By Jennifer Khirallah, Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. Candidate
Research at Tufts University spans a wide variety of areas
with scientists and engineers that contribute to and advance their fields. I am
working in the Xu Lab in the Department of Biomedical Engineering,
where we study the use of lipid nanoparticles for small molecule delivery for therapeutic
The Xu lab, located in the Science and Technology Center, is run by Professor Qiaobing Xu. We collaborate with different professors, institutions, and doctors to utilize lipid nanoparticles to deliver a therapeutic cargo for different treatments. These lipid nanoparticles have been designed to target specific organs and cells, such as the liver, lung, spleen, and brain, and therefore acts as a targeted delivery vehicle.
There are many completed and ongoing projects in our lab
that have use our lipid nanoparticles in applications such as cancer vaccines,
gene editing liver cells, and neurotransmitter-derived lipidoids for brain
delivery. I am working on two projects; one project analyzes the use of a liver
targeting lipid nanoparticle for treatment of metabolic disorders and the other
project aims to analyze and optimize the long-term stability of mRNA-loaded
I found my passion in this research subject during my various experiences in both research and industry. I worked with different types of nanoparticles for a plethora of applications and eventually found this cutting-edge approach in the Xu lab. The research done in our lab is pushing boundaries and progressing medicine today. Being part of that advancement makes me excited to go to lab every day!
I work extremely independently, and this has pushed me to think more critically and to rely on myself for my needs and goals. I set my own experiments and timelines and am directly responsible for the progress of my projects, which is teaching me about time management, planning, and adaptation. Research has so many bumps that I have learned to adapt in order to save an experiment, which has taught me how to be a quick decision maker under pressure. Overall, the Xu Lab has interesting research and I find the work fascinating. I am grateful to be involved in a laboratory with direct clinical translation and to contribute to the drug delivery field. The technology being developed in this field is revolutionary and can change modern medicine as we know it.
By Lan Anh (Bella) Do, Ph.D. Cognitive Psychology PhD Candidate
Applying to graduate schools, for me, was a process of searching for a P.I. whose research interests fit with mine. In other words, professors were the main motivation for all my applications, rather the schools themselves. At Tufts, I was interested in working with Dr. Ayanna Thomas who is currently the editor-in-chief of the journal Memory & Cognition. Her work in memory, learning, and metacognition was in line with my research experience and more importantly, she examines such topics in the context of stress, an important but understudied factor that is highly relevant to education. Fortunately, she offered me admission to Tufts, but it was not the only offer that I received. That was when I had to truly think about the question: Why Tufts?
Everyone has their own criteria when selecting a graduate school but perhaps the ultimate aim is to find a place that matches their needs and values. For me, an ideal program is the one that, first, allows me to work with not only my advisor but also other top-notch experts in the field of my interest, and second, financially supports me through the duration of my study. I see myself as a realistic person so typically I don’t need a beautiful story to back up my decision, but in this case I looked at the facts. Tufts is one of the R1 institutions that is well known for its high research activities. Also, at Tufts, the PhD in Psychology is a fully funded program, which allows students to work with payment as an RA and/or TA during the semester. Besides the stipend, Tufts provides a wide range of other funding for research related activities and travel grants for attending conferences. This is especially important for an international student like me because I probably wouldn’t be able to complete a 4- or 5-year PhD program if I had to worry about my budget.
When I think of Tufts, it feels like a tree to me – a huge oak with a big trunk and spreading boughs – a tree that can cover my head on both sunny and rainy days, but it also has a young vibe of a blue sky that allows people a lot of freedom to come up with new ideas. When I imagined myself flying away from South Korea, my second hometown, and moving to America, to live and study at Tufts for the next 4-5 years, I was not nervous, but rather excited. I listened to my instinct, and I picked Tufts to be the next destination of my journey.
