blog navigation

blog posts

  • Cher. Definitely, Cher: LLM Student Wins First Place at Illinois Global Talent Show

    LLM student Marie Joe Noon won first prize at the inaugural Illinois Global Talent Show for her vocal performance of "I Have Nothing" by Whitney Houston. Annie caught up with Marie after the show to learn about her singing inspiration (definitely Cher), her hometown, and how singing translates to confidence in the courtroom.

    You mentioned you are from Lebanon and pursing a LLM degree at the University of Illinois with a concentration in International and Comparative Law at the College of Law.

    What is something most people don’t know about your hometown in Lebanon?

    I come from a very historic city in Lebanon called Byblos. Byblos is actually one of the oldest towns in the world. It has been continuously inhabited for more than 7,000 years and was home to one of the oldest civilizations in history; the Phoenicians. My hometown is mentioned in the Bible and the english word “Bible” is itself derived from Byblos to mean “the (papyrus) book.” Throughout history, Byblos provided a strategic location for trade knowing for a fact that it lies on the coast of the Mediterranean sea. Today, Byblos is an upscale tourist hub known for its sandy beach, Phoenician, Roman, and Crusader ruins, succulent seafood restaurants, vibrant nightlife, and its surrounding picturesque mountains. 

    Why did you choose the University of Illinois?

    When I was looking for LLM programs with concentrations in International and Comparative Law to apply to, my main focus was, of course, picking a program that is academically rich with exceptionally brilliant faculty members. That is exactly what I found at the University of Illinois’s College of Law. What pushed me even more to consider Illinois or my Fulbright experience is the high appreciation that is given to the arts, and that is very much apparent through the prestigious performances that are credited at the Krannert Center. I am extremely happy to be here and to be surrounded by a culturally diverse cohort, a great Lebanese community, and fellow Fulbrighters from all around the world. 

    Why is “I have nothing” by Whitney Houston an important song for you?


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

    When I was 12 years old, I participated in a televised competition for talented teens. The show was broadcasted all over Lebanon and was the first of its kind as teens were competing against each other to win the “TalenTeen” title. I got to sing “I Have Nothing” by Whitney Houston during the semi-finals. It was especially challenging since the song itself is really hard to perform and has especially high notes, but back then my mother was the one who suggested that I sing it and encouraged me to give it my all. This song helped me get to the finals and eventually rank in the top three winners in the first season of the show. The fact that i decided to perform this song again for the “Global Talent Show” really brought me back to that time where I was experiencing something completely new - performing on live television at a very young age - and it kind of made sense because here I am in a foreign country, away from all that is familiar and comfortable to me, experiencing something new but still doing what I love. 

    How is singing important to you? 

    The fact that I’ve been singing ever since the age of 7 is a huge part of my identity. I was always known at school and during university amongst my classmates as “the girl who sings”. Being on stage at a very young age has definitely helped in building my character and has helped me understand that I could express my thoughts and emotions freely through singing, and that’s how I learned that music is my medium. Just like that, the stage became my second home where I felt completely happy. I can also say that singing has made me a very vocal person and has made it easier for me to speak in public. In a way, I credit singing in giving me the courage that is needed to stand up in court and argue for what is just. 

    Where did you practice for the Talent Show?

    Just like everyone else, I practiced in the shower. Haha. Honestly, there’s no better studio than the restroom. That’s what I used to do back home as well. You can ask my family...they suffered a lot. Haha.

    Who, other than Whitney Houston, is your go-to artist?

    Cher. Definitely, Cher. I am part of a Lebanese NGO called Heartbeat- La Chaine de L’Espoir which is an assembly of doctors who treat children with heart diseases. Every year, the NGO organizes a huge concert that is meant to raise funds for the treatment of these children. I have been part of this great initiative for four years now as a vocalist. In these past four years, I became known as the Cher of Heartbeat. I got to perform lots of Cher classics; Dove L’Amore, Strong Enough, and Welcome to Burlesque. I would kind of like to think that since I’m in the States now, I could give Cher a call and we could hang out sometime and maybe do a duet in one of her Vegas shows…I don’t know, I guess it depends on how many cases I have to read for Property class. (Cher, please notice me.) 

    Other than the Global Talent Show, have you had the chance to participate in other events, competitions, etc.? 

    My teammate, Diana Bikbaeva, and I actually participated in the College of Law’s LL.M. Negotiations Competition and won First Prize! It was a great experience for me, especially since I had just graduated from the Lebanese University where I studied Law and from the Lebanese American University where I studied Economics right before coming here and I had no legal experience whatsoever. 


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

    Annie F Adams is the New Media Specialist for the Graduate College. After earning a Master’s degree at the Rhode Island School of Design, Annie pursued using place-based arts, culture and design to increase civic engagement before joining the Communications team. As a human-centered artist and designer, Annie can be found advocating for great places for people, plants and animals to thrive.


  • Where Are They Now?: Keith Taylor

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

    Growing up in the rural Midwest, Keith Taylor never thought that he would make a home near the sunny, sandy beaches of California. Keith earned his PhD in Human and Community Development in 2013 and now has his dream job as a Community Economic Development Specialist (another way of saying Extension Professor) at the University of California at Davis. In his position, the community is his classroom, and he works with community economic development stakeholders on research and development.

    How is your job different from a typical faculty role in your field? What are some of your responsibilities? What does a typical week look like?

    Unlike my traditional professor colleagues, I don’t have a classroom and don’t teach students. I travel across California (don’t feel sorry for me) to deliver content and work with California stakeholders. I also work to connect these stakeholders to knowledge and economic development assets across the University of California, its Cooperative Extension system, and with colleagues in my department of Human Ecology.

