If you’re reading this as a newly accepted or prospective student of the Tufts Entry-Level Doctorate of Occupational Therapy, welcome! We’re excited to get to know you. My name is Madeline Zarro, and I’m currently finishing the final semester of my first year in the Tufts OT program. Having recently experienced the transition into graduate OT studies myself, I wrote this article to give you a sense of what to expect upon arrival.
Your first semester at Tufts will occur over the course of two summer sessions, and you’ll take a total of three courses: Anatomy, Neuroanatomy, and Occupational Therapy Foundations. Though you won’t have class every day (at maximum, you’ll attend courses three days a week), this first semester is known for being fast-paced and academically rigorous. That isn’t to say that it’s not enjoyable—it is! The summer of your first year offers plentiful opportunities for connection and exploration.
Here are five suggestions to help you effectively engage with your coursework, all while making the most of what your new community has to offer:
Use studying as an opportunity to explore.
Whether you prefer to stay local to Tufts or venture out to Boston, your options for intriguing new study spots are virtually limitless. Medford and Somerville have abundant cafes, restaurants, parks, and libraries. Middlesex Fells Reservation is easily accessible by bus, and can be a relaxing retreat for those who don’t mind studying outdoors—just pack a picnic blanket and your flashcards! With most people off campus for the summer, you’ll find available seats and whiteboards in nearly every academic building; moreover, exploring campus is a great way to start to feel at home at Tufts. Check out past blog posts and Joyraft’s The Boston Calendar to find your first destination. Or, wander out and find it on your own!
Organize a meal with new friends.
We all know the feeling: you’ve got a looming deadline, an intimidating amount of material to study, and though there are a million things you’d like to do, you can’t seem to make time to do anything else but study and eat. That’s okay—you’re not in this alone! Cooking a group meal with new friends from your cohort is a great way to relieve stress and make connections while still staying on track with your studying. Many hands make light work when it comes to cooking, and you can help each other study over the meal you share.
Incorporate your interests.
You’ll be asked to learn a lot of material over the course of the summer, and to spend a great deal of time outside of class reviewing it. Finding creative ways to interact with the content can make a world of difference when you feel bored or burnt out, as well as boost your retention of information. As someone who loves to make art, I’ve found that I can always motivate myself to study when I use a nice set of pens. I taught myself the blood vessels of the heart by painting them in watercolor. This was a refreshing change of pace from my hundreds of flashcards! I highly encourage trying this for your own interests. Create a dance for learning the bones, practice muscle actions while working out, or write a story about nerve tracts as if they were people. Don’t be afraid to try something silly—you’re more likely to remember the information that way!
Take advantage of free & discounted experiences offered by the Graduate Student Council & local libraries.
Study breaks are important for both learning and wellbeing, so make sure you take them! Here at Tufts, we have a wonderful team of people (called the GSC) dedicated to enriching your time at graduate school with new experiences and friends. They organize frequent experiences perfect for new arrivals to the area. I was able to meet other new graduate students on a Duck Boat tour of Boston for only $5. Opening a free library card at the Somerville and/or Boston Public Libraries is also a great way to access new experiences. Your library card allows you to reserve free or discounted tickets at museums, the aquarium, and several other destinations.
Reach out within the program.
It can feel daunting to ask for help during your first semester at graduate school. Many of us feel that we need to prove ourselves, or don’t know who to go to when assistance is needed. Luckily, you’re entering a profession of people who have made it their life’s work to help others and to promote accessibility. Tufts OT is a community, and we’re happy to support you as you adjust to graduate school! You’ll be assigned a peer mentor from the second-year cohort (we call this a SOTA buddy, since the partnership is made by the Student Occupational Therapy Association). You’ll also have Graduate Assistants in your summer classes, and an academic advisor from the beginning of the program. Each of these people will be happy to help you—whether that means academically, socially, or otherwise.
I hope this was helpful. I can’t wait to see you on campus!
PS– for a peek ahead into the second year in the program, check out this Instagram post from the OT department.
When I’m home for the break, I reflect on all the experiences I treasure at Tufts. I think about how my friends and professors are doing and the exciting things that await me when I return. As you can imagine, the pressure in academics as a grad student is very real, and I was scared that transitioning from Tufts undergrad to grad would mean losing access to the clubs and events I looked forward to so much. I wanted to continue having dim sum nights with HKSA (Hong Kong Student Association), playing board games with people at the LGBT and Asian American center, eating ‘Dave’s Fresh Pasta’ catered sandwiches with the International Center and dancing with my Burlesque troupe.
