Tag Archives: Grad life

Student Organizations at Tufts UEP

Tiffany Wu, Environmental Policy & Planning M.S. Candidate

Many exciting events happen in our department building at 97 Talbot Avenue, including seasonal celebrations and get-togethers. We also play volleyball outside when the weather is nice!
Photo Credit: Tiffany Wu

I’d like to highlight a couple of the graduate student organizations we have at the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning

1. Student Planning Association (SPA)

This group plans coffee chats, networking events, alumni panels, and campus activities related to the planning field. Each university accredited by the Planning Association Board (PAB) requires an ongoing planning group run by students, but SPA goes beyond that to create a welcoming community for students who would like the option to get more involved on campus and meet more members of our approximately 60-person cohorts. The organization is focused on professional development but also has ongoing plans for community-wide events, such as a proposed fall retreat. If you’re a student joining the program, chances are you’ll first get to encounter events organized by the Student Planning Association during the early weeks of fall semester onwards. 

2. People of Planning (POP)

This group is intended to be a BIPOC organization for students of color who are in the planning field. Because students of color have historically had access to fewer opportunities in this field and may find it daunting to figure out next steps while pursuing their career path, People of Planning helps guide them through student events, presentations, and group activities. There are also exciting mixers with planning departments at other universities, such as get-togethers last semester with MIT DUSP and Harvard GSD at local breweries.

3. UEParty

This group plans the fun events that help students get to know each other and bond as a cohort. For example, there are holiday-themed events such as Pi / Pie Day and Palentine’s Day that are always a good time. There are also game day watch parties and monthly happy hours with snacks. Most events are held at the UEP department building, Brown House, at 97 Talbot Avenue. As a UEP student pursuing an MA/MS in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning — one of the three “tracks” offered by the department, alongside the MS in Sustainability and the Master’s of Public Policy — these UEParty gatherings are often a good opportunity to catch up with other members of my graduate class I may not get to see as frequently.

A recent movie screening hosted by UEParty at 72 Professors Row, the UEP department building just up the street. Photo Credit: Diya Wheeler, UEP MS Student

All of these student groups work together closely with each other and faculty members to ensure events go smoothly and everyone is on the same page. If you are a potential urban planning, sustainability or public policy student, I would encourage you to learn more about these groups. There are also plenty of opportunities to start new student organizations at UEP, and we are also connected with the Tufts Graduate Student Council (GSC), which has its own slate of activities and monthly meetings.

I am involved with the Student Planning Association and it has been a fantastic experience. We meet twice a month and frequently touch base with POP and UEParty to catch up on ideas for upcoming events. No individual is an island at Tufts and neither are these student organizations!

Stay tuned for my next post about a curriculum feature that is unique to Tufts UEP — Field Projects!

Winter in New England

Jennifer Khirallah, Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. candidate

If you’re not used to winter in Boston, or even if you are, it can be pretty tough to bear sometimes. Below freezing weather, unexpected snowstorms, and high winds can lead to some negative feelings about the season. However, there are some really fun things to do in the Boston area that only can be done when it’s cold outside!

Whether you’re an avid ice skater or a novice, like me, ice skating at Frog Pond in Boston Common is a wonderful experience! Bring your own skates or rent them there, buy some snacks or hot chocolate to keep warm, and skate for as long as you like! They also offer college nights from 6:00-9:00 pm every Tuesday, which gives half-price admission with your student ID! On February 7, 2023, Tufts University students get free admission! Check out more information! For another fun skating spot, head to the Rink at 401 Park for skating and a beer at Trillium Brewery.

If you’re not into ice skating, there are a ton of nearby options for skiing and snowboarding! Wachusett Mountain in Massachusetts, and Mount Sunapee and Gunstock Mountain in New Hampshire are some notable local spots. They offer a variety of different slopes for all skill levels, equipment rentals, and lessons.

For warmer experiences, head to some of the many restaurants in Boston that offer igloo dining! Enjoy dinner or drinks from your own private igloo. Check out the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton in Cambridge or Envoy’s igloos and Ice Boxes in the Seaport for these fun spots to hang out with friends!

Winter in Boston can be a beautiful experience if you find fun things to do with friends and bundle up when your outside!

Books on a Budget

Maitreyi Kale, Human Factors Engineering M.S. Candiate

I firmly believe that acquiring books and reading books are two different and perfectly valid hobbies. Whichever one you’re after, the unfortunate reality of being broke college students is that we probably cannot afford to shell out hundreds of dollars at bookstores or on Audible to build the personal library of our dreams. Thankfully, there’s plenty of free or low-cost sources of books as a college student at Tufts/in Boston, and in this post, I’m going to introduce you to some of my favorite ones.

1. School Libraries

As a student, it’s easy to forget that Tisch Library and Lilly Music Library (and the SMFA Library in Boston) are not just great study spots but also, well, libraries, i.e., excellent sources of free books! Use JumboSearch to look at the library catalog or check books out in person. A fun and less well-known hack is that if Tisch doesn’t have a book you want to read, you can actually recommend a purchase, and I promise they want you to use this resource!

