Jennifer Khirallah, Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. candidate
Often times as a graduate student you are tasked with
mentoring undergraduate students. This may be a daunting task to some while
others view it as an easy assignment. There is a lot of time and consideration
that must go into mentoring other students. I think one of the biggest things
overlooked is that the whole point of mentoring is to teach or inspire the
student, and that goal needs to be constantly considered when you’re in this
I work in a research lab at Tufts where graduate students
can mentor undergraduates on their projects. There is nothing official about
the process, its more or less just finding students (or them finding you) that
are interested in your research. They help with various aspects of the
experiments including design, execution, and analyzing data. However, its
beneficial to keep in mind that there is a learning curve, and they are there to
learn and not necessarily to contribute right away. If they know that you want
them to learn and practice instead of just being an extra set of hands, it
takes a lot of pressure and expectations out of the relationship and keeps it
purely educational. If they make a mistake in one of their experiments, they’ll
be honest with you and you can solve the problem together.
To be a good mentor is to be human. You have to be empathetic
and understanding. You have to want to teach them something they are interested
in, and help them in all areas of their professional, academic, and personal
development when asked. If you can be a good mentor to undergraduates, then you
can learn something about yourself and develop your communication and teaching
skills along the way.
I have found mentoring to be extremely rewarding. I have
taught my students the value of research, and they have become better
scientists and have learned about their own personal interests and dislikes. I
have learned about myself as well, including how to act in a leadership
position and how not to act. Relationships like these have the ability to shape
both participants in various aspects and can be such a gratifying experience.
We often find ourselves isolated in books and papers while in graduate school. It is easy to forget how to communicate effectively or openly with other people, but the one person you need to communicate effectively with is your advisor. I encourage graduate students to foster a culture of open and effective communication with their advisor. In my experience, communicating effectively with my academic advisor is one of the most important factors which will determine my success and happiness in my graduate education.
The first step towards developing an effective communication strategy is to define a set of ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ from your program. This may seem like a daunting task, but it will help you later down the road when you want to translate your experience from your coursework, group projects, thesis projects, and experiments into transferrable skills to list on your resume.
Ask yourself questions like: “After I graduate, what is my ideal job?” and “What skills will I need to be successful in that role?”. These are difficult questions to ask, but it’s important to take the time and think it out. As a result of this practice, I was able to adopt more open and effective communication methods with not only myself, but with my advisor. These methods have contributed to success within my graduate program. The more independent you become, and the easier you make it for your advisor to support you by communicating your wants and needs, the better your relationship will be. By becoming more self-sufficient in your graduate program, you will become more prepared for your future career.
In a culture of effective communication, it is important to be direct. It is essential to focus on work-related issues and state the objective realities that concerns you. Clarify your thoughts about the situation, and why it bothers you. Are you concerned that your project is not being completed properly? Is it taking too long? Is it too expensive? Is it difficult to get along with someone else on the project? Explain what your goals are and how you would like the situation to be resolved. Before the meeting, plan out your thoughts and ideas to make the most of your time.
As students, we can sometimes forget that professors are busy people. Most of them teach, serve on committees, write grant requests, travel to conferences, and mentor graduate students. While problems with your research and coursework are central to you, they are only one of the many items on your professor’s radar. This makes effective communication central to a working relationship with them. If you feel stuck in your research or academic work or the writing of a paper or manuscript, then it is time to utilize your effective communication skills and schedule a meeting with your advisor.
The Academic Resource Center, or ARC, as it is more commonly referred to, offers multiple dynamic programs which aim to support Tufts students. You may not realize that the ARC also caters to graduate students and offers three programs to choose from! The Time Management and Study Strategies program, Writing Program, and English for Academic Purposes program were all created to help students through the challenges they commonly face. In the second of a multi-part blog series shining a spotlight on the ARC’s programs, we’re going to talk about the Writing Support Program.