As September rolled around, I was overjoyed to discover that all the clubs I participated in before continued to be available for grad students. There were new clubs founded every year, and of course, I had to join the Cheese Club, because who can say no to free provolone? Speaking of free cheese, the quest for free stuff was endless. Tufts and its community knows its students well, and have a way of tempting people to come together with the promise of exam goody bags, hot chocolate, tarot card readings, Bingo (I was one letter away from winning a TV!) and a performance by Rupaul’s Drag Race contestant Kerri Kolbi (sorry you missed this).
An exciting part of each semester is waiting for TUSC (Tufts University Social Collective) to announce the next fun event. As a broke undergrad, there was no short of fun, and free things to do. As a graduate student, they really stepped up the game to suit our more tight-knit and age-diverse group. Apple picking, baseball games, and Boston tours are a given, but a trip to King Richard’s Faire is something I didn’t know I needed. Singing silly songs on the bus, dressing up as a DnD party and eating a humongous Turkey leg was the last thing I expected to do with people from my machine learning class. Who knew so many grad students were nerds?
Fall Fest is the time to eat fried dough drenched in caramel sauce and line up in the cold for the best, fresh lemonade ever. People arrive early, hoping to get the highly coveted, limited edition, Fall Fest t-shirts and to try food from every food truck. I remember being thrown off a mechanical bull for the first time, entering the ‘Fortnite’ truck, and going down a big bouncy slide. Fall fest marks the beginning of the year, when no one is worried about grades yet, new students are making new friends, and returning ones bump into people they least expect. Not to mention, Fall Fest is followed by the Spring Carnival and Spring Fling, which I won’t spoil, but the carnival definitely had a Ferris wheel.
And best of all? Tufts either brings you everywhere or keeps the fun closeby, so no car required.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
By Abigail Epplett, M.A. student in Museum Education
If you’ve read one of my previous blogs on completing a practicum, you already know that I created an exhibit called “Abby Kelley Foster: Freedom, Faith, and Family” for the National Park Service. I decided to share this information with the Tufts community and signed up to participate in GS3.
What is GS3?
GS3 stands for “Graduate Student Speaker Series”. It’s open to any graduate student in the School of Arts and Sciences who wants to share their research with a general audience. I chose a topic in American history, but talks can be given in any area of study.
How to Prepare
Like any presentation, you will need to prepare ahead of time. Don’t try to “wing it”! I found the three most important steps to preparing for my GS3 talk were having a script, designing beautiful slides, and practicing my talk.
Have a Script
I had previously written a script for a short video documentary on the life of Abby Kelley Foster, which I created for the Abby’s House women’s shelter earlier this year. The runtime on the video was about 21 minutes, so I did not have to add much to the script. Because the talks are held over Zoom in their current format, I wasn’t worried about reading off the script; the attendees would watch my slides instead of my face. However, I wasn’t “married” to my script. Although I sometimes read verbatim what I had written, I also elaborated on different points depending on how much time I had left in the talk. Plus, having a script allows me to easily lengthen or shorten the talk depending on time constraints. I was able to give a longer version of the talk to volunteers at the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor using a lengthened script.
I had previously designed many of the slides as part of an online exhibit I created for the National Park Service in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote in local, state, and national elections. I had designed additional slides to use in the documentary for Abby’s House, a women’s shelter in Worcester, MA named after Abby Kelley Foster.
While my background in graphic design definitely helps me to create beautiful slides, anyone can create engaging slides by following a few basic rules.
Use pictures. Your audience members already are hearing the information. Why not give them some interesting visuals as well? Good pictures are large enough to be easily recognizable but not so large that they overpower the entire slide.
Use fewer words. Although I am definitely guilty of breaking this rule, using fewer words makes the slide more effective. A text-heavy slide can make your audience members to feel like they are reading a book instead of listening to a presentation.
Keep the slides short. My rule of thumb is 60 to 90 seconds per slide. A 25-minute talk like GS3 should have 20 to 25 slides. Longer talks should have more slides. When I led a study group on the life of Abby Kelley Foster for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Tufts, I averaged 100 to 125 slides per class.