2. Identity Centers

The Women’s Center and LGBT Center on the Medford/Somerville campus have mini libraries with books on topics relating to women, gender, sexuality, and more. While these collections definitely fall within a more a niche theme, they’re an underrated source of new reads from educational, to self-help, to cute queer romance books and much more for the Tufts community.

3. Public Libraries

When I bring up this resource, people often groan because they think getting a library card is a long-complicated process that involves visiting the library in person and talking to human beings, but… guess what! There are other ways! As a resident of Massachusetts, you can sign up for a free eCard at Boston Public Library. This eCard gives you access to BPL’s massive collection of ebooks and audiobooks, which you can access conveniently through an app called Libby (see item 4). Of course, you can visit the library by taking the T to Copley Square or Back Bay and acquire a physical library card and borrow resources like books, DVDs, museum passes, etc. in person.

Another library to keep on your radar is the newly renovated Somerville Public Library on College Ave, which is super close to campus. On your next walk to Davis Square, stop by Somerville Public Library with some form of Photo ID and proof of address and ask to sign up for a library card at the front desk. Fill out a quick form and walk away with a library card that allows you to borrow not only from SPL, but also from any other library that is part of the Minuteman Library Network! You can sign up for a temporary card online, but you must go in person to obtain a physical library card. Alternatively, you can visit Medford Public Library in Medford Square, which is also within the Minuteman Library Network.

4. Libby

This is by far my personal favorite resource (when combined with the one above), and I still cannot quite believe it’s real. Download the app Libby on your smartphone or tablet, enter a library card number, and instantly acquire the ability to (virtually) borrow from your chosen library. Libby makes it easier to find your next read through features like filters, curated lists, and smart tags, that will help you navigate Boston Public Library’s extensive collection of ebooks and audiobooks! You can listen to borrowed audiobooks on the app, and ebooks can be read directly on the app or sent to your Kindle. In true library fashion, you do have to wait to borrow books sometimes and your (extendable) loan ends after 2 weeks, but if you’re indecisive like me, you’ll appreciate this natural narrowing down of options to choose from. I also always look out for the “Lucky Day” shelf, which lets you skip the line and borrow from a list of fairly popular books instantly.

Maitreyi Kale

5. Little Free Libraries

If you’ve walked around the Medford/Somerville area, you’ve probably come across one of these cute tiny wooden house-shaped bookshelves on sidewalks. The concept is simple: take a book or leave one! I always feel like a winner when I find a free copy of a book that’s on my to-read list in a Little Free Library, but also equally so when I discover treasures, I might not have come across otherwise. Sometimes the books in LFLs have little annotations or dedications penned by previous owners, which always add a bit of meaningful magic to the reading experience. Find Little Free Libraries near you!

Maitreyi Kale

6. Used Bookstores

This section could be its own blog post, really, because there are several used or secondhand bookstores in the Greater Boston Area! You can also sell copies you own in exchange for bookstore credit that you can then use to purchase your next read. I’d recommend googling used bookstores in the area and planning a visit (maybe with friends!), but here’s some of the popular stores: The Book Rack, Raven Used Books, Book Wonder, Brattle Book Shop, Brookline Booksmith, Harvard Bookstore, More Than Words, etc.

7. Community

I know Facebook feels like old news, but if you’re a college student, you probably use your account to access Facebook Groups, Pages, and Events specific to your school. If you’re looking for a particular book, consider posting an in search of, or “ISO” post on a Facebook group. Chances are, someone will comment or reach out saying they have the book you want, and maybe you’ll even make a new friend to discuss that book with! If you live on or around campus, I’d also recommend joining either Everything is Free Medford or Everything is Free Somerville, because these Facebook Groups are excellent for ISO posts like these and will significantly expand the reach of your request beyond just the Tufts community.

With the help of the above resources and more, I’ve managed to expand my personal collection of books, broaden my reading taste, and do some serious damage to my to-read list without emptying my wallet in the past three years, and I hope they help you achieve your bookish goals too!

How to search for housing

By Mara Tu, Urban & Environmental Policy and Planning MA Candidate

New city, new people, new neighborhoods, where do I live! 

Looking for housing felt like a huge task to me. I was moving to a new state, a new city, and I hadn’t looked for housing by myself before. The sheer amount of housing options felt as threatening and overwhelming as an oncoming New England hurricane each time I even attempted to start looking. However, after going through the experience of finding housing in a pricey, fast-paced market like Boston, I now feel much more confident and capable in finding housing in the future!

A quick note: My journey to find housing near Tufts was rather unconventional and honestly not recommended, so if you are looking for a helpful guideline and steps on how to find housing, feel free to skip this next section and scroll down to my suggestion on steps to finding housing near Tufts’ campus.

