Tag Archives: School of Engineering

Committing to Fun

By Audrey Balaska, Ph.D. student in
Mechanical Engineering: Human-Robot Interaction

Graduate students are known for their passion, enthusiasm, and dedication to working hard.  When I decided to apply for Ph.D. programs, I started hearing jokes and comments about how I was going to have no life because I was going to spend all of my time working. 

Now, I love my research, and I really have no issues with occasionally doing research on the weekend, or working late into the night on my homework.  At the same time, I also enjoy having friends outside of my classes and lab.  When I first came to Tufts, I found myself wondering:

How am I going to prevent my program from taking over my entire life?

Some people in graduate school have families nearby or other commitments that automatically force them to have some semblance of a work-life balance.  But as a single woman who is the only member of her family living in Massachusetts and who knows very few people who live in the area, I had no commitments except to my program when I first moved to Medford. 

Graduate students often do not work from 9:00am-5:00pm, or even have a set schedule at all.  Some days I have classes in the morning, while other days my classes start as late as 6:00pm.  With such an irregular schedule, how do I recognize if I am working too much, or not enough? 

I have two strategies:

One thing that I do is document my hours that I work on my research in a spreadsheet.  This helps me keep track of how much I am actually working.  I hold myself accountable both so that I’m working enough, and also not overworking myself.

The other thing that I did is I took up social dancing lessons (for those of you who are unfamiliar with social dancing, think Dancing with the Stars but without the routines).  A few days a week I practice ballroom and Latin dancing for 45 minutes at a time. 

Social dancing has led to so many benefits in my life: I get more exercise, I’ve made friends outside of the Tufts community, and I force myself to take a break from being a graduate student.  I’ve also found that I’ve become more productive at work since I’ve started taking the mental breaks that I needed.

I’m not saying that all graduate students should take up social dancing, but I think that graduate students benefit from making “fun” commitments that are difficult to get out of.  Maybe you make a pact with some friends from your classes that you will all go out together once a month.  Or maybe you buy a ski pass for the winter.  Or maybe you make a deal with a friend that the two of you will go for one hike a week. 

Whatever it is you decide to do, it is important to commit to fun, rather than just treating it as an afterthought. I promise it will make your entire graduate experience more productive and more balanced!

Was 2019 Your Golden Year?

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”.

Does this sound familiar?

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.

Making Friends and Building a Community when Moving to Boston

from an international student’s perspective

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! 

Why Attend Graduate School?

Written by Alia Wulff, Psychology Ph.D. student

I was fairly young when I discovered that getting a doctorate meant something other than becoming a medical doctor, which meant that I was fairly young when I decided that I was going to get a doctorate. I’ve been working towards this since I was five, and even though the path to get here was hard and full of unexpected gap years and tough situations, I am very happy to finally be here.

But my story isn’t everyone’s story. Not everyone learns about doctoral programs when they are five years old and decides to get their Ph.D. before they even start going to full-time kindergarten. Some people might be considering this fresh out of undergrad, wondering if they need graduate school or even if they made the right decision to apply. So I asked some friends for their stories, gathered up ideas, and wrote a list of common reasons why people should (or shouldn’t) go to grad school.

You have a dream job that needs a graduate degree

This one is very common. If your dream job is to become a professor at a university and mentor undergraduates or graduates while working on your own research, it is almost guaranteed that you need a Ph.D. Similarly, there are many lab manager, industry professional, and administrative positions that require a master’s degree, at minimum. Research what you need in order to succeed in your field and go for that. 

You need to advance in your career

On a related note, sometimes getting that master’s or Ph.D. will help you go further in a career you already have. That is awesome! I know many people, especially teachers, who go this route. Getting a graduate degree can help advance your knowledge of the field, increase your salary, or even land you a promotion.

Side note: don’t get more than you need if the previous two reasons are why you are attending graduate school. If you need a master’s, don’t go to a Ph.D. program. It will take at least twice as long, is much more likely to be full-time, and may even make you overqualified for your desired position.

You want the opportunity to improve your research capabilities

While there are plenty of industry jobs that require you to do research, they generally don’t give you the same educational support that grad school does. If you’re working on Project X for a company, you might learn exactly how to complete the necessary tasks A, B, and C. If you’re working on Project X in grad school, you might learn the theoretical backgrounds of tasks A and B, the reasons why task C is so important to the project, and how to do related tasks D, E, and F, along with the research another professor is doing regarding Project Y. And, maybe you work with them for a bit to see if that is interesting, and if it will help you develop Project Z for your dissertation. The breadth of knowledge and understanding you develop for your work is built into the graduate program. You might get this depth of experience in industry depending on your field, so it’s up to you to decide if a graduate degree will get you an education your field cannot provide you with.

