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!
By Jennifer Khirallah, Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. candidate
Letters of recommendations are a key component in building
your professional portfolio. They can make or break any application and leave
lasting impressions. These letters unfortunately, need to be thought of months
before you need them, so that you have the time to build connections with
professors or professionals you wish to ask. Once you have chosen a list of
professors to ask for recommendations you begin the daunting task of asking
them to do this for you.
The key thing to remember is that you are asking a big favor of someone when you ask them to write you a letter of recommendation. Professors are busy and not all professors have the extra time to curate a special letter. It’s best to do everything you can to make their job as easy as possible.
When you email your professors asking for recommendations
you should first explain to them why you want them specifically to write your
letter. This includes what unique perspective they can offer. It is good to
touch on some key points of your work with them and remind them of your
relationship. Also, you want to tell them what aspects of yourself you want
them to talk about (your independence, quick thinking, decision making,
attitude, technical skills, etc.) so that each of your letters of
recommendation touches on a different aspect of what makes you a great
An additional beneficial item to add in your email is an
attachment of your resume or anything they could review when writing your
letter. Another good thing to include is a small description of what you are
applying for and a little information about the position so they can tailor
their letter to your application.
Furthermore, when asking them to write this letter, make sure to give them more than enough time, at least one month, and make sure to tell them the due date is a week before it actually is in case there are major issues with what they wrote, or they are running behind. And do not forget to follow up with them a week before you tell them it’s due!
Finally, keep in mind that some professors may ask you to write your own letter that they will sign or to make them an outline. This is completely normally since professors are so busy. Take your time to curate a letter/outline saying specifically what you want to say about yourself and if you need help just ask a friend. Also, if professors say “no” to writing your letter is it okay, they are likely only saying no to you it because they don’t feel they would write a good enough one that would actually help you due to either lack of time or memory of your relationship with them. One final thing to keep in mind is if you know your professors are not always timely, it may be beneficial to ask one extra professor, so you have an extra to choose from or enough if one doesn’t follow through.
Below is an example of an email sent to a professor asking
for a letter of recommendation for a graduate school application.
Dear Professor Happy,
I hope you had a great weekend.
I am writing to ask you if you would write me a letter of recommendation for my
graduate school applications. I am applying for a PhD program in Biomedical
Engineering at Tufts University. I would like you to write a letter as I worked
in your lab for one year working on various projects including X, Y, and Z. You
would be able to offer a unique perspective on my skills in a laboratory
setting. I am hoping you would touch on how I have played a key role in the
progress of projects A and B, how I work well independently, and how I have
shown success in designing my own experiments.
The due date for this letter of
recommendation is X/(X-7)/X. I am attaching my resume for your reference.
Please let me know if this is something you are willing to do and if so if you
have any questions for me. Thank you!
I’ve spent the last 4 years in graduate art admissions, after completing my MFA (’17) and Post-Bac (’15), I hear a similar story from prospective Master of Fine Arts students every year. Artists coming to grad school are looking to expand their voice, hone their practice, as well as find and develop a connection with a network of other artists.
The goal of a grad program in interdisciplinary contemporary art is to expand and refine who we already are as artists, and much of that can’t happen in a bubble, without our peers. The connections we make in graduate school, are more than colleagues in the classroom; our graduate cohorts become our support systems, our curators, our collaborators, our gallerists, our teachers, our recommenders, and (if we’re lucky) our good friends.
Last month, I stopped into the newly opened Nearby Gallery in Newton Center, for the exhibition opening of “In Mid Air”. Nearby Gallery was founded by Cal Rice (MFA ’18) and Sam Belisle (MFA ’18). The show was a fabulous and experimental collection of work, from 3 recently graduated SMFA at Tufts undergraduate students, Lightbringer, Calla King-Clements, Daria Bobrova. In the crowd of the reception, there were families, community members, and an assortment of SMFA alumni. At one point as a group of alumni discussed the show and gallery, I realized I was in conversation with MFA graduates from 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and a current MFA candidate, set to graduate in 2022. There is excitement in watching people meet, reminisce, and connect; artists sharing their work, talking about their galleries or studios, planning to collaborate, and celebrating the work of both the artists and their expanded cohort success.