The summer before my first semester started, I had already secured one roommate through a mutual friend who also wanted to live in the Somerville area. After feeling each other’s “vibes” out and confirming that we wanted to live together, we discussed our checklist for a place to live: budget (less than $1000/month per person), aesthetic (good sunlight was a must!), transportation situation (neither of us had a car so parking was unnecessary but we did want to be near a T stop), preferred relationship with the landlord (we wanted to be communicative with our landlord and to be able to actually contact them directly/not a big landlord), pet situation (neither of us had pets but we hope to get a cat someday down the line!), and other must-haves. This was important and so helpful to have some guidelines to narrow down our search for housing. 

A month before moving to Boston, I had scheduled a day where I would drive up to Boston and tour as many places as I could. After hustling and emailing landlords/real estate agents through Zillow (no shame, I contacted at least 20 different people to schedule a showing- many did not reply), I filled up my day with 7 different viewing tours. Looking back, I recognize now that my roommate and I are much pickier than I’d originally thought, as none of those 7 places really excited us/felt like they were worth the rent. We, thus, entered September with no secured housing.

My roommate couldn’t move in until a month into the semester, so I had decided to crash with my sister’s ex for a month (don’t worry, they are still on good terms and have a wonderful relationship) while I continued to search for housing with an October 1st lease start date. I honestly don’t recommend this, since living temporarily with a friend threw me off in the beginning of the semester more than I had anticipated.

Yet, with a stroke of luck, I was able to get in contact with a real estate agent (a Tufts alum!) who was kind enough to show me about 10 listings within the span of 2 hours that included wonderful properties below our budget even (big shout-out to Maven Realty!). Within a few days, my roommate and I discussed the options, decided on a wonderful 3-bedroom home right in Davis Square at $875/person, and were able to sign the lease with a delightful third roommate. It felt like the wait was worth it and everything was meant to be when I found out that my landlord was, in fact, an alum of my program! 

Tips on Searching for Housing as a Tufts Graduate Student

Before looking for housing, it was helpful to get some context in knowing what situations other students were living in. The following website/social media groups were really helpful to find housing options, possible roommates, and open housing listings:

Suggested steps on how to find housing as a grad student at Tufts:

  1. Criteria: Figure out your criteria for housing. Consider things like budget, location, if utilities are included, types of utilities, apartment/bedroom size, if pets are allowed, parking, in-unit laundry, if broker’s fee is on landlord or tenant, aesthetics, kitchen appliances, number of rooms, etc. 
  2. Roommates: If you already have roommate(s) in mind, great! Make sure you’re a good fit and have clear communication on the housing you are looking for. If you‘re looking for roommates, you can either visit one of the listed pages above and look for people posting about an open room to see if you are compatible or you might want to look for housing first and be the one making a posting on one of those pages to pick and fill in your future housemate(s)!
  3. Search: With your criteria in mind, the internet is your oyster! Go ahead and get searching for housing through the abundant real estate websites/resources. A neat and very helpful tool I found was the Zillow Draw tool that allows you to “draw” a shape on the map of the geographical area you are looking in and save that search so that any time there is a new rental listing in your search area and in your search criteria, you can get immediate (or daily) emails about them. You can also potentially work with a specific realtor/real estate office if you want to make the process a little easier on yourself, so that they can use their database to connect you with properties that uniquely fit your criteria. If you are lucky, some landlords will pay for the broker’s fee, so you can ask your agent for landlord-covered broker’s fee properties only if you want to avoid paying an extra fee!
  4. Touring: I personally really like seeing spaces in person, so feel free to book a tour to places you feel are a good fit/are interested in. You might even look at places at different locations or budgets if you are flexible about those things to see what different properties look like when you give a little in certain criteria. The Boston rental market moves quickly, so if you find somewhere that feels right, I’d say go for it!
  5. Lease: When you have found the right living situation, make sure to go over the lease and even have a second pair of eyes go over it to make sure your needs/expectations from the landlord are met and that you are ok with the landlord’s requirements. When everything is all set, send over your deposit/rent, sign your lease, and get ready to move into your new home!!

Extra Tips:

  • Find out about the communication style/effort/basic background of the landlord. It is totally ok to ask the realtors about this. A bad landlord situation is no good!! If the landlord gets to know all this information about you, you have the right to know about them as well. 
  • You will likely not find the perfect housing if you have budget constraints and that is ok! You might need to make a few compromises to match your budget.
  • The more roommates you have, the cheaper your housing likely can get. 
  • If your other roommates can’t make an in-person tour, take videos for them.
  • If it doesn’t seem like too competitive of a property, you can negotiate! You might be able to get the landlord to pay half of or even the whole broker’s fee to bring down the cost a little.
  • After moving in, I highly recommend joining different Facebook community groups like the Everything is Free Somerville or Curb Alert Page for cheap or even free furniture! The Facebook Marketplace site is also incredibly helpful.

Finding my way Back to School

By TJ Pinto, OTD ’24

When I was in high school, I was known as the dental guy. I attended a vocational-technical high school where I took the typical courses that are offered at most high schools, like math, science, history, and English, however, I also had the opportunity to take dental assisting courses, even becoming certified in dental radiology when I was 16. Throughout high school, I had competed at the national level in Dental Science competitions through an organization called HOSA Future Health Professionals, even medaling in the top 3 in the nation two times. A fire had ignited deep within me. I was going to be a dentist, and no one could tell me otherwise.