You love to learn

This does not mean the same thing as “you like school.” Graduate school isn’t set up to be the same school experience as high school or even undergrad. It is more challenging, more demanding, and designed to expand your mind more than it is designed to teach you things. If you have a passion for learning and growing, and love what you are learning, grad school is likely worth it. This is the reason I decided to go to graduate school when I was five, and it is still one of my most important reasons for staying. I love being here, I love learning, researching, and growing every day. It’s hard, but I don’t regret it.

Of course, these are not all of the reasons to attend grad school. There are many, many, many more. And there are just as many reasons to not attend grad school. What matters is that you make the decision for yourself, based on your own desires and goals. You can talk to your advisor, your friends, current graduate students, potential schools, or your employer, but when it comes down to it, the decision is yours to make. Make sure that you know you are doing what is best for you, so that you are as prepared as possible should you decide to pursue applying to graduate school.

What Makes a Good Graduate Program?

The most prominent factors I considered when looking at graduate school programs

By Audrey Balaska, Mechanical Engineering: Human-Robot Interaction Ph.D. Student

As you may have figured out, I am a graduate student at Tufts University. Specifically, I am a first-year student in the Mechanical Engineering and Human-Robot Interaction joint Ph.D. program. Before coming to Tufts, I received my B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of New Hampshire in May 2019.

Since I’m such a new student, the application process is still fresh in my mind. One of the steps I found the most challenging was deciding which schools to apply to and then which position to actually accept. I’m going to talk about my personal journey, and if this doesn’t resonate with you, that’s ok! There are many paths one can take to get to graduate school

Deciding where to apply to

When I was considering schools, I learned about them in a variety of ways. Some I found through online research on labs which had rehabilitation engineering as a research area. Others I remembered from my search for undergraduate programs. Some I learned about because faculty recommended them to me based on my research interests. And some, like Tufts, I learned about at a graduate school fair.

Rather than inundate you with further information regarding every school I looked at, I’m going to explain to you why I decided to apply to Tufts, and why I ultimately decided to come here for my graduate degree.

Like I said, I learned about Tufts University from a graduate school fair – specifically, the one at the Tau Beta Pi (the oldest engineering honors society in the United States) National Convention in Fall 2018. While a decent number of schools were represented at this fair, I did not apply to all of them. I first decided to look more into Tufts because the representative from Tufts University showed genuine enthusiasm for the school, and was able to tell me some specific aspects of Tufts University I might find interesting after I told her my research interests. Having someone so knowledgeable about the school at the fair reflected really well to me. Just because someone you meet from a school isn’t in your research area, doesn’t mean they don’t reflect the university’s community and environment.

Meeting someone from the graduate admissions staff wasn’t enough to get me to apply, though. That occurred when I researched the program more and found classes and research labs closely related to my own research interests.

Deciding to Attend Tufts

Then, I got into Tufts University, along with a couple of other schools. That was when I had to make the big decision of where to spend the next 4-6 years of my life.

One thing that I didn’t consider much when applying to schools, but definitely did at this stage, was the location. I realized after some thought that I really wanted to be close to a city, or even in one. That caused me to decline one school, and pushed Tufts even higher on my list.

Another thing that I really liked about Tufts was the graduate student environment. Tufts University has some awesome graduate student organizations, and hosts multiple professional and social events each semester. Not all universities have this, and it was something I was excited to see existed at Tufts.

Most importantly, however, was my advisor. I got to speak with him via Skype during my winter break after I applied, and then got to meet him in person once I had been accepted to the program. Both times I found that I liked his personality, his research, and his leadership style. Honestly, having met him, it became very easy to say yes to Tufts. If you are applying to doctoral programs, make sure you take the time to try and meet your potential advisors. I had other potential advisors whose research appealed to me, but found that when talking to them our personalities were not a great match.

Ultimately, when deciding on a graduate program it is crucial to decide what is most important to you. I realized I cared a lot more about my location than I initially thought, but some people I know really had not cared about where their school was. Before deciding on a school, take the time to decide what is actually important to you. Maybe, one day, the school that you pick will be Tufts!

Ready-to-Use Advanced English Learning Tips

Written by Amanda Wang, Innovation and Management M.S.I.M. student

I still remember my first day as a Graduate student at Tufts: doing self-introductions with my 33 classmates in M.S. Innovation and Management, which to me was something way outside of my comfort zone. Despite almost 20 years training in English and a decent TOEFL score, I could not even do a self-intro with confidence and fluency.