Written by Manisha Raghavan, Bioengineering M.S. 2019
Kristina Aikens, the Program Director for the Academic Resource Center’s Writing Support Program, strongly believes that writing does not have to be a solitary experience. Reflecting back on her own grad school days at Tufts (she earned a Ph.D. in English), Kristina notes that she had a support system in the form of a writing group, writing consultants, and her advisor who helped her through the writing process. The Writing Support Program’s graduate writing consultants hail from different backgrounds and have a deep understanding and knowledge of the writing process. The consultants work with students on their papers, class assignments, thesis, dissertations, fellowship applications, personal statements and so on.
The program offers a variety of options in terms of the services provided. One could sign up for a one-on-one consultation session through ‘Tutor Finder’ in SIS where a list of tutors and their availabilities are posted. This consultation session could be a one-time event to work on a short assignment or a recurring event depending on the student’s need. If one intends to work on a longer paper, for instance their thesis, they could email firstname.lastname@example.org to get matched with a suitable writing consultant.
Apart from the regular sessions, the program also offers a Graduate Writing Exchange (GWX) where a group of graduate students work independently on their drafts and meet weekly to discuss. The exchange spans over three hours and is based out of room 203 in Campus Center from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m for the Spring 2019 semester. An ARC consultant is present to offer feedback and guidance when needed. The group also shares their challenges during the writing process and sets deadlines and goals for themselves. Participation is completely voluntary and grad students can choose to attend as many weeks as they wish to!
Graduate Writing Retreats are a week-long tailored event which cater to students who are looking to start their thesis or dissertation. These retreats are held in the months of January, June and August on the Medford campus. The motivation behind these retreats is to provide a space for students where then can conceptualize and write in peace with limited distractions. At the beginning of the retreat, the student meets with a consultant to discuss their personal writing plan. The first day of the retreat focuses on identifying and addressing writing problems apart from setting goals. During the course of the retreat, approximately four hours a day is dedicated solely to the writing process. At the end of the week, the student evaluates their progress and can seek further guidance from a writing consultant if desired. The participation for the retreat is capped at 20 students, so students are encouraged to sign up for it at the earliest date possible.
Interested in working as an ARC writing consultant?The Writing Program always welcomes applications from students across Arts and Sciences and Engineering for the role of writing consultants. The application period usually begins at the beginning of April and interviews are held throughout May. Prospective consultants are expected to be writer-focused and willing to help the writer achieve their goals, along with having strong interpersonal skills. If you have experience with intensive writing, editing and mentoring, and enjoy working with people closely, this might be the perfect role for you!
To sum it up, if you ever have writer’s block, anxiety while writing a paper, or just need someone to help you out with any stage of writing, sign up for a writing consultation session right away!
In search for writing inspiration? Here are a few writing tips from Kristina to help you get started:
Make writing a habit: Carve out a time in the day to sit down and write
Make writing a commitment: Treat it as you would treat an essential task
Start with hand-written notes if you find yourself staring at a blank document on your laptop
The Academic Resource Center, or ARC, as it is more commonly referred to, offers multiple dynamic programs which aim to support Tufts students. You may not realize that the ARC also caters to graduate students and offers three programs to choose from! The Time Management and Study Strategies program, Writing Program, and English for Academic Purposes program were all created to help students through the challenges they commonly face. In the first of a multi-part blog series shining a spotlight on the ARC’s programs, we’re going to talk about the Time Management and Study Strategies program.
Written by Manisha Raghavan, Bioengineering M.S. 2019
The Time Management and Study Strategies Program (TM&SS for short) traces its roots back to 2004 when Lara Birk, the head of Subject Tutoring, noticed undergraduate students struggling with their time management skills. Lara hired doctoral student Laura Vanderberg as an intern to design a structured program to support students in honing their time management, which became officially known as the Time Management & Study Strategies Consulting program in 2008.
TM&SS is a very unique program which focuses on developing a personalized, collaborative relationship between the student and the consultant, who then work together on the changes the student wants to make. Claire Weigand, Assistant Director of the ARC, strongly believes that the program has something to offer to everyone. Each year during staff training, the consultants (who are also grad students) report learning strategies and concepts that they find personally useful in grad school. The TM&SS program receives requests from a wide variety of students who often find themselves experiencing burnout, procrastination, anxiety, struggles with sleep and so on. The program operates on the philosophy that change is possible, while recognizing that change involves a mixture of setbacks and growth.
