Tag Archives: grad school

Why Attend Graduate School?

Written by Alia Wulff, Psychology Ph.D. student

I was fairly young when I discovered that getting a doctorate meant something other than becoming a medical doctor, which meant that I was fairly young when I decided that I was going to get a doctorate. I’ve been working towards this since I was five, and even though the path to get here was hard and full of unexpected gap years and tough situations, I am very happy to finally be here.

But my story isn’t everyone’s story. Not everyone learns about doctoral programs when they are five years old and decides to get their Ph.D. before they even start going to full-time kindergarten. Some people might be considering this fresh out of undergrad, wondering if they need graduate school or even if they made the right decision to apply. So I asked some friends for their stories, gathered up ideas, and wrote a list of common reasons why people should (or shouldn’t) go to grad school.

You have a dream job that needs a graduate degree

This one is very common. If your dream job is to become a professor at a university and mentor undergraduates or graduates while working on your own research, it is almost guaranteed that you need a Ph.D. Similarly, there are many lab manager, industry professional, and administrative positions that require a master’s degree, at minimum. Research what you need in order to succeed in your field and go for that. 

You need to advance in your career

On a related note, sometimes getting that master’s or Ph.D. will help you go further in a career you already have. That is awesome! I know many people, especially teachers, who go this route. Getting a graduate degree can help advance your knowledge of the field, increase your salary, or even land you a promotion.

Side note: don’t get more than you need if the previous two reasons are why you are attending graduate school. If you need a master’s, don’t go to a Ph.D. program. It will take at least twice as long, is much more likely to be full-time, and may even make you overqualified for your desired position.

You want the opportunity to improve your research capabilities

While there are plenty of industry jobs that require you to do research, they generally don’t give you the same educational support that grad school does. If you’re working on Project X for a company, you might learn exactly how to complete the necessary tasks A, B, and C. If you’re working on Project X in grad school, you might learn the theoretical backgrounds of tasks A and B, the reasons why task C is so important to the project, and how to do related tasks D, E, and F, along with the research another professor is doing regarding Project Y. And, maybe you work with them for a bit to see if that is interesting, and if it will help you develop Project Z for your dissertation. The breadth of knowledge and understanding you develop for your work is built into the graduate program. You might get this depth of experience in industry depending on your field, so it’s up to you to decide if a graduate degree will get you an education your field cannot provide you with.

You love to learn

This does not mean the same thing as “you like school.” Graduate school isn’t set up to be the same school experience as high school or even undergrad. It is more challenging, more demanding, and designed to expand your mind more than it is designed to teach you things. If you have a passion for learning and growing, and love what you are learning, grad school is likely worth it. This is the reason I decided to go to graduate school when I was five, and it is still one of my most important reasons for staying. I love being here, I love learning, researching, and growing every day. It’s hard, but I don’t regret it.

Of course, these are not all of the reasons to attend grad school. There are many, many, many more. And there are just as many reasons to not attend grad school. What matters is that you make the decision for yourself, based on your own desires and goals. You can talk to your advisor, your friends, current graduate students, potential schools, or your employer, but when it comes down to it, the decision is yours to make. Make sure that you know you are doing what is best for you, so that you are as prepared as possible should you decide to pursue applying to graduate school.

From the Classroom to the Field

Written by Ruaidhri Crofton, History and Museum Studies M.A. student

As a graduate student, much of your time will no doubt be spent attending classes or dedicated to other forms of research and study. However, being able to take what you have learned and apply it to “real world” scenarios through internships, fellowships, jobs, and other positions is another great learning experience that many students at Tufts will have the opportunity to engage in during their time at the university. Not only does this help to reinforce the information you have already learned through study, it also allows you to gain valuable new skills and knowledge outside of the classroom. This summer I was lucky to have an opportunity to do just that while working as the Camp Director of the Chase Ranch Museum in Cimarron, New Mexico. As someone pursuing a master’s in History and Museum Studies, this seasonal position provided me with a great way to put many of the topics I had covered in classes to use, while simultaneously learning about the rich history of an often overlooked yet incredibly unique historic site in the rural Southwest.

