Category Archives: Tips and Tricks

In Search of Boston’s Most Underrated Museums

Written by Ruaidhri Crofton, History & Museum Studies M.A. 2020

It is no secret that Boston is home to a wide array of museums and historic sites that play an important role in both entertaining and educating hundreds of visitors annually, while simultaneously preserving some of the most important aspects of local history and culture. Some, like the Museum of Fine Arts, the Old North Church, and the USS Constitution, are so iconic that you can hardly say you have been to Boston without visiting them. However, the greater Boston area is also home to a number of “underrated” museums that play just as important a role in the communities they serve, despite their relative lack of widespread fame.

As someone who is (perhaps overly) enthusiastic about museums and the stories they tell, I am always looking for new places to visit and have thus had the opportunity to explore many of these often-overlooked sites. Not only have they proven to be incredibly informative and engaging, I have often found many of them to be even more impressive than some of their larger counterparts. Though difficult, I have picked out a few of my favorites to highlight just how varied and impressive some of these “underrated” museums can be. I hope that they will help to provide some inspiration for your own future adventures around Tufts and prove to be just as enjoyable for you as they were for me!

Harvard Semitic Museum

Situated just across the street from the popular Harvard Museum of Natural History and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the Harvard Semitic Museum’s collection contains more than 40,000 objects from the Near East, including Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Syria, and Tunisia. Visitors can view Egyptian canopic jars, mummies, Mesopotamian art, reconstructions of ancient Israeli homes, and much more for free!

The Mary Baker Eddy Library

Located within the Christian Science Center in the Back Bay, the Mary Baker Eddy Library is a research library, museum, and repository for the papers of the founder of The Church of Christ, Scientist. However, perhaps the most iconic exhibit housed within the museum is the stunning “Mapparium,” a three-story stained glass globe. Visitors can walk through the center of the globe on a 30-foot long bridge and view the world as it appeared in 1935.

Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation

Want to learn more about the history of medicine in the United States? What better place to do it than at the Russell Museum located on the Boston campus of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)! In addition to viewing historic surgical instruments and engaging with interactive displays, make sure to check out the Ether Dome located within the hospital itself where the first successful public surgery using ether as an anesthetic was performed.

Museum of African American History & The Black Heritage Trail

Nearly everyone who visits Boston spends at least part of their visit walking the Freedom Trail. But did you know there’s a second historic walking trail downtown focusing on a different aspect of the “fight for freedom” in the United States? Boston’s Black Heritage Trail takes visitors through the streets of Beacon Hill to view the homes of prominent abolitionists, stops on the Underground Railway, and more. At the end of the trail is the African Meeting House, the oldest black church in the United States, and the Museum of African American History featuring rotating exhibits on the African American community in Boston.

Armenian Museum of America

Home to the third-largest Armenian population in the United States, the Boston suburb of Watertown is also home to perhaps one of my favorite museums, the Armenian Museum of America. Featuring exhibits on the rich history and culture of Armenia and Armenian-Americans, visitors can learn about everything from ancient metalwork and textiles to the 1916 Armenian genocide. The museum is also actively engaged in programming for the community by featuring regular concerts, art programs, and lectures.

USS Cassin Young

Berthed in the shadow of the famous USS Constitution, the oldest actively commissioned naval vessel in the world, the USS Cassin Young (DD-793) is a unique museum tasked with preserving a different era of United States naval history. Named for Captain Cassin Young, a Medal of Honor recipient for his actions during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the USS Cassin Young was commissioned in 1943 and served in both World War II and the Korean War before it was decommissioned in 1960. Today, the museum is run by the National Park Service and allows visitors to catch a glimpse of life onboard a more modern naval vessel.

 Vilna Shul

Originally a synagogue built in 1919 by Jewish immigrants from Lithuania who settled on Beacon Hill, the Vilna Shul has been an important center for Jewish culture for nearly a century. Today, it is the oldest Jewish building in Boston and continues to serve in its role as a cultural and community center, in addition to being a museum featuring exhibits focused on the history of the Jewish community in Boston and a historic building itself.

Escaping Campus: The 5 best day trips from Tufts!

Written by Gina Mantica, Biology Ph.D. candidate

Do you find yourself feeling tired? Stressed? Overwhelmed? Do you feel the need to run away from your responsibilities? For a day? A whole weekend? Well, have no fear. There are plenty of places to visit outside of Boston that will leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed—ready for any of the obstacles that grad school decides to throw at you. Check out my top 5 day trips from Medford below!

