Tag Archives: Graduate Student Council

My Life as the Next Graduate Student Council President

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

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

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

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

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

 Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Maintaining a social life on and off campus as a graduate student

 Written by Brenna Gormally, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

One of the many stereotypes that everyone has heard is that graduate students have no social lives. They’re shackled to the lab bench or desk, never to leave the fluorescent lights of the one building they know the name of. And yes, I’ll admit it—early on in graduate school it seemed inappropriate or taboo to admit that I had a social life. I made a pretty conscious decision in these early days to make it clear to my advisor, my peers, and myself that setting a work-life balance was very important for me. I realized that maintaining my emotional and physical health also meant maintaining a social life.

So how did/do I do it? Through a lot of trial and error (what can I say, I’m a scientist!), I have figured out four things that help get me outside the lab and socializing with others. Firstly—do things with people in your department. This seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes graduate school feels like a very solitary experience and it can be incredibly beneficial to surround myself with those who are going through similar struggles. And don’t stop with just the people in your lab, your specific group, or your cohort. For me, this means participating in events sponsored by my Graduate Student Organization, BUGS. These events range from pumpkin carving to career counseling to Easter egg hunts. They have been excellent times for me to forge connections with others in my department that I don’t necessarily see every day.

Secondly—do things with people outside your department. Now I’m not trying to sound harsh, but sometimes your own department can drive you nuts. Sometimes, I just don’t want to talk biology anymore. When I sense these feelings creeping in, I seek out more university-wide events that help me connect with students in other departments. For the most part, these are sponsored by the Graduate Student Council (GSC). Last year, I joined the GSC as the co-chair of the Academic and Career Development Committee. In this role, I helped organize the Graduate Student Research Symposium—a fantastic event in the spring semester—which enabled me to meet people from the English, Fine Arts, Chemistry, Biomedical, Urban and Environmental Planning, and Computer Science departments. As Vice President of the GSC, I continue to meet and socialize with people across all the Tufts schools. These opportunities have helped re-center me when I’m feeling particularly bogged down with biology.

Thirdly—do things with “real adults” AKA people outside of academia. Don’t get me wrong—I love academia and all the amazing people I have met through my journey. But it’s a bubble. And sometimes you need to get outside that bubble and remember that there is life outside of Tufts. For those times, I turn to my community sports leagues. When I first moved to Boston, I had no idea how many sports leagues there actually are. Two of the main ones are Boston Ski and Sports Club (BSSC) and Social Boston Sports (SBS). Through these two organizations, I have joined lacrosse, kickball, bocce, and inner tube water polo leagues. Yes, that would be a “sport” in which you sit in a blow-up inner tube and “play” water polo. The competitiveness and athleticism varies depending on the league and sport, but no matter what, these are great ways to meet people all across the city.

And finally, and this one seems a little backwards, but—do things on your own. Speaking for myself, sometimes I need some alone time. I have found that taking some time to wind down on my own can be incredibly beneficial. Whether it’s by reading a book, listening to music, going for a walk, or just watching Netflix, this time recharges me and prepares me for the challenges of graduate school.

So don’t be afraid to admit you have a social life. I hope that this post has provided some great resources if you need help jump-starting that social life!

Me with other board members of Graduate Student Council. Through the GSC, I have met people from all different departments including the English, Computer Science, Physics, and Engineering Departments. Photo courtesy of Taylor Sands-Marcincowski.

My inner tube water polo team celebrating our season championship. Sports leagues have gotten me out of the Tufts bubble and out and around Boston to meet some great people, and play some fantastic sports. Photo courtesy of Social Boston Sports.

Looking back: what Tufts gave me

Written by Amanda Franklin, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

I’m coming up to the end of my PhD which means I’ve spent almost five years at Tufts University. I’m becoming nostalgic as the time to leave comes closer, and I’ve been thinking more about all the amazing experiences I’ve had in the USA. I thought I’d share with you some of the good memories Tufts has given me (and hopefully it’s not too sappy!).

Me on fieldwork in Belize. I conducted my fieldwork at the Smithsonian research station on Carrie Bow Caye.