When many people think of New Mexico, they likely picture a hot desert. Although the state is certainly is warm and often arid, much of its land has been used for ranching and agriculture for a considerable portion of its history. This was particularly true in the Northeast corner of the state where the small village of Cimarron, population 903, is located. Having grown up in another town just an hour and a half or so south of here, I am used to “small town living”. However, living in Cimarron for three months was quiet even for me. There’s everything you may need: a couple of gas stations and restaurants, a few stores, a hotel, and a three-officer police force, but it’s certainly different from life in a city like Boston. Despite its size, Cimarron was once a bustling stop on the Santa Fe Trail, and home to trappers, ranchers, cowboys, miners, loggers, outlaws, and railway workers. Today, its main claim to fame is Philmont Scout Ranch—a 140,000 acre wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains run by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and visited by thousands of Scouts on hiking trips annually. In addition to their wilderness programs, the BSA also runs four museums on the property tasked with sharing the history of the area, including the one where I had the privilege of working this summer.

On a dirt road three miles outside of town sits the headquarters of the Chase Ranch. Originally hailing from Wisconsin, Theresa and Manly Chase first moved to the New Mexico Territory in 1867 and eventually purchased 1,000 acres of land in 1869 where their family would remain for the next 143 years and four generations. At their height, Manly and Theresa were managing an extensive cattle, horse, and sheep operation on over one million acres of land, in addition to running a dairy, a coal mine, and tending to an orchard of 6,000 fruit trees producing over 500,000 pounds of fruit annually. In the generations that would follow, the Chases continued their legacy of ranching and contributing to the Cimarron community. Gretchen Sammis, the last member of the Chase family to live on the ranch and the great-granddaughter of Manly and Theresa, was herself an award-winning rancher in addition to being an accomplished soil and water conservationist, teacher, and sports coach. Awarded Cattleman of the Year in 2008, both Gretchen and her Ranch Manager, Ruby Gobble, were also inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 1982 and 1996 respectively.

Following Gretchen and Ruby’s deaths in 2012 and 2013, ownership of the ranch was passed on to the Chase Ranch Foundation, which today partners with Philmont Scout Ranch in a 50 year lease to open the now 11,000 acre ranch to Scouts on trek, maintain operation of the property as an active cattle ranch, and transform the historic 1871 ranch house into an educational museum open to all. This summer it was my task to ensure that the historic house museum was open for the 5,000 plus Scouts and other visitors we hosted over the course of three months. This included, among other things, training staff, leading tours, historic research, developing education programs, artifact care and cleaning, gardening, and occasionally helping to corral a runaway cow or two! As you can imagine, this was no small task, and I was very thankful to have a staff of fantastic colleagues to support the museum’s mission along the way.

I was also thankful for the insight professors and classmates in both the History and Museum Studies departments at Tufts had equipped me with throughout two semesters of coursework examining collections care, Southwestern history, and museum education, among other topics. Thanks to this baseline of knowledge, throughout my summer I gained experience in putting this information to work “in the field,” as well as a considerable amount of additional knowledge that helped me better understand best practices and approaches to museums and management. It was an incredible opportunity to not only work in this special place, but to also build upon what I had learned in the months leading up to it. Although certainly not everyone has an interest in working at a remote historic house museum, there is no shortage of opportunities that will fit your specific interests and goals, regardless of your program, and a similarly extensive number of resources at Tufts to help you find them. So do some research! You never know what cool experiences you might be able to find.

What Makes a Good Graduate Program?

The most prominent factors I considered when looking at graduate school programs

By Audrey Balaska, Mechanical Engineering: Human-Robot Interaction Ph.D. Student

As you may have figured out, I am a graduate student at Tufts University. Specifically, I am a first-year student in the Mechanical Engineering and Human-Robot Interaction joint Ph.D. program. Before coming to Tufts, I received my B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of New Hampshire in May 2019.

Since I’m such a new student, the application process is still fresh in my mind. One of the steps I found the most challenging was deciding which schools to apply to and then which position to actually accept. I’m going to talk about my personal journey, and if this doesn’t resonate with you, that’s ok! There are many paths one can take to get to graduate school

Deciding where to apply to

When I was considering schools, I learned about them in a variety of ways. Some I found through online research on labs which had rehabilitation engineering as a research area. Others I remembered from my search for undergraduate programs. Some I learned about because faculty recommended them to me based on my research interests. And some, like Tufts, I learned about at a graduate school fair.

