Jennifer Khirallah, Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. candidate
Do you ever feel like you’re not supposed to be in a graduate program? Like everyone else is more qualified than you? Like you somehow fooled everyone and you won’t last undetected any longer? This is the imposter syndrome, and you are not alone in that feeling.
The imposter syndrome can be defined as “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.” This is something not only graduate students experience, but professors and post-docs feel as well. These feelings may come and go in high stress environments and may be all-encompassing.
I have had my own share of imposter syndrome, normally during times of stress or near an important deadline. I remember one of the most convincing times was during my qualifying exams. This is an exam that lasts about three weeks and includes critiquing a peer-reviewed research paper, writing an essay on it, and then presenting in front of the entire department. And to make it even more stressful, if you fail twice, you are dismissed from the program.
I was feeling overwhelmed, underprepared, and frankly like I was in way over my head. I wasn’t able to shake the feeling that I had somehow fooled the entire department into admitting me into the program. However, I talked to someone else in my cohort and she told me she felt the same way now and then and told me “It’s the imposter syndrome,” which was the first time I had heard of this term. I still feel like an imposter sometimes, but every time it’s because I’m doing something more challenging than I’ve done before.
Sometimes it’s easy to sink into this mindset and let it consume you, but you have to change your perspective and have courage in your own abilities. You did not fool admissions into letting you in, or your professors for passing you or giving you good grades. You worked and studied for your accomplishments and put yourself in the position you are in now. You deserve to be here! You are in graduate school to learn, become more independent, and challenge your thinking. You may feel out of place and confused sometimes and that is normal. In uncomfortable situations we grow and adapt.
Sometimes just knowing that your feelings of doubt are a common thing amongst your peers may settle your nerves, so talk to your friends about this and you will be surprised at how many of them tell you they have felt the same way.
Prior to coming to Tufts, I was so curious to learn what life as a graduate student was like. For me personally, graduate school at Tufts is quite a bit different from my experience at my undergraduate institution. For starters, my undergraduate institution was larger than Tufts, with many of my lectures having anywhere from 100-300 students in it. At Tufts, my cohort consists of only 32 people, and this group is sometimes split into even smaller groups for certain courses. The purpose of the first year of the Entry-Level Occupational Therapy Doctoral program is to create a solid foundation, making very unfamiliar concepts feel like second nature by the end of the first year. This allows us to enter our practice classes with an understanding of a lot of the basics of the profession, like how to write SOAP notes, common health conditions we’ll see in practice, and general developmental themes and theoretical models throughout the lifespan for children, adolescents, and adults. While my overall schedule may change a bit each week, this is what a week in my life is like as a first-year OTD student at Tufts.
On Monday mornings, I make my way up
to the library for my Topics in Emerging Practice Areas class. As someone who
has always been very focused on the idea of working in a more medical setting,
like a hospital or an outpatient clinic, this class has opened my mind up to
numerous practice areas that I did not know were possible for OTs to work in.
Many weeks, we have speakers come in to share about the emerging practice area
that they work in, such as working in homeless shelters, refugee health,
transgender health, and more. Throughout the semester, we are also working in
groups to come up with ideas for our own emerging practice areas, practicing
how to create an effective elevator pitch for our practice area, how to present
to stakeholders, and of course, considering how OT would be crucial to this
emerging practice area. My group’s project is focused on the idea of a canine
training program for adolescents in the inpatient mental health setting,
working on various occupations, such as education, vocation, Instrumental
Activities of Daily Living (IADLs), and social participation.
In the afternoon, I have my Occupation & Adaptation
(O&A) class. Last semester we had an O&A class focused on children and
adolescents while this semester is specifically focused on adults. Through this
class, we are learning about the developmental themes and theoretical models of
the adult life cycle, ranging from early to late adulthood while considering
physical, psychological, and social changes and the influences of numerous
factors on one’s life experience. This class has a service learning component
in which we volunteer with an organization in the community with the adult
population. This class also has a lab component, allowing us to take the
lecture material from earlier in the class and to apply our knowledge in a more
hands-on way, which I have found to be useful in really drilling concepts down
in my head.
Following O&A, the last thing that I have in the day is meeting with my Project Connect group. Earlier in the semester, a professor reached out to me and some classmates about being facilitators for Project Connect, an initiative through Tufts Counseling & Mental Health Services that allows graduate and undergraduate students to form meaningful connections with other students on campus. Each week, my classmate and I meet with a small group of graduate students to have guided conversations about our lives and experiences, working towards forming connections with one another. It has been a fun and enjoyable opportunity for me to interact with students from other programs that I normally may not have had the opportunity to meet.