TJ practicing clinical skills on his friend in his high school dental assisting course.

Fast forward a few years and I was pursuing my undergraduate degree at the University of Delaware with a concentration in pre-dentistry. Among other prerequisite courses, I remember sitting in my Organic Chemistry class and constantly thinking, “This is not for me,” though I kept moving forward, nonetheless. At this point, I had convinced myself that I would be better off suffering through numerous dental school prerequisites that I was not passionate about rather than giving up on the career that I had been interested in since I was in the sixth grade. The idea of having to start over and find a new career path was just too daunting for me to even fathom, yet I couldn’t help but notice that the fire within me was slowly dimming.

In the Fall of 2017, this fear suddenly felt insignificant, after a tragic event occurred back at home, feeling like my world had stopped completely while the rest of the world continued to fly past me. As a result of this tragedy, my mom was critically injured, ultimately having to receive intense physical and occupational therapy. I watched her go from being intubated in the ICU to using a walker around the house to now being fully independent and working as a nurse again. My mom’s strength was truly undeniable. Her resilience inspired me and the work that her therapists did to help her to heal both physically and mentally opened my eyes to a new field of careers. By the winter of 2019, just months before graduating from undergrad, I decided to shift my focus to a career in the rehabilitation sciences.

When considering this new field of careers, I initially decided to pursue physical therapy. I had a general idea of what the role of a physical therapist was from accompanying my mom to physical therapy appointments when I was home from college. When I was younger, I even went to a PT myself for a rotator cuff injury. During my final semester of undergrad, I started volunteering for a few hours a week at the University of Delaware Physical Therapy clinic—a clinic run by clinicians and student PTs from the university. Being able to see patients on a weekly basis and ask questions about their treatment excited me. I ended up even attending a career fair held by my university for students to find jobs and summer internships specifically focused on PT. At this fair, I met numerous representatives from different companies and the small, welcoming family feel that I received from the Premier Physical Therapy & Sports Performance team pushed me to hand over my resume. Just around a week or two later, I had landed a job working with them as an exercise technician beginning a few days after my graduation in May of 2019.

TJ and his sister at his graduation from the University of Delaware.

Working at Premier was such an incredible opportunity for me. I was able to receive hands-on experience working with patients, observe treatments being performed by PTs, and ask as many questions as my heart desired. Though, I slowly found myself gravitating toward the back corner of the clinic, an area where people were constantly talking and laughing, even being referred to as the “fun corner” by my clinic director on a few occasions. I began speaking with the clinician working in this area, an occupational therapist working in hand therapy as a Certified Hand Therapist (CHT). At this point, I knew almost nothing about what an occupational therapist was, but I was interested in learning more.

In August of 2019, I began shadowing Katie, an occupational therapist working in both an outpatient setting and an acute care setting. I remember the very first patient that I had observed her working with, an individual who had experienced a stroke and was having difficulty performing several of their activities of daily living (ADLs) independently. On this day in particular, Katie was working with them to straighten their pointer finger, which was tightly flexed as a result of a trigger finger. Katie set up a Jenga tower and played with them, encouraging them to focus on straightening and using that one pointer finger specifically. On a different day, this same patient came in and stated that they were unable to buckle their seatbelt without assistance from their partner. Katie then brought us all outside, had the patient get into the passenger seat like they normally would, and then observed them attempting to buckle themselves. She quickly noticed that the center console was what was getting in the way and that once it was flipped up, the patient could fully extend their pointer finger, reach down, and buckle themselves on their own. Katie made treatment fun, but it still had purpose. She listened to the specific concerns and goals that mattered to her patients and did everything she could to support them so that they could live their lives to the fullest. After a few sessions of shadowing Katie, the fire within me that had almost completely extinguished a few years earlier was now ignited all over again—fueled by the idea of one day becoming an occupational therapist, providing holistic care and helping people to do the things that matter most to them.

Once I had officially decided that I wanted to become an OT, it was time to start preparing. I decided that I would take a full year to finish up my remaining prerequisites, gain hours shadowing in multiple settings, and continue to work as an exercise technician. In the fall of 2019, I was shadowing in a school-based setting, an outpatient setting, and a hospital while taking two classes at a local community college and working throughout the week. While things were overwhelming at times, I loved everything that I was doing and grew to appreciate how my schedule was structured despite having so much going on. In each setting that I was shadowing, I was learning more and more about how the role of the OT is similar over-all, but still noticing specific differences. For example, one morning I could be in a school-based setting observing an OT that was working on pre-writing strokes with younger children and the next morning I could be observing an OT helping a post-operative hip replacement patient to learn how to use adaptive equipment before being discharged from the hospital. I sometimes envied my friends who had done their observations over the summer during undergrad, not having to worry about schoolwork, work, and other responsibilities that I had at this time. Though simultaneously, I felt like this experience was incredibly valuable, allowing me to have time to really research a field that was new to me, giving me the opportunity to broaden my personal scope of what I understand OT to be.

