Skip to main content

Grad Life

blog navigation

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

blog posts

  • Grad School 101: An Insider's Guide to Acing Your Thesis Format Review

    When writing a thesis, most students are focused on the content – and rightfully so! You want to make sure chapters are well researched and well written, the citations are placed correctly, and all of the data is recorded and analyzed. Formatting is probably one of the last things you think of. But paying careful attention to the overall look of your work is a key element to creating a polished and professional-looking thesis. The Graduate College Thesis Office is here to help!

    As thesis coordinator, I’ve reviewed thousands of theses deposited at the University, and I’ve developed a list of five recommendations to help you create a well-formatted thesis that should easily pass through our thesis format check.

    Download a title page template and submit it to the Thesis Office for review. 

    Many of the errors I catch when reviewing theses are on the title page. In fact, nearly 50% of the theses deposited in the past year had an issue with the title page. I get it—the spacing is a little strange and there is a ton of information you need to fill in. To help with this, download a title page template from the Thesis Office website. Then, before you give your completed thesis to your adviser or committee, email your title page to thesis@illinois.edu for a pre-check. We can communicate any changes to you, which may save time later on!

    Use the full-document template and other online formatting resources. 

    One difficulty some students encounter is inserting page numbers in the right style and setting up a table of contents. To help with this we’ve created MS Word templates to help you organize your entire document. You can download one of our templates. Make sure to also check out our sample thesis pages, which offer further guidance on our format requirements. If you are still having trouble, take a look at our Formatting FAQ page, which provides links to help with common formatting issues.

    Keep your table of contents simple.

    I once met with a student who remarked at how badly he wanted to create an extended table of contents that included four levels of subheadings because “it looks really cool.” But he ultimately decided against it because it could introduce more errors. He’s right! The more information you include in your table of contents, the greater possibility of mistakes. I often request revisions because there are spelling errors, incorrect page numbers, or missing headings. By just including the chapter title in your table of contents, you give the reader enough information to understand the outline of your thesis, and you reduce the number of errors introduced into the document. You can check out a sample simple table of contents here.

    LaTeX users take note: While LaTeX does help you to produce beautiful documents complete with an automatically generated table of contents, errors still do find a way of creeping in. Gasp! Though (admittedly) this happens less in LaTeX than in MS Word, I have still encountered spelling errors and incorrect page numbers in the table of contents. Don’t solely rely on LaTeX—make sure to read through your table of contents! 

    Carefully select which numbering scheme you use for the figures and tables.

    The Graduate College formatting requirements outline two different ways to number the tables and figures in your document:

    Straight Numbering: The numbering should be continuous (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.) throughout the document. Do not start over again for each chapter! 

    Decimal Numbering: The first number indicates the chapter, while the second indicates the placement of the figure/table within the chapter. So, if you had three figures in Chapter 1, they would be numbered: 1.1, 1.2, 1.3.

    I once reviewed a thesis with 70 figures in it—all numbered in the straight numbering scheme. The author accidentally skipped figure 14, so they had to renumber virtually all of the figures in their thesis. I can imagine this was pretty stressful for the student. I know it was stressful for me as the reviewer! That’s why I recommend using the decimal numbering scheme—it’s easier to fix if you accidentally misnumber a figure or table. I suggest that you only use the straight numbering scheme if your thesis has fewer than 10 figures and/or tables in it, or if you are not planning to number your chapters.

    Create your own style guide for your thesis. 

    Your thesis is a massive project that you have been working on over a long period of time, which makes it easy to lose track of how you have formatted the different components of your document. That’s why keeping track of the formatting decisions you have made is so important. I often see theses with headings that are inconsistently, page numbers that are inconsistently placed, or figure/table captions formatted inconsistently across chapters. As you can see, the key word here is consistently. We are open to many (if not all) of your formatting decisions—just as long as you are consistent. Some questions you might consider when developing your style guide include:

    • What do you want your chapter titles to look like? (think about font, size, style)
    • Will your headings be numbered or unnumbered?
    • How do you plan to distinguish between first-level and second-level headings? (think about font, size, style)
    • Where do you plan to put your page numbers?
    • Where will your figure captions be placed?
    • Where will your table captions be placed? 