Rather than inundate you with further information regarding every school I looked at, I’m going to explain to you why I decided to apply to Tufts, and why I ultimately decided to come here for my graduate degree.

Like I said, I learned about Tufts University from a graduate school fair – specifically, the one at the Tau Beta Pi (the oldest engineering honors society in the United States) National Convention in Fall 2018. While a decent number of schools were represented at this fair, I did not apply to all of them. I first decided to look more into Tufts because the representative from Tufts University showed genuine enthusiasm for the school, and was able to tell me some specific aspects of Tufts University I might find interesting after I told her my research interests. Having someone so knowledgeable about the school at the fair reflected really well to me. Just because someone you meet from a school isn’t in your research area, doesn’t mean they don’t reflect the university’s community and environment.

Meeting someone from the graduate admissions staff wasn’t enough to get me to apply, though. That occurred when I researched the program more and found classes and research labs closely related to my own research interests.

Deciding to Attend Tufts

Then, I got into Tufts University, along with a couple of other schools. That was when I had to make the big decision of where to spend the next 4-6 years of my life.

One thing that I didn’t consider much when applying to schools, but definitely did at this stage, was the location. I realized after some thought that I really wanted to be close to a city, or even in one. That caused me to decline one school, and pushed Tufts even higher on my list.

Another thing that I really liked about Tufts was the graduate student environment. Tufts University has some awesome graduate student organizations, and hosts multiple professional and social events each semester. Not all universities have this, and it was something I was excited to see existed at Tufts.

Most importantly, however, was my advisor. I got to speak with him via Skype during my winter break after I applied, and then got to meet him in person once I had been accepted to the program. Both times I found that I liked his personality, his research, and his leadership style. Honestly, having met him, it became very easy to say yes to Tufts. If you are applying to doctoral programs, make sure you take the time to try and meet your potential advisors. I had other potential advisors whose research appealed to me, but found that when talking to them our personalities were not a great match.

Ultimately, when deciding on a graduate program it is crucial to decide what is most important to you. I realized I cared a lot more about my location than I initially thought, but some people I know really had not cared about where their school was. Before deciding on a school, take the time to decide what is actually important to you. Maybe, one day, the school that you pick will be Tufts!

Finishing That Pesky Dissertation

Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. student

Graduate school — and in particular Ph.D. Programs — are strange because at times you feel like there is an indefinite amount of work to do and that you might just be in school forever. But at the same time, that feeling of permanence can be comforting. Once I settled into my routine, Tufts became my home and I’ve loved every minute of it. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. And with that comes a whole bunch of emotions — the excitement for the next step, the sadness for leaving my Tufts community, and the stress of finishing degree requirements.

I am currently right in that sweet spot. Over the summer, I had the good fortune to accept a postdoctoral fellowship which will begin in early 2020. That means that I get the opportunity to finish my Ph.D. Without the added pressure of finding a job. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my success in finding a job is a testament to the experiences I’ve been afforded at Tufts. Not only did I receive world class mentorship, but the professional development opportunities (Graduate Institute for Teaching and the NOD Workshops) helped me hone my marketable skills. I am incredibly excited for my next step, but over the next few months I have a LOT to take care of — namely finishing all that writing. I’ve decided to give you some of my tips for getting down to business and finishing that pesky dissertation.

1. Schedule, schedule, schedule

I cannot overstate the importance of planning. When I have a lot of projects going on, it sometimes seems easier to just do things and be productive. When all you have to do is writing, it can be difficult to focus. Staring at a blank page and thinking about how you have to ill it up is… daunting. I have found that the best way to avoid this feeling of desperation is to have realistic, scheduled goals. Focusing on one section in the morning and one section in the afternoon has helped me not get bored with the material and continue progressing.

2. Write in different places

Although I love my desk, sometimes you need a change of scenery. Luckily, there are at least 5 different coffee shops within a 10 minute walk of campus. My favorite coffee shop for writing is Tamper: it’s nice and quiet, serves delicious food, and offers beer options for later in the day. I’m also a huge fan of working in Tisch Library. There’s something about being surrounded by stressed out undergraduates that motivates you to get your own work done. By switching up my physical writing space, I have been able to make progress even when it doesn’t feel like it.

