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A behind the scenes look at the graduate experience at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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  • Postcards from the Field: Interviewing in Rural Tanzania

    You never know what you will find when you sit down to interview someone. Where have they lived? Who have they worked for? What challenges have they overcome? Who have they lost? After explaining that I am a history graduate student conducting research about gender change and the role of the church in Tanzanian society, I usual start by asking the most basic question. What is your name? It turns out that the answer isn’t always simple.

    Most women here in rural Tanzania are called by the name of their first child: Mama ###. Once I get their given name we still sometimes struggle with the last name. Do I want the name of their father? Their husband? Just asking about what could be one of the most simple markers of identity - a name - raises a host of questions about identity, belonging, and ascribing value.

    From name we go to birth year, home town, and level of education. And then the “normal” trajectory usually breaks down. Really there is no normal interview. It all depends on what the person in question wants to talk about, who else is around, or what happens to be more on my mind at a given moment. It may not be the most scientifically-sound admission to make. But I love it. When I interview someone, I’m not just there to get what I need to write a dissertation. I hope to facilitate a fun, sympathetic, and encouraging encounter for them. After all, they are generously giving me their time and stories without anything in return but a listening ear and piece of paper with my name and contact information.

    The best interviews end in laughter, which I like to think comes in large part from our mutual surprise at how much we have come to appreciate and connect to each other across our differences in age, language, skin color, nationality, wealth, and work.


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    Beth Ann Williams is a fourth year African History graduate student. She is currently living near Arusha, Tanzania conducting research for her (tentatively titled) dissertation, Women We Must Learn: Christianity and Gender Change in Post-Independence East Africa." While not reading or conducting interviews, you can most often find her at a coffee shop, running, or playing with whatever children happen to be in the vicinity.

    Want your work featured on the Grad Life Blog? We are looking for "Postcards from the Field" submissions! Whether you are doing field work at home or abroad, attending an exciting conference, or doing captivating research or scholarship here at Illinois, we want to hear from you! Send a single photo and a short description of your work to with the subject line “Postcards from the Field.” If accepted, your image and description will be featured on the Grad Life Blog and on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram feeds. Questions? Don’t hesitate to ask – we’d love to hear from you!

  • Stretching Your Imagination Can Help Keep You Physically Active

    It’s that time of the year when we start settling into the routine of the spring semester. The days are getting longer and so are the to-do lists. It’s about this time when many of us who made New Year physical activity resolutions start to give up. I want to urge you to be creative, flexible and forgiving when it comes to setting fitness goals.

    As a graduate student, your brain may be getting a good daily workout as you work toward your academic goals, but there are countless enjoyable and creative ways to build physical activity into your daily routine as well. One secret to success with any exercise plan – especially for those who find it difficult to stick with a traditional routine – is to stretch the imagination before stretching other body parts.

    Many of us have a very rigid conception of ‘exercise’ that involves participation in a ‘formal’ exercise program or joining a gym or fitness club. This kind of exercise almost always involves wearing special clothes, traveling to an exercise facility, spending money, and finding time in a busy schedule to fit it all in.

    With this mindset, it is not surprising that many people fail to achieve the 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week recommended by the Center for Disease Control. The health consequences of that failure can impact our overall wellbeing and actually be life-threatening.

    Physical inactivity is a major risk factor for many physical and psychological conditions including low self-esteem and depression. Regular physical activity can also have social benefits. Some people enjoy participating in group exercise programs where they have a chance to interact with fellow exercisers of all ages and abilities. Others enjoy working out with a close friend or partner.

    Regardless of whether you choose to be active for health or social reasons, incorporating more activity into your everyday life can be an excellent way to improve your overall quality of life and add fun into the new year.

    Try to come up with creative and enjoyable ways to build physical activity into everyday things that you already do. For example:

    • Add a loop of brisk walking around the Quad when you are on campus or walk with a colleague over lunch.
    • Buy an inexpensive step counter and log the number of steps you walk each day. Some people find that simply jotting down the number of steps they walk every day on a wall calendar or diary provides that additional motivation needed to help stick to a program. You might even start a friendly competition with fellow graduate students in the department next door.
    • For those with sedentary work – like dissertation writing – remember to get up at regular intervals by taking a trip to the water fountain or taking a brisk walk outside – or on bad-weather days – walking up and down the stairs of the building instead.

    Whatever you choose to do, do not set unrealistic goals.

    My advice is to try to do something physical on most days of the week. Also, learn to read your body’s signals. On days that your body feels tired or weary, choose less strenuous activities, or take the day off. Once we learn how to read our body’s signals and respect its needs, we get a better sense for how to adjust our activity programs to the ebb and flow of our everyday lives.

    If you fall off the wagon and experience a few lazy days, don’t beat yourself up. You can always pick up from where you left off. It’s never too late to start over. You can renew your commitment to an active, healthy lifestyle on any day of the year, not just January 1st.


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    Wojtek J. Chodzko-Zajko, PhD, is Dean of the Graduate College, Interim Dean of the College of Media, and Shahid and Ann Carlson Khan Professor in Applied Health Sciences. His primary research interests are in the area of aging and health. He spends his free time entertaining and being entertained by his three young children.

  • Grad 101: Copyright and Your Thesis

    Copyright can be a tricky topic for students working on their theses. With complex contractual language and so many rules and exceptions, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Luckily, University of Illinois Copyright Librarian Sara Benson is here to help!

    Last month, Sara gave a Thesis Tools talk titled “Copyright and Your Thesis”, which described some of the copyright resources students might use as they complete their theses. Read on for a few of the key points that Sara shared and information about campus resources to help you navigate copyright law.

    Do I own the copyright to my thesis?

    Yes! According to the university’s policy, you keep the copyright to your thesis (unless you transfer your copyright to another party—such as a book or journal publisher). This means, if you want to publish parts of your thesis after you have deposited, you are free to do so without asking permission from the university! However, the university does require that you agree to make your work available in IDEALS, which is essentially an electronic archive for creative works produced at the University of Illinois. You can read more about IDEALS here.

    What if I have already published part of my thesis?

    One frequently asked question is: If I publish my work in a journal, do I need permission to use the article in my thesis? The answer: Maybe. Carefully reading the contract you signed can help you determine what steps you might need to take.

    What if I want to use someone else’s work in my thesis?

    One way to help you determine if you need copyright permission is to consult the fair use checklist. This checklist walks you through various factors (including what the purpose of your work is and how much of the copyrighted source you want to use) that will help you determine if you can use someone else’s work without obtaining permission. To learn more, check out Sara’s LibGuide or consult the Fair Use Evaluator from the American Library Association.

    I have more questions. Where can I go for help?

    There are a number of online resources available to help students with copyright questions. Check out Sara’s LibGudes on Copyright and Author’s Rights. The Thesis Office website has a page of Copyright Tools, that includes links to a Fair Use Checklist, a sample permission request letter, and several other useful pages. And when in doubt, you can always contact Sara with any questions or to set up a meeting. She can be reached at and (217) 333-4200.


    The “Copyright and Your Thesis” workshop was the first in a series of workshops titled Thesis Tools, which are sponsored by the Graduate College Thesis Office. These workshops touch on issues directly related to thesis development, writing, and deposit, with the aim of helping students at all stages of the thesis process. You can learn more about Thesis Tools Workshops on the Graduate College website.


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    Emily Wuchner is the Thesis Coordinator at the Graduate College. She is a PhD candidate in musicology at the University of Illinois, and her work focuses on music and social welfare in eighteenth-century Austria. In her free time, she enjoys playing the bassoon, watching sports, and hanging out with her calico cat, Gracie Sue.