I moved to Boston in 2012 with my husband. When we moved, we knew no one in Boston and I’d never been to the USA before. Tufts has many facilities to help international students with the move. For example, the International Center can help with the essentials like paperwork and visas, and they also host events to help you get settled and meet other international grad students. One event that stands out is the international student orientation event. At that event I met some wonderful people that I could chat with about American culture. We became great friends and still regularly chat even though we now live in different states.

The Graduate Student Council also organizes many outings and activities which makes it easy to meet other grad students. At these events, I had the chance to get to know other students in the Biology Department, and also to meet grad students in other departments. I now consider these friends my “American Family”, and wouldn’t be able to live here without them. A good graduate student council is so helpful for meeting people in an unfamiliar land!

Tufts also provided great support for my research. As my research plan developed, it became clear that I was going to need a fair amount of research funds (I had decided that I wanted to conduct fieldwork in Belize). The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has a grad student grant program. This scheme was useful to me on several levels: I received feedback on my proposals, I was awarded research funds, and I had the opportunity to assess and provide feedback on other students’ proposals. In fact, this inside view of how grants are assessed was the most helpful part to improve my grant writing skills. I definitely recommend it if you get the chance!

One project I conducted was a collaboration with the Tytell lab. They lent their expertise in biomechanics so that we could measure force of mantis shrimp punches.

Throughout my time, I secured enough funds to go to Belize six times. Part of the reason I could schedule so many trips was that the Bio Department is very supportive. If necessary, we can TA two classes in one semester so that we can go on fieldwork in the next semester. We also are financially supported over summer, which is essential as most ecology grad students need to do fieldwork over summer. My field trips not only gave me that chance to dive the Belizean barrier reef, but I could conduct research in the natural environment of my study species (mantis shrimp), and meet marine biologists from across the US. It was an amazing opportunity I’ll never forget.

Another great thing about Tufts is the faculty. Everyone wants the grad students to succeed and are willing to help you out if you ask. Even better, they are all so enthusiastic about research and will gladly collaborate on research projects. I have collaborated with other labs in the Bio Department and also with labs outside of the Bio Department. This collaborative atmosphere has allowed me to learn about other research fields and develop different skills.

Sunset over Tufts campus after a winter storm.

When you need a break from academics, the Tufts campus is so beautiful to walk around. I will definitely miss seeing the four seasons pass by. I spent many days in summer sitting outside and reading papers. I loved to do this on the library roof which has a nice garden and a view out over Boston. Fall was gorgeous on campus with all the leaves changing color. I have a favorite tree that looks like it’s on fire if you catch it at the right time (pro-tip: it’s near the corner of Winthrop and Capen St). I also enjoy seeing Tufts campus with a fresh layer of snow, even though I hate the cold and slipping around on ice. And then my favorite season, Spring, comes along. Trees covered in colorful flowers in stark contrast to the lack of color during winter. It’s stunning.

I have so many fond memories of Tufts and my time here as passed way too quickly. It certainly does not feel like almost five years have passed. I’ve tried to see and do as much as I can while I’ve been here, but I still feel like there’s more to do (e.g. I never went whale watching! Don’t worry though, just booked it in for a treat after my defense). So, if you do choose Tufts, seize every opportunity (and there will be many)! Your time here will pass by before you know it.

Join a Tufts GSO, Meet People, and DO Things!

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

At Tufts, the Graduate Student Council (GSC) sponsors twenty-one (and counting!) Graduate Student Organizations (GSOs). Most GSOs are departmental, such as the Tufts English Graduate Organization, but there are also interest-based GSOs such as the Tufts Graduate Student Anime Club. Being a part of a GSO is a great way to get to know people both inside and outside your department—any GSO event that is funded by the GSC is required to be open to all Tufts graduate students! For example, the Biology Union of Graduate Students (BUGS) hosted an ice cream social on May 13, 2016. Since the event is funded by the GSC, the event goes on the Tufts GSC Online Calendar and all graduate students are welcome! There’s almost always something going on!