3. Get the blood pumping

Most people know that when you are stressed, making time for physical exercise is crucial. This becomes even more important when you’re writing your dissertation, which should be a marathon and not a spring. I try to make time and head down to the Tisch Fitness Center or go on a run along the Charles River. These are great opportunities to clear your head, which always helps with writing.

4. Don’t forget to have fun!

Most importantly, I think, is remembering that writing your dissertation should have some elements of fun. This can be the hardest task, because you’ve spent years in your program and you might feel jaded with your topic. But after all, these will be the final months of your time at Tufts. For me, it has been the perfect opportunity to reflect and remember where my passions first began. Tufts has been a fantastic chapter of my life that I will remember fondly.

Adventures of a Tufts Teaching Assistant

Written by Alia Wulff, Cognitive Psychology Ph.D.

When I first was admitted into Tufts, I barely thought about the fact that I would need to be a teaching assistant. It was an abstract concept, something that graduate students naturally knew how to do or were taught how to do during some mythical three-month intensive course. I knew I would have to take on the role of a TA, but I didn’t know what it would mean.

Fast forward five months, and I was attending the teaching assistant orientation during my first week at Tufts. I sat down with my notebook and pencil in hand, ready to have all of the necessary knowledge to be a teaching assistant implanted into my brain. Two hours, at least a dozen speakers, and a whirlwind discussion with a current psychology TA later, I still had no idea what I would have to do. The Tufts orientation taught me everything I would know about the ethical obligations and workload expectations of a Tufts TA, but it would be impossible to have an orientation that would teach every individual TA their responsibilities for every class they would ever TA for. I left, full of questions and worry. The TAs I had in undergrad taught full classes, knew the answers to every single question, and graded papers. I didn’t know how to do any of that.

Then I went to my first class. I introduced myself to the class and saw the faces of 40 undergraduates staring back at me, full of excitement and concern and boredom in equal measures. I realized that I was going to be fine. I didn’t know every answer, but that wasn’t my responsibility. My only responsibility was to the 40 people in that room. I was not there to teach them everything about the subject, I was there to help them understand what had already been taught. Being worried would not help me help the students.

I created quizzes for that class, taking notes and writing questions from those notes. I pulled questions from the test bank and edited them to better align with the lecture. I graded activities. I had students come into my office confused about terms and definitions. I offered basic study topics and techniques if people expressed concern about testing abilities. I learned the name of almost every student in that class.

The semester seemed like it flew by if I marked the time according to the syllabus. The midterm came and went. Finals loomed, and suddenly my first semester as a teaching assistant was done. It was rewarding and educational and I appreciated everything I had learned about teaching and organizing a class. I even got positive teaching evaluations. One student referenced how much they appreciated that I took the time to learn their name. At the time, it seemed like just another task I had to do, but it actually made a difference in this student’s perception of me as a teacher. I took that to heart and still do my best to learn the name of everyone in my class.

The next semester I was assigned to a course that is generally taken further on in the program. I had to grade papers this time, which worried me at first. I quickly learned how to create a rubric and stick to it. My comments were short and to the point, but I always encouraged my students to come to me and talk about how to improve next time. I got evaluations that thanked me for my quick grading (and one that complained that I took too long), my feedback, and my helpful email responses. I also was told that I was too harsh of a grader and didn’t explain the requirements before I graded. I now make sure that I grade easier the first time a student makes a mistake and set expectations early.

This semester I am a teaching assistant to a course that requires me to teach a lab section once a week. I’ll admit that it still seems weird to be in front of the class, rather than sitting in the front row taking notes, but it’s a good weird. I’m learning even more about what I should be doing to help the students get the knowledge they need. Next semester I am not taking a TA position, as I have research assistant funding available. It will be nice to focus on my research, but it will also be strange not to be preparing for class every week. Being a teaching assistant was once a hugely foreign concept to me. Now I am not sure what grad school will be like without it.