  1. Concord

Concord is first up on my list of day trips from the Tufts Medford campus, due to its close proximity and many historical and outdoor activities. Hop on the Concord line commuter rail at North Station and go all the way to the end of the line. Here, you’ll be brought back to the time of Paul Revere. Beautiful colonial homes adorn the streets, including the former houses of both Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet and author of Self Reliance. Walk around the town center, and you’ll find quaint boutique shops and restaurants. My personal favorite is The Concord Cheese Shop—go in and try some free samples! When you’re full, head out of town towards the walking and biking trails of Battle Road, the road Paul Revere, himself, rode on to warn locals that “the British are coming.”

  1. Rockport

Rockport is next on my list, due it its classic New England beach-town charm. Like Concord, you can grab the commuter rail from North Station all the way to Rockport. The smell of salt water and the sounds of crashing waves will greet you upon arrival. I could (and have) spend the entire day traipsing around Rockport Center. There are a ton of boutique shops to browse in, numerous seafood restaurants to choose from, and countless art galleries to get lost in. While there, make sure to spend some time on the warm, sandy beaches with a cup (or a cone!) of homemade ice cream from The Ice Cream Store. Fun fact: part of the movie The Proposal with Sandra Bullock was filmed in Rockport. Can you figure out which scene while you’re there?

  1. Provincetown &
  2. Martha’s Vineyard

I’m grouping these next two together because I love them equally. To get to Provincetown, grab a ferry from Boston Harbor. While drifting out to sea, get ready for a day of frivolity, fun, and entertainment. Perhaps best known for its colorful nightlife, Provincetown offers an abundance of fun daytime activities as well. Like Rockport, Provincetown is awash with cute shops, unique restaurants, and beautiful beaches. If you head to Provincetown early enough, make sure to hit up Victor’s Restaurant for drag brunch—you will not be disappointed.

To get to Martha’s Vineyard from Medford, take a bus from South Station to Woods Hole, and then hop on a ferry to the island. While everything here is a bit more expensive, the scenery is worth the added cost. Beautiful beach houses adorn the coastline, with crystal clear blue waters appearing almost endless in the distance. A must-do while at the vineyard is to walk around and take pictures of the infamous “gingerbread houses.” When done, take the bus or bike on over (the island is very bike-friendly) to the island’s Alpaca Farm, Island Alpaca Company, and make a new, fuzzy friend!

  1. The Berkshires

Maybe I’m biased because I went to undergrad in Western Massachusetts, but the Berkshires are my absolute favorite day trip from the Boston area. To get there, take a Peter Pan bus from South Station to Northampton. When you arrive, take a deep breath in: clean, crisp, mountain air abounds! Known for its “hipster vibe”, Northampton boasts more vegetarian and vegan-friendly dining options than I ever thought imaginable. For all of you meat lovers out there, there is also El Caminito Steakhouse which boasts Argentinian cuisine and on occasion, amazing live music. After lunch, head over to GoBerry—literally the best frozen yogurt you will ever have. I repeat—THE BEST FROYO EVER. GoBerry uses locally sourced dairy and ingredients from farms in the surrounding area, and the freshness is clear in its taste. Walk around the NoHo (Northampton lingo) town center and check out the numerous boutiques and art galleries. If you’re feeling adventurous, rent a ZipCar and head to Mt. Tom for a scenic mountain hike.

Boston: the city of sports

Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. candidate

One of my favorite things about living in the greater Boston area is all the incredible opportunities there are to be active in the city. It’s no secret, but I’ve found that getting outside the lab can make me feel so much more productive—and happier! Here are some of the great spots I’ve found to play and be active in and around Boston!

Yoga Right on Campus!

One of the easiest ways to be active on campus is to sign up for the mini courses offered each semester. I love these 10-week classes that are taught by fantastic instructors and are reasonably priced. It’s so much more fun and motivating to work out in a group. It can also be really hard to find affordable group classes in Boston, so this is a lovely option to have right on campus!

Inner tube what?!

In college I played a lot of sports, including in intramural leagues. When I arrived in Boston I was delighted to find that there are a ton of adult sports leagues in and around the city. Most exciting to me was that there was an inner tube water polo league! I had played this crazy sport in college so I was stoked to find out that there was an adult league—I never realized that it even existed outside of Pomona College. Here’s how it works—basically, you just sit in an inner tube and play water polo in a pool (see photo evidence). It’s loads of fun and I’ve met some incredibly awesome people through this experience.