    I recommend recording the answers to these questions and hanging them near your desk or workspace so that you can format your document as you write. You can download a free sample style guide here.

    The Thesis Office webpages have a wealth of information to help you with formatting questions and the thesis process in general. Be sure to check out our workshops for opportunities to learn more.

    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    Emily Wuchner is the Thesis Coordinator at the Graduate College. She holds a PhD in musicology from 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.

  • What Can I Do with a PhD in the Humanities?

    It’s well-known that academic jobs are in short supply for humanities PhD graduates right now, but the question ‘what can I do with a PhD in the humanities?’ should have less to do with a lack of academic positions than it should the sheer number of career possibilities. That was the focus of ‘What Can I Do with a PhD in the Humanities?’, a 5-week Graduate College workshop run by Derek Attig that I attended last Spring. The workshop covered advice and resources for finding jobs beyond academia, weekly conversations with humanities PhD graduates working in fields like public radio to environmental advocacy, and self-assessments of values and skills. The self-assessments were particularly illuminating, and they allowed each of us to approach the broader workshop questions with a focus on our own goals and interests.

    For me, there were two significant results of this focus. First, the reassurance that in doing my PhD I’m already doing useful work towards a wide variety of careers (and you probably are too). And second, I finished the workshop with a much better idea of what else I could be doing to make it easy to keep my career options open in the future.

    I’m sure I’m not the only PhD student to occasionally worry about falling behind my peers in the workplace. So it was a relief to learn just how many transferable skills I’ve gained in the process of my PhD already. In other words, the PhD is work experience. Take, for instance, your field exam, or prelims. On the face of it, nothing could seem more academically-focused. But the exam also demonstrates your ability to quickly learn and distil a large field of knowledge that can be applied widely to other fields. One Illinois alum with a PhD in English found that this very skill helped them land a data science job in DC. To take another example, teaching demonstrates your ability to explain complex ideas to a range of audiences, create engaging presentations, and provide useful feedback. And almost every guest we spoke to told us that their ability to write made them stand out in their post-PhD jobs. Humanities PhDs already have countless skills; the real challenge, I learned, is to tell a different story with them than we’re used to telling.

    I also left the workshop with a strategy for adding skills and experiences to those I already have, without taking away important time from dissertation-writing. They are small things, which I enjoy – writing short non-academic pieces like this one, and involvement with the GEO, for instance. Depending on your interests, there are any number of small experiences like these that can help you both explore and prepare for a range jobs. In fact, you might already be doing them. For two of the guest speakers, blogs they began for fun in grad school were surprisingly helpful when it came to finding jobs in communications. The blogs were related to neither their academic work nor the fields they ended up working in – they were about fashion and baseball – but they demonstrated the variety and strength of their writing skills.

    With so many options, it can be frankly daunting if you’re not sure what you want to do with your PhD – how do you even begin to narrow down your options? Perhaps this is why, on a recent trip to New Orleans, I gave in to touristic curiosity and had a tarot card reading. When the psychic asked, “What are you going to do after your PhD?” I told him that was the big question. “Well,” he said, gesturing at the cards scattered on the table in front of him, “you could really do anything.” I wasn’t expecting a lot, and it certainly didn’t answer the big question. But then, I didn’t need to go all the way to New Orleans for that anyway. All I needed was the opportunity to take a step back from my research and writing to see it in a new light. That’s what the workshop did for me. And while I haven’t yet answered my big question, I now have the tools and confidence to approach it as an exciting, rather than daunting, prospect.

    Alexandra Paterson is a PhD candidate in English. She participated in the What Can I Do with a PhD in the Humanities? group last spring.

    This year’s What Can I Do with a PhD in the Humanities? Group starts November 2 and includes a field trip to the University of Illinois Press. Get more information and register online.

  • 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:

    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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.

       
    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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.

       
    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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.

       
    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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.

       
    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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.
       
    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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.

       
    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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.
       
    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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.

       
    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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.
       
    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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.
       
    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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.
       
    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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.
       
    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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. 
       
    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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.

       
    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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.
       
    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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.
       
    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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.

       
    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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. 
       
    Delete

    Edit embedded media in the Files Tab and re-insert as needed.

    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.