Tips and Tricks for Your Grad School Application

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

Anyone who as ever worked on an application, whether for a job, school, or scholarship, knows the mixed feelings that come along with it. On the one hand, you are excited to put your best foot forward and show the people who are reviewing your application the awesome person you are. On the other hand, there is the nervousness that comes with putting yourself in what may seem like a vulnerable position. Will they like me? Am I what they are looking for? How will I ever manage to get everything I need to do done for this application? For those who are considering applying to a graduate program at Tufts, or anywhere else for that matter, here are a few tips and tricks I found useful when completing my applications.

1. Map out the application requirements

Unlike applying for undergraduate programs where useful tools like the Common Application serve to guide you through a seemingly endless number of questions, requirements, and deadlines, applications for graduate programs mostly stand on their own. As a result, you will likely find yourself having to make separate application accounts for each of the schools to which you are applying and contending with a variety of different requirements that can quickly become difficult to keep track of. To stay on top of applications and deadlines, I found it helpful to make a list of each program I was applying to, the application deadline, and the various steps I needed to complete before I could submit it (completing writing samples, letters of recommendation, transcripts, etc.). As I completed steps in the process, it felt rewarding to be able to cross items off before moving on to the next one. Other systems might work better for different people. However, as long as you have some sort of system to organize what you need to do on time, that’s what’s important!

2. Identify recommenders early

Requesting letters of recommendation from professors or supervisors you have worked with is perhaps one of the most stressful parts of the application process because it is the one you have the least amount of control over completing. However, you can make things a lot easier on yourself and the person writing a recommendation for you by identifying recommenders who can best speak to your skills and requesting their assistance as soon as possible. Typically, a month or so should be the minimum amount of notice you give when requesting a letter of recommendation. In addition to simply being considerate of your recommender’s time, it also ensures that you have time to find another person to ask should a prospective recommender reject your request for whatever reason. Being clear in providing your recommenders with deadlines for each of your applications and any additional information that might help them write their letter (such as your resume or CV) can also make the process easier for you both.

3. Get thinking about the path you want to take

If you are considering applying to a graduate program, you are probably already pretty passionate about the field you want to spend your time studying in depth. However, you will likely find it useful to start thinking about what your specific area of focus within that field might be. Of course, there is no expectation that you will concretely decide exactly what you will be studying and how you will be studying it before you have even been accepted into a program. However, many programs request that you provide a bit of information about a potential area of focus in your application. Some may also ask you to identify a professor or two in the department who you think would best serve as an advisor to you based on similar research interests. Having at least begun to think about your focus can also help you to narrow down specific programs that might be best for you to spend your time applying to and will only serve to benefit you once you are accepted to a program and begin your studies.

4. Be yourself and don’t stress!

This is something I always make sure to emphasize. Many people seem to think that admissions committees are only looking for very specific things when making an admissions decision and that they need to somehow embellish their application in order to appeal to exactly what the committee is looking for. Of course, sell yourself as the awesome applicant you are, but at the same make sure to be yourself! Though the people reading applications are certainly looking for good students who will positively contribute to their community, this is all relative to the individual applicant and program. There isn’t a specific personal statement topic or GRE score that will automatically guarantee that you will be admitted, so why add extra stress to what is already a stressful process? That being said, make sure to put your best foot forward! Double and triple check your personal statement and maybe ask a friend to read it over too. Set aside some time to study and take some practice GRE tests. But remember, each item is just one part of your overall application.

5. Questions? Don’t Be Afraid to Ask!

There are so many aspects of applying to grad school that simply cannot be covered in a few quick “tips and tricks”, especially in regard to the specifics of each graduate program’s individual requirements. As a result, if you ever find yourself confused about application requirements or have other questions about applying to programs at Tufts, you should not hesitate to reach out to one of the wonderful staff members in the Office of Graduate Admissions via email at gradadmissions@tufts.edu or telephone at (617) 627-3395. You can also reach out to the department you are applying to directly using the contact information on their website.

Dancing through graduate school: when passions and academia collide

Written by Gina Mantica, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Ever since the age of 5, I’ve been a dancer. I used to dance around my living room to Disney music, until my parents decided I needed some sort of outlet for my dancing habit. My parents signed me up for ballet classes shortly thereafter, and I’ve been taking dance classes and performing on stage ever since.

