Tag Archives: Grad life

Keep Calm and Stay Organized

How I beat my inner sloth during self-quarantine

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

I bet none of us imagined the rest of the semester going like this after Spring Break. We are slowly transitioning to distance learning and a home office routine not only as a community, but also as students from around the globe. Although staying at home gives us some extra time for our hobbies and self-care, eliminates our commute time, and maybe saves us some money, it could also hinder our productivity and motivation to maintain our routine.

Personally, I always need to be in an office, library or a coffee shop to get things done. Knowing that I’m 5 steps away from my bed and there are tons of snacks in the fridge is never helpful. I am sure other Jumbos are on the same page, so I wanted to share some useful apps that I use to keep myself on track, no matter how inclined I am to procrastinate at home. These apps are not only for your daily tasks like research or homework, but also for other productive activities like reading or exercising.

Having said that, you do NOT have to be productive ALL THE TIME. If you are failing to make the most of your time at home, this does not mean that you are not self-compassionate. Please do not feel pressured by the fact that Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” in quarantine, while you might have had cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner yesterday because you couldn’t bring yourself to cook. Everything is upside down now and you get to define what success is for you.

Be gentle to yourself, make time for your hobbies, relax, and do not forget to call your loved ones. In the meanwhile, there is no harm sharing what helps you stay organized during this time.

An all-in-one workspace for your notes

Notion provides you a workspace you can access through all your devices. This is by far my favorite productivity and organizational tool I have used. You can create and keep track of to-do lists, tasks, projects, notes, and ideas, and even enrich them with media, icons, webpages, publications, or any other useful reference you can imagine. The best thing is that when you add references to your lists, you have the chance of accessing them even if you are not online. It is also possible to share your lists and collaborate with other Notion users. The app operates on nested pages which saves us from messy folder organizations. Overall, for me Notion is a very versatile, smooth, user friendly and useful app that helps with my routine (and is free!).

Journaling App

Having weekly or daily to-do lists is great for productivity; but for me documenting long term goals and my progress towards those is key to staying motivated. Day One is an excellent journaling app not only for tasks and projects, but also for personal growth. It provides you a safe digital space to store your memories, thoughts and dreams, either with pictures or words.

Set Yourself a Reading Challenge

Is there a better time than a stay-home period to finish those books you had started months ago but have not had time to get back to? In theory, yes! But in practice, not really. I don’t know if it is just me, but I find it very difficult sometimes to reach to that book sitting on my nightstand although I have all the time in the world.

This app is such a life saver; you can use Goodreads to set a “reading challenge” and keep track of your progress. The app also sends you notifications and reminders to motivate you to get back on track. You can see what your friends are reading, where they are at their own challenge, how they felt about their books, what they want to read next. The app will also use an algorithm to give you recommendations for your tastes and interests over time, which motivates you even more to finish that book and start those new excellent recommendations.

Track Your Workouts

It is especially difficult for folks in Boston to stay home all day, considering the year-round 5 AM runners all around the city. I love being active, and have been lucky enough to have access to excellent athletic facilities provided by Tufts. I have been using the Strong app to keep track of my exercises, make customized workout routines, and record my progress. The additional benefit of Strong is that it allows the user to define details about their workouts.

You do not have to be outside to be active! There are plenty of exercises and reasonably priced weights to purchase online. My personal favorites are resistance bands, a kettlebell (preferably on the heavier side to use for full body exercises which engage bigger muscle groups, mine is around 20 pounds for reference) and dumbbells. They last a lifetime, are compact and easy to store. For inspiration, YouTube has some excellent free channels to safely guide you through creating your home exercise routine, and many yoga studios also started live streaming for their clients.

Please do not forget that this is stressful time for all of us, but we are doing our best. Extend some grace to yourself and appreciate how we adjust ourselves to a situation which seemed unimaginable a few weeks ago. The most helpful approach I took during this transition was to treat the day as a regular day in my office. I woke up early and got ready for the day, had my gear together, set up a workplace, and most importantly, I set boundaries for my work hours and leisure hours. But there were also days I did not get any work done, which I learned to be okay with.