Between presenting the pop-up poster exhibit, leading a study group, and creating a documentary, I had plenty of practice giving my talk on the life of Abby Kelley Foster. Even so, I still went over my slides a few times in the days leading up to the talk. This also allowed me to practice a component of the talk that you might not initially consider; be sure to drink enough water! Make sure to have water on hand during your talk, and practice drinking the water between slides. You will be talking almost non-stop for half an hour, and your throat will get dry.
The Moment of Truth
My presentation went great! I was not nervous at all, because I knew I was prepared. Several of my classmates from the Museum Studies program came to support me. Questions from knowledgeable audience members are a lot of fun to answer! As an added bonus, the video was recorded and will appear on the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences YouTube channel. It’s a great way to share your work with friends and relatives around the world.
You Can Do It, Too!
If you still have doubts about giving a talk with GS3, don’t forget these benefits:
The talk gives you a chance to present your newly acquired research knowledge to your peers, along with faculty and staff at Tufts.
Giving a talk at Tufts looks great on your resume and CV.
You will even receive an honorarium, a $50 gift card to Amazon.
If you are interested in participating in GS3, be sure to contact Angela Foss in the GSAS Dean’s Office. You won’t regret having this experience!
Written by Ebru Ece Gulsan, Ph.D. student in Chemical Engineering
As graduate students, we are lucky enough to have the opportunity to pursue what we are passionate about on a daily basis. The training we get at Tufts is beyond excellent. We learn to become independent and curious researchers. Our work is meaningful and intellectually challenging. The notion of seeking solutions for today’s global challenges is priceless, and many more questions arise from every single step we take. But in order to have the greatest impact on society, we must make our work accessible to general audiences. I think it is crucial to find ways to break down our findings, clearly communicate who we are, how scientific processes work, and how our research benefits the public. But why take these extra steps when we already have so much on our plates?
From a very selfish point of
view, I believe scientists need that type of outreach as much as society does,
if not more. Pursuing scientific research is a very isolated profession and
limits non-scientist human interaction. Scientific outreach not only enlightens
the society we live in, but also helps us see our work from a new set of eyes.
We get to understand different perspectives and expand our horizons. But most
importantly, we might receive deep appreciation from a wider community. Think
about that way; the only place we share the details of our work is probably our
research group meetings, where everybody is pretty much an expert in the field.
Our labmates will not be as impressed by our results as a non-expert would be.
We all need a reminder about how awesome we are doing, and science outreach is
an excellent way to feel appreciated.
Communicating our work in a
research group meeting is easy; because those people often already understand
the technical details, challenges, and findings. But in reality, breaking down
and disseminating science is a muscle that we need to work on, especially when
our audience is not familiar with us. Note to self: probably 99.9% of people do
not care about the ring cleavage reaction of naringenin; but they would
love to hear about why eating an orange is good for them. I find that
scientific outreach significantly improved my communication and teaching
skills. As I forced myself to look at my work from other perspectives in order
to simplify, I gain a better understanding of all my findings, methods, goals,
and next steps.
Another attractive aspect of
science outreach is the feeling of accomplishment. It is an easy way to put a
tick next to one of your tasks on your to-do list. It does not even feel like a
chore. In fact, I would say it is actually pretty fun. This entire science
communication thing is very rewarding and let’s be honest; our research is not
ALWAYS rewarding. We have mastered celebrating micro-achievements among many
failures in the lab, so we might as well benefit from feeling fully
accomplished once in a while.
Now let’s get back to why science
outreach is good for the society, aka the less selfish reasons to volunteer for
science communication. As scientific work becomes more global and collaborative,
it is important to build healthy relationships among scientists and general
public. The ivory tower of academia creates an unnecessary gap between
scientist and non-scientist communities. For our science to be well understood
and accepted, first we need to find ways to demonstrate that scientists are
also part of society. They should be approachable and represent someone with
whom anyone would like to grab a drink with.
Think about what mesmerized you
so much in the past, and inspired you to deep dive into a scientific career. It
might be a combination of many different occasions, but I bet some experts and/or
passionate people were involved in your decision-making process. Science
outreach is your chance to do the same for the youth by being their
inspiration. Communicating your work passionately and explaining where you came
from is a great way to show that pursuing science is accessible to anyone and
it is definitely something to love. You are the BEST person to explain what YOU
are doing in the entire world. So do not let anyone else to do it for you.
