We like to focus on the celebratory aspects of the end of each academic year as much as possible, but there’s a tinge of sadness that comes with it, too, since it means we have to say goodbye to lots of students who have become big parts of our lives, and of Fletcher. This dynamic is perhaps most pointed in the case of our departing Graduate Assistants, who are utterly crucial to our operations. Students who work in our office need to be ready to jump into a variety of tasks quickly, including answering phones, interviewing prospective candidates, planning events, conducting web research, supporting communications projects, giving building tours, and the most important of all, writing the occasional blog post. They need to be both outgoing and introspective, equally ready to speak to a full room or dive into a spreadsheet. It’s great to have our GAs on hand to cover all of the above and more, but beyond that is the pleasure of getting to know these students pretty well, and in a different capacity than we often know most other students at Fletcher.
What I’m trying to say here is that the contributions of John and Cece to our office over the past two years are immense. We’ve leaned heavily on them in our work, but we’ve also just hugely enjoyed getting to know them and having them around. Although they’re now both happily graduated and so officially beyond the reach of my expectation, they were kind enough to take one last chunk of time to reflect on their past two years at Fletcher. I asked them for some bits of advice they would give to their pre-Fletcher selves, and they happily obliged, as they always do to pretty much any request. Cece, John, thanks again to you both for all your hard work over the past two years, and readers, take advantage of some good advice from a pair of experts!
If you could speak to your pre-Orientation self, what would you say?
Cece: I would say just enjoy and make the most of what Fletcher has to offer! For many of us, this was the last chapter of being in the academic world. Yes, academics at Fletcher is rigorous but there are plenty of opportunities to have fun. Make the most out of the community at Fletcher. A lot of the learning happens outside the classroom, talking to peers and professors. Make time for social or cultural events, make the most out of the network that Fletcher brings on campus at lectures or talk series. Graduate school is stressful and a lot of work but you will find many opportunities to de-stress and enjoy being in the Fletcher community. I would have told myself to let loose and be open to everything that Fletcher has to offer.
John: Fletcher is a marathon, not a sprint! Be patient with yourself as you readjust to ‘student life.’ Know that reading through articles and writing that draft of your first research paper is probably going to take longer than it did when you were in undergrad. Anticipate this and give yourself a little extra time to get things done during your first semester. Outside of classes, there are tons of organizations, conferences, and events to take part in. Get involved in things you are interested in and passionate about, but don’t overextend yourself too early on. There are so many incredible opportunities at Fletcher and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the choices. Make the most of your time at Fletcher, but be honest with yourself and acknowledge your limitations. The earlier on you can find a balance that works for you, the less likely you’ll be to burnout by your last semester.
Best decision and biggest regret
Cece: It’s hard to pick out a particular decision I made at Fletcher and label it the “best” but a decision that I am proud of would be putting my creative side on display. At Fletcher, we value celebrating our diverse community, whether through cultural nights or other student run activities. If you have a talent or non-academic skill, it’s a great opportunity to put it on display. I like singing and strumming the guitar and I performed at an open mic event for the first time in my second year. It was such a great experience and my peers were so supportive. Fletcher also really appreciates when you share something authentic. Definitely take part in cultural nights. It’s your opportunity to make the most of the diversity here at Fletcher. You will also find that Fletcher students are exceptionally talented.
There are a number of things I wish I had done while at Fletcher. There are many activities I put off doing because of school work or my schedule. I think one regret is not going to the annual ski trip in January. It is definitely an experience I would have liked to have but I never planned well for it and ended up missing both years. Many famous stories come out of the trip and it is a great opportunity to bond with your friends and also learn skiing. Another regret is not going to a trek during the breaks. I have seen how much some of my peers enjoyed going to Israel or Brazil during their spring break this year. It’s a great learning and travel opportunity so if you do plan on travelling while at Fletcher, consider going to one of the organized treks.