What I love is that this group support is not an isolated incident. Each month artists of Boston flock to First Friday events in SOWA to see our peers in juried or solo shows. We work with SMFA alumni like Alexandra Photopoulos (MFA ‘10), Allison Gray (MFA’17),and Doug Breault (MFA’17) who run exciting galleries in Cambridge, like Gallery 263; spaces that offer opportunities to submit proposals or join group shows and residencies. We leave our studios and solitude to attend each other’s events, and to celebrate our work and community, creating lasting connections.
Each year, as I work to recruit and admit classes to the MFA and Post-Bac programs, I feel a little bit selfish (in the best way) to be able to invite in future members of our extended SMFA graduate cohort. I am excited this year to welcome to campus, the next class of MFA and Post-Bac students who will join our conversations, shows, and the greater community. We’re thrilled to have you.
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 Abigail Epplett, M.A. student in Museum Education
If you’re a newly minted grad student or looking to join a program, you’re probably aware that many master’s and certificate programs require students to complete a practicum. What does this mean? Think of a practicum as an independent work-study class where you gain experience in your chosen field. In some ways, it is similar to an internship, but practicums may require classwork, depending on the program. The method of placement varies between disciplines. Since my area of expertise is in Museum Studies, I’m going to focus on this model of practicum.
What do you need? Who do you know? What can you do?
The first step to completing a practicum is finding an institution willing to host you. As I mentioned earlier, the method of placement varies between disciplines. Some departments place students in practicums. In Museum Studies, the student find their host institution on their own. As you can imagine, finding a host institution during the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions adds some challenges. Yikes! To make the process easier and less scary, try asking yourself these three questions: “What do I need?”, “Who do I know?”, and “What can I do?”.
Let’s start with the first question: What do you need? What is required for your practicum? Are there any limitations or deadlines to keep in mind? Each practicum lasts a certain number of hours and must be completed at a specific type of organization. For example, my practicum needed to last for at least 125 hours over the Summer 2020 session, and it needed to be held at a cultural institution. Due to the complications surrounding COVID-19, students in the Summer 2020 session could petition for extra time to complete their practicum. I did not need additional time, but it’s something to keep in mind if you are worried about getting your hours completed, especially if you already work a full-time job.
While the requirement to work at a cultural institution might initially seem pretty limiting, a wide range of organizations fall into this category. Working at a museum is an obvious choice, but during the Spring and Summer 2020, most museums were closing and furloughing staff. Visitors centers, university galleries, and museum-related businesses were likewise closed. What was I going to do?
This brings me to the second question: Who do you know? What are your connections to the industry? Who understands your potential? The idea of networking is frequently discussed in any academic setting, whether visiting a fair or workshop held by career services or learning from professors during class time and office hours. During COVID-19, I reached out to my network to find an organization to host my practicum and found a willing organization a few miles from my house: Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc. (BHC). This opportunity was so obvious that I nearly overlooked it. I had run or driven past the building that housed the BHC offices two or three times a day for most of my life, and had begun volunteering with BHC in January 2020, a mere four months before applying for a practicum there. This short amount of time was enough for them to see my potential and offer me a practicum opportunity.
Finally, we’ve come to the final question: What can I do? What talents make me stand out from other practicum-seeking students? How will I bring a unique skillset to the organization? If you are in the museum program, it’s a given that you know a lot about art, history, and education. Similarly, someone looking for a teaching practicum needs to know a lot about classroom management and pedagogy, while someone seeking a laboratory practicum understands scientific practices and research methods. But there are many skills outside of standard curriculum that are part of daily work and valuable to organizations. Do you design beautiful and engaging presentation slides? Are you great at troubleshooting problems with technology? Are you experienced in photography and video editing? These skills are important for any organization, especially cultural institutions with limited funding and small staffs, and will make you stand out to your potential host.
A Brief Note on Supervisors
A major component of the practicum is the onsite supervisor. This is an employee of the organization who will act as your mentor during your practicum. They make up your practicum “team”, which also includes you and your academic advisor. The supervisor has to fill out paperwork and attend at least one meeting with you and your advisor during your practicum. That being said, while it is not always possible to choose your supervisor, like when your department places you in a practicum, if you are required to find your own practicum, make sure your personality meshes with that of your supervisor. Try to meet them in person ahead of time before making a commitment. During my practicum at BHC, I worked with Suzanne, the Volunteer Coordinator, which was a great match. I had previously met Suzanne through volunteering at BHC, so I knew we would get along well.
