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.
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 Jennifer Khirallah, Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. candidate
Letters of recommendations are a key component in building
your professional portfolio. They can make or break any application and leave
lasting impressions. These letters unfortunately, need to be thought of months
before you need them, so that you have the time to build connections with
professors or professionals you wish to ask. Once you have chosen a list of
professors to ask for recommendations you begin the daunting task of asking
them to do this for you.
The key thing to remember is that you are asking a big favor of someone when you ask them to write you a letter of recommendation. Professors are busy and not all professors have the extra time to curate a special letter. It’s best to do everything you can to make their job as easy as possible.
When you email your professors asking for recommendations
you should first explain to them why you want them specifically to write your
letter. This includes what unique perspective they can offer. It is good to
touch on some key points of your work with them and remind them of your
relationship. Also, you want to tell them what aspects of yourself you want
them to talk about (your independence, quick thinking, decision making,
attitude, technical skills, etc.) so that each of your letters of
recommendation touches on a different aspect of what makes you a great
An additional beneficial item to add in your email is an
attachment of your resume or anything they could review when writing your
letter. Another good thing to include is a small description of what you are
applying for and a little information about the position so they can tailor
their letter to your application.
Furthermore, when asking them to write this letter, make sure to give them more than enough time, at least one month, and make sure to tell them the due date is a week before it actually is in case there are major issues with what they wrote, or they are running behind. And do not forget to follow up with them a week before you tell them it’s due!
Finally, keep in mind that some professors may ask you to write your own letter that they will sign or to make them an outline. This is completely normally since professors are so busy. Take your time to curate a letter/outline saying specifically what you want to say about yourself and if you need help just ask a friend. Also, if professors say “no” to writing your letter is it okay, they are likely only saying no to you it because they don’t feel they would write a good enough one that would actually help you due to either lack of time or memory of your relationship with them. One final thing to keep in mind is if you know your professors are not always timely, it may be beneficial to ask one extra professor, so you have an extra to choose from or enough if one doesn’t follow through.
Below is an example of an email sent to a professor asking
for a letter of recommendation for a graduate school application.
Dear Professor Happy,
I hope you had a great weekend.
I am writing to ask you if you would write me a letter of recommendation for my
graduate school applications. I am applying for a PhD program in Biomedical
Engineering at Tufts University. I would like you to write a letter as I worked
in your lab for one year working on various projects including X, Y, and Z. You
would be able to offer a unique perspective on my skills in a laboratory
setting. I am hoping you would touch on how I have played a key role in the
progress of projects A and B, how I work well independently, and how I have
shown success in designing my own experiments.
The due date for this letter of
recommendation is X/(X-7)/X. I am attaching my resume for your reference.
Please let me know if this is something you are willing to do and if so if you
have any questions for me. Thank you!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!