After my first one-and-a-half months at Tufts, I have discovered many other advantages of being a student here, besides its prestige and generous financial support. Everyone is friendly and reaches out to me to ask if I need any help. I am able to call all the faculty in my department by their first names, so it is comfortable to communicate with them. This is a big difference and a nice surprise for me, a student coming from Asian cultures, specifically, Korean and Vietnamese, where there was always a hierarchy between students and professors, and such hierarchy forms the way we behave and talk to one another. There seems to be more room for open conversation and for students to express their opinions when they can talk to their professors in a more casual way.
Also, probably due to its smaller size, people at Tufts are very responsive. Whenever I have a problem and email the school offices to ask for help, they always respond quickly with a proper solution. From an international student’s perspective, this is a huge advantage of Tufts. I have faced quite a number of troubles since I moved to America, from course registration, mobile phone number, payment and countless other situations I have had to handle to start a new life. I’m glad that there is always someone whom I can reach out to for help.
In this semester (Fall 2021), I’m taking three classes and one of them is Advanced Statistics I. There is homework almost every week and a quiz every month. It may sound like a huge burden for some students, but as an educational psychologist, I’m aware that it’s actually a good teaching and learning method. Repeated retrieval practice and rehearsal can strengthen our memory and help us remember more of what we learned and for a longer period of time. Making such activities, however, can be demanding especially for the instructor (Dr. Daniel Barch). Thus, I’m grateful for the effort he spent on creating all the learning materials, and I expect to learn a lot from this course.
One bonus point that I like about Tufts is the huge and beautiful lawns on campus. It’s probably the first time in my life seeing this much green around me and having the freedom to walk on it. Hopefully, this amount of freshness can help everyone, including me, make the best of our education at Tufts, given the pandemic situation.
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!
Written by Audrey Balaska, Ph.D. student in Mechanical Engineering: Human-Robot interaction
There have been a lot of changes this semester as we adjust our campus environment to keep people safe during a pandemic. Now, this is understandably a difficult transition, and there are some things that just aren’t possible right now. But, there are some resources that are still available, just in a different format!
Specifically, I’m talking about the Nolop Fabrication, Analysis, Simulation and Testing (FAST) Facility located in the Science and Engineering Complex at Tufts. Nolop was founded thanks to a generous gift from the estate of Keith Nolop, and includes the Stricker Family Genius Bar funded by Jane and Rob Stricker, E69, and the Byrne Advanced Machining Area made possible by Dan Byrne, E76. Normally a popular spot for students to hang out, work on projects, and let their creativity thrive, Nolop is understandably closed to in-person involvement this semester. However, Nolop is offering remote services, where the makerspace employees will fulfill your requests for laser cutting, 3-D printing, or soldering!
More detailed information is located on the Nolop webpage, or you can read about the types of projects made by students last year in this Tufts Now article. As an example, though, here is the process for how I got some laser-cut parts for my home project of making a place to hang my masks.
Step 1: Using a CAD software (OnShape), I created my design for what I wanted cut.
Step 2: I shared my design with Nolop employees on the laser cutting channel (of the Nolop Slack group). When I explained that I wanted my design cut out so that I could paint it, they gave me advice on what material would be best for painting (a list of materials available for purchase from Nolop are located here).
Step 3: When the parts were ready, I picked them up from the station outside of the makerspace.
Step 4: And using wooden boards, clothespins, paint, and glue, I created my final product!
Now, I’m an engineering student, but Nolop is open to everybody at Tufts! This semester, they are offering 3 services remotely: 3D Printing, Laser Cutting, and Soldering. You can use these services for personal projects, class assignments, or just to learn more about technology and design. The Nolop slack channel is also a place where people ask for advice on projects they are working on, share interesting links, and are just a general part of the Nolop community.
Written by Ebru Ece Gulsan, Ph.D. student in Chemical Engineering
I bet none of us imagined the rest of the semester going like this after Spring Break. We are slowly transitioning to distance learning and a home office routine not only as a community, but also as students from around the globe. Although staying at home gives us some extra time for our hobbies and self-care, eliminates our commute time, and maybe saves us some money, it could also hinder our productivity and motivation to maintain our routine.
