Graduate student leaders of several organizations share why they are involved in various Chemistry at Illinois student groups and share advice for first-year graduate students as well as memories of their first year in the PhD program.
Rising third-year graduate student in professor Doug Mitchell’s group.
Co-founder and board member of Advising Junior Students Mentoring Network: ADJUST is a brand-new mentoring program designed to pair incoming first-year students with older students in the department. I think it is a great opportunity for students to develop relationships and create community early in their PhD and help students adjust to life as a graduate student.
Advice for new graduate students: Getting a PhD is hard and there will certainly be times you will feel like quitting. It is the people who will ultimately help pull you through those hard times. So, my advice is to find friends who can support you both in and outside your lab. I would also recommend setting reasonable work boundaries early in your PhD and sticking to them to help create work-life balance and to prevent burn out. As my mentor in lab likes to say, getting a PhD is a marathon, not a sprint.
Memory from your first year: For me, the most exciting part of being a first year was meeting all the other first years and older students in the department and forming friendships with them!
Third-year graduate student in professor Alison Fout’s group.
Chair of Out in Chemistry (OIC): I really enjoy organizing opportunities for LGBT people in the department to get to know each other. It is important to foster resiliency in our community, because LGBT people weren’t welcome to be themselves in academia until recent years.
Advice for new graduate students: Research is important, but having a life outside of work is also very important. Most likely, you will be living here for longer than at your undergrad campus, so take the time to make some friends and pick up some hobbies. Grad school can be stressful at times and having a support network and other activities to distract you can make a big difference.
Memory from first year: The support I received from senior students during the group joining process was incredible, and played a significant role in helping me decide which group would be the best fit for me.
Second-year organic chemistry PhD student in professor Jefferson Chan's group.
Chair of East Central Illinois’ chapter of the ACS Younger Chemists Committee: I like being able to help students connect with other students, academics and industry professionals to explore potential career paths and create a supportive professional network.
Advice for new graduate students: Spend time finding a supportive group of friends. Don’t skip social events or be afraid to ask “strangers” to hang out (especially in the early days) because there is a lot going on in grad school, and having good people around you is the most important thing to keep you going. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help – in classes, teaching, group joining or whatever other obstacles you may face. There are lots of people here to help!
Memory from your first year: One thing that sticks out about first year is how much I learned. Not only did I learn a lot of chemistry in classes and seminars, but I also learned a lot about what kind of things I am passionate about, what non-academic endeavors are important to me and how to make sure that I am keeping a healthy work-life balance.
Third-year, rising fourth-year, graduate student in professor Jeffrey Moore’s group.
Chair of Encouraging Tomorrow’s Chemists: In my opinion, it’s the most fun way to make a difference in your community and meet the next generation of young scientists.
Advice for new graduate students: Believe in yourself - you’re here because you are a talented and capable scholar. Also, titrate your organometallic reagents!
Memory from your first year: Getting to know my cohort. Not only did they help me grow as a chemist, many of the folks I met in my first weeks would become some of the best friends I ever made.
Third-year graduate student in professor Andrew Gewirth’s group.
Co-leader of the International Chemists Association: ICA is a newly-established organization that aims to improve the well-being of international graduate students and postdocs and also promote intercultural conversations. It is a place where international students can safely discuss the special challenges they face and also a place where both international and domestic students can share diverse experiences and cultures. I still remember that during the pandemic, we held the online welcome events to international students. Even though it was not in person, we still heard a lot of concerns and questions from students around the world. It makes me feel great that we are the people there to listen and help. I am really grateful that the former members of ICA established this organization, and I really like to pass on the efforts to make it better and contribute more to the diverse climate in our department.
Advice for new graduate students: Don’t panic when things (research/TA/life/culture shock…) don’t go well, just take it easy and fix it step by step.
Memory from your first year: The very unforgettable memory that we had the social event at Professor Girolami’s house in October 2019. I had a lot fun playing board games with friends and enjoyed eating Vera’s baking and all kinds of food! Hope we still get chance to have that party/any party in the post-COVID future!
Sixth-year graduate student in professor Christina White’s group
Chair, Department of Chemistry Graduate Student Advisory Committee
Advice for new graduate students: Take the first few weeks, when you don't have to do research, to get situated. Set up your apartment so that it's comfortable; get to know people and make friends in order to have a support system that's outside of your research lab; figure out where you can do your hobbies (e.g. sports ball or dancing or book club) and with who. Finally, ask questions about everything (what you're learning in class, what are good/bad things about the labs you're interested in...)
Memory from your first year: I was trying to juggle a lot of things - I wanted to do well in classes, impress my PI with a lot of experimental work, stay in contact with friends and family, make new friends etc. Multi-tasking and time management were skills I had to hone really quickly. Thankfully, I met some great people that go me through my PhD.