So where do you start? Being
located in the center of a university is
a fantastic opportunity when it comes to finding science outreach opportunities,
even in the middle of a pandemic. Tufts is doing an excellent job in letting us
know about possible outreach opportunities, so keep an eye on weekly
newsletters or be proactive and try something on you own! There are so many
local museums and schools that you can reach out to and offer help, even
remotely. Currently, I am a part of the Science Coaches program, a joint
American Chemical Society (ACS) and American Association of Chemistry Teachers
(AACT) science outreach initiative, which pairs science students with chemistry
teachers over the course of a school year. Despite the social distancing
requirements, we have managed to use virtual tools to make it work for both
sides. Massachusetts also hosts many science and engineering fairs, and they
are always in search for experts to volunteer as judges. Tufts usually hosts or
contributes to the Massachusetts Region IV Science Fair, so if you are looking
to participate, watch out for an email about call for judges! There is also “Skype
a Scientist,” a virtual science outreach initiative, which connects scientists
with educators and students from all around the world. You can host Q&A
sessions and find a remarkable audience to discuss your work with. Maybe you
could start a science blog or join us at Tufts Graduate Blogs and let your
voice be heard!
Science outreach is truly a gift
for both the giver and receiver. It is a privilege and a responsibility to
connect with society through our work, and we all should take the time to participate
in scientific outreach as much as we can!
By Abigail Epplett, M.A. student in Museum Education
As an undergraduate, you likely had classes that were taught in part by a teaching assistant or TA. They were most likely a graduate student who took courses at your university or from a nearby program. Maybe you thought you’d like to have that job someday. Now that you’re a grad student, you have the opportunity to fulfill that dream! I’m going to talk about my TA experience in the Civics Special Topics course, “Tweets, TikTok, and Talking Points: Modern Political Communications and Message Development.” I’ll also give you some tips on how to be a great TA, and to inspire undergrad students in the same way you were inspired years ago.
Getting the Job
Typically, TA jobs are referred to graduate students by their department to assist with undergraduate classes in that department. However, some departments and programs do not have undergraduate equivalents, as is the case for my branch of Museum Studies, Museum Education. Likewise, some interdisciplinary programs or departments do not have graduate programs. This is the case for Civics Studies classes at Tufts, as they are often cross-listed with courses in political science, philosophy, or history. Although I do have a wide breadth of knowledge on American civics and public policy due to my background in studying American history, my experience with Canvas, Zoom, and other online platforms makes me an ideal person for the job.
TAs may also be required to attend a TA orientation at the beginning of their job, typically at the beginning of the Fall semester. Because I was a last-minute hire in the Spring, I did not attend an orientation. However, I did attend a weeklong workshop called, “The Graduate Institute for Online Course Design.” This was an excellent bootcamp for learning how to lead a class and design lessons in a virtual environment. I highly recommend this type of workshop for any TA and anticipate that it will be offered again.
What does a TA do?
This brings us to the next important thing to note about being a TA. The job requirements vary widely depending on the class where you are assisting. However, many positions have the same characteristics. Here is a short list of things I do as a TA for the civics course:
Send emails to the professors, students, and
Host and record classes via Zoom
Set up, organize, and maintain the Canvas
Upload files, such as documents and videos, onto
Meet individually with students who need
assistance on projects
Assist Civic Studies staff members as needed
Unless you were an education major or minor as an undergrad, you might not have any experience leading a class. Don’t worry about this! The professor or professors teaching the class have already shown confidence in your abilities by hiring you, and you will learn a lot as you work. Here are some tips to aid in your learning.
Communication is Key
You’ve heard this and you know this, but it is worth saying again that communication is extremely important. You need to make sure you stay in contact with the professors, students, and staff members. If you cannot be contacted for an extended period of time — you have the right to take the weekend off! — make sure to set this expectation ahead of time. My rule of thumb is to respond to emails, Canvas mail, calls, or any other method of communication within 24 hours to any email sent during the business week. Even if you cannot fully answer a question or complete an assignment within that time period, you are still acknowledging contact and reassuring the initial sender that you are working on the issue. Not every person that you work with will maintain this standard, but this level of prompt response will set you apart and lead to positive recommendations. If communication is not your strong suit, GSAS offers workshops throughout the year that will help you to improve these skills, along with aiding in personal development and leadership, among many other topics.