Tuesdays begin with my service
learning placement for my O&A class at an adult day habilitation program
for adults with developmental disabilities. My co-leader happens to be the same
person I facilitate Project Connect with, my classmate and friend, Chloe. We
actually ran groups at our current site last semester too, though, at the time,
it was for our Group Theory class, where we were learning how to run effective
groups as future OTs. Last semester, Chloe and I focused our groups on
mindfulness and arts and crafts. Moving into this semester, we wanted to change
our focus to Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs), creating weekly
cooking groups. Fortunately, our service learning site has an accessible
kitchen, allowing us to run these groups with a number of participants. We’ve
made everything from pasta to cookies to quesadillas. With each group, we must
use our OT-lens to adapt the group so that each person is able to participate.
These groups are a fun challenge for me and Chloe while also being very
enjoyable for our fantastic group members, who always seem to enjoy the process
from start to end–– though of course, eating is by far the best part.
Following our service learning placement, Chloe and I will head back to campus for our Clinical Research class. To be completely transparent, this course was one that I was pretty intimidated by as someone who has been awful at math since the first grade and is easily intimidated by statistics. Fortunately, this course is not just a lecture-heavy statistics refresher. We also have the opportunity to work on a group research project throughout the entire semester, using this to implement lecture material in a way that is more enjoyable. For example, at the beginning of the semester, we all stated our preferences for our research project prior to being grouped together, with the topics including perfectionism, sleep, mindfulness, and positive emotions. After being placed in the positive emotions group and taking a pre-test, my group and I found an evidence-based treatment intervention for increasing positive emotions in one’s life. We then implemented this intervention in our lives for one month, then we took a post-test to inform our research paper. Eventually, we will present our findings at the end of the semester.
I only have one class on Wednesdays,
my Health Conditions II class. This is the second of three required Health
Conditions courses, which are courses that focus on different conditions each
week that we will see as clinicians. We focus on the incidence and prevalence,
etiology, occupational consequences, short and long-term impacts, and OT
interventions associated with each condition. One really great aspect of this
course is that we commonly will have speakers come in from the community to speak
about different conditions or practice areas related to certain conditions. For
example, we have had OTs come in to speak about working with individuals with
spinal cord injuries/disorders and low vision, as well as professionals from
other fields, like a certified prosthetist to teach us about limb deficiencies,
amputations, and prosthetics. We have also had certain lectures in which we
learn about a specific condition, like stroke or Parkinson’s Disease, then have
a community member living with this condition speak about their experience and
how OT could help.
Following Health Conditions II, I have a mandatory open
block set from 12-1:20pm, which is a time that is set aside each week for the
department (including students) to hold meetings, speakers, events, and more.
Students in the OT program are automatically considered to be members of the
Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA), which is an organization that
will often bring in guest speakers for these open blocks and will hold social
After the open block, I walk back up to Bendetson Hall, as I am a student worker in the Office of Graduate Admissions. In this job, I do everything from administrative work, writing blogs, assisting with virtual open houses, and giving in-person or virtual tours to prospective and admitted graduate students. I loved my job working in undergraduate admissions as a campus tour guide at my undergraduate institution, so it has been great having the opportunity to continue this in graduate school.
My Thursday mornings begin with
Clinical Reasoning II, a foundational course that is focused on the evaluation
process, interviewing skills, documentation, and more. Prior to taking Clinical
Reasoning I last semester, the idea of sitting in a course like this sounded
like it would be so dry. However, these courses have turned out to be a
favorite of mine. Throughout the semester, I can genuinely see the improvement
that is being made. I feel more and more like an OT each week. Lately, we have
been focusing a lot on documentation, which is a really important subject area,
as documentation is necessary for insurance coverage, justification of
treatments, and more. My class has been practicing documentation skills through
simulation cases this semester, whether it be through a real patient that we
can access through an online video simulation library, or written cases. Each
week we practice a new skill, whether it be goal writing, SOAP notes, or
getting comfortable with using codes for evaluations and interventions in our
notes. These are all skills we will very likely use on a daily and even hourly
basis as future practitioners. I’m looking forward to seeing how I will
continue to strengthen my clinical reasoning skills throughout this course and
in future courses.
