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

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  • 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.

  • Day in the Life: Monica Chinea Diliz

    Hi, my name is Monica and I am a third year PhD student in the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology. My research focus is molecular neuroscience and in particular my lab studies the RNA binding proteins involved in Fragile X Syndrome, the leading cause of inherited cognitive impairment.

    As a graduate student doing research in a laboratory, most days there is an ebb and flow that is primarily dictated by the experiments that are taking place. The stereotype of a scientist hunched over test tubes 24 hours a day does not represent the many ways that science actually unfolds. One of the most valuable things that I have learned thus far in my graduate career is that the time I spend thinking about science is nearly as critical as how much time I am putting in at the bench. It is also very important to cultivate habits that contribute to overall wellbeing outside of the lab.

    This is my first semester without taking any classes, which has freed up more time to focus on my research. Here is what a recent Monday looked like.

    7:15 - 8:30 a.m.: Wake up and immediately start cuddling my dogs, Harbaugh and Wolfie. These tiny furballs are like my children, so they naturally receive a lot of my attention when I am at home. I get up, and get dressed and take the dogs for a walk. Once I am back inside the house I make my first (of many cups) of coffee that day, which I really do take the time to savor.  If my husband has to get up early that day (he works full-time and is studying political science at Parkland) he joins me and we chat while we have breakfast together. I finish getting ready and pour myself another cup of coffee before heading out the door.

    8:30 - 9:30 a.m.: Commute to the university. This is when I start formulating my action plan for experiments for the day, and think about my projects and the long-term direction of my research. I read snippets of research articles or scroll through headlines while on the bus on my way to lab.

    9:30 a.m. - noon: Work. I am typically running various experiments so I am at my bench, or in our tissue culture room, as well as analyzing data on the computer. This is actually one of the more enjoyable parts of the day, as I really love doing molecular biology research (if you have ever squealed for joy when the right size band showed up on your gel, you know what I am talking about), especially when experiments are working!

    Noon - 1 p.m.: Attend seminar. My department has student and guest speaker seminars twice a week. It is a nice way to get to know the broader field of science, and sometimes I get really good ideas for experiments from listening to the speaker. As a bonus I also get to catch up with other students in my department, which is quite nice.

    1 - 2 p.m.: Eat lunch, write up any results from my experiments, answer emails, and make any revisions to my action plan for the rest of the day, drink more coffee if feeling a bit sluggish.

    2 - 5 p.m.: Microscope. I spend a lot of time taking images of cells. A lot. It is worth it though, as it is definitely true that a picture is worth a thousand words.

    5 - 5:30 p.m.: Finish any experiments, write up results, and think through what the goal will be for the following days’ work.

    5:30 - 6:30 p.m.: Exercise at ARC. I try to do this at least three times a week. I love the group fitness classes. Feeling like you’re in a nightclub, learning fun choreography makes it much easier to stick around and workout instead of going straight home.

    6:30 - 7:30 p.m.: I have a fairly lengthy commute for a university student since I live outside of CU. I wait for the bus to take me near the basketball stadium where I park, and then it is another 25-30 minute drive home.


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    7:30 - 7:45 p.m.: Hear dogs barking from inside my house as I pull into the garage. No matter how exhausted I am from the day, I love how happy they always are to see me. I take them for a walk around the neighborhood and then come inside to start making dinner.

    7:45 - 11 p.m.: I make dinner while taking care of light chores around the house, all the while playing with the dogs. My husband usually does homework or reads for class during this time when it’s not his night to make dinner. We have dinner, and then watch a show together. We recently got Netflix and have really been enjoying binge watching Daredevil and Jessica Jones. We usually then head to our basement and chat or play ping pong or pool before we take our dogs out again and get ready for bed. I usually read for a while before falling asleep, sometimes magazines, currently I’m reading Now: The Physics of Time by Richard Muller.

    My life is pretty full, and there are definitely days when the balance tips more towards work, but one thing that helps me is to remember that trying to fit everything into a 24 hour day is not always feasible. If you think in terms of the 168 hours in a week instead, it leaves ample room to live a meaningful life, even as a graduate student.

    Photos courtesy of Monica Chinea Dilliz. 


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    Monica Chinea Diliz is a third year PhD student in the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology studying molecular neuroscience. Her professional goals are to become a principal investigator in the field of molecular biology, and start a mentoring/outreach program for minority students interested in pursuing graduate education in STEM. Monica enjoys reading and writing about productivity and time management, taking road trips, and spending time with her three rescue dogs. She is a member of the 2016-2017 SAGE board.