One year later after the orientation, I no longer have to organize sentences in my mind several times before I start speaking. Looking back, I wish I could have known some of the ways to improve my oral English before I came to the States. This is how I got the idea for this blog: to help my peers consider multiple ways to improve their English speaking. I picked four of the most important rules that I found essential. You do not have to follow what I suggest here, as they can be very personal experiences that may not apply to everyone. However, hopefully you can still find something that ‘clicks’ for you, and figure out your own magical way!

Rule #1. Mistakes ≠ Failures

Yeah, I still make mistakes sometimes, but after all, I am not a native speaker, so it is totally fine. Being afraid of making mistakes is due to our high self-consciousness: ‘I MUST sound like a dumb person.’ Let’s take a step back from this scenario – have you ever talked to a non-native speaker of your mother tongue? Did you think in the same way about them as you imagined people would think about you before talking in English? No, because we tend to overthink that we are ‘being judged.’ Therefore, keep in mind that making mistakes is very natural. Plus, do not feel embarrassed if someone kindly points out your mistakes – that actually helps you improve way faster!

Rule #2. Talk, talk, talk

This sounds like a nonsense: how can I keep talking when I am not THAT good at talking? Or after all, I am an introvert. I don’t even enjoy talking to people endlessly using my native language. Why do I have to do that?

The best way to learn a language is to live in an environment where you have to use that language to live. Now you are a student in a university in the United States, which means you have the perfect opportunity to practice. Try to speak up in the class, talk to your professors and peers, or greet the barista you meet every morning. It is not difficult at all if you follow Rule #1. Being an introvert, I finally realized that ‘introvert’ means that you spend energy when you gather with a group of people, like at a party, but you can still want to do small talks. Lower your ego, don’t be too self-conscious, and start the chat. The merit of talking is that you also gain input from other people, so your brain will pick up some colloquial expressions and turn them into your output in no time. Talk is a great and easy way to learn new terms, as you do not have to memorize a vocab list.

Rule #3. Build a real network

Sometimes, becoming an international student also means you left most of your old friends at home. Do not let loneliness in a new place overwhelm you. Instead, build a real network here so that you really feel like part of the community. How is this related to language skills? First, you have more chance to talk, as said in Rule #2. Second, you can talk about the things that you have a real interest in, make new good friends, and enrich your life experiences.

At the same time, as you naturally catch up with people in your network, you will feel that your feet are more to the ground, and more confident because you are more an insider of life here. I tried to catch up with my professors, mentors, and friends this summer, and I can feel that I am improving again. More specific to English skills, I also get to know people’s interests and passions, and opportunities keep popping up during conversations. If you’re not sure how to start the networking, check graduate school calendar and go to events to add people to your network!

Rule #4. Reading and writing as a daily routine

You are being educated, and you want to speak intelligently. Sometimes, small talk seems to be fine, but what if you have a presentation or interview coming up? My suggestion is to benefit from reading and writing, and make it a habit. In the Tisch Library Tower Café, you can find all kinds of magazines and newspapers to keep yourself updated. Or simply download some news apps (FYI: all Tufts students have access to the New York Times through the Tisch Library). Do you have some novels written by American authors that you liked when you were a child? Find the English version and re-read it in English, you will remember better as you have the scenes in memory. The ability to generate pictures while using a language helps internalize the language and apply it quickly when you speak.

Like listening and speaking, reading and writing are great companions. I have honed my English skills by being a blogger at Tufts Graduate Blog. Writing as a practice gives me the time to organize my thoughts in a logical way, and thinking in English while writing is a ‘double language drill’ for both speaking and writing. I am always talking to myself in English while writing, and so both things become natural gradually.

To sum up, make the most out of your graduate journey at Tufts, and always be confident as you are already a bilingual person (yay!). As you practice, you will see a door to a broader world opening in front you.

M – Beach – T – A

Written by Ece Gulsan, Chemical Engineering Ph.D. student

After a long (actually very long) winter, the sunshine we have been looking forward to finally came. I still remember the first day of snow last November. I was thrilled and excited, but I did not know that the massive pile of snow would stay with us until late March! I almost forgot what the campus looked like without that white puffy layer.

And then it was 80 degrees outside.

Sun was up. The weather was hot and humid. 

Jumbos, we made it. Summer came!