Beyond ITWP, Social Boston Sports, Boston Ski and Sports Club, and Clubwaka all offer a ton of other adult sports options. These are fantastic opportunities to meet other young people around the Boston area and be active while doing it!

Running around Boston

If you lived in Boston and didn’t run along the Charles, did you really live in Boston? Even though I was an athlete in college, I never really enjoyed the whole running side of the sport. I’ve slowly come around to running during my time in Boston, however, and right now I’m training for my first half marathon! Boston is an incredible city to train in and there are such amazing and enjoyable routes. My favorite place to run right near campus is around the Mystic Lakes, but you can’t beat the Charles River. It’s only a few extra miles to get to the river and totally worth the view and running paths that are a bit kinder on your ankles than the sidewalks of Somerville.

Hiking outside the city

Lastly, there are some great spots to hike right around Tufts. The Middlesex Fells are just a short ride from campus and you can find a bunch of great trails that are perfect for a short hike. You can travel a bit farther from Medford into New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine for some more difficult hikes. Some of my favorites are in the White Mountains—I recently did Mount Washington with a bunch of friends. The greater New England area is beautiful, particularly during the fall—be sure to get out and enjoy!

Reflections of an International Student

Written by Manisha Raghavan, Bioengineering M.S. 2019

I made a vital journey over 12,239 kms (or should I say 7,605 miles) to get to where I am today. I moved to Boston on the 24th of August 2018, leaving everything that was close to my heart back in Mumbai, India. I knew I wanted to pursue a graduate degree in Biomedical Engineering ever since I was in college. But no matter how far ahead you plan your life, when it comes to crossing the bridge, there is always going to be a tingling sensation in the body. Now that it has been over a year in Boston, I wanted to chronicle my experience in this foreign land from my perspective.

From changing the way I read temperature, write down dates, and measure distances, almost every subtle change made me feel uncomfortable in the first few weeks. New faces, new relationships, new friends, and new challenges are few of the facets of life at grad school. More often than not, if you are an international student, people will ask you ‘Why did you choose Tufts?’ To be honest, I chose Tufts because my program curriculum matched my interests, and being in Boston as a biomedical engineer felt like the best decision in terms of my career. I was more excited than nervous coming here because I felt like I was doing something monumental with my life. I am sure each one of you incoming and current grad students feel the same way!

But my transition was not easy. Small events like buying groceries, doing laundry, paying bills, cleaning the house, and cooking for myself made me miss my family back home and I ended up realizing their value and how little I had appreciated the things I was provided with at home. But sooner or later, I had to reconcile with the fact that I was a responsible and independent woman who chose to move to the US.

As an international student, there were moments when I did crave the company of fellow Indians, or good Indian food. These normal feelings will happen to you as well, but do not let that stop you from learning about other cultures and exploring other cuisines. I wanted to make the best of my time over here, and I ended up signing for all the professional development workshops, seminars and talks that I could. One issue I faced was that I hesitated to ask for help because I was afraid of bothering people. Do not make the same mistake that I did! All  of the organizations at Tufts are super helpful and if they are unable to help you, they will direct you to the right person. Winter was challenging, but I survived,  and so will you if this is your first Boston winter. Above all, over the last year I learned to appreciate myself, my people, and the little things around me so much more.

I will leave you with a few things if you are heading to Tufts for grad school. Talk, connect, and socialize whilst taking care of your priorities. Explore and travel as much as you can. Be excited about crafting your own path and journey. But most importantly, take care of yourself! I still have a year to go before graduation and with every passing day I know I am going to miss this beautiful place even more.

Getting to know the T

Written by Ruaidhri Crofton, History & Museum Studies M.A. 2020

Ask any Tufts student what their go to means of getting around is and their reply will almost certainly be: “why the T, of course”! The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) is the agency responsible for providing public transportation services for the Boston area, including the subway (affectionately known as the T) as well as bus, commuter rail, and ferry systems. Though hanging out on campus is great, you’ll quickly want to get out and explore all that Boston has to offer and the T is one of the best ways to do it. As someone who uses public transportation on almost a daily basis for commuting to work, running errands, and generally having fun, I can attest to the fact that, despite the occasional delay, there is no better way to get around than on the T. Here are a few tips and tricks that I’ve learned about ways to make the most out of public transit in Boston.

Subway

Opened in 1897, Boston’s subway system was the first of its kind in the United States. Today, the system consists of five lines (red, orange, blue, green, and silver) that run through downtown and out to the many surrounding suburbs.

