Category Archives: Clubs and Community

Weekend trips near Tufts – the best places to hike and explore!

Written by Ece Gulsan, Chemical Engineering Ph.D. student

Let me tell you something that you’ve probably never heard before: grad school is tough. It requires hard work, dedication, and spending most of your time deep-diving into whatever you are working on. Even though we are lucky enough to perform our studies on a truly beautiful campus, we spend most of our time in our classes, labs or study areas. Because of this, removed from nature! Along with the significant health benefits of fresh air, nature has a lot to offer us. Spending time outside provides physical (and mental) rejuvenation, helps you to cope with stress, enhances your mood, reduces anxiety, and muscle tension. You focus better, become more creative, and improve your problem-solving skills. Luckily, even grad students have weekends, and the Greater Boston Area couldn’t be located in a more strategic position for weekend getaways. It doesn’t take more than a couple of hours to drive to get to the most beautiful mountains of the East Coast, stunning lakes, and gorgeous national parks. Here are my favorite destinations to spend some quality time in nature, which are very convenient to visit either as a day trip or overnight stay.

What to bring:

  • Hiking gear, sturdy shoes
  • Water
  • Lunch and some snacks
  • A light jacket, it can be windy up there

White Mountains National Forest, New Hampshire

This state offers shopping with no sales tax and many mountains with several trail options for hiking. It takes approximately two hours to drive from Medford, depending on where you are heading. White Mountains National Forest is a personal favorite, as it houses the majority of 4,000 footer mountains in the area (mountains which have an elevation of at least 4,000 feet). Mount Washington, the tallest and the most famous one, is definitely a must-go, but there are some other options for those who are not very experienced in hiking.

Cannon Mountain is 4,100 feet high, and very convenient for visitors since it has a parking lot right next to the beginning of the hike. The hike is steep, and offers a fascinating view if you can make it all the way up to the summit. Even if you cannot, the mountain has some sub-peaks called “The Cannon Balds,” which are great places to have your lunch in the woods with an awesome view of mountains. If you feel lazy, but still want to see the view, there is a family-friendly cable car which can carry you up to the top, but I highly recommend you to take the high road and reward yourself with well-deserved cold beer at the observatory. If you are an experienced hiker, you can try a steep trail loop to North and South Kinsman. To turn your day trip into a longer visit, stay at the affordable and convenient Fransted Family Campground nearby and stop at Franconia Notch State Park and Echo Lake for more hiking and sunset views, and One Love Brewery for food and fun. 

*Pro-tip: It is awesome to watch sunset on the mountains, but be prepared to go all the way down in pitch dark.

Acadia National Park, Maine

For a longer trip, I recommend Acadia National Park in Maine. It takes approximately four hours to drive there from Medford. If it will be your first time in Acadia, I suggest you camp in Black Woods,since it is very close to the main trails and mountains.

*Pro-tip: Book your spot in advance! They are very likely to be sold out.

The best time to visit this mountain is late summer and early autumn. Maine is a very cold state, so bring some warm clothing in addition to your camping gear—I wore my Christmas socks at night to keep myself warm… in August!

Start exploring with Ocean Trail, which is the most popular and easiest trail of the park, and runs along the beautiful Atlantic coastline. You can hop on the rocks if you feel adventurous to get closer to the water.

If you are in Acadia, you must watch the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain – you will be the first to watch the sunrise in the entire country! Start climbing at 3:00 am (or drive up later) and you’ll be rewarded with one of the best views around.

If you want to challenge yourself, Beehive trail is a two-hour, strenuous climb offering crystal clear lakes and a beautiful view at the summit.

Another steep trail is Precipice Trail, which is more demanding than Beehive but more beautiful. Avoid this trail if you have fear of heights, as you will be climbing over rocks and walking along the edges of cliffs. Prepare yourself mentally and bring a lot of water if you feel comfortable tackling this hike.

There’s nothing better than taking a dip right after a long and exhausting hike! Take a break at Bar Harbor Beach and enjoy the sun on the sand after swimming in ice-cold ocean. Follow your beach break with some seafood in Portland, Maine, on your way back to Medford.

There are many other places New England offers to us. A weekend trip to Cape Cod to enjoy beautiful shore and the national park before it gets bloody cold is a great idea, and it is only two hours away. Take the ferry to visit Martha’s Vineyard for even more. Vermont is a bit further away, but southern east part of this state has amazing mountains where you can witness stunning fall foliage. Check out the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes for a day trip.

Boston is beautiful, but it doesn’t hurt to travel away to spend some time in nature. Your body and your mind will thank you!

Dancing through graduate school: when passions and academia collide

Written by Gina Mantica, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Ever since the age of 5, I’ve been a dancer. I used to dance around my living room to Disney music, until my parents decided I needed some sort of outlet for my dancing habit. My parents signed me up for ballet classes shortly thereafter, and I’ve been taking dance classes and performing on stage ever since.