So, do not overwhelm yourself and find what works for you. Stay in touch with your co-workers, classmates, and principal investigator. Organize get-togethers with that friend who you studied abroad with, who you never get a chance to FaceTime anymore. Call your parents. Treat yourself with some self-care. Most importantly, be gentle to yourself and to your loved ones.

Was 2019 Your Golden Year?

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

“This year I will be very productive and organized”.

“This year I will lose those extra 10 pounds”.

Does this sound familiar?

It’s been a little bit more than one year since I made the big decision to enroll at Tufts and open a new door for my career, but it still feels like yesterday to me. Did time really fly? Why do I still tend to introduce myself as “Hi, I’m a first year PhD student in…” although I’m approaching to the middle of my second year here? Why do I still have the same resolutions as last year? Was I not supposed to work harder to achieve these goals? Did I not do anything in 2019? 

No, I did plenty of things in 2019! I traveled to a new country, kayaked in an abandoned bay at midnight to watch bioluminescence, learned a new programming language, completed my first winter hike (yay!), successfully drove a manual car in Powder House Square’s circle (yay! #2). I went to a small village in Slovakia to be the bridesmaid in a very good friend of mine’s wedding. I also was late to the wedding because I missed a turn while driving up to Slovakia and ended up in a different country. No, I did not attend a scientific conference this year (which I wanted to so badly), but I learned how to apply to one. I did not publish an article, but I started writing the “methods” section. I lost someone very special to me and I learned (or I’m still learning) how to tackle it. I made huge mistakes in my research which seemed irremediable at the time, but  I still figured out how to make a great come back. I did not start writing the travel blog that I have always wanted to. Instead, I made a portfolio for my photography archive. I picked up a new hobby. Then I decided not to pick up another hobby. I did so many things, either planned or unplanned, but 2019 was full of things!

This photo is from December 2018, in my favorite bakery, good old Tatte, located in my favorite neighborhood, Beacon Hill. I remember exactly how I was feeling when I took this photo. I was cold (obviously), pretty homesick, overwhelmed by the amount of responsibilities I had, but also incredibly grateful, proud and euphoric. I could never know that I would find my home away from home in this city, establish lifelong friendships, meet eminent scientists and even work with them, fall in love, then cry over a man, cry over a failed experiment, and cry over a lost Python script. Then I fell in love with another man, tried that experiment one more time and fail again, and then wrote that lost script once more from scratch only to find that it was easier this time. I cried over the same experiment again, but this time it was because I finally figured it out.

2019 was full of things, but why do I still have this feeling that it was not enough? 

Sometimes we lose ourselves in the big picture and forget to check the boxes for our smaller achievements. Success should not be described as an end point. Instead, every single step towards this goal should be counted as success. Success is not always tangible. Sometimes not giving up is a lot more difficult and important than achieving the actual goal. But if we keep focusing on and glorifying our end points, what we do on the way to those points start to seem insignificant. We find ourselves questioning our ability to reach our goals and think that we are not enough. 

So just remember, you achieved so many things in 2019 – even though you are not aware of it yet. Every single decision you made and every single action you took brought you a little bit closer to your New Year’s resolution, be it starting grad school, publishing that paper, or learning how to drive a manual car. 

I want to close the year with a realization in how we tend to evaluate ourselves. I have an ideal self in my mind that I strive to be. But I should keep reminding myself that this ideal self did not appear out of nowhere. She worked hard to be that person. If I want to be her, the first thing I should do is to realize that I am already her. Maybe 2019 was not the golden year, but it definitely laid the base for 2020 to have a chance. And if 2020 becomes that golden year, it owes everything to 2019.

Making Friends and Building a Community when Moving to Boston

from an international student’s perspective

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

Congratulations! You made it!

You are moving to the Boston area and are possibly even coming from the other side of the world.

Your parents are proud, friends are jealous.

