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

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  • Meet the 2017-2018 SAGE Board Members

    Students Advising on Graduate Education (SAGE) is a student advisory board and leadership opportunity for graduate students at Illinois that fosters active engagement with Graduate College programs and initiatives. SAGE board members enrich graduate student community, build leadership and administrative skills, and strengthen Graduate College services and programs.

    This board contributes to the graduate student community at Illinois by providing varied perspectives that enhance the academic, professional, and social experience of graduate students at the university and collaborating with Graduate College staff on a project related to a program, initiative, or the broader goals of the college.

    As we embark on a new academic year, we are excited to introduce our 2017 – 2018 SAGE board:

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    AnnaMarie Bliss is a sixth year PhD Candidate in Architecture with concentrations in Historic Preservation of Cultural Heritage, Perception Studies, Environmental Design, and Tourism. She is also pursuing her architecture license and hopes to become a professor and preservation architect/consultant. Her work concerns the impacts of preservation and restoration of historic architecture on future design and tourism in Barcelona. She is a world traveler, experimental cook, avid runner, and college football fanatic.

       
     

    Raghavendra Pradyumna Pothukuchi is a sixth year graduate student pursuing his PhD in Computer Science (CS), focusing on Computer Architecture. His interdisciplinary research draws on Control Theory and Machine Learning to advance the efficiency of computer systems. He shares an equally keen interest in teaching and was selected as a Mavis Future Faculty Fellow (2016-2017) by the College of Engineering. Outside of his academics, he and his wife (also pursuing PhD in CS at U of I ) spend time playing with their one-year old son or cooking or learning classical Indian music, dance, language, texts and philosophy.

       
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    Maryam Khademian is a fifth year graduate student in the department of Microbiology. Her research focuses on oxidative stress and anaerobic respiration. She tries to understand why organisms have so many different enzymes to degrade hydrogen peroxide, using genetic and biochemical approaches. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and discussing books, painting, biking and hiking in Champaign heights.

       
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    Matthew Fiorentino is a second year PhD student in Music Education studying teacher education. Before moving to Illinois, Matthew was an orchestra director in Boise, Idaho. He hopes to work with preservice teachers and is passionate about string education, as well as teacher leadership and issues of social justice. He is an avid trail and mountain runner and enjoys exploring the Midwest in search of a good hill.

       
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    Harsh Banwait is a second year Master of Business Administration candidate. As an aspiring technology professional, he hopes to leverage his business background and engineering knowledge to help companies utilize technology to solve complex problems. His research interests broadly include the economic impact of IoT and Autonomous Vehicles. You can usually spot him running up and down the BIF stairs, at the gym, or talking about why Tesla is the future to any and everyone.

       
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    Josue Lopez is a third year PhD student in the Energy-Water-Environment and Sustainability program in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. His research focuses in understanding the crystal growth mechanisms that underlie the biomineralization phenomena in order to develop sustainable materials inspired by nature. During his free time, Josue enjoys jogging around campus, trying out new restaurants, experimenting with his slow cooker, and catching classic movies at the local theaters.
       
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    John Musser is a sixth year PhD candidate in the department of English. His research interests include performance studies, queer theory, and 20th century literature and visual culture. He is currently writing a dissertation about the figure of the diva in the long 20th century, and the diva’s evocation of the queer sublime. In this project, John is most interested in the queerness of aesthetic theories and how they inform genealogical conversations about race and sexuality in the 20th century.

       
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    Diana Byrne is a fourth year graduate student pursuing a PhD in Environmental Engineering with an emphasis in Energy-Water-Environment Sustainability. She is most interested in quantitative sustainable design of water infrastructure and hopes to use her education to increase access to and sustainability of water resources around the world. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends, volunteering, watching TED talks, and vegetable gardening.
       
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    Vicky Baraldi is a second year graduate student in the Professional Science Master’s program in Food Science and Human Nutrition. Her passion towards food has motivated her to contribute to the transformation of processed foods into a healthy and affordable option. She enjoys trying new food, running, and yoga.

       
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    Zane Ma is a third year PhD student in Computer Science. His research interests focus on network security and how to identify and repair insecure computer systems, recently focusing on cheap, low power Internet of Things devices. In addition, Zane enjoys teaching and aspires to become a professor. Whenever he's not in front of a computer screen, Zane enjoys all forms of non-digital games, basketball, and hiking in new and remote locations.
       
