Tag Archives: Boston

Looking back: what Tufts gave me

Written by Amanda Franklin, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

I’m coming up to the end of my PhD which means I’ve spent almost five years at Tufts University. I’m becoming nostalgic as the time to leave comes closer, and I’ve been thinking more about all the amazing experiences I’ve had in the USA. I thought I’d share with you some of the good memories Tufts has given me (and hopefully it’s not too sappy!).

Me on fieldwork in Belize. I conducted my fieldwork at the Smithsonian research station on Carrie Bow Caye.

I moved to Boston in 2012 with my husband. When we moved, we knew no one in Boston and I’d never been to the USA before. Tufts has many facilities to help international students with the move. For example, the International Center can help with the essentials like paperwork and visas, and they also host events to help you get settled and meet other international grad students. One event that stands out is the international student orientation event. At that event I met some wonderful people that I could chat with about American culture. We became great friends and still regularly chat even though we now live in different states.

The Graduate Student Council also organizes many outings and activities which makes it easy to meet other grad students. At these events, I had the chance to get to know other students in the Biology Department, and also to meet grad students in other departments. I now consider these friends my “American Family”, and wouldn’t be able to live here without them. A good graduate student council is so helpful for meeting people in an unfamiliar land!

Tufts also provided great support for my research. As my research plan developed, it became clear that I was going to need a fair amount of research funds (I had decided that I wanted to conduct fieldwork in Belize). The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has a grad student grant program. This scheme was useful to me on several levels: I received feedback on my proposals, I was awarded research funds, and I had the opportunity to assess and provide feedback on other students’ proposals. In fact, this inside view of how grants are assessed was the most helpful part to improve my grant writing skills. I definitely recommend it if you get the chance!

One project I conducted was a collaboration with the Tytell lab. They lent their expertise in biomechanics so that we could measure force of mantis shrimp punches.

Throughout my time, I secured enough funds to go to Belize six times. Part of the reason I could schedule so many trips was that the Bio Department is very supportive. If necessary, we can TA two classes in one semester so that we can go on fieldwork in the next semester. We also are financially supported over summer, which is essential as most ecology grad students need to do fieldwork over summer. My field trips not only gave me that chance to dive the Belizean barrier reef, but I could conduct research in the natural environment of my study species (mantis shrimp), and meet marine biologists from across the US. It was an amazing opportunity I’ll never forget.

Another great thing about Tufts is the faculty. Everyone wants the grad students to succeed and are willing to help you out if you ask. Even better, they are all so enthusiastic about research and will gladly collaborate on research projects. I have collaborated with other labs in the Bio Department and also with labs outside of the Bio Department. This collaborative atmosphere has allowed me to learn about other research fields and develop different skills.

Sunset over Tufts campus after a winter storm.

When you need a break from academics, the Tufts campus is so beautiful to walk around. I will definitely miss seeing the four seasons pass by. I spent many days in summer sitting outside and reading papers. I loved to do this on the library roof which has a nice garden and a view out over Boston. Fall was gorgeous on campus with all the leaves changing color. I have a favorite tree that looks like it’s on fire if you catch it at the right time (pro-tip: it’s near the corner of Winthrop and Capen St). I also enjoy seeing Tufts campus with a fresh layer of snow, even though I hate the cold and slipping around on ice. And then my favorite season, Spring, comes along. Trees covered in colorful flowers in stark contrast to the lack of color during winter. It’s stunning.

I have so many fond memories of Tufts and my time here as passed way too quickly. It certainly does not feel like almost five years have passed. I’ve tried to see and do as much as I can while I’ve been here, but I still feel like there’s more to do (e.g. I never went whale watching! Don’t worry though, just booked it in for a treat after my defense). So, if you do choose Tufts, seize every opportunity (and there will be many)! Your time here will pass by before you know it.

Summer: Sun, travel and research

Written by Amanda Franklin, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

The dogwoods are flowering, there are tulips in the garden, and Tufts campus is becoming pretty empty: it’s summer break! It might not be summer break like in undergrad (several months of part time work and lying on the beach for me), but it does mean fewer commitments. I am no longer a teaching assistant, I don’t have lab meetings, and I don’t have a department seminar. So much more time for research, travel, and conferences!

And that’s exactly what I’ll be doing this summer.

In a few weeks, my family is visiting from Australia. We’re going to travel around some of the US national parks. Previously we’ve been to a bunch on the west coast, so this time we are heading to the Midwest and Northwest. It’ll be my first time in this region so I’m super excited not only for the national parks, but also to see a new part of the country. It’s great having the opportunity to see the US whilst living here!

My brother and I are going to fly into Denver, quickly check out the Rockies and then drive up to Rapid City, South Dakota to meet my parents. Many people have looked at me like I have no clue what I’m doing when I mention we’re going to South Dakota. But in South Dakota, there is The Badlands National Park, Black Hills National Forest and Mount Rushmore. From here we head to Grand Tetons NP and Yellowstone NP. I really hope we see some bison there and maybe, if we are really lucky, some wolves. We then take an 8-hour drive to Glacier National Park, which will still have a lot of snow and ice around, before finishing off in Banff National Park in Canada. It’s going to be a fantastic trip!

Summer is also when a lot of academic conferences are held. One of my favorite conferences is ISBE – International Society for Behavioural Ecology. It is held every second year in different places around the world. This July/August, it will be in Exeter in the UK. I am really lucky because I have secured funds from the Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences as well as ISBE to help cover the costs of attending this conference. It is going to be really beneficial for me to meet people in my field and hear about the latest research. I’m also hoping I can fit in a visit to Harry Potter Studios in London!