My second and final class of the day is my DEC Seminar I course. This course is the first of three courses that are aimed at preparing us for the Doctoral Experiential Component (DEC) portion of the curriculum. The DEC is a 14-week experience in our final year of the program where we’ll work on a specific DEC project. This semester, I am preparing materials that will be viewed when pairing me with my mentor for my future DEC project, such as an ePortfolio containing my resume, OT vision, clinical interests, and more. In this course, my class is often broken up into three smaller sections, allowing each student to receive feedback on ePortfolio materials and assignments in class from our professors and/or classmates, which is much less intimidating and doable with 8-12 people rather than the entire cohort. I have found this course to be very helpful for my professional development as a whole.
I actually do not have any classes on Fridays this semester! This means that I am able to work in the Office of Graduate Admissions in the morning, push myself to be productive and do some schoolwork in the afternoon, and then enjoy the evening however I see fit, whether that means I’m hanging out with friends or laying in bed watching Netflix to unwind after a long week.
My weekends vary from week to week,
though this semester, my friends and I have been making a more active effort to
have fun on the weekends. We will often take the Red Line on the T (the main
subway system for the Boston area) from Davis to places like Cambridge or
Boston to get food, explore the area, and more. There’s also a new Green Line
stop that is being constructed directly on campus, known as the Medford/Tufts
stop, which will be another great way to get into the city. My current favorite
place in Boston would probably be the North End, as I am a huge fan of Italian
food and this area is amazing for this. There are also so many great coffee
shops, parks, and places to hang out with friends as well. Of course, I’m still
very new to the area, so I have a lot of exploring left to do.
someone who spent the past ten years living in a rural town in Delaware, the
change of pace has been incredible. I remember getting to campus last summer
and sitting on top of the Tisch library as I talked to my friend from home on
the phone, watching the sun as it set over the city and the Boston skyline
began to light up beneath the night sky. I remember being so excited about the
fun and spontaneous experiences that were to come, like the Red Sox vs. Yankees
game my friends and I attended last minute for just $9 last summer. Being at
Tufts has allowed me to broaden my horizons, learning from faculty with
incredible connections and experiences in the field I am pursuing while being
able to gain valuable hands-on experiences from the very start of my program,
both in and out of the classroom. While my weekly schedule is jam-packed with
classes, service learning placements, and numerous extracurriculars, I am truly
so thankful to be here at Tufts.
By Jennifer Khirallah, Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. Candidate
The Graduate Student Council (GSC) serves graduate students across all areas in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), School of Engineering (SoE), and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts (SMFA at Tufts). The GSC is responsible for organizing events, funding student research travel, and aiding and funding graduate student organizations (GSOs). Some of the notable events hosted by the GSC are Pub Nights, the Annual 5K Run/Walk, Apple Picking, the Graduate Student Research Symposium, and many more. These events aim to serve the needs of all the students in these graduate programs by bringing them together, giving them tools to succeed, and connecting them with necessary resources.
I am currently the Community Outreach Chair on the GSC’s Executive Board (e-board) and thus have a unique perspective on how it runs from the inside. It’s amazing to be part of such a great group that serves such a large community. By being involved on the e-board, I see how this large organization runs in order to anticipate and meet every need of these students. In this role I have organized a clothing swap, a beach cleanup, a food drive, valentine’s day cards for soldiers, and the annual 5k (happening on 4/22/22)! These events have united the Tufts and Medford community to allow students to give back while having fun and meeting other students.
The GSC e-board members each play a
specific role in its smooth functioning. The President oversees all operations
and plans Graduate Student Appreciation Week. The Vice President aids the
chairs and runs the graduate student lounges at Curtis and West Hall. The
Secretary manages the social media, advertising for the GSOs, and curating the
newsletters. The Treasurer is in charge of managing the graduate student fund
and distributing it to GSC chairs, GSOs, and graduate student travel awards. There
are six GSC chairs that each aim to serve different groups and interests:
Academic, Arts & Humanities, Community Outreach, International, Social, and
Student Life. There are subcommittees of these chairs that have volunteers and
department reps that help out with organizing and planning events. If you’re
interested in getting involved in the e-board, there are elections on 5/3/22
and anyone and everyone is encouraged to apply for these positions! For more
information check out the GSC’s website
If you have any questions or
concerns about any aspect of your graduate life at Tufts, or if you would like
to become involved in the GSC, please do not hesitate to contact us on our
website. Check out Jumbo Life and the GSC
website and follow us on Instagram for
This comic was born out of the pandemic-induced stress (of course). I am an international student from India, dealing with the crazy COVID situation there, topped off with imposter syndrome of a student who’s about to graduate. The comic signifies inner strength and the need for self-care, but in a rather wacky way. It is also one of my first attempts of turning my journal writing into a comic strip with personalized illustrations.
