Tag Archives: teaching

#ThrowbackThursday: Why Rachael Chose Tufts

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. 2018

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.

Students enjoying talks at the 2017 Graduate Student Research Symposium.

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!

Rachael hiking Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire, equipped with her Tufts Jumbos winter hat!

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!

Adventures of a Tufts Teaching Assistant

Written by Alia Wulff, Cognitive Psychology Ph.D.

When I first was admitted into Tufts, I barely thought about the fact that I would need to be a teaching assistant. It was an abstract concept, something that graduate students naturally knew how to do or were taught how to do during some mythical three-month intensive course. I knew I would have to take on the role of a TA, but I didn’t know what it would mean.

Fast forward five months, and I was attending the teaching assistant orientation during my first week at Tufts. I sat down with my notebook and pencil in hand, ready to have all of the necessary knowledge to be a teaching assistant implanted into my brain. Two hours, at least a dozen speakers, and a whirlwind discussion with a current psychology TA later, I still had no idea what I would have to do. The Tufts orientation taught me everything I would know about the ethical obligations and workload expectations of a Tufts TA, but it would be impossible to have an orientation that would teach every individual TA their responsibilities for every class they would ever TA for. I left, full of questions and worry. The TAs I had in undergrad taught full classes, knew the answers to every single question, and graded papers. I didn’t know how to do any of that.

Then I went to my first class. I introduced myself to the class and saw the faces of 40 undergraduates staring back at me, full of excitement and concern and boredom in equal measures. I realized that I was going to be fine. I didn’t know every answer, but that wasn’t my responsibility. My only responsibility was to the 40 people in that room. I was not there to teach them everything about the subject, I was there to help them understand what had already been taught. Being worried would not help me help the students.

I created quizzes for that class, taking notes and writing questions from those notes. I pulled questions from the test bank and edited them to better align with the lecture. I graded activities. I had students come into my office confused about terms and definitions. I offered basic study topics and techniques if people expressed concern about testing abilities. I learned the name of almost every student in that class.

The semester seemed like it flew by if I marked the time according to the syllabus. The midterm came and went. Finals loomed, and suddenly my first semester as a teaching assistant was done. It was rewarding and educational and I appreciated everything I had learned about teaching and organizing a class. I even got positive teaching evaluations. One student referenced how much they appreciated that I took the time to learn their name. At the time, it seemed like just another task I had to do, but it actually made a difference in this student’s perception of me as a teacher. I took that to heart and still do my best to learn the name of everyone in my class.

The next semester I was assigned to a course that is generally taken further on in the program. I had to grade papers this time, which worried me at first. I quickly learned how to create a rubric and stick to it. My comments were short and to the point, but I always encouraged my students to come to me and talk about how to improve next time. I got evaluations that thanked me for my quick grading (and one that complained that I took too long), my feedback, and my helpful email responses. I also was told that I was too harsh of a grader and didn’t explain the requirements before I graded. I now make sure that I grade easier the first time a student makes a mistake and set expectations early.

This semester I am a teaching assistant to a course that requires me to teach a lab section once a week. I’ll admit that it still seems weird to be in front of the class, rather than sitting in the front row taking notes, but it’s a good weird. I’m learning even more about what I should be doing to help the students get the knowledge they need. Next semester I am not taking a TA position, as I have research assistant funding available. It will be nice to focus on my research, but it will also be strange not to be preparing for class every week. Being a teaching assistant was once a hugely foreign concept to me. Now I am not sure what grad school will be like without it.