Canvas as an Instructor
Canvas is the platform Tufts uses to hold course information. Students can use Canvas to connect to Zoom classes, read the syllabus, post to discussions, download weekly readings, upload assignments, email classmates and professors, and complete a seemingly endless number of other tasks. Despite its many positive attributes, a Canvas course page can appear chaotic, with countless links and modules to explore. This chaos is exponentially increased on the instructor side of the program, and the system can be overwhelming.
However, Canvas does have an extensive online manual that explains how to use the many features and add-ons in the program as an instructor. Use this manual to better understand the function of different parts of Canvas. You should also consider “disabling” unused features to hide them from the student view. The large number of links on the left side of the page can be distracting and confusing for undergrads. Minimizing the number of options will allow them to have a more straightforward and relaxing experience.
Be Flexible and Willing to Help
The tasks of teaching and learning during a “regular year” are hard enough, but teaching and learning during social distancing restrictions are even harder. Changes to schedules, cancelled Zoom meetings, lost internet connections, and assignment extensions are all part of the new normal. As a TA and graduate student,, you’re in a great place to understand what both professors and students are going through. Make sure that the people associated with your class know when you are available to help, whether a professor needs assistance with grading, a student wants to go over an assignment, or department staff members have additional projects outside of class needs. If you are paid hourly as a TA, you are eligible for up to ten hours of work each week. If you have the time to help your department, you will also be able to maximize your payment.
Perks of Being a TA
As I mentioned before, TAs are paid for their time, whether they are assisting with a class or helping the department. You will need to complete paperwork and an online onboarding questionnaire before you can get paid. You will also need to submit your hours every week to a supervisor.
Audit a Class for Free!
While this may not be as exciting if you have already taken the class, I find the civics course to be a fun way to learn about modern political communication without the stress of assignments and grades.
Meeting Guest Speakers
Not all classes have guest speakers, but some have a weekly lineup. In the case of the civics course, I get to communicate with many guest speakers and their assistants in the weeks prior to the class, along with watching their presentation during the class. It’s exciting to meet people in a field that holds my interest.
Having a TA position is a great experience for a grad student. You’ll learn how to manage a class, help out your department, learn new things, meet amazing people, and get paid while doing it. As long as you remember to stay open to changes, maintain communication, and view the opportunity as an experience to grow, this job will have a positive impact on both your grad school experience and your career path.
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.
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.”
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!
By Abigail Epplett, M.A. student in Museum Education
Are you strapped for cash? Do you feel buried in debt? While these side gigs may not make you a millionaire, they will help with your monthly bills. Here are some ways I have made extra money — and you can, too!
Write Guest Blogs
Many organizations, including Tufts Graduate Admissions Blog and some programs and departments, have blogs where they disseminate information to their members or followers. There’s a wide range of pay for these blogs, and some don’t pay at all. If the blog is part of an organization that you admire — like the blog for your department (see my posts with the Tufts Museum Studies Blog here and here) or an association that has helped you on your career path (see my post at Personal Historians Network Northeast) — you may not mind working “for exposure,” especially because these are great pieces for your portfolio. However, if you need cash fast, it’s best to work with an organization that you trust, has good paths of communication, and is upfront about their rates. For example, the Tufts Graduate Admissions has a blog, and in connection to my main job as an Office Coordinator (i.e. layperson manager) for a church, I’ve also blogged for Back to God Ministries International (BTGMI), which pays $125 for a four post set. The work at BTGMI was much more technical and required several revisions, which accounts for the difference in price.
Teach a Class
You are learning so much in your grad school classes. Why not share it with other people? I currently lead Study Groups with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), which has a branch at Tufts. This program is for retirees who want to keep learning at a high level. It’s essentially a snippet of grad school level courses geared towards people ages 65+. These groups are typically hosted on campus, but due to COVID-19, they are currently held online.
So far, I have taught two study groups. I used research I conducted for the course “Exhibition Planning” in Spring 2020 and my Practicum in Summer 2020 to create a study group called “Abby Kelley Foster: Freedom, Faith, and Family” in November 2020. I also used my knowledge from my Practicum and a lifetime of living in a national heritage corridor to create “The Industrial Revolution and the Blackstone River Valley” in December 2020. In January and February 2021, I hope to “switch gears” and use my knowledge from competitive athletics to lead “Exercise: Theory & Practice,” a mix of gentle exercises and kinesiology geared towards senior citizens.