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    Sulagna Chakraborty is a second year PhD student in Public Health. Her focus is on Infectious disease Epidemiology and she plans to pursue a career in infectious disease prevention, surveillance, and policy. She loves to travel and experience different cultures and indulge in varied cuisines. She is an amateur poet and a blogger and loves to socialize and form meaningful connections.
       
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    Halie Rando is a fifth year PhD student in Informatics. Her research focuses on exploring the genetic basis of friendly and aggressive behavior in foxes (using the famous friendly Russian foxes, as well as other populations). In her free time, she enjoys cooking and traveling.
       
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    Stephanie Schramm is a first year graduate student pursuing a Masters in Environmental Engineering. She is most interested in examining the metabolic properties of microalgae in order to further technological advances in nutrient recovery and biofuel production with algae. She hopes to use to skills she learns at Illinois to develop better bioprocessing techniques for water treatment and energy production systems. Stephanie will take every opportunity she can to travel somewhere new and enjoys reading and rock climbing in her free time.
       
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    Charlotte Prieu is a second year PhD student in French Linguistics. She aspires to do research on language and race in the French banlieues and more specifically at ‘crossing’, a linguistic phenomenon that consists in code-switching in a language that is not a part of the speaker’s ethnic background. In her free time, she is an advocate for social justice, here on campus as well as in the Champaign-Urbana community. Charlotte is also a visual artist and realized an award winning documentary on sexual assault on campus. 
       
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    Sophia Imtiazi is a second semester graduate student pursuing a Master of Human Resources and Industrial Relations. As an aspiring HR professional for a multinational organization, she hopes to gain experience in the various functions of HR in order to contribute strategically to the development of a healthy talent pipeline in concert with business goals and objectives. Outside of class, she enjoys spending time with friends, traveling, and making progress on lists of books/movies/TV shows to dive into.

       
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    Celeste Alexander is a second year graduate student pursuing a PhD in Nutritional Sciences. She hopes to become a professor and study the effects of dietary fat on the gut microbiome and host metabolism as well as teach upper level nutrition and microbiology courses to aspiring scientists. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, swimming, and visiting with family and friends.
       
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    Reshmina William is a second year PhD student in Civil Engineering, with a concentration in Environmental Hydrology and Hydraulic Engineering (EHHE). Her research focuses on urban sustainability, and the characterization of green practices to tackle water quality and urban flooding. In her free time, Reshmina volunteers as an ESL instructor with the Wesley Foundation, and sings with the Lesbian/Feminist community chorus Amasong.
       
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    Mackenzie Neally is a second year Master's student in the College of Education with a concentration on Higher Education. Her research interests revolve around the experiences of racial minorities in educational institutions, primarily Black males and minority populations of student-athletes. Mackenzie is passionate about teaching, working in collegiate athletics, and working on social justice causes. When she is not on campus, Mackenzie enjoys hiking, playing tennis, and spending time with her husband, Justin, and their dog, Rex.

       
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    Rhianna Anglin is entering her 11th year as a Texas public school teacher. She has lived in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex for the past ten years and attended the University of North Texas in Denton. Currently she works as a teacher in the Richardson Independent School District where she co-teaches the AVID program at Lake Highlands High School. She is a master’s degree candidate in Educational Policy at the University of Illinois, concentrating on equity and diversity in public school policy. 
       
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    Ga Young Chung is a fifth year doctoral student in education policy studies with a minor in Asian American studies. Her dissertation investigates the current US immigration system and its impact on undocumented Korean immigrant youth. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, scuba diving, and exploring with her two chihuahuas, HoSoo and BaaDaa.



     

  • Letters of Reference for Fellowship Applications

    “Applications must include three letters of reference…”

    If you’re applying for graduate research fellowships and grants, you will likely find something along these lines in the application instructions. These letters are absolutely critical to the success of your application, yet you have no control over them — or do you?

    Although you are dependent on others to write the letters of recommendation, that doesn’t mean you play no role at all. You can choose your recommenders wisely and help them write the best letter possible. Even more importantly, you can build relationships over time that will lead to strong letters and strong scholarship.

    There is no “one-size-fits-all” set of guidelines on this topic. Letters of reference are by their very nature highly personal. Ways of building relationships will also vary according to discipline, the nature of the research, and the applicant’s career goal. That’s why it’s essential to get advice from your advisor and talk with other students in your program about their own successful strategies. However, there are a few overarching points to consider.

    What role do letters play?