The line that many Tufts students are familiar with is the Red Line, which stops at Davis Square and is just a short walk from the Medford/Somerville campus. A ride on the Red Line can take you to some of Boston’s most notable universities, including Harvard, MIT, and the University of Massachusetts at Boston, as well as the Boston Common, the JFK Presidential Library and Museum, and the birthplaces of the second and sixth presidents of the United States: John and John Quincy Adams.

The Orange Line is also a key travel route for many Tufts students as it makes stops right at Tufts Medical Center in downtown Boston. Aside of commuting to classes and work, you can also hop on the Orange Line to see the site of one of the first battles of the American Revolution at Bunker Hill, watch a Bruins or Celtics game at TD Garden, or grab a bite to eat in Chinatown.

An easy transfer from both the Red and Orange Lines, the Green Line runs through several Boston neighborhoods and is the perfect way to visit the Museum of Fine Arts, catch a ball game at Fenway Park, do some shopping at the Copley Place Mall, or get some studying done at the Boston Public Library, the second largest library in the United States! Though slightly shorter routes, the Blue Line allows for an easy escape to the beaches of East Boston while both the Blue and Silver Lines provide easy access to and from Boston’s Logan International Airport.

Buses/Commuter Rail/ Ferries

In addition to running the subway, the MBTA is also responsible for running buses, commuter rail trains, and even ferry boats in the Boston area. The Medford/Somerville and Boston campuses are directly serviced by eight bus routes, and within walking distance of many more, that are great for making a quick run for groceries or taking a convenient “above ground” journey to the hundreds of tasty restaurants, nifty shops, and cool historic sites in the area that just aren’t served by the extensive subway system.

The commuter rail is similarly useful for making trips from Boston to places a little further afield than those served by the subway, including Tufts’ Grafton Campus on the Framingham/Worcester Line. The commuter rail is also useful for making a day trip to see historic Plymouth Rock, take a stroll around Providence, Rhode Island, and explore the bewitching city of Salem. Of course, you can’t forget about the ferry system with boats leaving from Long Wharf in downtown Boston that can provide you with an alternative route to visit the USS Constitution, take a hike on beautiful Georges Island in Boston Harbor, and yes, even get to Logan Airport!

Taking Your First T Adventure   

The number one necessity for taking a ride on the T is a ticket. Passes can be purchased for single-rides and short periods of time at all subway stations and multiple convenience stores near the Tufts campuses. However, many Tufts students opt to use a reloadable “Charlie Card” that can be topped up with funds as needed for bus and subway rides. Tufts also offers discounted semester passes to students for the bus and subway, commuter rail, and ferry.

Once you have your ticket, just pull up directions for the place you want to visit and away you go to explore the city! If you ever have questions or in need of directions, don’t worry! You’ll quickly find that many of your fellow “Bostonians” are willing to lend a hand and point you in the right direction. Happy travels!

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!

Cooking 101: How to cook in grad school with no money and no time

Written by Alia Wulff, Cognitive Psychology Ph.D. Student

I’m sure most of you have been on your own for at least a few years. You’ve probably dabbled in cooking, maybe tried your hand at baking. You might make your own breakfast or bring lunch to the office. But a lot of you have probably (and totally understandably) been ordering food more often than you should be. It’s easy and delicious and even healthy on occasion. But it’s not cheap. And in grad school cheap is a top priority.

Alia’s turmeric-spiced garbanzo beans and chicken on rice with lime

This blog post is not intended to magically turn everyone into amazing cooks. I just want to show you that it is possible, even easy, to grocery shop, cook, and meal prep like a pro while in graduate school for way less than it costs to eat out.

The number one thing to figure out is what you have to have in your pantry at all times. My staples are pasta, rice, beans (black, garbanzo, and refried), tortillas, tomato sauce, chicken, yogurt, eggs, bread (probably in bagel form), some fruits and veggies, and hot sauce. I can make a different thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for a week out of those items. Oil and seasonings are also pantry staples, but they rarely need to be replenished so they don’t really count.

The next order of business is figuring out where to get your groceries. It’s really hard for me to get to a grocery store and back because I don’t have a car, so I use Amazon Fresh. It costs me less for a monthly subscription than a Lyft from the grocery store twice a month would. With that service, my pantry staples cost me less than $50 a week. I generally order food twice a month and pay about $80-$100 each time. I’ve never spent more than $200 a month on necessary groceries. Don’t ask me about my Pringles and Twizzlers budget, though.