Talk to Me, Baby
A less interesting title for this section might be, “Communication is key.” You’ve heard this throughout undergrad, high school, and even earlier, but this is still a difficult concept for some people, especially because there is such a range of communication methods and styles. On one end are people who view communication as a biweekly, five-minute phone call. On the other end are those who want frequent updates via email, text, and video chat. When these two people work together, chaos ensues.
Communicating with your supervisor is a major aspect of the practicum, especially when many practicums must happen remotely during COVID-19 restrictions. What helped me to communicate during my practicum was setting up a schedule of the entire practicum and sharing it with Suzanne. The schedule showed when we needed to have face-to-face meetings, whether they were over Zoom or in person, and what projects I needed to work on. I also sent regular updates on my projects and asked questions via email. Because we had agreed upon a schedule ahead of time, I never felt confused through lack of communication, even when the schedule inevitably changed.
The main difference that I found between a practicum and an internship was the classwork. The Museum Studies practicum comes with its own course on Tufts’ online course management site, Canvas, where students answer questions, complete self-evaluations, and submit a final paper. During my practicum, this component happened asynchronously, and I had no trouble completing the work, but it is one more thing to remember. Also, time spent completing classwork does not count toward your practicum hours, so you need to figure that into your schedule.
Your practicum supervisor also has to fill out a small amount of paperwork, mainly to verify that you are indeed working at the organization. This is where having a personality match with your supervisor is especially helpful: someone who enjoys working with you is much more likely to leave a glowing review than someone who dislikes you or is ambivalent about your existence.
Wrap It All Up
Ultimately, your practicum is intended to be an experience in the “real world” of your industry under the guidance of seasoned professionals and your academic advisor. It’s a great way to learn your likes and dislikes in the field, along with gaining new skills and making connections. Good luck finding the practicum that is perfect for you!
Written by Audrey Balaska, Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering: Human-Robot interaction
There have been a lot of changes this semester as we adjust our campus environment to keep people safe during a pandemic. Now, this is understandably a difficult transition, and there are some things that just aren’t possible right now. But, there are some resources that are still available, just in a different format!
Specifically, I’m talking about the Nolop Fabrication, Analysis, Simulation and Testing (FAST) Facility located in the Science and Engineering Complex at Tufts. Nolop was founded thanks to a generous gift from the estate of Keith Nolop, and includes the Stricker Family Genius Bar funded by Jane and Rob Stricker, E69, and the Byrne Advanced Machining Area made possible by Dan Byrne, E76. Normally a popular spot for students to hang out, work on projects, and let their creativity thrive, Nolop is understandably closed to in-person involvement this semester. However, Nolop is offering remote services, where the makerspace employees will fulfill your requests for laser cutting, 3-D printing, or soldering!
More detailed information is located on the Nolop webpage, or you can read about the types of projects made by students last year in this Tufts Now article. As an example, though, here is the process for how I got some laser-cut parts for my home project of making a place to hang my masks.
Step 1: Using a CAD software (OnShape), I created my design for what I wanted cut.
Step 2: I shared my design with Nolop employees on the laser cutting channel (of the Nolop Slack group). When I explained that I wanted my design cut out so that I could paint it, they gave me advice on what material would be best for painting (a list of materials available for purchase from Nolop are located here).
Step 3: When the parts were ready, I picked them up from the station outside of the makerspace.
Step 4: And using wooden boards, clothespins, paint, and glue, I created my final product!
Now, I’m an engineering student, but Nolop is open to everybody at Tufts! This semester, they are offering 3 services remotely: 3D Printing, Laser Cutting, and Soldering. You can use these services for personal projects, class assignments, or just to learn more about technology and design. The Nolop slack channel is also a place where people ask for advice on projects they are working on, share interesting links, and are just a general part of the Nolop community.