The chaotic schedule that I had come to love was promptly interrupted in March of 2020, when the whole world shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was suddenly furloughed from my job, being promised that I would be brought back as soon as possible, though we all had no idea how long this pandemic would last. Suddenly, my busy days of work, school, and shadowing experiences had turned into monotony. I woke up at 9 or 10 AM each day, sitting on the couch and doing all my homework within the first two days of the week. For the rest of the week, I mainly just sat around the house, only leaving for daily bike rides around the neighborhood in an attempt to keep myself sane. One afternoon, as I was looking up information about different graduate schools, I decided to sign up for as many virtual information sessions as possible. I had attended almost 10 in a one-month period, eventually even having a pre-Zoom routine that I would follow. I would go upstairs about 15 minutes early, wash my face and brush my hair, put on a polo or a button-down shirt (though I was almost always wearing shorts or joggers from the waist-down), adjust the lighting in my room, and then pull up a master document that I had created with information about every single school I was interested in. On May 6th, 2020, I attended the Tufts OTD information session, knowing almost nothing about the program but knowing that it was a strong school overall. I still remember how friendly and passionate Jill Rocca was, an Admissions Coordinator for the OT department who had attended Tufts for her Post-Professional Masters and her Post-Professional Doctorate in OT. When listening to the current students in the program speak about their experiences, they seemed so happy with their decision to attend Tufts and seemed to have a lot of support from their classmates and faculty. At the end of this Zoom call, Tufts had risen to the top of my list and I was going to do everything in my power to try to be in their next cohort.

The Premier Physical Therapy and Sports Performance team dressed up for the holidays.

In June of 2020 I was finally called back into work, where I gradually went from working one or two days a week to working five days a week once I had completed my last prerequisite courses. I was the only exercise technician at the clinic and felt a bit overwhelmed. However, this helped me to work on my time management skills, prioritizing tasks, and working on my overall self-care before, during, and after work. In July, I began to apply to schools. I was only able to focus on applications in the evenings and on the weekends due to my busy work schedule. Nonetheless, I was diligent and submitted all my applications by mid-August since I completed my personal statement back in May and reached out to my references in advance.

Once I started to receive interviews, things began to feel so much more real and my Zoom meeting routine had now turned into a Zoom interview routine, requiring me to leave work early or come in late. In November, I had received my acceptance letter from Tufts and genuinely could not believe it—quite literally falling to the floor in disbelief when I had received the email. The conversations that I was having with patients at work began to shift from, “I’m preparing to apply to graduate school” to “I will be attending graduate school,” which was such a surreal feeling. As my last day of work approached and the reality of moving away for school truly began to sink in, I felt overwhelmed about finding roommates, buying furniture, making sure my financial aid was in place, and so much more—something that I had forgotten about after being out of school for a few years.

Something that I struggled with more than I was expecting was the overall adjustment to being a full-time student again. The first 6-week summer session of the OTD program consisted of an OT Foundations course and Gross Anatomy for the first half of the summer, then Neuroanatomy for the second half of the summer. While I had taken prerequisite courses a full year prior to this, I could hear the comments of people I had talked to in the past echoing through my head, telling me how hard it would be to get back into school after taking time off. Once the semester began, those voices progressively got louder. I felt lost navigating Gross Anatomy, as this course was so densely compacted with challenging material. I realized that my study strategies from undergrad weren’t holding up very well in graduate school and that I would need to adjust quickly. Though it took some trial and error, I eventually decided to make Quizlet flashcards, creating one study set for each lecture and one specific study set with all the muscles and their attachments, actions, and nerve innervations. I wrote most of my flashcards as questions, creating a practice exam that I could randomize and add images to if I wanted. I also carried around a small whiteboard and markers in my backpack, drawing the brachial plexus, arteries of the upper and lower extremity, and whatever else I needed to see visually over and over. While it was frightening to make these big changes so early in the semester, I feel like it was helpful to realize that I am not the exact same student that I was in undergrad. Similarly, the program I am in is very different from my undergrad program, which means that changes are to be expected.

Another challenge I faced when beginning grad school was my struggle with the overall transition. In undergrad I experienced homesickness in my first semester, though, after that I began to love college, the people I had met, and the freedom I had. When I started at Tufts, I assumed that it wouldn’t be so bad since I had already lived away from home before. Nevertheless, after just a few weeks, I quickly began to miss my family and my dogs. I was extremely nervous about having to meet so many new people in a graduate-level program. I had an overwhelming feeling of imposter syndrome, like everyone around me was so intelligent and had such remarkable life experiences, and I was constantly comparing myself to others. The times where I really struggled to get out of my own head or had trouble grasping concepts, I turned to the OT faculty. I appreciated their willingness to listen to me and to help me.

Some of these meetings were more personal and would range from talking about things I was struggling with in a specific lesson to delving deeper into what is important to me as a student and what I want out of my education. Fortunately, as time passed, these negative thoughts began to diminish, and I began pushing myself out of my comfort zone and immersing myself in the many great opportunities that are available at Tufts.