    Letters form one component of a larger fellowship application that may include a résumé, a research statement, and often a set of transcripts. Together, these components tell the reviewer about you, your educational background, your experience, and your research project. A strong letter is one that can speak persuasively and in detail about the project you are pursuing, your skill as a researcher, and your long-term promise.

    Letters of reference can help make the case for both you and your project by providing important contextual information. For example, a letter written by an expert in your area might discuss the innovative nature of the approach you are using. A letter writer might talk about your intellectual growth over time, and compare you (favorably!) to other students who have gone on to successful careers. Perhaps a letter writer could discuss a manuscript currently in preparation or resources to which you will have access. 

    It’s not about letters, it’s about relationships

    How do your letter writers know all this about you and your work? A good letter is the product of a relationship. Building relationships is an ongoing process and should be a natural outgrowth of becoming a member of a profession—one who knows what is going on in the field and is actively engaged in research. Investing in these relationships will lead to better scholarship as well as stronger letters.

    OK, but what if you need a letter right now? Who you ask depends on several factors, including your stage of study, the nature of the work you do, and the goal of the fellowship for which you are applying.

    The most logical person to ask is your advisor. If you are applying for a dissertation fellowship, this letter is essential. If you have recently started graduate school, however, you may not yet have an advisor. You can ask the people who wrote letters for your successful application to graduate school. Additionally, your department’s Director of Graduate Studies will be able to speak to the factors that led to your admission to the graduate program.

    In the sciences, first-year students generally begin working in a lab as soon as they enter graduate school. This gives them the advantage of having a faculty member with first-hand knowledge of their work early on. In other fields, such as the social sciences and humanities, coursework in these early years offers graduate students opportunities to develop and exhibit their skills through the papers they write. Reviewers understand that there are different disciplinary norms.

    Regardless of the field, as you progress, you will develop a long-term relationship with an advisor, and will begin to build relationships with faculty who will serve as committee members. These might develop through coursework, discussions outside of class, or, in some fields, an advisor’s collaborations with other faculty. Over time, these individuals will become familiar with you and the research you are pursuing, and will become a source for letters of reference. Make sure to keep them up-to-date about your progress.

    You are not limited to letters from (or relationships with) Illinois faculty. Research takes place in many settings, including archives, museums, laboratories, and field sites throughout the world. The scholars and scientists who come to know your work may be potential reference writers as well. Whether this is appropriate will depend on the discipline, the fellowship you are pursuing, and your ultimate career goal. It’s worth discussing your choices with your advisor.

    What can you do to help?

    Although you don’t write letters of recommendation yourself, you are in a position to assist your recommenders. You can help them prepare a letter for the specific fellowship for which you are applying by providing them with the following:

    • An outline of key points about the fellowship and why you’re a good candidate.
    • The deadline and any special instructions for letter writers.
    • An up-to-date copy of the résumé or curriculum vitae you will submit for that competition.
    • A draft of your research proposal and any other application components.
    • Copies of any papers, including those in preparation, related to the project you are proposing.
    • A copy of the solicitation and/or link to the funder’s website.

    Make sure to do this well ahead of the deadline. Even if the people you are asking have written letters for you in the past, they still need time to update them for this competition. You might also ask your letter writers for feedback on the materials you intend to submit. If you do, allow plenty of time for them to give you comments and for you to incorporate their comments into your final draft.

    Don’t forget to thank your letter writers for their time and effort once you have submitted your application, and let them know the outcome when you hear back from the funder. Even if you end up with disappointing news (you didn’t receive the fellowship), it gives you an opportunity to tell them about the progress you have made in the meantime. That is also part of relationship building.

    Moving ahead

    After you’ve submitted an application and thanked your recommenders, take a deep breath, and then take a moment for reflection. Are your relationships on track?  Are you building a network that reflects your career goals?  Prepare now for next time you’re asked for “three letters.”

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    Karen Ruhleder joined the Graduate College in 2014. As Assistant Director of External Fellowships, she presents proposal writing workshops for graduate students and postdocs in STEM fields and individually advises graduate students applying for grants and fellowships across all disciplines. She also helps manage the Fellowship Finder database. Ruhleder earned a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in Information and Computer Science and a B.A. in German Language and Literature from the University of California at Irvine. Karen reviews for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship competition. 

  • Where Are They Now? Alison Goebel

    Where can a graduate degree from the University of Illinois take you? In this monthly series, we catch up with one recent Graduate College alum and ask the question: "Where are they now?".