We still have a few hot weekends left to spend on a beach and work on our tans. There are plenty of beaches around which are accessible by MBTA, and all you need to do is to get a Charlie Card and hop on a train. Today, I am going to share my favorite beaches in the area, and what you should know before you head to them, or to bookmark for future exploration.

Tufts Boathouse at Upper Mystic Lake

My top choice is obvious for seasoned Jumbos, but if you are new to Tufts, you will be surprised by this beautiful hidden gem near campus. Located at 481 Mystic Valley Pkwy in Medford, Tufts Boathouse has two docks by the tranquil Mystic Lake with a gorgeous view. Bring your own picnic to spend the day, and if you have more time, stay longer to enjoy the sunset. The best part is you do not have to worry about entrance fee because it is all free!

Directions:Take the Bus 80 or 94 from campus towards upper Medford for a 30-minute ride, or bike there in 15 minutes. You can even walk in less than 45 minutes. I personally enjoy adding it to my morning run because it is super close to the campus. 

Singing Beach at Manchester-by-the-Sea

If you need a “real beach”: the smell of ice-cold salty water and the warmth of a golden sand under your feet, Singing Beach is the place to go. The beach is located in the beautiful town Manchester-by-the-Sea, home of the very famous movie and the bookstore with the same name. The entrance fee to the beach is $7 for the day. There are also plenty of dining options in town. 

Visit Cala’sfor their fresh fish tacos accompanied by a glass of slushy margarita. If you are in the mood for a more casual lunch, grab a delicious wood fired pizza to-go from Bravo-by-the-Sea and enjoy your meal on the beach. Do not forget to visit Captain Dusty’s Ice Cream Shopfor a sweet treat on your way back home. 

Directions: Hop on the Rockport Commuter Rail Line from North Station to Manchester. The beach is 10 minutes walking distance from the train station. The MBTA offers an unlimited commuter rail weekend pass for only $10, which means you do not have to worry about paying for a round trip! If you leave early, you can even get to visit other towns (like Gloucester or Newburyport) on your way to Manchester, or you can take advantage of your weekend pass the day after by paying a short visit to Salem!  

Front Beach and Back Beach at Rockport

Although it is not as isolated as Singing Beach, Front Beach offers a sandy shore with restaurants nearby. It is a perfect place to just lie down and spend the day under the sun. Alternatively, Back Beach has a more “sportive” vibe, which is the reason why I love that place. It is a hub for New England Scuba Divers. If you are a licensed Scuba Diver, you can join one of the diving communities in the area for their next “Scallop Hunt Dive” or “Lobster Discovery Dive.” If you do not have a diving certification, but want to have get one, there are many certified diving schools in the city. The summer is the best time to join to explore the marine life and you’ll have one more excuse to visit a beach on weekends! Plus, if you can dive in the ice-cold New England water, you can dive literally anywhere in the world. 

Directions: The Rockport Commuter Rail Line from North Station will take you to Rockport. The beaches are approximately half mile away from the station. Do not forget to visit the city before you head to the beach!

My Favorite Class at Tufts

Written by Alia Wulff, Cognitive Psychology Ph.D. student

I have completed my fourth semester here at Tufts and have taken nine classes. Every single one of those classes had unique insights and learning experiences that make them impossible to compare. So I’m afraid the title of this blog post, “My Favorite Class at Tufts,” is basically just clickbait. I can’t pick a favorite class. It would be like making me choose a favorite between chocolate chip cookies, waterslides, and cute videos of unlikely animal friends. How could I choose between things that are so different and all so amazing?

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have anything to write about. I may not have a specific class, but there certain factors that I look for when planning my class schedule. The first of these factors that affects my enjoyment of a class is my comfort with class discussion. This is really important in graduate school specifically, as most (if not all) classes are seminars. Even for the classes that aren’t seminars, it is important that the students are able to comfortably ask questions and interact with others in front of the class. My public speaking anxiety has gone down since entering graduate school, but it is still nerve-wracking to voice an opinion in front of a group of people. Anything that lessens that anxiety helps me to find my voice and engage directly with others’ ideas and opinions.

Secondly, I find direct application to be really important. Whether it is to my research, my teaching ability, or even my life, being able to apply the information I learn to my own experiences is really important. Being able to get something out of the class beyond a grade is an essential part of keeping the class relevant.

Finally, it is really important that I’m interested in spending 13+ weeks discussing the topic. This seems like a no-brainer, but it actually is more important than I expected. My undergraduate colleges were on a quarter system, so our classes took a max of 10 weeks. Going back to a semester system like I had in high school, feels like a big jump. Making sure the classes can engage my interest for such a long period of time is an important factor when I make my schedule. If there is a subject you want to learn about but don’t want to spend a whole semester studying, check if you can sit in on a few of the more pertinent classes or find a related workshop or talk you could attend.