What can I work on with my consultant?
If you find yourself working on your planning, motivation, study strategies, test anxiety, perfectionism, self-care or work-life balance, it is worth giving TM&SS consulting a try. TM&SS consulting focuses on three areas: planning (routines, busy weeks, goals, etc.), academic skills (reading large amounts, note taking, studying, test taking, etc.), and well-being (life balance, motivation/procrastination, self-care, etc.). You can sign up, get matched with a consultant within two days, and then meet for the first time to see if this is something that helps you make the changes you are working on.
How does the program work?
To request TM&SS consulting, fill out a sign-up form at go.tufts.edu/tmsssession. The program director matches students with consultants based on the information in their answers. Students are asked about what they would like to work on and what they look for in a consultant. It is important that each student feels accepted and understood by their consultant, so matching is based on schedule overlaps and each student’s preferences around shared life experience (gender, race, sexuality, personality traits, field of studies, etc.). The process also offers the flexibility to swap consultants if a student feels like they are not working well with a consultant.
TM&SS is available for both undergraduate and graduate students in the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Engineering and the SMFA. For graduate students, depending on the consultant’s availability, sessions can be conducted over both winter and summer breaks.
Want to work as a TM&SS consultant?
Look out for the job posting starting in mid-April on Handshake and keep your cover letter and CV/resume handy! Candidates must be able to attend the entire 40-hour paid training week, the week before orientation in August (August 19-23, 2019).
Want some advice without scheduling an appointment yet? Here are some mantras from the program to help you cope with the pressures of grad school:
Take effective breaks! One ends up being more productive when one takes timely breaks.
Gratitude journaling is a wonderful way to start appreciating the good things in life we often do not notice, which can boost motivation and our mood.
Sleep improves learning! Cutting back on sleep to get more done quickly stops working as everything takes longer to get done when we are tired.
As my tenure at Tufts is approaching an end (graduation is this month and my dear mother is travelling from China to the ceremony!), I come to think about my past two-year experience in this community and I feel truly lucky and honored. In philosophy, I have met and studied under devoted professional philosophers who introduced me to their scholarly research and showed me their dedication to teaching. These philosophers also care deeply about my personal growth and wellbeing, besides providing strong support to my academic learning. I would miss the Monday night dinner date with Professor Jody Azzouni where we joke about politics and engage in endless bantering. I would miss Professor Christiana Olfert’s office hours where we share with each other ideas about the Protagoras, the Pyrrhonian skepticism, or the intersectional feminism and resistance. I would miss Professor George Smith who told me about me his departure from and eventual return to philosophy when I made the difficult decision to not go into a PhD program. It is in this kind of mentor environment that I spent my past every day, gradually acquiring the ability to read philosophy, to use critical analysis, and to argue for what I believe in.
Tufts has also given me numerous opportunities to expand my professional interests and interact with the wider community. As a Graduate Writing Consultant, I work with students on a daily basis on their writing projects, from term papers to dissertations, from applications to research proposals, and I have never stopped being fascinated by their ideas and experiences – there was a qualitative research thesis about water collection systems in Ghana; there was a summer fieldwork fellowship on the effect of new charter schools on public educational resources in Boston; there was a heartbreaking personal story about living in contemporary America as a South Sudanese refugee struggling to cope with homesickness and identity issues. In helping my students navigate their thoughts and arguments, I joined their journey to becoming better writers and thinkers and to a better understanding of themselves. In turn, I thoroughly enjoyed this collaborative writing process and developed a keen interest in public service.
Last, but of course not the least, Tufts has given me a network of awesome colleagues and friends. After more than a year of teaching and tutoring, I would run into my students on campus and catch up with their new developments. Every thank-you they said to me means tremendously as I know I took part in their story. My colleagues from the Academic Resource Center continue doing workshop lunches together, sharing teaching methods and encouraging each other for future endeavor. Many of my friends from the program are also going onto top-notch PhD programs or law schools, and I know I could count on them for support whenever I need any. This precious group of people whom I have met at Tufts through all different ways greatly enriches my life and I put trust in their potentials in shaping the world and making a difference.