Tag Archives: master’s student

Life as a TA

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 guest speakers
  • Host and record classes via Zoom
  • Set up, organize, and maintain the Canvas website
  • Upload files, such as documents and videos, onto Canvas
  • Meet individually with students who need assistance on projects
  • Assist Civic Studies staff members as needed

TA Tips

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

Payment

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.

Conclusion

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.

The Side Hustle

Ways to earn extra money as a graduate student

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.

Transcribe Audio

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.

Pet Sitting

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.Pet Sit
9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.Main Job
3:30 p.m. – 3:45 p.m.Pet Sit
3:45 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.Break
6:00 – 7:30 p.m.Take Class
7:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.Prep for Class
8:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.Pet Sit

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.

Oh no, I have to do a practicum!

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.

Looff Carousel, Slater’s Park in Pawtucket, RI – photo by Vicki Francesconi-Sullivan

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

“Hunt House” – photo by Suzanne Buchanan

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.

Finally, Paperwork

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!

#ThrowbackThursday: Why Jiali Chose Tufts

Written by Jiali Liu, Philosophy M.A. 2017

Coming to Tufts for philosophy was no minor deviation from what I was doing in college. I majored in English and International Relations as an undergraduate and my school offered no philosophy class (it was a petite institution affiliated with the Chinese Foreign Ministry and it was highly specialized in diplomacy studies). I came to formal contact with philosophy when I was a visiting student at Barnard College in New York. It was a short semester, but that one Intro to Philosophy class intrigued me enormously.

In retrospect, I still could not pinpoint the exact reasons for how that happened—to be shaped by one single class and then make a two-year, or even longer, commitment to the subject matter. Graduate schools are different from college in significant ways. They are more expensive. They are more specialized. They bear more relevance to and influence on one’s future career path and prospects. To make a decision about what to do at when and where for a Master degree sometimes calls for a deep soul search. My own guess is that I was exposed to philosophy in a myriad ways much earlier than Barnard, only that I was not fully conscious of its presence and power of osmosis with time in my thinking and action. I probably felt dissatisfaction with only an answer to how things are and wanted to seek why they are such.

But Tufts? First of all, I knew the program because I had a professor who graduated from here back in 2003. The continuity of tradition and legacy presented itself beautifully and ignited my initial interest in knowing more about Tufts. On the other hand, I did not want to mass-produce a dozen of applications (interestingly graduate schools do not work the same way as colleges in this aspect either: to apply for more places barely increases one’s chance to get into any of them). So I had to concentrate on a few programs that are (1) academically top-notch; (2) not discriminating against non-philosophy majors; and (3) cost-efficient.

According to the Philosophy Gourmet report, Tufts’ Master in Philosophy program is number one in the country. It has the highest faculty quality. It actually invites different majors who are interested and determined in making a career in philosophy and helps them to prepare for a PhD program. And it is generous in money and TA opportunities! I doubt that anyone who has received the Tufts’ offer would decline it unless she has a PhD letter of acceptance from somewhere else. There was another reason equally important to me. I like intimate communities and a close work-together spirit with my cohort. In total, Tufts’ program has around 20 people, including both first and second years. People have plenty of chance to invest in friendships and intellectual connection and graduate students are treated as peers by the faculty and staff.

Choosing Tufts was not nearly as hard a decision as the one on philosophy. It felt almost natural for what has happened to unfold the way it did once I knew philosophy was what I wanted.