John: I think the best decision I made at Fletcher was making sure I didn’t silo myself in to a particular field or concentration. While a lot of my research and work focused on forced migration and displacement, I also made sure to classes that explored topics that I wasn’t very familiar with. Taking classes on gender analysis, international humanitarian law, and impact evaluation not only helped me acquire new skills, but provided me with the ability to examine topics in migration through new lenses. By taking a wide-range of courses, I feel that I was able to not only deepen my understanding of topics that I was especially interested in, but also to better understand how intersectional issues in international affair are. Additionally, through these classes, I met some great people and was able to become more involved with different activities on campus that I wouldn’t have necessarily considered when I first started at Fletcher.
During my second year, I definitely took on too many things. Between participating in a few clubs, planning a conference, and TA-ing, I barely had enough time to finish my assignments, much less socialize with friends and find time to de-stress. There are few things that I could’ve done to prevent this. 1) Do what you can to space out the really challenging courses (or courses that you personally will find challenging). Some classes at Fletcher have a reputation for having a really heavy workload. Do not take them all in one semester. You can plan your semester to make sure you balance the really difficult classes with ones that are only a normal-level of Fletcher intense. I did not, but you can. 2) Give yourself time between your summer internship and the beginning of the fall semester to do absolutely nothing. This doesn’t mean take a two-week trip to see more of the world. It means sitting at home (either in Somerville or elsewhere) and vegging out. You will thank yourself later. 3) Learn to say no! You don’t have to accept every opportunity that comes your way. Fletcher is full of competent and amazing people so don’t feel like you’re letting a professor or your peers down if you tell them you can’t take on a new project.
What tips do you have for after classes start?
Cece: Schedule, schedule, schedule! I think the key to reducing stress at grad school is to plan ahead. Keep a calendar and mark important dates for when assignments and other deliverables are due. Planning ahead can save you time and you may even be able to do a lot more as a result. I would also say, take part in social events, club activities and other events of your interest. These experiences are where you make lifelong bonds with your peers. I know classes can be stressful and readings can take a lot of time but learn to prioritize as well. Fletcher is as much about learning from of the community as it is learning in the classroom.
John: For classes with a lot of reading, don’t feel like you have to tackle every assigned article by yourself. Reading groups are a great way to share the workload. They can also help you learn from your classmates and better understand the course material. Additionally, once your schedule is set, figure out a good time to sign up for office hours with your professors. Most of the professors at Fletcher really enjoy getting to know their students and their interests. Meeting with your professors early on in the semester can be a great way to start building relationships and make a difference in your classroom experience. Plus, you never know what research opportunity, internship, or project idea might come from a conversation in office hours.
What location in the Boston area should students be sure to visit?
Cece: It can be hard to take yourself out of Medford once you begin classes, but make the most of Boston because it is an amazing city (minus the freezing winter). The greater Boston area has lots to offer and because it also has some of the best schools, it is also a very academic city. There are always events happening and you may have access to some these events as a Tufts student. Because I enjoy music, I sometimes go to the Berklee Performance Center for concerts. You can also enter the Museum of Fine Arts and a number of other places for free with your Tufts ID. Make sure to explore downtown Boston and learn about the rich history of this city. Neighbouring cities like Cambridge and Brookline also have their own charm, especially during the fall and summer. I would also highly recommend visiting Chinatown for excellent Asian food (hot-pot and dimsum are a must!). Having been around a number of cities in the east coast, I think Boston has the best Asian restaurants to offer!
John: I would definitely second everything that Cece mentioned and add a few things to the list. Whether you’re a sports fan or not, a baseball game at Fenway is a great experience. Fletcher students usually organize a few trips during the season so try and make it to one! The Boston Harbor and Seaport areas of town are also fun to walk around and have a great selection of restaurants and bars. If you have a spare afternoon between April and October, be sure to sign up for a whale-watching tour! There are also a number of day trips that are a great way to get out of the city. Salem, Concord, and even Providence are all accessible via the commuter rail and can be a nice break from campus. The Boston area has so much to offer and I definitely recommend going beyond Davis Square whenever you have the chance!