I have a pretty good system to assess these factors ahead of time when registering for classes. It’s very easy if the class is in my department. I generally know the professor and their teaching style. I know the people taking the class or can ask around until I find them. I might even know people who have taken the class in the past and can give me information from a student’s perspective if needed. This is probably the main reason why I haven’t taken any classes I haven’t enjoyed at Tufts: I spend time making sure the class is pertinent and interesting before registering. 

It does get trickier when the class is in a separate department. I have only taken one outside of my department. The course was designed to be cross-discipline and therefore other members of my lab had taken it, so I didn’t have to do too much investigating. If your program involves a lot more interdisciplinary classes you may have to do more research to ensure the class is a good fit, but it will be worth it. One of the perks of graduate school is you don’t have to go through two years of “trying classes out” before finding an area you actually enjoy. 

You may have heard that classes don’t matter in graduate school. This is not true at all, at least in my case. While research is important and takes more time, every class I have taken so far has directly led to me being a better graduate student and researcher. Taking care with my class schedule and making sure I will benefit from every class I take is essential to my learning. Take classes seriously and you will receive serious benefits, I promise!

My Favorite Spots on Campus

Written by Alia Wulff, Cognitive Psychology Ph.D. student

I originally titled this “My Favorite Spot on Campus”, but then I just couldn’t narrow down my list to only one space. That is because of one simple fact: Boston weather is the least stable thing in the world. Honestly. I come from one of the rainiest states in the United States. There is a rainforest, a desert, a mountain range, multiple lakes, and over 150 miles of ocean shoreline, all with wildly different weather systems. I always thought Washington State was a weather marvel. But Boston weather makes Washington weather seem boring. For example: over a single period of three days in April I wore my huge puffy jacket with leggings under my pants, then shorts and a tank top, and finally a t-shirt with jeans. Non-meteorologists have no hope of preparing for the weather unless you were born here. That is all to say that my favorite spot on campus changes from hour to hour depending on what it is like outside, so I decided to include spots for every weather situation.

When it’s slightly drizzly without being too cold:

I love a gentle rain. Just enough to cool down the pavement and water the plants, but not enough to paste my hair to my head and soak through my jeans. This type of weather is ideal for heading to the graduate student lounge in Curtis Hall, as it’s not quite rainy enough to give you an excuse to stay in your office all day but also not nice enough to go outside for an extended period of time. There you can buy a snack, microwave your lunch, and then settle down onto a cozy couch to work for a few hours.

When it is pouring rain outside:

This is the weather that is rainy enough to give you an excuse to stay in your office all day. Therefore, when it’s raining so hard that my water-resistant coat is basically equivalent to a thin sweater, my office is my favorite spot. I have spent time making sure my desk has things on it that make me happy, like notes from my family, pictures, and little fidget toys. Listening to the rain while drinking a cup of tea, snuggled in my blanket, and getting some good writing in is honestly one of my favorite things.

When there is snow on the ground:

While I dislike the snow, I will admit that it is beautiful. So while I’m not going to make a concerted effort to go out in the snow, I do make note of the particularly beautiful visuals when it snows. My favorite spot when there is snow is the front lawn by the Memorial Steps. The beautiful old iron fence and brick buildings look so regal against the snow-covered ground and spindly trees. It is a good reminder that snow is not all bad.

When the sun is out and it’s too hot to be outside:

It can get really hot here. To be fair, I am a delicate flower who can’t stand temperatures above 70°F, but I think it’s not too presumptuous to say 90°F is pushing it for almost everyone. When this happens, I like to go into the Science and Engineering Complex, order an iced drink or smoothie from the café, and sit in the atrium. It has a ton of windows, so you can still enjoy the sunshine, but the temperature-controlled air and plethora of seating options means you can still enjoy your day.

When it’s a breezy and sunshiny day in March/April:

This is a very specific situation and there is a very specific spot on campus associated with it. Along the Memorial Steps sprout hundreds of daffodils and trees that grow pink flowers during this time. Sitting on the cement border of the stairs, feeling the breeze and enjoying the flowers, is an ideal way to spend a few minutes on a beautiful spring day. Not everyone likes plants or the sunshine or even the outdoors but stopping to appreciate beautiful details like these always puts a spring in my step. 

Effective Communication: How to create a working relationship with your advisor

Written by Michael Ruiz, Bioengineering M.S. 2020

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.