TJ and classmates from his cohort

In the summer, I mustered up the courage to run for a position within Tufts’ Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA), and I was elected to the Student-Faculty Representative position for my cohort. I was so excited to have the opportunity to bridge the gap between my cohort and the OT faculty, working to make sure everyone’s voices are heard. In the Fall, when the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) was coming for an on-site visit with our program, I was one of the students that was selected to help represent the students of our program, which meant a lot to me. Though the most meaningful experiences for me, outside of my education, have been the close relationships I have formed over the months that I have been here. From the casual summer get-togethers with my cohort, to the Annual Fall BBQ and apple picking events hosted by the Graduate Student Council, to the tight-knit relationships I have made with individual classmate’s one-on-one. I genuinely feel like I have become a valued member of the Jumbo community, making Tufts feel like home for me.

TJ and 3 of his friends from his cohort apple picking together.

Seeing all my hard work pay off, the loud voices of negativity within my head gradually silencing, and the support I have felt from classmates and faculty have proven that I genuinely deserve to be here. I now view the time that spent out of school as a positive. I had time to work out in the real world, make connections, and grow in a way that I may not have been able to do if I had come straight to graduate school from undergrad. Since starting at Tufts, the fire within me continues to roar as my passion for this profession only increases as I learn. I’m seeing myself grow into the clinician that I had hoped to become.

Reflections on Covid: What I Learned From Going to School and Working Virtually

By Lindsey Schaffer, Museum Education M.A. Candidate

Just like everyone else, my lifestyle has changed drastically during the pandemic. This time has taught me what I need to feel at my best. Balancing work and school has been challenging, but I learned a few lessons that have allowed me to achieve a better work life balance. Below are some of my biggest takeaways from quarantine.

The Necessity of Routine

Before the pandemic it was easy to jump out of bed and decide what I wanted to do that day. Now, I need structure so that I don’t get restless. I have found that my planner is a useful tool. I have always used a planner, but now it isn’t just for school and work-related dates, but also Zoom events, grocery runs, and workout classes. Scheduling these things ahead of time gives me something to look forward to and keeps me feeling productive and healthy. I have also gotten into the habit of scheduling Sunday as a ‘reset day.’ I use this time to clean around the house, meal prep, outline the next week in my planner, and do laundry. This helps me start the next week off with a blank slate.

Your Environment Matters

I have always loved decorating my room, but I never realized how important creating a space I loved was before I started spending all of my time there. Over quarantine I started considering how I could make my space as restorative and comfortable as possible. The book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo helped me do this. In the book, she has you examine each item that you own to see if it sparks joy. If not, it is unnecessary clutter that should be donated or re-gifted. The things that spark joy should be taken good care of and stored properly. This book allowed me to examine what objects I owned and how they reflected me personally. Was I partaking in retail therapy over quarantine or acquiring things that I actually needed? In addition to this, I filled my room with things full of life. Plants are an easy way to spruce up your room. Niche in Davis Square has a beautiful array of plants and pots (although they can be on the pricier side). Another way I livened up my space was by adding a vision board next to my bed. I filled this with pictures of what inspired me, whether it was professionals in my field, quotes, the lifestyle that I aspired for, and more.

Work/Life Separation is Hard but Important

I worked from home in the beginning of COVID and found that it was immensely difficult to separate my life from work when I was off the clock. I slept a few feet away from the desk where I spent my workday, and my email inbox was always looming. I learned that I needed to set boundaries with myself at the end of the workday so that I made time to do the things I wanted to do. It was hard to find time for myself working full time, but I found that utilizing my mornings before work was the most effective strategy. Every day before work I tried to have coffee outside and read or write for fun. This allowed me to pursue my creative passions as well as calm my mind. During my workday, I found it important to leave my room during breaks. Going on walks was a healthy and easy alternative to scrolling on social media during my free time.

In Conclusion

The pandemic has been a life altering event. Not everything needs a silver lining, but the quarantine allowed me to look inward and reassess my lifestyle. Ultimately, it taught me to hold my friends and family close while I can. It is great to be back on campus again. I forgot how much I missed it.

Asking for Letters of Recommendation

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 candidate.

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.

Example:

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!

Best,
Jenn

Comic Relief

By Khushbu Kshirsagar, M.S. 2021 in Education

This comic was born out of the pandemic-induced stress (of course). I am an international student from India, dealing with the crazy COVID situation there, topped off with imposter syndrome of a student who’s about to graduate. The comic signifies inner strength and the need for self-care, but in a rather wacky way. It is also one of my first attempts of turning my journal writing into a comic strip with personalized illustrations.

Take Day Trip to the Blackstone River Valley

Photo by Abigail Epplett

Written by Abigail Epplett, M.A. 2021 in Museum Education

Need to get away from campus for the day? There are plenty of things to do away from the hustle and bustle of Boston. If you love to spend time outdoors or learn about history, check out the region where I am from: the Blackstone River Valley. Extending from Worcester in south-central Massachusetts to Pawtucket in northern Rhode Island, this National Historical Park offers a wide variety of activities and destinations, from zoos and museums to hiking trails and bikeways. You might even check out the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at the Tufts University campus in Grafton, MA. As I continue to shamelessly plug my home region, here are some suggestions for what to do on your day in the Valley.