I was in my second year of undergrad when I was invited to perform in my first professional gig. I remember the moment vividly: I was at a retreat when my long-time mentor (and now, friend) left me a voicemail. I remember the feeling of butterflies in my stomach as I listened to my mentor say she had an opportunity for me to perform and get paid for my dancing. To this day, the voicemail is saved to my cell phone. That voicemail not only changed the trajectory of my dance career, but also altered how I now see myself “fitting into” academia.

Five-and-a-half years have passed since I performed in my first paid dance gig. Since then, I’ve danced in more professional productions than I can recall, ranging from a full-length production with Jazz Inc. Dance to a short-lived HGTV show “Spontaneous Construction”.

Also since then, I’ve grown a fondness for academia. I love learning and being able to research questions I am curious about. My time as a Ph.D. student here at Tufts is nothing short of a dream. However, academia is not always fond of me.

Since entering grad school, I have not stopped pursuing my passion for dance. Dance provides me with much more than just exercise; through dance, I find joy and a sense of comfort that I cannot get anywhere else. My refusal to give up something that I consider to be both a means of self-care and a crucial part of my identity rubs some academics, who, themselves, have lost sight of what a work-life balance should look like, the wrong way.

The pressures to conform to some academic ideal of a work-life balance (which, in reality, is not balanced at all) are not missing at Tufts. However, Tufts is such an incredibly diverse community and it is possible to find mentors and colleagues to surround yourself with that share your own opinion of what a work-life balance should look like. At Tufts, I have found friends in my department who will go take dance classes with me, or who will take a day off from work to go to the beach. I have found mentors who support my love of writing and outreach and who will provide me with opportunities to pursue my interests outside of the lab.

Most importantly, however, I have grown to realize that I don’t need to conform to some ideal of what an academic should look like; at Tufts, I am able to relieve myself of the pressures of “fitting into” academia and just be myself.

My Life as the Next Graduate Student Council President

I was never a student council kind of person. I never joined when I was a high school student, and always found myself too busy with other extracurricular activities to join in college. It’s as much of a surprise to me as to anybody else that I find myself becoming the new Tufts Graduate Student Council President for 2018-2019. So, how did this happen?

Like a lot of people on the Executive Board (E-Board) of the GSC, I was convinced to run by other members of my department. I first became the academic and career development co-chair, a position in which I helped organize academic events, like the Graduate Student Research Symposium. During this time, I quickly realized that I genuinely enjoyed these kinds of activities that brought me out of the lab, enabled me to meet and interact with people from all sorts of departments, and discuss graduate student concerns with administrators. This passion has driven me to stay in the GSC, this past year filling the role of vice president, and next year as president.

As the new GSC President, I am most looking forward to simply helping graduate students across Tufts. My first role as president will be to work together with our other officers and chairs to put together some amazing events for grad students. Traditionally we have held social and academic events during the fall and spring semesters. But in this upcoming year, I am particularly excited to expand our community outreach and international student events. We are also really interested in having some activities over the summer; plenty of students stay on campus during the summer months and it would be great to bring people together to unwind and de-stress. We are hoping to have an ice cream social and an outdoor movie night with a popcorn machine!

I’m also looking forward to continuing to work with the Tufts administration to address graduate student concerns. Each semester we hold one or two deans’ coffee hours at which our student life chair organizes a discussion around a grad student issue. Several deans and other pertinent university staff members are also invited. Together, we look for creative solutions to a variety of problems with the goal of improving grad student experiences. As president, I am looking forward to continuing these events and helping our new student life chair expand involvement.

I can’t wait to take on new challenges as the president. In May, the GSC held its annual transition weekend during which the old and new E-Boards meet, orient each other, and plan for the following year. I can say—without hesitation—that the new members of the E-Board are going to be amazing. They already have some great ideas for new events. Be sure to be on the lookout for events this summer and in the fall semester! We can’t wait to meet you!

 Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Biology Department Retreat!

 Written by Gina Mantica, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Giving game-playing instructions to the Biology Department with my megaphone and my helpful assistant, Mike Fath. IMAGES COURTESY RACHAEL BONOAN.

Last semester, the Biology department hosted its first ever departmental retreat, and I was lucky enough to be on the organizing Committee! The Biology department is separated on the Medford campus; half of the faculty are located in the new Science and Engineering Complex (SEC) while the other half are located at 200 Boston Avenue. The SEC is about a fifteen-minute walk from 200 Boston Avenue, and the only time during the academic year that people from both buildings come together is on Fridays for our departmental seminar series. The Biology department retreat was born from the idea of bringing all faculty, staff, and students from both buildings on campus together in a relaxed setting for a day of learning, bonding, and fun. During the first half of the retreat, faculty and post-docs from both buildings presented their current projects. As a second year student relatively new to Tufts, it was great to hear about the work going on in other labs within my

 

Professor Mitch McVey and PhD Candidate Marcus Lehr working together to finish the relay race. IMAGES COURTESY RACHAEL BONOAN.