Personally, I always need to be in an office, library or a coffee shop to get things done. Knowing that I’m 5 steps away from my bed and there are tons of snacks in the fridge is never helpful. I am sure other Jumbos are on the same page, so I wanted to share some useful apps that I use to keep myself on track, no matter how inclined I am to procrastinate at home. These apps are not only for your daily tasks like research or homework, but also for other productive activities like reading or exercising.
Having said that, you do NOT have to be productive ALL THE TIME. If you are failing to make the most of your time at home, this does not mean that you are not self-compassionate. Please do not feel pressured by the fact that Shakespeare wrote “King Lear” in quarantine, while you might have had cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner yesterday because you couldn’t bring yourself to cook. Everything is upside down now and you get to define what success is for you.
Be gentle to yourself, make time for your hobbies, relax, and do not forget to call your loved ones. In the meanwhile, there is no harm sharing what helps you stay organized during this time.
An all-in-one workspace for your notes
Notion provides you a workspace you can access through all your devices. This is by far my favorite productivity and organizational tool I have used. You can create and keep track of to-do lists, tasks, projects, notes, and ideas, and even enrich them with media, icons, webpages, publications, or any other useful reference you can imagine. The best thing is that when you add references to your lists, you have the chance of accessing them even if you are not online. It is also possible to share your lists and collaborate with other Notion users. The app operates on nested pages which saves us from messy folder organizations. Overall, for me Notion is a very versatile, smooth, user friendly and useful app that helps with my routine (and is free!).
Having weekly or daily to-do lists is great for productivity; but for me documenting long term goals and my progress towards those is key to staying motivated. Day One is an excellent journaling app not only for tasks and projects, but also for personal growth. It provides you a safe digital space to store your memories, thoughts and dreams, either with pictures or words.
Set Yourself a Reading Challenge
Is there a better time than a stay-home period to finish those books you had started months ago but have not had time to get back to? In theory, yes! But in practice, not really. I don’t know if it is just me, but I find it very difficult sometimes to reach to that book sitting on my nightstand although I have all the time in the world.
This app is such a life saver; you can use Goodreads to set a “reading challenge” and keep track of your progress. The app also sends you notifications and reminders to motivate you to get back on track. You can see what your friends are reading, where they are at their own challenge, how they felt about their books, what they want to read next. The app will also use an algorithm to give you recommendations for your tastes and interests over time, which motivates you even more to finish that book and start those new excellent recommendations.
Track Your Workouts
It is especially difficult for folks in Boston to stay home all day, considering the year-round 5 AM runners all around the city. I love being active, and have been lucky enough to have access to excellent athletic facilities provided by Tufts. I have been using the Strong app to keep track of my exercises, make customized workout routines, and record my progress. The additional benefit of Strong is that it allows the user to define details about their workouts.
You do not have to be outside to be active! There are plenty of exercises and reasonably priced weights to purchase online. My personal favorites are resistance bands, a kettlebell (preferably on the heavier side to use for full body exercises which engage bigger muscle groups, mine is around 20 pounds for reference) and dumbbells. They last a lifetime, are compact and easy to store. For inspiration, YouTube has some excellent free channels to safely guide you through creating your home exercise routine, and many yoga studios also started live streaming for their clients.
Please do not forget that this is stressful time for all of us, but we are doing our best. Extend some grace to yourself and appreciate how we adjust ourselves to a situation which seemed unimaginable a few weeks ago. The most helpful approach I took during this transition was to treat the day as a regular day in my office. I woke up early and got ready for the day, had my gear together, set up a workplace, and most importantly, I set boundaries for my work hours and leisure hours. But there were also days I did not get any work done, which I learned to be okay with.
So, do not overwhelm yourself and find what works for you. Stay in touch with your co-workers, classmates, and principal investigator. Organize get-togethers with that friend who you studied abroad with, who you never get a chance to FaceTime anymore. Call your parents. Treat yourself with some self-care. Most importantly, be gentle to yourself and to your loved ones.