Visit Worcester

Worcester is the second largest city in Massachusetts, edging out Springfield by about 30,000 residents. While diminutive in comparison to Boston, the city offers art, culture, and history without the high price of parking or traffic. See fine art from around the world at the Worcester Art Museum, whose exhibits range from an enormous Greek floor mosaic and a medieval armor collection to special exhibits highlighting baseball-inspired fashion and early American folk art. Explore local history at the Worcester Historical Museum & Salisbury Mansion, where an entire exhibit is dedicated to Harvey Ball, the Worcester native who created the smiley face. If you’re traveling with children, or you’re young at heart, visit the eclectic Ecotarium, part children’s museum and part zoo. Be sure to say hello to my favorite residents, Salton and Freyja, the mountain lion siblings who live at the museum’s Wild Cat Station. If indoor adventures aren’t your style, swing by the Blackstone Heritage Corridor Visitor Center in Worcester to check out the exhibits and grab maps of local trails before heading south for a day of biking & hiking. If you miss this venue, don’t worry! Similar visitor centers are located in Whitinsville, MA and Pawtucket, RI.

Biking & Hiking

The Blackstone Valley Greenway is a project to connect Worcester to Providence through a series of bike trails. Currently, three sections of off-road, paved trails make up seventeen miles of the bikeway, with further expansion in progress. The path crosses through many of the towns in the Valley and is a great way to get some exercise while touring the area, with plenty of signage along the way. Visit the Captain Wilbur Kelly House Transportation Museum beside the path in Lincoln, RI to learn more about the Blackstone Canal and the Industrial Revolution.

Photo by Abigail Epplett

Follow the remains of the canal by biking or hiking on the historic towpath from Plummer’s Landing in Northbridge to Stanley Woolen Mill in Uxbridge. Take note that some areas of this path are badly eroded. If you want a less arduous trip, stick to the walking tour near the Canal Heritage State Park portion of the trail. The visitors’ center at River Bend Farm also provides parking and restrooms, along with areas to picnic, fish, and canoe or kayak. Just down the street is West Hill Dam Reserve, which is managed by the Army Corps of Engineers. The reserve permits dog walking and horseback riding on the trails, and swimming is permitted on the beach.

For more easy biking and walking, head south to Lincoln, Rhode Island for two different outdoor experiences. First, you can roam the fields of Chase Farm, located between the Hearthside House Museum & Hannaway Blacksmith Shop and Historic New England’s Eleazer Arnold House. The blacksmith shop holds classes for smiths at any level on most Sundays, while both houses offer led tours. If you would rather stick to a path, visit Lincoln Woods, part of the Rhode Island State Parks. This slightly hilly three mile loop takes walkers and bikers around a pond suitable for swimming, fishing, and boating. When looking for more extreme outdoor adventures, check out Purgatory Chasm State Reservation in Sutton, managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). Hike the trail through the chasm, or bring your own rock climbing gear to scale the walls. Make sure to wear closed-toe shoes and carry plenty of water. The hike back is longer than you think! If you enjoy long walks without a climb, try Douglas State Forest, also managed by DCR. This trail system connects to the Southern New England Trunkline Trail, which runs near the Massachusetts – Rhode Island border for twenty-two miles.

Even More History!

If you’re a tinkerer or inventor, you’ll love the Willard House & Clock Museum in North Grafton, MA. The small museum showcases over 80 clocks made by the Willard family during the 18th and 19th centuries. The building itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and retains its original character. The spacious lawn of the museum makes it an ideal place for plein air painting and photography. Museum of Work & Culture in Woonsocket, RI houses multiple exhibits on the lives of mill workers in the Blackstone River Valley, focusing on the experience of French-Canadian immigrants to the region. Life-sized reproductions of houses, a church, a parochial school classroom, and a union hall combine with video presentations and sound effects to create an immersive experience.

To see the mill that started the Industrial Revolution in the United States, visit Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark in Pawtucket, RI. The building is currently closed as its programs undergo a transformation after its purchase by the National Park Service. Current signage around the building tells the story of the mill, although it’s unclear when tours will begin again.

Nature within Your Grasp

Animal lovers might hesitate to travel abroad to see their favorite species, but here in the Blackstone River Valley, exotic animals are never more than a few minutes away. You can see over 850 species from around the world by visiting family-owned Southwick Zoo in Sutton, MA. My favorite exhibit is the Deer Forest, where visitors can pet and feed tame fallow deer. While you can’t take a deer back to campus, you can bring home fresh fruits and vegetables from nearby farms. Visit Wojcik Farm in Blackstone, MA; Foppema’s Farm in Northbridge, MA; and Douglas Orchard in Douglas, MA to buy locally grown produce, jams, and baked goods from an old fashioned farm store. If you would rather get your fruit directly from the field, Sunburst Blueberry Farm in Uxbridge, MA offers pick-your-own blueberries in July. Be sure to come early! Between the efforts of long-time local pickers and the birds, there aren’t many ripe blueberries left by the afternoon.