As time goes by, maybe they start to be more bittersweet. They think you are too busy living the dream life to FaceTime with them as often as you used to, but they have no idea how difficult it is to wake up at 5 am to make sure you call them at a reasonable time since there is a 10 hour time difference. You sound “annoying” or “displeased” when you complain about the tremendous amount of grad school work-load because your loved ones think you do not appreciate your opportunities enough. It looks so easy when you see the third-year international students, because they all seem settled down and have already built their communities. They are all incredibly fluent in English while you still take your time to construct your sentences in the most grammatically perfect way not to be judged by native speakers, and sometimes give up on speaking up because you are exhausted of overthinking.

I get it.

I moved to Boston from a country where America is only known for its fast food, huge cars, and “drive thrus.” Maybe also for TV ads of prescribed medications (like seriously?).

Even though I traveled abroad a bunch, lived in different countries and went to an English medium university, it took me a long time to feel comfortable with my new first language. I still remember the first time I landed at Boston Logan Airport and not understanding a word the security guy said to me. I was freaking out about writing a scientific article or a textbook chapter in English. The first research group meeting I attended was a nightmare – leaving aside the scientific content of the discussions, I could barely understand the language that they spoke. There is a difference between “native speakers who speak English” and “internationals who speak English.”

Language shock is not even the first challenge you face when you move in from another country. Yes, we live in a more global age and all of us are exposed to other cultures and understandings, but this does not necessarily mean that we will immediately adjust and things will go smoothly. There are so many small cultural differences and nuances, such as different gender roles, work ethics, and gestures that are not visible at first. You will learn how to write e-mails, how to flirt, or what to say someone who has lost a significant other in another language. Health insurance, contracts, financial agreements, leases; all these small things work differently, and now you have to read everything before pressing “I agree to the terms and conditions.” It is like learning how to walk again, although you thought you had expertise in it. On top of all these challenges, there is also the time you realize you came to this country all by yourself and you have to make friends and build your own community to survive.

The first big step to take is to accept the fact that you will need to put in effort. You probably will not find yourself in your perfect friend group spontaneously without making the first move. Luckily, Boston is such a diverse and international city. It is easy to blend in. It might feel strange or new to hang out with people with different backgrounds at the beginning, but Bostonians have been doing this for such a long time. Plus, you speak their language! This makes a huge difference because if you were to move in another country where the first language is not English, it would be much more difficult to befriend locals. Despite the fact that they can speak English if they want to, people will hardly give up on the comfort of speaking their first language to have you around. Are you not confident about your accent? Well, think about it as an ice breaker because you will notice that the question “where is your accent is coming from?” is a classic pickup line. So, own it!

There is a metaphor I really like: it is called “Peach People vs Coconut People.” You can look it up for more details, but briefly, it defines certain people as “peach people” and others  as “coconut people”. Peach people are easy to approach, love small talk, yet they still have the core that they will only share with their core group of friends or significant others (this does not mean that you will never be a part of it). Coconut people are the opposite, with an annoyed resting face; but once you get to know them, they are ready to tell you about their aunt’s new boyfriend or why they chose a particular medicine. Just remember that people will be different, and keep this in mind to understand different reactions when approaching others and getting to know them.

Obviously, it is easier to connect with other expats. You will receive plenty of e-mails from Tufts International Center about upcoming events – attend them. If you want to bond with people from your country, find their communities and show up at their gatherings. But please remember that balance is the key. Keep your conversations and friend groups diverse. Of course you will feel homesick and will need your own people, but try not to call home every time you find yourself in this situation. Actually, you know what? You will soon realize that you see home in a different light. It will take time, but once you get there home will not be “where your heart is,” but instead might be where you can connect to the VPN.

Last but not least, know what you like to do and keep doing more of it. Pursue your hobbies and find others who share the similar interests. If you like scuba diving, become a member of New England Divers. If you enjoy photography, go take a course about it and meet others who enjoy it too. Do you need people to hike together? Just invite them and get to know each other during the hike while there is no distraction except the nature.