Being a part of a GSO is also a great way to DO things. Last month, I attended the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington D.C. with my GSO, BUGS. The festival’s mission is one close to my heart: “to stimulate and sustain the interest of our nation’s youth in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).” Last year, two BUGS members, Emily Pitcairn and Kyle Jewhurst, put together a BUGS USA Science and Engineering Festival committee. Over the course of a year, our committee got broken up into sub-committees, each in charge of a particular aspect of planning for the festival. When it was time to attend the festival, BUGS had three interactive activities to present at our booth. All of our activities went along with our booth’s theme: “Life is communication.”

During the 3-day long festival (which hosted over 3,000 interactive STEM activities and 50 stage shows), an estimated 350,000+ visitors came by our booth! Thankfully, we had a team of twelve BUGS at the festival. Three BUGS at a time took shifts (about two hours long) at our booth—taking turns kept us refreshed and focused on the activity—and outreach!—at hand.

The activity my sub-committee worked on was The Bee Box. The Bee Box allowed visitors to see how bees see by shining a blacklight on a “garden” inside the box. The blacklight revealed UV patterns on flowers (called nectar guides) that bees use to find pollen and nectar. Without the help of the special light, these patterns are invisible to us!

We also brought flatworms (planaria) that allowed visitors to learn about cellular communication. If a flat worm is cut in half, the head portion grows another tail and the tail portion grows another head. You end up with two healthy, functional flatworms! If you block cellular communication with certain drugs however, you will end up with double headed or double tailed worms. Visitors used a microscope hooked up to a tablet to investigate these worms for themselves.

Our third interactive activity taught visitors about the communication between DNA and RNA. Visitors used DNA “building blocks” to build their own model organism.

While off duty, we wandered around the festival. Among other things, we got to hold hissing cockroaches, found out which plant pathogen our personality matched, and visited Mars. We also got to hear Wil Wheaton (Stand by Me, Stark Trek: The Next Generation, Big Bang Theory) give an inspiring talk about the role of art in science. Without art, it’s difficult to get the general public excited and interested in science! (Wil’s first exposure to the awesome-ness of science was watching Stark Trek.) As a field biologist myself, I have seen how important creativity is in science as well. (I spend a lot of time at the hardware store during the field season.)

In the end, the festival was a success—for for both the science communicator and the science nerd in me—and and if it hadn’t been for BUGS, I would not have made it there! The festival is held every two years—we’re already looking forward to 2018!

Other Tufts groups represented at the festival were the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach, the DevTech Research Group, the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, the Medical School Center for Translational Science Education, and the Bioinformatics Inquiry through Sequencing (BioSeq) group.

Rachael Bonoan USA Science & Engineering 1

From left to right: (TOP) Marcus Lehr, Varandt Khodaverdian, Kyle Jewhurst, Ishtiaque Quasem (MIDDLE) Taylor Sands-Marcinkowski, Brenna Gormally, Clare Parker, Emily Pitcairn (BOTTOM) Rachael Bonoan, Kaylinnette Pinet, Elizabeth Landis

How Bees See

Rachael Bonoan USA Science & Engineering 5 Rachael Bonoan USA Science & Engineering 6 Rachael Bonoan USA Science & Engineering 7 Rachael Bonoan USA Science & Engineering 8 Rachael Bonoan USA Science & Engineering 9

Rachael Bonoan USA Science & Engineering 10

 

#GSRS2016

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

Graduate Student Council (GSC) Academic Chair, Cassandra Donatelli, did a great job soliciting presentations for this year’s Tufts University Graduate Student Research Symposium (GSRS). Throughout the day, there were over 40 different graduate student presentations, representing 20 different departments, from 3 different Tufts schools—Arts, Sciences & Engineering, Sackler, and Fletcher!

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Emma Schneider

Of the 15-minute talks I saw (we had so many presenters, there were two sessions going on at once!), one of my favorites was Emma Schneider’s presentation on listening. Emma (pictured right) is a graduate student in the English department who is interested in environmental policy. Emma began her presentation by pointing out that when it comes to environmental policy, there is no lack of people speaking out, there is no lack of data, but there is a lack of listening. Emma then discussed how she analyzes texts about listening to nature, the silence around us, and of course, other people!