So Much to Do, and So Close By!

When you need a day away but don’t want a long commute, the Blackstone River Valley is the perfect place to take a break. Whether it’s learning the history of the region, exploring on a trail, eating fresh food, or simply relaxing at one of the many parks, you can be sure to find something that interests you. I hope you enjoy your next trip to the Valley! Be sure to tell them that I sent you.

Vacation in the Times of Corona

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

I was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, and spent over 20 years there before moving to the states and becoming your favorite Mediterranean in the midst of lovely New England weather. My family owns a summer house, as many Istanbullu families do, in a small coastal town right by the Aegean Sea. The town is called Geyikli, which literally means “the place with deers,” yet no one has ever seen a single deer so far. We used to go there every summer since I was 5. It is a place where locals make their own olive oil and wine. Everybody knows each other. People grow their own food in their backyards, share their highest quality produce with their neighbors, make canned tomatoes and pickles for the upcoming winter. My family and I enjoy taking the ferry to Bozcaada (Tenedos in Greek), a charming little beautiful island with its old rustic homes and colorful windowpanes, spending the days in deserted sandy beaches; and nights in local vineyards and traditional meyhanes or tavernas.

Bozcaada, photo by Ebru Ece Gulsan

The older I became, the less time I spent in Geyikli. While I used to stay there for the duration of an entire summer in early 2000s, as I grew up, I had to prioritize summer internships and jobs over beach time. But I made sure to spend at least a few weeks to soak up the sun and reset my body before the next academic year, until 2020.

Due to some obvious reasons, I failed to visit home in the summer of 2020, the year when avoiding a visit to your family means love and respect, rather than hugging them. I missed out on not only connecting with my family members, but also the opportunity to reset myself and start fresh for the upcoming fall term. It would have been a much-needed break during this extra stressful academic year; writing my thesis proposal, battling with quals, cancelled conferences and meetings, then rewriting my thesis proposal, all peppered with the flavor of a global pandemic felt like they would never end.

I was desperate to have a beach vacation. I ended up dragging my poor boyfriend to the local beaches every single weekend, but it was not enough. It did not feel like a vacation with all the planning, remembering our masks, hand sanitizers, packing our food, and answering emails from my Principal Investigator and students.

I realized over time that what I needed was not the beach itself, but the “forced restfulness” that came from lying down under a beach umbrella with my loved ones, where my biggest concern is what to eat for my next meal, all day and every day. I needed to disconnect – whether it was on a Mediterranean beach or at my own porch in Medford.

It is especially difficult now to plan a trip to another city or get together with friends to blow off some steam. The places we can go and the people we can see are very limited, which is not what most of us expect when we need a break; so, I had to re-learn the idea of vacation and construct myself a 2020 version of it sponsored by COVID-19. Instead of thinking “what I can do in a very limited radius,” I switched my focus to the questions of “what would make me feel good about myself at this very moment” and “how I can do these things.”

Bozcaada, photo by Ebru Ece Gulsan

I started with planning a break. I know it sounds counterintuitive; you are seeking for ways to escape from this planned work/study life of yours in the first place. But planning your breaks helps you complete your tasks in a more timely manner. Once you have a set deadline, you are more likely to get things done and feel accomplished, which helps you perceive this upcoming break as well-deserved rather than feel guilty for taking some time off.

Then I took some time to structure my break and made sure it is purposeful and enriching. Think about what kind of a break you need. Are you sleep deprived or physically exhausted? You might need some extra days to sleep in and rest your body. If you are mentally tired, it might be a better idea to choose another fun activity that suits and benefits you. For example, you can attend online events of Tufts Art Galleries or follow virtual concerts organized by the Music Department. If being outdoors energizes you, plan a hike to a less traveled mountain to disconnect from your daily life. Watch the movies you have always wanted to binge on. Schedule virtual meetings with your friend who studies abroad. Check out AirBnB live experiences. Your favorite chef might be hosting an online cooking class. The point is that scrolling through social media does not count as a break. Choose something that is entertaining yet valuable and put that on your calendar as motivation.

I added some new activities to my routine to make that break count. As graduate students, we constantly deal with projects that do not even have a set end date, and sometimes (OK, maybe most of the time) they do not go as expected. That ambiguity can be frustrating and demotivating. Hence, it is important to have some other tiny achievements in our lives. Choose some minor activities that are different from your work, such as taking a dance class, volunteering for a cause you care about, learning another language or getting into painting to remind yourself the feeling of accomplishment. Share this idea with your friends and suggest starting together. It always increases your motivation to have a buddy right next to you, even though they are connecting with you via Zoom.

Taking a vacation (even now) is so crucial for our physical and mental health, but it is so easy to overlook. It is one of those things that we know it is good for us, but we fail to actually commit to it, just like eating celery (or collard greens, or okra, you name it). We all need to relax and it is not as hard as we thought. Taking that well-deserved break will make you more efficient and productive at whatever you are doing, so go ahead and plan your next vacation in the times of Corona!