Sessions for these courses typically are 2 hours long and run once a week for four weeks, but they range between one week and eight weeks in length. Study Group leaders are paid $25 per hour. If you want to learn more about leading groups with OLLI, contact the director of OLLI at Tufts once you matriculate into your graduate program.
Are you a fast typist and a good listener? Do you have a niche interest? Maybe you speak multiple languages? Audio transcription might be a good job for you. I work as an independent contractor with Audio Transcription Center in Boston (ATC). It’s easy to apply online, and you will receive a sample test within a few weeks. Once you are a contractor with ATC, you’ll receive emails about available transcription jobs and can email the office to request work. ATC pays $60 per audio hour. An hour-long job will take between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the worker’s experience and the material given. One learning curve in this job is that you need to use Express Scribe, a free program that allows users to play, stop, rewind, skip ahead, speed up, and slow down audio, just like on a cassette tape. Once you have gotten the hang of this program, transcribing will be faster and easier.
Sell Designs Online
While this method of work is not as reliable as being paid by an organization — like what happens as a guest blogger, teacher, or transcriptionist — if you are an artist, you can make extra money selling your art online. Although many online marketspaces exist, and I have tried several, I’ve personally had the most success with Society6. Once I upload my designs, I don’t have to worry about fulfilling orders; the company takes care of that for me, and payments are sent automatically to my PayPal account each month. The profit margins are small, but it’s a good way to test which of your designs are saleable if you’re interested in opening an independent business in the future.
If you love cats, dogs, birds, or any other of the many animals that people keep as pets, this is a pretty good gig. Pet sitting comes in many different forms. Dog walking might be a daily activity lasting over several months, while vacation sitting will last between five and ten days. The price of pet sitting varies depending on how much care an animal needs, and how long it needs to be watched. In my area, $17 for a walk and $20 for a day of mealtime drop-in visits is fairly standard. Although pet sitting apps exist, I do not use them and instead rely on word of mouth. That way, I already have a connection with the pet owners, which makes communication and negation easier, and they’re more likely to trust me with their “furbaby.”Make sure you know the pet’s needs ahead of time, including any directions for feeding or medications. Also, be careful not to bring animals to your house, as boarding spaces and kennels require special licenses.
As Always, Time Management
I’ve offered you five different ways to earn extra money while in grad school, great ways to pay the bills and keep from accruing (more) debt. One important thing to keep in mind while working multiple side hustles is to manage your time. Multi-tasking may seem like a great way to get many things done at once — Why not study for that final exam while walking your neighbor’s dog? There’s no way that could go wrong… — but ultimately, our brains can only handle one task at a time. Instead, if you like variety, try breaking up your jobs into smaller segments, and keep a calendar schedule of everything you need to accomplish. For example, in a given day, I might work my main job, take classes, prepare to teach a class, and pet sit. My workday might look like this:
9:15 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.
9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
3:30 p.m. – 3:45 p.m.
3:45 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
6:00 – 7:30 p.m.
7:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Prep for Class
8:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
That’s 7.5 hours of paid work, but it’s broken up into segments to be more manageable. Plus, there’s plenty of variety, so you won’t get bored from a single task.
Don’t be afraid to try new side jobs to earn extra money while in grad school! Your wallet will thank you, and you will learn new skills that will help further your career path.
Written by Abigail Epplett, M.A. student in Museum Education
If you’re a newly minted grad student or looking to join a program, you’re probably aware that many master’s and certificate programs require students to complete a practicum. What does this mean? Think of a practicum as an independent work-study class where you gain experience in your chosen field. In some ways, it is similar to an internship, but practicums may require classwork, depending on the program. The method of placement varies between disciplines. Since my area of expertise is in Museum Studies, I’m going to focus on this model of practicum.
What do you need? Who do you know? What can you do?
The first step to completing a practicum is finding an institution willing to host you. As I mentioned earlier, the method of placement varies between disciplines. Some departments place students in practicums. In Museum Studies, the student find their host institution on their own. As you can imagine, finding a host institution during the COVID-19 social distancing restrictions adds some challenges. Yikes! To make the process easier and less scary, try asking yourself these three questions: “What do I need?”, “Who do I know?”, and “What can I do?”.