Written by Ruaidhri Crofton, History and Museum Studies M.A. student
As a graduate student, much of your time will no doubt be spent attending classes or dedicated to other forms of research and study. However, being able to take what you have learned and apply it to “real world” scenarios through internships, fellowships, jobs, and other positions is another great learning experience that many students at Tufts will have the opportunity to engage in during their time at the university. Not only does this help to reinforce the information you have already learned through study, it also allows you to gain valuable new skills and knowledge outside of the classroom. This summer I was lucky to have an opportunity to do just that while working as the Camp Director of the Chase Ranch Museum in Cimarron, New Mexico. As someone pursuing a master’s in History and Museum Studies, this seasonal position provided me with a great way to put many of the topics I had covered in classes to use, while simultaneously learning about the rich history of an often overlooked yet incredibly unique historic site in the rural Southwest.
When many people think of New Mexico, they likely picture a hot desert. Although the state is certainly is warm and often arid, much of its land has been used for ranching and agriculture for a considerable portion of its history. This was particularly true in the Northeast corner of the state where the small village of Cimarron, population 903, is located. Having grown up in another town just an hour and a half or so south of here, I am used to “small town living”. However, living in Cimarron for three months was quiet even for me. There’s everything you may need: a couple of gas stations and restaurants, a few stores, a hotel, and a three-officer police force, but it’s certainly different from life in a city like Boston. Despite its size, Cimarron was once a bustling stop on the Santa Fe Trail, and home to trappers, ranchers, cowboys, miners, loggers, outlaws, and railway workers. Today, its main claim to fame is Philmont Scout Ranch—a 140,000 acre wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains run by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and visited by thousands of Scouts on hiking trips annually. In addition to their wilderness programs, the BSA also runs four museums on the property tasked with sharing the history of the area, including the one where I had the privilege of working this summer.
On a dirt road three miles outside of town sits the headquarters of the Chase Ranch. Originally hailing from Wisconsin, Theresa and Manly Chase first moved to the New Mexico Territory in 1867 and eventually purchased 1,000 acres of land in 1869 where their family would remain for the next 143 years and four generations. At their height, Manly and Theresa were managing an extensive cattle, horse, and sheep operation on over one million acres of land, in addition to running a dairy, a coal mine, and tending to an orchard of 6,000 fruit trees producing over 500,000 pounds of fruit annually. In the generations that would follow, the Chases continued their legacy of ranching and contributing to the Cimarron community. Gretchen Sammis, the last member of the Chase family to live on the ranch and the great-granddaughter of Manly and Theresa, was herself an award-winning rancher in addition to being an accomplished soil and water conservationist, teacher, and sports coach. Awarded Cattleman of the Year in 2008, both Gretchen and her Ranch Manager, Ruby Gobble, were also inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1982 and 1996 respectively.
Following Gretchen and Ruby’s deaths in 2012 and 2013, ownership of the ranch was passed on to the Chase Ranch Foundation, which today partners with Philmont Scout Ranch in a 50 year lease to open the now 11,000 acre ranch to Scouts on trek, maintain operation of the property as an active cattle ranch, and transform the historic 1871 ranch house into an educational museum open to all. This summer it was my task to ensure that the historic house museum was open for the 5,000 plus Scouts and other visitors we hosted over the course of three months. This included, among other things, training staff, leading tours, historic research, developing education programs, artifact care and cleaning, gardening, and occasionally helping to corral a runaway cow or two! As you can imagine, this was no small task, and I was very thankful to have a staff of fantastic colleagues to support the museum’s mission along the way.
I was also thankful for the insight professors and classmates in both the History and Museum Studies departments at Tufts had equipped me with throughout two semesters of coursework examining collections care, Southwestern history, and museum education, among other topics. Thanks to this baseline of knowledge, throughout my summer I gained experience in putting this information to work “in the field,” as well as a considerable amount of additional knowledge that helped me better understand best practices and approaches to museums and management. It was an incredible opportunity to not only work in this special place, but to also build upon what I had learned in the months leading up to it. Although certainly not everyone has an interest in working at a remote historic house museum, there is no shortage of opportunities that will fit your specific interests and goals, regardless of your program, and a similarly extensive number of resources at Tufts to help you find them. So do some research! You never know what cool experiences you might be able to find.