          During the second half of the retreat, students, faculty, and staff participated in team-building games organized by yours truly. I was a camp counselor for a few years during my undergraduate career, so organizing outdoor games and activities was really a treat for me. I planned a hula hoop passing game, a relay race, and a human knot activity for retreat participants. I got to use a megaphone when directing the activities, and I got to watch the influence of my camp counselor enthusiasm on adults.

One team working together to untangle their “knot”. IMAGES COURTESY OF RACHAEL BONOAN.

          My favorite part of the retreat was directing and watching the human knot activity. I separated the department into four equal teams and instructed everyone in each team to cross their left hand over their right hand in a tight circle facing inwards. I then told everyone to grab the hands of two different people in their group, and work together, once connected, to untangle the “knot”. The human knot activity requires every individual to actively work with others to uncross not only their own hands but also the hands of their teammates. Additionally, the human knot activity tends to be successful only when teammates communicate their thoughts and ideas with others in their group. For example, if one individual tries to untangle the knot by themselves, they could end up dragging their teammates along and pulling people to the ground instead of helping others up or helping the team get out of the knot.
            Many scientists pride themselves on being independent thinkers and workers, so the human knot activity proved especially hard for some teams. I coached struggling teams on openly discussing their ideas with their teammates and pushed for some of the more reluctant team members to participate in the open discussion. In the end, all teams successfully untangled their “knots”!

              The memories made at the retreat and the experiences shared between students, faculty, and staff created a noticeably more inclusive and welcoming environment within the Biology department. I look forward to attending the next Biology department retreat and welcoming the newest cohort of graduate students into our Tufts Biology family!

The first team to successfully untangle their human knot. IMAGES COURTESY OF RACHAEL BONOAN.

What to do in Philosophy at Tufts?

Written by Jiali Liu, Philosophy M.A. 2017

Hi readers! Medford has officially entered its early summer season. With moderate humidity and pleasant breeze, it is neither too cold nor too warm. For the past two months, I’ve been busy with coursework and preparing to get back to China in the summer (yay!!!). I’m also very excited about the new cohort in the Philosophy Department!

For today’s post, I want to talk about some programs organized by Tufts’ Philosophy Department that engage faculty members, graduate students, and philosophically inclined undergraduates. The first has to be the Philosophy Club (aka free pizza club)! Every month on a Thursday, two professors from the department would lead a discussion and pose philosophical questions on a chosen topic from current affairs. I joined the past discussions on the justification for punishment, children in philosophy, pornography, and issues involving consent. I was able to talk with other students from all majors and years and we challenged each other’s opinions on the topic. The philosophy club is a great avenue to exchange knowledge and find for oneself some like-minded philosophical pals.

The second is the Graduate Student Writing Seminar. As the name suggests, it is exclusively offered for graduate students as a course in the first semester of the second year in the program. The seminar is dedicated to a semester-long peer review and editing on potential PhD applicants’ writing sample. Even for students who are not applying for the coming school year, the seminar helps them to produce a philosophically insightful piece of writing before graduation. I’m in particular excited about this seminar because all graduate students in the department get to work together, with each of their own interests and experiences in philosophy to cross-examine different philosophical arguments and deepen an intellectual bond with others. The Master program is only for two years—many students decide to continue in philosophy and many others transition to something else. It is indeed a precious opportunity for all of us in the program to collaborate on one project for an entire semester during which important career decisions are made.

The third is the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, a competition at the department where teams of undergraduate students explore contemporary ethical problems and dilemmas. We graduate students usually volunteer to moderate or judge the competition on the day of the event. The one last team will take the championship and move on to compete in the Northeastern regional competition. Everyone, including me, participating in this year’s Ethics Bowl made their contribution to a lively intellectual environment at the department as well as across the campus.

The department also sponsors Graduate Student and Faculty Discussion series throughout the academic year. The series usually takes place on a Wednesday afternoon where the guest speak, usually a professor in the department, talks about his/her current philosophical project. The series has proven highly efficient in bringing together research ideas and offers a great chance for graduate students to discuss vis-à-vis with faculty members on latest developments and trends in philosophical research. I remembered the talk given by Professor Jody Azzouni where he talked about his book in metaphysics, and it’s named “Talk about Nothing!”

Has reading about all these programs ignited your passion in philosophical discourse? For many graduate students, academic life is intermingled with professional networking. I try to strike a balance between intensive philosophical training and building up friendships and relationships. The department provides ample opportunities in both regards and encourages me to continue enjoying philosophy both at work and in life.