Let’s start with the first question: What do you need? What is required for your practicum? Are there any limitations or deadlines to keep in mind? Each practicum lasts a certain number of hours and must be completed at a specific type of organization. For example, my practicum needed to last for at least 125 hours over the Summer 2020 session, and it needed to be held at a cultural institution. Due to the complications surrounding COVID-19, students in the Summer 2020 session could petition for extra time to complete their practicum. I did not need additional time, but it’s something to keep in mind if you are worried about getting your hours completed, especially if you already work a full-time job.
While the requirement to work at a cultural institution might initially seem pretty limiting, a wide range of organizations fall into this category. Working at a museum is an obvious choice, but during the Spring and Summer 2020, most museums were closing and furloughing staff. Visitors centers, university galleries, and museum-related businesses were likewise closed. What was I going to do?
This brings me to the second question: Who do you know? What are your connections to the industry? Who understands your potential? The idea of networking is frequently discussed in any academic setting, whether visiting a fair or workshop held by career services or learning from professors during class time and office hours. During COVID-19, I reached out to my network to find an organization to host my practicum and found a willing organization a few miles from my house: Blackstone Heritage Corridor, Inc. (BHC). This opportunity was so obvious that I nearly overlooked it. I had run or driven past the building that housed the BHC offices two or three times a day for most of my life, and had begun volunteering with BHC in January 2020, a mere four months before applying for a practicum there. This short amount of time was enough for them to see my potential and offer me a practicum opportunity.
Finally, we’ve come to the final question: What can I do? What talents make me stand out from other practicum-seeking students? How will I bring a unique skillset to the organization? If you are in the museum program, it’s a given that you know a lot about art, history, and education. Similarly, someone looking for a teaching practicum needs to know a lot about classroom management and pedagogy, while someone seeking a laboratory practicum understands scientific practices and research methods. But there are many skills outside of standard curriculum that are part of daily work and valuable to organizations. Do you design beautiful and engaging presentation slides? Are you great at troubleshooting problems with technology? Are you experienced in photography and video editing? These skills are important for any organization, especially cultural institutions with limited funding and small staffs, and will make you stand out to your potential host.
A Brief Note on Supervisors
A major component of the practicum is the onsite supervisor. This is an employee of the organization who will act as your mentor during your practicum. They make up your practicum “team”, which also includes you and your academic advisor. The supervisor has to fill out paperwork and attend at least one meeting with you and your advisor during your practicum. That being said, while it is not always possible to choose your supervisor, like when your department places you in a practicum, if you are required to find your own practicum, make sure your personality meshes with that of your supervisor. Try to meet them in person ahead of time before making a commitment. During my practicum at BHC, I worked with Suzanne, the Volunteer Coordinator, which was a great match. I had previously met Suzanne through volunteering at BHC, so I knew we would get along well.
Talk to Me, Baby
A less interesting title for this section might be, “Communication is key.” You’ve heard this throughout undergrad, high school, and even earlier, but this is still a difficult concept for some people, especially because there is such a range of communication methods and styles. On one end are people who view communication as a biweekly, five-minute phone call. On the other end are those who want frequent updates via email, text, and video chat. When these two people work together, chaos ensues.
Communicating with your supervisor is a major aspect of the practicum, especially when many practicums must happen remotely during COVID-19 restrictions. What helped me to communicate during my practicum was setting up a schedule of the entire practicum and sharing it with Suzanne. The schedule showed when we needed to have face-to-face meetings, whether they were over Zoom or in person, and what projects I needed to work on. I also sent regular updates on my projects and asked questions via email. Because we had agreed upon a schedule ahead of time, I never felt confused through lack of communication, even when the schedule inevitably changed.
The main difference that I found between a practicum and an internship was the classwork. The Museum Studies practicum comes with its own course on Tufts’ online course management site, Canvas, where students answer questions, complete self-evaluations, and submit a final paper. During my practicum, this component happened asynchronously, and I had no trouble completing the work, but it is one more thing to remember. Also, time spent completing classwork does not count toward your practicum hours, so you need to figure that into your schedule.
Your practicum supervisor also has to fill out a small amount of paperwork, mainly to verify that you are indeed working at the organization. This is where having a personality match with your supervisor is especially helpful: someone who enjoys working with you is much more likely to leave a glowing review than someone who dislikes you or is ambivalent about your existence.
Wrap It All Up
Ultimately, your practicum is intended to be an experience in the “real world” of your industry under the guidance of seasoned professionals and your academic advisor. It’s a great way to learn your likes and dislikes in the field, along with gaining new skills and making connections. Good luck finding the practicum that is perfect for you!