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!
Written by Ebru Ece Gulsan, Ph.D. student in Chemical Engineering
“This year I will be very productive and organized”.
“This year I will lose those extra 10 pounds”.
It’s been a little bit more than one year since I made the big decision to enroll at Tufts and open a new door for my career, but it still feels like yesterday to me. Did time really fly? Why do I still tend to introduce myself as “Hi, I’m a first year PhD student in…” although I’m approaching to the middle of my second year here? Why do I still have the same resolutions as last year? Was I not supposed to work harder to achieve these goals? Did I not do anything in 2019?
No, I did plenty of things in 2019! I traveled to a new country, kayaked in an abandoned bay at midnight to watch bioluminescence, learned a new programming language, completed my first winter hike (yay!), successfully drove a manual car in Powder House Square’s circle (yay! #2). I went to a small village in Slovakia to be the bridesmaid in a very good friend of mine’s wedding. I also was late to the wedding because I missed a turn while driving up to Slovakia and ended up in a different country. No, I did not attend a scientific conference this year (which I wanted to so badly), but I learned how to apply to one. I did not publish an article, but I started writing the “methods” section. I lost someone very special to me and I learned (or I’m still learning) how to tackle it. I made huge mistakes in my research which seemed irremediable at the time, but I still figured out how to make a great come back. I did not start writing the travel blog that I have always wanted to. Instead, I made a portfolio for my photography archive. I picked up a new hobby. Then I decided not to pick up another hobby. I did so many things, either planned or unplanned, but 2019 was full of things!
This photo is from December 2018, in my favorite bakery, good old Tatte, located in my favorite neighborhood, Beacon Hill. I remember exactly how I was feeling when I took this photo. I was cold (obviously), pretty homesick, overwhelmed by the amount of responsibilities I had, but also incredibly grateful, proud and euphoric. I could never know that I would find my home away from home in this city, establish lifelong friendships, meet eminent scientists and even work with them, fall in love, then cry over a man, cry over a failed experiment, and cry over a lost Python script. Then I fell in love with another man, tried that experiment one more time and fail again, and then wrote that lost script once more from scratch only to find that it was easier this time. I cried over the same experiment again, but this time it was because I finally figured it out.
2019 was full of things, but why do I still have this feeling that it was not enough?
Sometimes we lose ourselves in the big picture and forget to check the boxes for our smaller achievements. Success should not be described as an end point. Instead, every single step towards this goal should be counted as success. Success is not always tangible. Sometimes not giving up is a lot more difficult and important than achieving the actual goal. But if we keep focusing on and glorifying our end points, what we do on the way to those points start to seem insignificant. We find ourselves questioning our ability to reach our goals and think that we are not enough.
So just remember, you achieved so many things in 2019 – even though you are not aware of it yet. Every single decision you made and every single action you took brought you a little bit closer to your New Year’s resolution, be it starting grad school, publishing that paper, or learning how to drive a manual car.
I want to close the year with a realization in how we tend to evaluate ourselves. I have an ideal self in my mind that I strive to be. But I should keep reminding myself that this ideal self did not appear out of nowhere. She worked hard to be that person. If I want to be her, the first thing I should do is to realize that I am already her. Maybe 2019 was not the golden year, but it definitely laid the base for 2020 to have a chance. And if 2020 becomes that golden year, it owes everything to 2019.
Written by Ebru Ece Gulsan, Ph.D. student in Chemical Engineering
Congratulations! You made it!
You are moving to the Boston area
and are possibly even coming from the other side of the world.
Your parents are proud, friends are jealous.
As time goes by, maybe they start to be more bittersweet. They think you are too busy living the dream life to FaceTime with them as often as you used to, but they have no idea how difficult it is to wake up at 5 am to make sure you call them at a reasonable time since there is a 10 hour time difference. You sound “annoying” or “displeased” when you complain about the tremendous amount of grad school work-load because your loved ones think you do not appreciate your opportunities enough. It looks so easy when you see the third-year international students, because they all seem settled down and have already built their communities. They are all incredibly fluent in English while you still take your time to construct your sentences in the most grammatically perfect way not to be judged by native speakers, and sometimes give up on speaking up because you are exhausted of overthinking.