    Alison D. Goebel graduated from Illinois with a PhD in Anthropology in 2011. Now, she's the Executive Director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center. This small non-profit advocates for state-level policy reforms that will help Ohio’s rustbelt cities stabilize and thrive. 

    What was the transition from graduate school to a professional career like for you? What surprised you about it? 

    My mantra with every big life change has been “fake it till you make it.” I had worked alt-academic jobs through grad school, but I still felt like I didn’t have the experience or qualifications to jump into a full time, non-academic job. So I tried to be a quick study in that first job and, really, with every advancement in my career since then. After graduate school, one thing I had to reprogram myself on is that asking for help, mentorship, and advice is not seen as a sign of weakness or incompetence. Peers and senior colleagues want to help! I certainly found support in graduate school, but “making it” became easier to do when I began asking colleagues for advice on how to “fake it.”

    What are some of your main responsibilities, and what does a normal day or week look like for you?

    As Executive Director I work with my board of directors to decide what policy issues Greater Ohio will take on. My job is to make sure we have the financial resources, qualified staff, and the right partners to achieve our goals. During a typical week, I might email a program officer at a foundation about a project I’d like them to fund, make a presentation to local government officials about a policy recommendation we’re working on, do a final review of a research report that another staffer wrote, meet with a legislator, call a colleague for their “on-the-ground” perspective, attend a coalition meeting, and phone in payroll. No two days are ever the same!

    What has been the most valuable skill you gained from graduate school?

    Critical thinking—every day in my job I need to be able assess information to determine how it can help the staff at Greater Ohio advance our work. Sometimes this means connecting the dots between topics or conversations that haven’t been brought together before, other times this means recognizing how best to frame a message so that it motivates a policymaker to action. 

    What is the most interesting, rewarding, and/or challenging aspect of your job?

    The most rewarding aspect of my job is knowing that my organization’s research and lobbying efforts have real life impact. For example, since 2010, Ohio’s struggling communities have received over $145 million to demolish empty, blighted homes. These funds have removed thousands of dangerous, eyesore houses that become magnets for crime and pull down surrounding property values. My organization advocated for these funds and provided expert advice to the state agencies overseeing the funding. We made recommendations, which were adopted, on how to structure a program that ensures local communities are getting the greatest bang out of each buck. As a result, dozens of neighborhoods around the state are coming back and beginning to flourish again.

    What do you wish you had known when you started out in your current position?

    While I have been with Greater Ohio for nearly seven years, I have been at the helm of the organization only six months. Before accepting the Executive Director role, I wish I had truly known how nerve wrecking it feels to be entirely responsible for raising the organization’s budget. That said, it’s a great feeling every time a funder or client notifies me that our grant application or project pitch was successful and a check is in the mail.

    How has your job changed since you started at Greater Ohio Policy Center?

    When I started working at Greater Ohio in 2010, I was a part time contractor and my only duty was to write grant applications. In November 2016, I was appointed Executive Director and am now responsible for the output, reputation, and financial health of the organization! Beyond the change in responsibilities, more broadly, the political and cultural landscape has changed and Greater Ohio has had to change with it. Local and state politics, like national trends, have become increasingly polarized and fractured and successfully navigating that means I have to be even more nimble and thoughtful than I was when I first started.  

    What is one piece of advice you would give to graduate students at Illinois?

    Find non-teaching opportunities — employers want to know you can do more than just lecture, grade, and obsessively research one topic for many years. Even if you plan to go into academia, those non-teaching skills will make you stand out from the 200 other applicants with similar academic credentials. You can’t just tell a prospective employer that you’re a really good event planner or are an expert project manager — you need to have evidence on your resume or CV of those skills. Take graduate assistantships with administrative duties (like serving as the department’s undergraduate advisor or supporting the editor of an academic journal) or find jobs or volunteer opportunities outside the university (like redesigning the website for a local nonprofit or joining the planning committee of one of the many festivals in the area). 

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    This interview is part of the monthly Grad Life series called "Where Are They Now?" which chronicles the career paths of recent Univeristy of Illinois Graduate College alumni. This interview was conducted by Derek Attig. Derek is Assistant Director for Student Outreach in Graduate College Career Development. After earning a PhD in History here at Illinois, Derek worked in nonprofit communications and instructional development before joining the Career Development team. A devotee of libraries and all things peculiar, Derek is currently writing a book about bookmobiles.