The last, and most important, benefit of summer is the extra time I have to do research! I can spend the days conducting experiments rather than fitting experiments in around my other commitments. This summer I am starting two new experiments, so the extra time is really beneficial to get them up and running. One project will be investigating whether changes in environmental conditions affects stomatopod (mantis shrimp) communication. Stomatopods are very visual, so any changes that affect the light environment could reduce the effectiveness of visual signals. The second involves recording stomatopod punch force. Stomatopods can punch extremely hard (they have been known to break aquarium glass) and I’m investigating whether they signal their strength before punching. The biology department at Tufts is really broad, so I have the opportunity to work with the Tytell lab to complete this project. They are experts in biomechanics, so it’ll be great to collaborate and learn from them.

Summer is a great time of year for a grad student. The extra time for the activities mentioned above is really wonderful. But in addition to that, events start popping up left, right, and center. Porchfest in Somerville, free jazz on the Harbor Islands, and outdoor craft and farmer’s markets all over. Everyone loves to get out and about after the winter. Summer in Boston really is my favorite time of year!

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Dean Cook pic

Written by Robert Cook

Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Professor of Psychology


As we look toward wrapping up another school year here at Tufts, we also celebrate some new beginnings. The newly admitted students to our graduate programs are weighing their options, checking out websites, and visiting with professors and current students to decide which program is THE program.

There are many factors to consider when deciding which school to choose. Among the questions you might be asking with respect to Tufts are:

“Will I be challenged in my field?”

Absolutely. Our first-class faculty are experts in their fields, recognized for their commitment to excellence. As a research-intensive university with excellent resources, our size allows us to provide students with personal experiences and individualized mentoring.

“Will I have the opportunity to hone my skills?

Yes. Our extensive professional development program lets students practice their presentation skills, dig deeper into how to secure funding, and hone their ability to teach undergraduates. Our goal is to make sure you are prepared for the next step in your career.

“Is Boston the right place for me?”

The answer for most students is a clear “yes”. The greater Boston area provides countless educational, social and cultural opportunities. Our students find that their time at Tufts is enhanced by our proximity to the city. Some people ask about the ability to find affordable housing close by – it is definitely possible, and our current students are a great source for information about what to look for and when to begin your search. The “Starting at Tufts” link in your admissions letter is also a valuable source of information.

“Will I be happy there”?

This is perhaps the most important question. Implicit in that question is whether you will form personal relationships with mentors and classmates. The answer for our students is a resounding YES! We pride ourselves on working closely with students, supporting them as they work toward their goals and celebrating accomplishments along the way. In my job as dean, it’s important to me that our students feel a sense of personal connection to their work and to the larger Tufts community. Only then do I know we’re doing our job of nurturing the next generation of scholars and teachers and setting them up for success.

So, as you ponder your choices for advanced study, I hope that you’ll find a good match for your academic and personal goals. As someone who has spent the past 30 years at the university, my belief is that that you will discover that perfect fit here at Tufts.

Why Tufts? Part 2

robot_grow_up_Final

Written by Vasanth Sarathy, Computer Science Ph.D. Candidate

“I think I want to go to grad school. Does that sound crazy?” This was a question I asked one of my mentors about a year and a half ago. I was about to quit my job as a lawyer, a job that I had held for nearly a decade. I wanted to switch careers because I really missed learning and teaching science and math, and I wanted to exercise some creative control over my life. I thought that a career in academia was the right way to go. “Unusual, yes. Crazy, no!” was the response I got from my mentor. His response gave me the confidence to go ahead and follow my heart and pursue this career track. Of course, to pursue said career, I needed a Ph.D., and to get a Ph.D. I needed to get in to and graduate from a strong research program. Thus began my search for schools.

I decided to restrict my search to the Boston area. This was for personal reasons and because I think Boston is an awesome city! I also had a general idea of what subject I wanted to research. I am deeply interested in understanding the cognitive process of creativity and insight. I learned very quickly that studying these types of questions in cognitive science involves a highly multi-disciplinary effort approached from many different angles: neuroscience and learning about the brain activity; psychology and learning about the human thought process; artificial intelligence/robotics and learning by recreating cognitive architectures in computer systems; philosophy and thinking about why we think a certain way; and mathematics, the language with which to bring these disciplines together.

Each of the schools I looked into offered some combination of these disciplines. I chose Tufts because it provided an integrated approach to studying cognitive science. Not only does Tufts have some of the most well known names in each of the above fields, they all, in full earnest, work together under a coordinated Cognitive Science program. Moreover, I could pursue a joint Ph.D. in Computer Science and Cognitive Science. I felt this combination was powerful and would help me acquire a breadth of knowledge in less familiar fields while deepening my expertise in my primary area of interest: computer science. In the Boston area, this type of program is unique to Tufts. While some schools have cognitive and brain science programs many are limited to the combination of neuroscience and computational methods.

After confirming that I was on the right track, my mentor (during our “am I crazy?” conversation) advised me to reach out to faculty whose research I found interesting. This was a brilliant piece of advice. I sent emails and reached out to several professors in various schools to ask about their research. Only a few replied, which was understandable, given the madness that was the November application season. However, I was able to meet with some of them and learned not only about their research, but also whether or not I could see myself working with them for a long time. The professors at Tufts are highly motivated and driven, while simultaneously supportive–they truly care for their students. If the students are committed, the professors will match their commitment. So, needless to say, another big reason for applying and ultimately choosing Tufts was its faculty, and particularly my research advisor. Meeting via email and face-to-face with my then future-advisor helped me get a better sense of how this important professional relationship might play out.

There are so many more reasons I like Tufts, and I cannot do justice in a short blog post, but one takeaway is that being both a nurturing liberal arts school and competitive research institution, Tufts affords some great opportunities to do good work, grow in your career, and remain happy while doing so. Go Jumbos!