA for the civics course:
Send emails to the professors, students, and
Host and record classes via Zoom
Set up, organize, and maintain the Canvas
Upload files, such as documents and videos, onto
Meet individually with students who need
assistance on projects
Assist Civic Studies staff members as needed
Unless you were an education major or minor as an undergrad, you might not have any experience leading a class. Don’t worry about this! The professor or professors teaching the class have already shown confidence in your abilities by hiring you, and you will learn a lot as you work. Here are some tips to aid in your learning.
Communication is Key
You’ve heard this and you know this, but it is worth saying again that communication is extremely important. You need to make sure you stay in contact with the professors, students, and staff members. If you cannot be contacted for an extended period of time — you have the right to take the weekend off! — make sure to set this expectation ahead of time. My rule of thumb is to respond to emails, Canvas mail, calls, or any other method of communication within 24 hours to any email sent during the business week. Even if you cannot fully answer a question or complete an assignment within that time period, you are still acknowledging contact and reassuring the initial sender that you are working on the issue. Not every person that you work with will maintain this standard, but this level of prompt response will set you apart and lead to positive recommendations. If communication is not your strong suit, GSAS offers workshops throughout the year that will help you to improve these skills, along with aiding in personal development and leadership, among many other topics.
Canvas as an Instructor
Canvas is the platform Tufts uses to hold course information. Students can use Canvas to connect to Zoom classes, read the syllabus, post to discussions, download weekly readings, upload assignments, email classmates and professors, and complete a seemingly endless number of other tasks. Despite its many positive attributes, a Canvas course page can appear chaotic, with countless links and modules to explore. This chaos is exponentially increased on the instructor side of the program, and the system can be overwhelming.
However, Canvas does have an extensive online manual that explains how to use the many features and add-ons in the program as an instructor. Use this manual to better understand the function of different parts of Canvas. You should also consider “disabling” unused features to hide them from the student view. The large number of links on the left side of the page can be distracting and confusing for undergrads. Minimizing the number of options will allow them to have a more straightforward and relaxing experience.
Be Flexible and Willing to Help
The tasks of teaching and learning during a “regular year” are hard enough, but teaching and learning during social distancing restrictions are even harder. Changes to schedules, cancelled Zoom meetings, lost internet connections, and assignment extensions are all part of the new normal. As a TA and graduate student,, you’re in a great place to understand what both professors and students are going through. Make sure that the people associated with your class know when you are available to help, whether a professor needs assistance with grading, a student wants to go over an assignment, or department staff members have additional projects outside of class needs. If you are paid hourly as a TA, you are eligible for up to ten hours of work each week. If you have the time to help your department, you will also be able to maximize your payment.
Perks of Being a TA
As I mentioned before, TAs are paid for their time, whether they are assisting with a class or helping the department. You will need to complete paperwork and an online onboarding questionnaire before you can get paid. You will also need to submit your hours every week to a supervisor.
Audit a Class for Free!
While this may not be as exciting if you have already taken the class, I find the civics course to be a fun way to learn about modern political communication without the stress of assignments and grades.
Meeting Guest Speakers
Not all classes have guest speakers, but some have a weekly lineup. In the case of the civics course, I get to communicate with many guest speakers and their assistants in the weeks prior to the class, along with watching their presentation during the class. It’s exciting to meet people in a field that holds my interest.
Having a TA position is a great experience for a grad student. You’ll learn how to manage a class, help out your department, learn new things, meet amazing people, and get paid while doing it. As long as you remember to stay open to changes, maintain communication, and view the opportunity as an experience to grow, this job will have a positive impact on both your grad school experience and your career path.
Written by Ebru Ece Gulsan, Ph.D. student in Chemical Engineering
I was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, and spent over 20 years there before moving to the states and becoming your favorite Mediterranean in the midst of lovely New England weather. My family owns a summer house, as many Istanbullu families do, in a small coastal town right by the Aegean Sea. The town is called Geyikli, which literally means “the place with deers,” yet no one has ever seen a single deer so far. We used to go there every summer since I was 5. It is a place where locals make their own olive oil and wine. Everybody knows each other. People grow their own food in their backyards, share their highest quality produce with their neighbors, make canned tomatoes and pickles for the upcoming winter. My family and I enjoy taking the ferry to Bozcaada (Tenedos in Greek), a charming little beautiful island with its old rustic homes and colorful windowpanes, spending the days in deserted sandy beaches; and nights in local vineyards and traditional meyhanes or tavernas.