Alia’s avocado toast with hard-boiled egg and Tajin seasoning

Next, plan your meals. You don’t have to go crazy and make a chart with dates, lists, and bullet points. Just know what you have in your pantry and make a list of things you can make that week. Then, when you get home you can check your list, find something that matches up with the energy you have left, and make that. Don’t try making a complicated feast when you’re dead on your feet or you will never try cooking again. My go-to lazy meal is to microwave some beans, pop them in a tortilla with some leftover chicken and rice, dash some hot sauce on there, and eat it without a plate because laziness and washing dishes do not mix.

Speaking of leftovers, here is an actual tip: make too much food. I know some people have weird issues with leftovers, but you are a grad student now and literally cannot afford the time or money to have wasteful beliefs about food. Make too much food on the weekends, pop the extras into containers, and then you have multiple meals for the week. Made too much chicken? Put leftovers in the fridge and have it with pasta or rice the next day. Made too much pasta because determining how much pasta to make probably requires the use of black magic? Pop some sauce (or some butter, I won’t judge) in it, portion it into containers, and – voila – you have lunches for a few days. Made too much rice? Make rice pudding for breakfast with flax or protein powder and use honey instead of sugar so you can pretend you’re not just eating pudding for breakfast (even though you are and that’s perfectly valid).

Pudding for breakfast is a reminder of the biggest point of this post: it’s important to not feel bad about food. You can ignore everything in this post as long as you remember this one thing. If you end up eating out more than you should have, if you eat unhealthy food for a few days, if you always put an extra bag of chips or pile of candy bars in your cart, you are not a bad person. You will always find something to beat yourself up about. Don’t let your personal method to replenish calories be one of them.

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.

Making the Most of a Boston Summer

Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Summer in Boston is my favorite. I grew up in the Northeast and definitely appreciate the seasons, but being able to enjoy the city in the warm weather is fantastic! Here are some of my favorite things to do around Boston, especially when it’s nice out.

Let’s go to the beach…and river…and pool!

One of the best things about Tufts is how close it is to the water. I love escaping campus to head to the beach. There are plenty of ocean beaches within an hour or so of Tufts, but one of my favorite spots is just 10 minutes from campus at Mystic Lake. Access to Shannon Beach is free and it’s a great spot to swim, barbeque, and enjoy the sun!

A classic Boston summer also includes kayaking on the Charles. There are a bunch of places from which you can rent equipment all along the river. I went kayaking on my first birthday in Boston and it’s still one of my favorite memories of my time here.

Another thing I’ve only recently discovered are the public pools around campus. Of course there’s the indoor Tufts pool, but when it’s so nice out, you don’t want to be cooped up inside. Depending on whether you’re a Somerville or Medford resident you may have limited access to certain pools. The Dilboy Pool, just a 10 minute walk from 200 Boston Avenue, is open to everyone for just $2! It’s a great place to enjoy the sun and relax away from the lab or library for a bit.

Hiking and biking around town

I’m a big fan of hopping on my bike and hitting the roads to escape the city. The Somerville Community Path is an awesome, car-free path that connects Davis Square to some surrounding areas. This summer I learned that it connects to the Minuteman Bikeway in Arlington and you can ride all the way out to Lexington, Concord, and Bedford. It’s one of my favorite ways to explore the Greater Boston area. The paths also feature some of Boston’s cutest dogs so if you’re looking for some puppy love, that’ll be your go-to spot.

There’s also some fantastic state and local parks for hiking around Boston. The Middlesex Fells is only 10 minutes from campus and has a ton of hiking trails. There are so many beautiful lakes and reservoirs in the Fells to spend an afternoon hiking. Further away from Boston, the White Mountains offer some more intense hiking and backpacking options in New Hampshire. I haven’t made it up there yet, but am looking forward to going this fall to enjoy the leaf colors!

And once you’re exhausted from playing outdoors, drink indoors

If you like hanging out at breweries, Boston is the place for you. Somerville and Cambridge have a bunch of really great, locally-owned craft breweries that are great for hanging out, playing board games, and drinking delicious beers. Many of them even have home-brewed non-alcoholic options! My favorites include Night Shift in Everett, Aeronaut in Somerville, and Lamplighter in Cambridge.

Remember—your work will always be there, but summer only lasts for three brief, beautiful months. So get out there and explore!

Preparing to Defend

 

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

I was so wrong.

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

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

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

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

Use a citation manager!

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

Keep your committee in the loop.

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

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

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

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

It’s a conversation.

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

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

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

Take care of yourself.

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

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

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

 Remember, you are not alone.

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

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

 And finally, celebrate!

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

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. 2018