I was in my second year of undergrad when I was invited to perform in my first professional gig. I remember the moment vividly: I was at a retreat when my long-time mentor (and now, friend) left me a voicemail. I remember the feeling of butterflies in my stomach as I listened to my mentor say she had an opportunity for me to perform and get paid for my dancing. To this day, the voicemail is saved to my cell phone. That voicemail not only changed the trajectory of my dance career, but also altered how I now see myself “fitting into” academia.

Five-and-a-half years have passed since I performed in my first paid dance gig. Since then, I’ve danced in more professional productions than I can recall, ranging from a full-length production with Jazz Inc. Dance to a short-lived HGTV show “Spontaneous Construction”.

Also since then, I’ve grown a fondness for academia. I love learning and being able to research questions I am curious about. My time as a Ph.D. student here at Tufts is nothing short of a dream. However, academia is not always fond of me.

Since entering grad school, I have not stopped pursuing my passion for dance. Dance provides me with much more than just exercise; through dance, I find joy and a sense of comfort that I cannot get anywhere else. My refusal to give up something that I consider to be both a means of self-care and a crucial part of my identity rubs some academics, who, themselves, have lost sight of what a work-life balance should look like, the wrong way.

The pressures to conform to some academic ideal of a work-life balance (which, in reality, is not balanced at all) are not missing at Tufts. However, Tufts is such an incredibly diverse community and it is possible to find mentors and colleagues to surround yourself with that share your own opinion of what a work-life balance should look like. At Tufts, I have found friends in my department who will go take dance classes with me, or who will take a day off from work to go to the beach. I have found mentors who support my love of writing and outreach and who will provide me with opportunities to pursue my interests outside of the lab.

Most importantly, however, I have grown to realize that I don’t need to conform to some ideal of what an academic should look like; at Tufts, I am able to relieve myself of the pressures of “fitting into” academia and just be myself.

My Life as the Next Graduate Student Council President

I was never a student council kind of person. I never joined when I was a high school student, and always found myself too busy with other extracurricular activities to join in college. It’s as much of a surprise to me as to anybody else that I find myself becoming the new Tufts Graduate Student Council President for 2018-2019. So, how did this happen?

Like a lot of people on the Executive Board (E-Board) of the GSC, I was convinced to run by other members of my department. I first became the academic and career development co-chair, a position in which I helped organize academic events, like the Graduate Student Research Symposium. During this time, I quickly realized that I genuinely enjoyed these kinds of activities that brought me out of the lab, enabled me to meet and interact with people from all sorts of departments, and discuss graduate student concerns with administrators. This passion has driven me to stay in the GSC, this past year filling the role of vice president, and next year as president.

As the new GSC President, I am most looking forward to simply helping graduate students across Tufts. My first role as president will be to work together with our other officers and chairs to put together some amazing events for grad students. Traditionally we have held social and academic events during the fall and spring semesters. But in this upcoming year, I am particularly excited to expand our community outreach and international student events. We are also really interested in having some activities over the summer; plenty of students stay on campus during the summer months and it would be great to bring people together to unwind and de-stress. We are hoping to have an ice cream social and an outdoor movie night with a popcorn machine!

I’m also looking forward to continuing to work with the Tufts administration to address graduate student concerns. Each semester we hold one or two deans’ coffee hours at which our student life chair organizes a discussion around a grad student issue. Several deans and other pertinent university staff members are also invited. Together, we look for creative solutions to a variety of problems with the goal of improving grad student experiences. As president, I am looking forward to continuing these events and helping our new student life chair expand involvement.

I can’t wait to take on new challenges as the president. In May, the GSC held its annual transition weekend during which the old and new E-Boards meet, orient each other, and plan for the following year. I can say—without hesitation—that the new members of the E-Board are going to be amazing. They already have some great ideas for new events. Be sure to be on the lookout for events this summer and in the fall semester! We can’t wait to meet you!

 Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Making the Most of a Boston Summer

Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

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

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

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

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

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

Hiking and biking around town

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing to Defend

 

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

I was so wrong.

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

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

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

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

Use a citation manager!

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

Keep your committee in the loop.

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

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

It doesn’t have to be perfect.

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

It’s a conversation.

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

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

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

Take care of yourself.

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

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

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

 Remember, you are not alone.

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

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

 And finally, celebrate!

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

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. 2018