Do not forget that flux has no season in a diverse and international city like Boston. People come and go all the time. They all feel like a fish out of water at the beginning. Everybody needs friends and there is not a “more normal” thing than the desire of being a part of a community. Just be yourself, show up and bring your beautiful unique accent and slightly broken English with you wherever you go! 

Five buys to help you get through grad school that won’t break the bank

Written by Gina Mantica, Biology Ph.D. Student

Do you ever feel stressed or burnt out in grad school? You are not alone, and Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences provides a diverse array of mental health services to help you on your journey to completing your degree. With on-site professional counseling, guided meditations, free courses on mindfulness, and the occasional visits from therapy animals—Tufts provides support to help its graduate students succeed.

What else can you do? Well, you could take a break from work — you could go on vacation, sleep in late, read a book that has nothing to do with your thesis, and get some much needed (and deserved) rest and relaxation. However, all of these things take time. When time is short and you find yourself putting that new mandolin slicer into your Amazon shopping cart with a whisper of “treat yo’self” to homemade potato chips as a quick pick-me-up, think twice.  While homemade potato chips are indeed delicious, there are other impulse buys that science suggests could boost your mood. Without further ado, here are 5 impulse buys that might cheer you up without breaking the bank.

1. An Essential Oil Diffuser

As a scientist, I’m not one to praise the use of essential oils for medicinal purposes. However, several studies suggest that essential oils can lead to improvements in mood. Two of the most popular essential oils for relaxation are eucalyptus and lavender, and whether the mood effects are placebo or not, they DO work! Turn on some slow acoustic music on Spotify, and BANG- you’ve got yourself an at-home spa experience. Before plugging your new toy in and turning your apartment into a wonderfully smelly day spa, make sure to check with your roommate.

2. An LED Desk Light

Okay, this one is backed by science. Exposure to fluorescent lighting all day, every day (and sometimes night) without sunlight is bad for your health. Fluorescent lights are blue lights, and such cold-colored lighting can trigger the fight or flight response in humans, increasing our stress levels. While we as graduate students cannot really change the fact that we have to work inside at desks, we can try to decrease our stress response to light. Buy a full-spectrum LED light that you can put on your desk to try to counter all those bad fluorescents!

3. An Activity Tracker

Michelle Obama did not spend time and effort creating the “Let’s Move!” Campaign so you could sit on your bed watching Netflix all day. Doing aerobic exercises for 30-60 minutes will cause your body to release endorphins in your brain. Endorphins are chemicals that can give you a sense of euphoria. Additionally, during exercise your body pumps out endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are, yes, related to cannabis. They are naturally made chemicals in the body that bind to the same places in the brain as THC in weed, causing you to feel calmer and more at ease. So, buy a fitness tracker to compete in exercise challenges against friends and improve your mood at the same time.

4. A Meal Delivery Subscription

Nutrition is important—I’m sure you’ve heard it before. We hear it all the time growing up, from our parents, our teachers, and our coaches. But did you know that what you eat can actually affect how you feel? Processed foods and sugary snacks, while delicious, do not help us. Research suggests that eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed grains can lower the risk of depression. One hypothesis is that this happens through a chemical that is primarily produced in your gastrointestinal tract called serotonin. Serotonin regulates sleep, appetite, and most importantly in this case: mood. So, if you want to impulse-buy takeout from Pini’s Pizzeria think twice. Instead, consider signing up for a Meal Delivery Service like EveryPlate-where the meals are cheap, the ingredients are fresh, and you can help your body and maybe your mood!

5. A Coloring Book

Adult coloring books are a great way to reduce anxiety. Additionally, HELLO NOSTALGIA. Do I need to say more?

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, depressed or any combination of those three things, remember that Tufts has services available to help you conquer graduate school. Reach out to friends, family, and counselors for support. But also remember that these scientifically-backed, feel-good products can also provide an outlet if you’re ever in need of a little mood boost.