By Caitlin Connelly

I walked into the Gerontology Department for the first time as a new PhD student on Sept. 4. I don’t remember feeling any one thing at that moment. It was more like a combination of emotions: nerves, excitement and anticipation. I had often thought about how that first day might go and what my classes would be like. Those ideas were finally about to merge with reality.

I may be a brand new PhD student but my interest in gerontology goes back a decade. It was first sparked in high school, when I volunteered in a memory care unit over the summer and I found that I really enjoyed having the opportunity to engage with older adults. My passion for the field had followed me through my undergraduate degree in Public Health and into my applied work in Asheville, N.C., as an activities director in an assisted living facility in memory care. It led me to the decision to go back to school and eventually brought me to Boston.

I applied to graduate programs all over the United States and even one outside the country, but it became clear UMass Boston was the right choice for me. I had read the department’s website and was impressed by the number of dedicated gerontology faculty and their research interests. Then I got a call from Edward Miller, the graduate program director. I was encouraged by his enthusiasm and interest in me as an applicant. Finally, I visited the campus. I was sold when I met the faculty and talked to students. One other factor: It didn’t hurt that Boston seemed like a fun place to live!

Now I’m ready to go. During my first week at school, I asked a few students with more experience for their advice.

First, I went to Natalie Shellito, a third-year student. “Take it one week at a time and don’t think about the future,” she told me.

Elizabeth Gallagher focused on the coursework and offered a few pointers. “Stay on top of the readings,” she said. “Start papers as early as possible. It is easier to get help from your professor if you identify problems you run into earlier rather than later.”

I got one more piece of advice from another student, Liz Simpson. “Make connections with your cohort,” she said. Liz spoke to the value of having that community to go through the process with you.

It was all good advice and I even have a few classes under my belt by now. I’m still excited and a little nervous too. But I’m ready.