Community: Find your Tribe

by Sanae Ferreira

Sooner or later, you will realize you’re not a research robot, nor an investigator island. One day, you will be in the microscope room, emerging bleary eyed, blinking to adjust to the bright fluorescent lights of the lab, and realize you barely spoke to anyone all day. Wait, did I? The lack of certainty in response to this question might instill a brief shock.

You will come to realize this, on a late-night run to the City Convenience for an energy boost (with or without caffeine) between experiments, a timer strapped to the waistband of your jeans, as you dash in and out.

You will unplug from your headphones, seemingly permanently dangling near your ears as an accessory, look around, and hear the centrifuge spinning down samples and little else. Not even a mouse.

You will shut down your computer for the day on Friday, and walk the short distance to the door, bid adieu, and in moments be thinking about 1) sleep, sweet sleep 2) food – take out? 30 seconds and zappable? 3) Monday – coming too soon or 4) Saturday in the lab, if that is the reality of your sleeping cells and animals, waiting patiently for your daily visit. 5) how can I squeeze in family/exercise/relaxation?

You’ll walk outside, and join the hunkered-down commuters and perhaps, then, the thought might occur to you: where’s my tribe?


As a graduate student myself who has also been a research assistant, I’ve walked the bench life that so many of you live. Although, I’m currently not stationed at a bench, I’m still in the research world as a nutrition researcher. Here’s what I know about the graduate student phenotype: we are a focused people, a large tribe of graduate students and post-docs. We are here to learn. We are here to do well. We are here because we can excel, and we have proven ourselves to be a motivated people.  Those are pluses. There is, however, an aspect of isolation as well which we have to face as part of the reality.

There are ways to connect, which is one of the wonderful things about BU’s BEST. There are professional networks, skill-building, career planning, and other valuable resources that become available often, simply, as a virtue of being around others who are like-minded and may face similar challenges and share similar goals.

“Pout Pout Goes to School” is a children’s book written by Deborah Diesen to encourage those little fish among us who may, at times, not feel like they belong. I hear this is also common in graduate school life. Yes? This page strikes me as having a relevant mantra that I need to keep in mind, and they’ll help you too:

  • I am smart.
  • I can get it.
  • I belong.
  • Don’t forget it!

So, fellow swimmers here at BUSM, keep your heads up and keep swimming. You will find your tribe if you are open to it, and can give any % of your effort to extending your hand, cranking out a smile, and saying “hello!” to opportunities to connect, by either joining or connecting to form a new community.

This is my “hello!” and I’m inviting you to comment and interact with me here @dieTribebyS. I’ll be writing from time to time about themes graduate students face, any tips and solutions as I work through them too, and also tie in any awesome and perhaps controversial research findings pertinent to my research tribe: the Diet Tribe.

In good health.