Of the shorter, 5-minute talks, the one that stuck out to me most was “MacGyver Robots” given by Vasanth Sarathy (below) of the Computer Science and Cognitive Science Departments. Vasanth is interested in teaching robots how to change how they react to an object based on context. The example Vasanth used was a knife. When picking up the knife to cut something, the robot should pick it up by the handle. When picking up the knife to give it to someone (or something?), the robot should pick it up (carefully!) by the blade. If the robot wants to spin the knife (for what Vasanth called a dangerous game of Truth or Dare), the robot should then grab the knife in the middle. But—asked Dr. Kelly McLaughlin from Biology—why a knife? Why not a pen? Unlike a pen, explained Vasanth, the knife also has a moral context. During the 5-minute presentations, we also learned about the microbes in kimchi, factors affecting conditional probability judgements, facial recognition systems, tail regeneration in tadpoles, and silica nanoparticles (among other things!)

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Vasanth Sarathy, a fellow blogger!

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Dr. Benjamin Wolfe

Following the 5-minute talks was the keynote by Dr. Benjamin Wolfe from the Biology Department. Ben studies microbes in…cheese (and other fermented foods but cheese is currently his main study system). During his talk, Ben briefly discussed his research (which you should check out!), and then focused on the importance of communication and gave the audience some tips on how to be good communicators.

So—why should we communicate our academic research and how do we do it? In communicating our research, we can understand it better. Ben started with an anecdote—the person who motivates him to communicate his science is his mom. A first generation college student, Ben had to explain his research to his mom in a way that was accessible. Being able to explain his research to his mom—and now cheesemakers—has made Ben understand his research on a deeper level. Also, communicating to the general public can help us to find unexpected things in unlikely places. The picture that Ben is pointing to is a piece of trach (specifically, a cigarette butt) that he picked up off the sidewalk and then put on a nutrient plate to let the microbes grow. This was part of a pop science piece that Ben wrote for a magazine (Lucky Peach).

Which brings me to the “how.” Basically, just do it. Sign up to present at symposia that aren’t specific to your discipline (like the Tufts Graduate Student Research Symposium!), write for magazines that are for the general public, start a blog. Ben also stressed two points that are important for successful communication: visuals and respect. Take pictures of your study system, make infographics, have fun with it! Who doesn’t like a good visual? And importantly, respect your audience and their beliefs. Don’t talk down to them, don’t belittle them; instead, excite them by showing them what they don’t expect (like microbes growing on a cigarette)!

Following the successful keynote was the poster session and reception with wine, cheese, and other refreshments. I presented a poster and found it was a great way to meet other graduate students from other departments and other Tufts schools. (All poster session and reception photos are courtesy of Psychology graduate student Clint Perry.)

If you are interested in checking out some of the other topics covered during the symposium, check out @TuftsGSC on twitter (we live tweeted all day!) and #GSRS2016! Hope to see you there next year!  Rachael Bonoan 3-4-16 blog pic 10

When I say “HOLIDAY,” You Say “FOOD DRIVE”

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

That’s just one of the cheers you would have Holiday Food Drive 1heard if you were walking around Porter Square early one Saturday evening (November 21, 2015 to be exact). Jenn (Biology grad student) brought lots of energy—and thus, lots of donators—to the annual Graduate Student Council (GSC) food drive. Clint (Psychology grad student) kept warm—and received lots of hugs from strangers—by walking around in his red panda onesie (because, why not?).

On a more serious note, the annual holiday food drive is a GSC tradition. Every year around Thanksgiving, the GSC Community Outreach Chair (this year, that’s me!) rounds up volunteers Holiday Food Drive 2to collect donations of non-perishable foods outside of Star Market in Porter Square. All donations are then brought to the Somerville Homeless Coalition. The Coalition’s Project SOUP (Share Our United Pantry) is a food pantry that hosts community suppers and distributes food donations to those in need. This year’s GSC food drive was such a success that we may have overwhelmed the Project SOUP volunteers…but in a good way!