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!
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 Audrey Balaska, Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering: Human-Robot Interaction
Graduate students are known for their passion, enthusiasm, and dedication to working hard. When I decided to apply for Ph.D. programs, I started hearing jokes and comments about how I was going to have no life because I was going to spend all of my time working.
Now, I love my research, and I really have no issues with occasionally doing research on the weekend, or working late into the night on my homework. At the same time, I also enjoy having friends outside of my classes and lab. When I first came to Tufts, I found myself wondering:
How am I going to prevent my program from taking over my entire life?
Some people in graduate school have families nearby or other commitments that automatically force them to have some semblance of a work-life balance. But as a single woman who is the only member of her family living in Massachusetts and who knows very few people who live in the area, I had no commitments except to my program when I first moved to Medford.
Graduate students often do not work from 9:00am-5:00pm, or even have a set schedule at all. Some days I have classes in the morning, while other days my classes start as late as 6:00pm. With such an irregular schedule, how do I recognize if I am working too much, or not enough?
I have two strategies:
One thing that I do is document my hours that I work on my research in a spreadsheet. This helps me keep track of how much I am actually working. I hold myself accountable both so that I’m working enough, and also not overworking myself.
The other thing that I did is I took up social dancing lessons (for those of you who are unfamiliar with social dancing, think Dancing with the Stars but without the routines). A few days a week I practice ballroom and Latin dancing for 45 minutes at a time.
Social dancing has led to so many benefits in my life: I get more exercise, I’ve made friends outside of the Tufts community, and I force myself to take a break from being a graduate student. I’ve also found that I’ve become more productive at work since I’ve started taking the mental breaks that I needed.
I’m not saying that all graduate students should take up social dancing, but I think that graduate students benefit from making “fun” commitments that are difficult to get out of. Maybe you make a pact with some friends from your classes that you will all go out together once a month. Or maybe you buy a ski pass for the winter. Or maybe you make a deal with a friend that the two of you will go for one hike a week.
Whatever it is you decide to do, it is important to commit to fun, rather than just treating it as an afterthought. I promise it will make your entire graduate experience more productive and more balanced!
Post-doctoral Researcher, Tufts University and Washington State University
There are two main reasons why I chose Tufts: collaboration and community. When picking my graduate school, I chose based on the Biology Department specifically. Now, after having been at Tufts for four years, I can say that these two reasons also apply to Tufts in general.
Collaboration: I loved that the Biology Department was collaborative, not competitive. Since we are one Biology Department, there is a range of expertise: from DNA repair to animal behavior, there is likely someone that can help with any project you propose. There are grad students that are co-advised and many labs collaborate. I am currently working on a project with the Wolfe Lab, a lab that studies microbial communities in fermented foods! I am working with the Wolfe Lab to determine if honey bee diet affects the community of microbes that live in the honey bee gut.
In general, I find the atmosphere on the Tufts campus to be a collaborative one rather than a competitive one. There are opportunities for grad students to collaborate with labs outside of their own department. Tufts even has an internal grant, Tufts Collaborates, which is specifically for this purpose! In my department, I know of biologists who work with chemists, engineers, and computer scientists.
Community: Even though we are divided into two buildings, the Biology Department strives to stay united. Every Friday, we have a seminar with cookies and tea before, and chips and salsa after. After seminar, I have the chance to catch up with faculty, staff, and students that work in the other building.
Outside of my department, the Tufts Graduate Student Council (GSC) strives to create a sense of community within the grad students. There are monthly GSC meetings where you can meet other grad students, hear about things going on, and voice your own opinions. The GSC also hosts academic, social, and community outreach events. Just last month, the GSC held their annual Graduate Student Research Symposium (GSRS). This symposium is for all grad students on the Tufts University Medford/Somerville campus and School of the Museum of Fine Arts. The GSRS is not only a place to meet other grad students, but it’s a place where you can learn about all the cool research happening at Tufts, and maybe find a collaborator!