I get it.
I moved to Boston from a country where America is only known for its fast food, huge cars, and “drive thrus.” Maybe also for TV ads of prescribed medications (like seriously?).
Even though I traveled abroad a bunch, lived in different countries and went to an English medium university, it took me a long time to feel comfortable with my new first language. I still remember the first time I landed at Boston Logan Airport and not understanding a word the security guy said to me. I was freaking out about writing a scientific article or a textbook chapter in English. The first research group meeting I attended was a nightmare – leaving aside the scientific content of the discussions, I could barely understand the language that they spoke. There is a difference between “native speakers who speak English” and “internationals who speak English.”
Language shock is not even the first challenge you face when you move in from another country. Yes, we live in a more global age and all of us are exposed to other cultures and understandings, but this does not necessarily mean that we will immediately adjust and things will go smoothly. There are so many small cultural differences and nuances, such as different gender roles, work ethics, and gestures that are not visible at first. You will learn how to write e-mails, how to flirt, or what to say someone who has lost a significant other in another language. Health insurance, contracts, financial agreements, leases; all these small things work differently, and now you have to read everything before pressing “I agree to the terms and conditions.” It is like learning how to walk again, although you thought you had expertise in it. On top of all these challenges, there is also the time you realize you came to this country all by yourself and you have to make friends and build your own community to survive.
The first big step to take is to accept the fact that you will need to put in effort. You probably will not find yourself in your perfect friend group spontaneously without making the first move. Luckily, Boston is such a diverse and international city. It is easy to blend in. It might feel strange or new to hang out with people with different backgrounds at the beginning, but Bostonians have been doing this for such a long time. Plus, you speak their language! This makes a huge difference because if you were to move in another country where the first language is not English, it would be much more difficult to befriend locals. Despite the fact that they can speak English if they want to, people will hardly give up on the comfort of speaking their first language to have you around. Are you not confident about your accent? Well, think about it as an ice breaker because you will notice that the question “where is your accent is coming from?” is a classic pickup line. So, own it!
There is a metaphor I really like: it is called “Peach People vs Coconut People.” You can look it up for more details, but briefly, it defines certain people as “peach people” and others as “coconut people”. Peach people are easy to approach, love small talk, yet they still have the core that they will only share with their core group of friends or significant others (this does not mean that you will never be a part of it). Coconut people are the opposite, with an annoyed resting face; but once you get to know them, they are ready to tell you about their aunt’s new boyfriend or why they chose a particular medicine. Just remember that people will be different, and keep this in mind to understand different reactions when approaching others and getting to know them.
Obviously, it is easier to connect with other expats. You will receive plenty of e-mails from Tufts International Center about upcoming events – attend them. If you want to bond with people from your country, find their communities and show up at their gatherings. But please remember that balance is the key. Keep your conversations and friend groups diverse. Of course you will feel homesick and will need your own people, but try not to call home every time you find yourself in this situation. Actually, you know what? You will soon realize that you see home in a different light. It will take time, but once you get there home will not be “where your heart is,” but instead might be where you can connect to the VPN.
Last but not least, know what you like to do and keep doing more of it. Pursue your hobbies and find others who share the similar interests. If you like scuba diving, become a member of New England Divers. If you enjoy photography, go take a course about it and meet others who enjoy it too. Do you need people to hike together? Just invite them and get to know each other during the hike while there is no distraction except the nature.
Do not forget that flux has no
season in a diverse and international city like Boston. People come and go all
the time. They all feel like a fish out of water at the beginning. Everybody
needs friends and there is not a “more normal” thing than the desire of being a
part of a community. Just be yourself, show up and bring your beautiful unique accent
and slightly broken English with you wherever you go!
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.