The older I became, the less time I spent in Geyikli. While I used to stay there for the duration of an entire summer in early 2000s, as I grew up, I had to prioritize summer internships and jobs over beach time. But I made sure to spend at least a few weeks to soak up the sun and reset my body before the next academic year, until 2020.
Due to some obvious reasons, I failed to visit home in the summer of 2020, the year when avoiding a visit to your family means love and respect, rather than hugging them. I missed out on not only connecting with my family members, but also the opportunity to reset myself and start fresh for the upcoming fall term. It would have been a much-needed break during this extra stressful academic year; writing my thesis proposal, battling with quals, cancelled conferences and meetings, then rewriting my thesis proposal, all peppered with the flavor of a global pandemic felt like they would never end.
I was desperate to have a beach vacation. I ended up dragging my poor boyfriend to the local beaches every single weekend, but it was not enough. It did not feel like a vacation with all the planning, remembering our masks, hand sanitizers, packing our food, and answering emails from my Principal Investigator and students.
I realized over time that what I needed was not the beach itself, but the “forced restfulness” that came from lying down under a beach umbrella with my loved ones, where my biggest concern is what to eat for my next meal, all day and every day. I needed to disconnect – whether it was on a Mediterranean beach or at my own porch in Medford.
It is especially difficult now to plan a trip to another city or get together with friends to blow off some steam. The places we can go and the people we can see are very limited, which is not what most of us expect when we need a break; so, I had to re-learn the idea of vacation and construct myself a 2020 version of it sponsored by COVID-19. Instead of thinking “what I can do in a very limited radius,” I switched my focus to the questions of “what would make me feel good about myself at this very moment” and “how I can do these things.”
I started with planning a break. I know it sounds counterintuitive; you are seeking for ways to escape from this planned work/study life of yours in the first place. But planning your breaks helps you complete your tasks in a more timely manner. Once you have a set deadline, you are more likely to get things done and feel accomplished, which helps you perceive this upcoming break as well-deserved rather than feel guilty for taking some time off.
Then I took some time to structure my break and made sure it is purposeful and enriching. Think about what kind of a break you need. Are you sleep deprived or physically exhausted? You might need some extra days to sleep in and rest your body. If you are mentally tired, it might be a better idea to choose another fun activity that suits and benefits you. For example, you can attend online events of Tufts Art Galleries or follow virtual concerts organized by the Music Department. If being outdoors energizes you, plan a hike to a less traveled mountain to disconnect from your daily life. Watch the movies you have always wanted to binge on. Schedule virtual meetings with your friend who studies abroad. Check out AirBnB live experiences. Your favorite chef might be hosting an online cooking class. The point is that scrolling through social media does not count as a break. Choose something that is entertaining yet valuable and put that on your calendar as motivation.
I added some new activities to my routine to make that break count. As graduate students, we constantly deal with projects that do not even have a set end date, and sometimes (OK, maybe most of the time) they do not go as expected. That ambiguity can be frustrating and demotivating. Hence, it is important to have some other tiny achievements in our lives. Choose some minor activities that are different from your work, such as taking a dance class, volunteering for a cause you care about, learning another language or getting into painting to remind yourself the feeling of accomplishment. Share this idea with your friends and suggest starting together. It always increases your motivation to have a buddy right next to you, even though they are connecting with you via Zoom.
Taking a vacation (even now) is so crucial for our physical and mental health, but it is so easy to overlook. It is one of those things that we know it is good for us, but we fail to actually commit to it, just like eating celery (or collard greens, or okra, you name it). We all need to relax and it is not as hard as we thought. Taking that well-deserved break will make you more efficient and productive at whatever you are doing, so go ahead and plan your next vacation in the times of Corona!