This year, we had a total of 14 volunteers throughout the day, 11 of which were grad students representing various departments (in addition to Biology and Psychology, we had grad student volunteers from Physics, Economics, Computer Science and Drama). Those 14 volunteers collected 17 boxes of non-perishable food! At the food drive, we also received $197 in cash donations (which we turned into some of those non-perishable food items).

When our cash donations started piling up, a couple of volunteers would go into Star Market to use the cash to buy more non-perishable donations. At the suggestion of our GSC President, Jeremy, most of our cash donations went toward buying baby food—something most people don’t consider when donating to a food drive. At one point, Jeremy and I went into Star Market with $49.71 to spend on baby food. As we piled roughly $50-worth of baby food onto the conveyor belt, the cashier likely thought Jeremy and I were young, struggling parents with multiples (triplets?).

Holiday Food Drive 3Aside from being able to donate 17 boxes-worth of food to Project SOUP, the best part of the food drive was meeting people from the community and seeing them get into the holiday spirit. We had one man who heard Jenn cheering from afar and told us that he didn’t need any groceries but he was going to go in and buy some just for our food drive. When he came out, he put 2 bags of groceries on our table while chanting “Donate! Donate! Donate!”

There were people who came out with whole shopping carts full of donations, whole shopping baskets full of donations, and one man even went home to clean out his pantry—he brought us three bags of canned goods, oatmeal, and rice. There were also a lot of kids who would shyly put a canned good or two on our table—one was dressed as an astronaut!

Happy Halloween from Tufts!

 

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

GSC Halloween pic 1This year, the Graduate Student Council (GSC) put on a Halloween party in our newest graduate student lounge (which is likely to be a topic in a future blog post)—Curtis Hall. The party was planned and executed by this year’s wonderful Social Chair, Taylor Sands-Marcinkowski (Wanda from the Fairly Odd Parents). The other executive board members (pictured to the right, photo courtesy of Psych grad student Clint Perry) that helped pull the party off were President Jeremy Watcher (a Roman dictator with his sticks as a sign of authority), Secretary Mike Pietras (computational scientist—he’s actually a computational scientist), and yours truly, the Community Outreach Chair (a tough cookie). Our other executive board members (Vice President, Treasurer, Academic Chair and Student Life Chair) were unable to make the party—they were in Los Angeles representing Tufts at the 29th Annual National Conference of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students. Even though they were in LA, I think we had more fun in Curtis Hall.

GSC Hallowen pic 3GSC Halloween pic 2At the party, we had LOTS of candy, other snacks, and a costume contest! The first place winners of the costume contest came dressed as the characters from Pixar’s recent movie Inside Out. From left to right, Kasey, Dave, Jenn, Becca, and Kelsey are all affiliated with the Biology Department here at Tufts. Kasey and Becca are recently graduated master’s students, Jenn and Kelsey are 6th and 5th year Ph.D. students respectively, Dave is a graduate student at MIT and Kasey’s boyfriend. This year, the first place prize was a gift card to Foundry, a nearby restaurant in Davis Square (another possible future blog topic). Kasey—as Joy—was characteristically overjoyed that her group won the costume contest (notice her feet are a good few inches off the ground).

GSC Halloween pic 4Our second place winner was on the other end of the Halloween spectrum—he was scary. Parading as an exorcist priest, the international Physics grad student went above and beyond for his first Halloween! The exorcist priest won a gift card to Diesel Café, a coffee shop in Davis Square for his prize. Among other characters, we also had pirates, a woodland nymph, Maverick, and Luna Lovegood show up at the party. (Sadness got really into her character for the group photo.) What I like most about GSC social events is that I get to get out of the Biology Department and meet grad students from other departments. At this party alone, there were grad students from Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Computer Science, Engineering, Drama, and more!

 

The GSC’s next holiday-themed event is our Thanksgiving Food Drive—coming up soon!