A couple other reasons specific to me: I grew up in a small town and while I enjoy visiting the city, I am not much of a “city girl.” The location of Tufts is great for the small-town girl in me: it’s easy to visit the city but it’s also easy to find beautiful places to hike and enjoy nature. Just about an hour south of New Hampshire and an hour east of Central Mass, there are plenty of gorgeous hiking trails and mountains within a manageable driving distance.
Since I would one day like to teach at a primarily undergraduate institution, I also like that Tufts has unique teaching opportunities for grad students. There is the Graduate Institute for Teaching where grad students attend workshops on teaching during the summer, and then co-teach a class with a faculty member during the fall. There is also the ExCollege which awards Graduate Teaching Fellowships for students who want to create and teach a class on their own. This coming Fall, I will be teaching my own class on insect pollinators and applying basic science to conservation practices!
Do you ever feel stressed or burnt out in grad school? You
are not alone, and Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences provides a
diverse array of mental health services to help you on your journey to
completing your degree. With on-site professional counseling, guided
meditations, free courses on mindfulness, and the occasional visits from
therapy animals—Tufts provides support to help its graduate students succeed.
What else can you do? Well, you could take a break from work
— you could go on vacation, sleep in late, read a book that has nothing to do
with your thesis, and get some much needed (and deserved) rest and relaxation. However,
all of these things take time. When time is short and you find yourself putting
that new mandolin slicer into your Amazon shopping cart with a whisper of
“treat yo’self” to homemade potato chips as a quick pick-me-up, think twice. While homemade potato chips are indeed
delicious, there are other impulse buys that science suggests could boost your
mood. Without further ado, here are 5 impulse buys that might cheer you up without
breaking the bank.
1. An Essential Oil Diffuser
As a scientist, I’m not one to praise the use of essential
oils for medicinal purposes. However, several studies suggest that essential
oils can lead to improvements in mood. Two of the most popular essential oils
for relaxation are eucalyptus and lavender, and whether the mood effects are
placebo or not, they DO work! Turn on some slow acoustic music on Spotify, and
BANG- you’ve got yourself an at-home spa experience. Before plugging your new
toy in and turning your apartment into a wonderfully smelly day spa, make sure
to check with your roommate.
2. An LED Desk Light
Okay, this one is backed by science. Exposure to fluorescent lighting all day, every day (and sometimes night) without sunlight is bad for your health. Fluorescent lights are blue lights, and such cold-colored lighting can trigger the fight or flight response in humans, increasing our stress levels. While we as graduate students cannot really change the fact that we have to work inside at desks, we can try to decrease our stress response to light. Buy a full-spectrum LED light that you can put on your desk to try to counter all those bad fluorescents!
3. An Activity Tracker
Michelle Obama did not spend time and effort creating the “Let’s Move!” Campaign so you could sit on your bed watching Netflix all day. Doing aerobic exercises for 30-60 minutes will cause your body to release endorphins in your brain. Endorphins are chemicals that can give you a sense of euphoria. Additionally, during exercise your body pumps out endocannabinoids. Endocannabinoids are, yes, related to cannabis. They are naturally made chemicals in the body that bind to the same places in the brain as THC in weed, causing you to feel calmer and more at ease. So, buy a fitness tracker to compete in exercise challenges against friends and improve your mood at the same time.
4. A Meal Delivery Subscription
Nutrition is important—I’m sure you’ve heard it before. We hear it all the time growing up, from our parents, our teachers, and our coaches. But did you know that what you eat can actually affect how you feel? Processed foods and sugary snacks, while delicious, do not help us. Research suggests that eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed grains can lower the risk of depression. One hypothesis is that this happens through a chemical that is primarily produced in your gastrointestinal tract called serotonin. Serotonin regulates sleep, appetite, and most importantly in this case: mood. So, if you want to impulse-buy takeout from Pini’s Pizzeria think twice. Instead, consider signing up for a Meal Delivery Service like EveryPlate-where the meals are cheap, the ingredients are fresh, and you can help your body and maybe your mood!
5. A Coloring Book
Adult coloring books are a great way to reduce anxiety.
Additionally, HELLO NOSTALGIA. Do I need to say more?
So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, depressed or
any combination of those three things, remember that Tufts has services
available to help you conquer graduate school. Reach out to friends, family,
and counselors for support. But also remember that these scientifically-backed,
feel-good products can also provide an outlet if you’re ever in need of a
little mood boost.