 

When I say “HOLIDAY,” You Say “FOOD DRIVE”

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

That’s just one of the cheers you would have Holiday Food Drive 1heard if you were walking around Porter Square early one Saturday evening (November 21, 2015 to be exact). Jenn (Biology grad student) brought lots of energy—and thus, lots of donators—to the annual Graduate Student Council (GSC) food drive. Clint (Psychology grad student) kept warm—and received lots of hugs from strangers—by walking around in his red panda onesie (because, why not?).

On a more serious note, the annual holiday food drive is a GSC tradition. Every year around Thanksgiving, the GSC Community Outreach Chair (this year, that’s me!) rounds up volunteers Holiday Food Drive 2to collect donations of non-perishable foods outside of Star Market in Porter Square. All donations are then brought to the Somerville Homeless Coalition. The Coalition’s Project SOUP (Share Our United Pantry) is a food pantry that hosts community suppers and distributes food donations to those in need. This year’s GSC food drive was such a success that we may have overwhelmed the Project SOUP volunteers…but in a good way!

This year, we had a total of 14 volunteers throughout the day, 11 of which were grad students representing various departments (in addition to Biology and Psychology, we had grad student volunteers from Physics, Economics, Computer Science and Drama). Those 14 volunteers collected 17 boxes of non-perishable food! At the food drive, we also received $197 in cash donations (which we turned into some of those non-perishable food items).

When our cash donations started piling up, a couple of volunteers would go into Star Market to use the cash to buy more non-perishable donations. At the suggestion of our GSC President, Jeremy, most of our cash donations went toward buying baby food—something most people don’t consider when donating to a food drive. At one point, Jeremy and I went into Star Market with $49.71 to spend on baby food. As we piled roughly $50-worth of baby food onto the conveyor belt, the cashier likely thought Jeremy and I were young, struggling parents with multiples (triplets?).

Holiday Food Drive 3Aside from being able to donate 17 boxes-worth of food to Project SOUP, the best part of the food drive was meeting people from the community and seeing them get into the holiday spirit. We had one man who heard Jenn cheering from afar and told us that he didn’t need any groceries but he was going to go in and buy some just for our food drive. When he came out, he put 2 bags of groceries on our table while chanting “Donate! Donate! Donate!”

There were people who came out with whole shopping carts full of donations, whole shopping baskets full of donations, and one man even went home to clean out his pantry—he brought us three bags of canned goods, oatmeal, and rice. There were also a lot of kids who would shyly put a canned good or two on our table—one was dressed as an astronaut!

Happy Halloween from Tufts!

 

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

GSC Halloween pic 1This year, the Graduate Student Council (GSC) put on a Halloween party in our newest graduate student lounge (which is likely to be a topic in a future blog post)—Curtis Hall. The party was planned and executed by this year’s wonderful Social Chair, Taylor Sands-Marcinkowski (Wanda from the Fairly Odd Parents). The other executive board members (pictured to the right, photo courtesy of Psych grad student Clint Perry) that helped pull the party off were President Jeremy Watcher (a Roman dictator with his sticks as a sign of authority), Secretary Mike Pietras (computational scientist—he’s actually a computational scientist), and yours truly, the Community Outreach Chair (a tough cookie). Our other executive board members (Vice President, Treasurer, Academic Chair and Student Life Chair) were unable to make the party—they were in Los Angeles representing Tufts at the 29th Annual National Conference of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students. Even though they were in LA, I think we had more fun in Curtis Hall.

GSC Hallowen pic 3GSC Halloween pic 2At the party, we had LOTS of candy, other snacks, and a costume contest! The first place winners of the costume contest came dressed as the characters from Pixar’s recent movie Inside Out. From left to right, Kasey, Dave, Jenn, Becca, and Kelsey are all affiliated with the Biology Department here at Tufts. Kasey and Becca are recently graduated master’s students, Jenn and Kelsey are 6th and 5th year Ph.D. students respectively, Dave is a graduate student at MIT and Kasey’s boyfriend. This year, the first place prize was a gift card to Foundry, a nearby restaurant in Davis Square (another possible future blog topic). Kasey—as Joy—was characteristically overjoyed that her group won the costume contest (notice her feet are a good few inches off the ground).

GSC Halloween pic 4Our second place winner was on the other end of the Halloween spectrum—he was scary. Parading as an exorcist priest, the international Physics grad student went above and beyond for his first Halloween! The exorcist priest won a gift card to Diesel Café, a coffee shop in Davis Square for his prize. Among other characters, we also had pirates, a woodland nymph, Maverick, and Luna Lovegood show up at the party. (Sadness got really into her character for the group photo.) What I like most about GSC social events is that I get to get out of the Biology Department and meet grad students from other departments. At this party alone, there were grad students from Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Computer Science, Engineering, Drama, and more!

 

The GSC’s next holiday-themed event is our Thanksgiving Food Drive—coming up soon!