    Here’s an example of how I connect these communities and the economic development stakeholders to resources. California is grappling with delivering rural broadband to resource constrained communities. I brought an executive with the National Rural Telecommunications Council to Davis, California to meet with a group of policymakers previously not exposed to broadband cooperatives. Through that introduction, we have connected a major community college to a values-aligned industry player who may be kickstarting a new approach to building out rural broadband in California.

    A typical week? Overlooking the mundane of every professional job, I field a number of inquiries from individuals looking to enhance their local economy across a number of domains (for example, housing, broadband, electricity, agriculture, food). I have to be a consummate social networker, linking individuals with players in advocacy and industry. If a prospective project begins to look serious, I start to take field trips to given regions and work with stakeholders on implementing their projects.

    What made you interested in pursuing a career like the one you are in. What was the transition from graduate school to your postdoc to your current role like?

    I am a zealot for public service and community building. I love to co-create positive, community economic development, and see how a simple intervention can alter a community organizer’s or economic developer’s strategic plans. For example, the bulk of economic development—95 percent according to some estimates—focuses on attraction and retention of major firms. But the economic development literature finds such approaches to have minimal impacts (not to mention, should hard hit rural areas really subsidize a cash-flush firm like Amazon to move precarious jobs for a fleeting moment in time?). Instead, I am working on creating a small firms eco-system to help small and independent businesses start up, to grow, and to transition as the ownership looks at alternatives to exit.

    My transition? I have to say this is where the services of the University of Illinois really paid off. I wanted to work in a job just like the one I currently have. But the academic job market is a real beast to break in to. I sought career advice from the Graduate College’s Derek Attig, who guided me through that transition. Not only did Derek optimally prepare me for applying for academic positions, but they also served as both counselor and a reality check; Derek had me preparing for a backup plan in case academia didn’t work well for me. It wasn’t easy, but Derek, as a resource provided by Illinois, was absolutely instrumental in getting this position. I definitely won’t forget that!

    How did teaching and research at Illinois shape the way you approach your work today? What other experiences during graduate school were invaluable in your path to your current role?

    I know it doesn’t seem important, but teaching taught me about the amazing array of services and professional development opportunities available at universities such as Illinois. It made me far more curious, entrepreneurial, and ambitious since it opened my mind up to the potential personal development opportunities afforded me by virtue of being at Illinois. I developed a deep respect for the Extension system in my work and interactions with Assistant Dean Anne Silvis. I saw how Extension is a vital connector to the communities served by the university. That public service orientation had me hooked. And today, I work for the nation’s biggest Extension system in California.

    What do you think are the most interesting, rewarding, and/or surprising aspects of your job?

    I get to play a role in helping shape one of the biggest economies in the world.

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

    Be very intentional about your career orientation. And use university resources to help you plan accordingly.


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

    This interview was conducted by Emily Wuchner who 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.

  • Grad School 101: Sustainability and the Productive Life

    A critical aspect of our office’s work is encouraging a sustainable student experience. In this post, we'll talk about how we think of sustainability, especially in relation to the concept of productivity, and how you can maximize your effectiveness while finding balance and purpose in your work.

    We'll start with two definitions.

    First, I define sustainability as working and living at a pace that you can maintain indefinitely. It is my belief, widely-supported by the research, that a sustainable approach to work is not only the most efficient, it is the most effective over the long-term. Sustainable productivity means that our work and our rest are in harmony, each informing and fueling the other.

    This leads to the second definition, productivity, which I define as the practice of reliably generating useful and meaningful results. This implies two often overlooked aspects of work. The first is that productive does not mean busy. Simply completing a lot of low-level tasks, or keeping busy, while at times necessary, does not mean producing meaningful or useful data, insights, or even results. The second is that productivity does not require waiting for inspiration, but rather can be reliably managed and produced by a process.

    To discuss these two issues together, we'll apply three principles to three domains of life and work.

    Principle 1: Our resources are finite

    Whether it’s energy, time, or money, we all have a limited amount. Pushing beyond these limits can lead to trouble, and adopting a sustainable approach to productivity means that we must know our limits; accept our limits; and manage our limits. For instance, if you know that you need seven hours of sleep a night, it would be foolish to consistently push the boundaries of sleep deprivation in the search for more productivity. In fact, all the research points to the fact that not only will you be less productive, your likelihood of getting sick increases tremendously when you are sleep deprived. Accepting this means managing your pursuits so that you can reliably get the sleep you need to be most effective and perhaps saying no to activities and commitments that don’t advance your essential goals.

    Principle 2: Sustainability maximizes the potential of our resources

    This isn’t something many people accept as a given. Many strategic procrastinators (and I used to be one!) believe that they can’t be productive without the adrenaline rush of an upcoming deadline. However, over time, such an approach can take a toll on the work-life harmony that lends itself to optimal, sustainable productivity. Working and living at a pace that you can maintain indefinitely leads, ultimately, to much more effective outcomes.

    Consider: according to productivity experts like Cal Newport, three to four hours a day is the maximum of high-level work—like writing—that anyone can do and sustain. But, let’s say you can only work for two hours a day, for five days. This means ten hours of high-level productivity per week. You can see how this would be a much more sustainable pace than trying to write once a week for ten hours straight. Not only would that be very difficult to achieve, it’s also a single point of failure—if you happen to be sick that day, you’ve missed at least two weeks of productivity, as your next writing opportunity won’t be for another week. Compare this to a schedule in which you are writing every day: missing one day means only missing two hours of productive work—a comparative loss of 20% of productivity on the week.

    Principle 3: To be most sustainably productive, we need to bias our resources toward what matters most

    You’ll notice that this principle doesn’t say focus only on what matters most. That is because in order to maximize your sustainable effort, you must try to keep work and life in harmony. This may mean more rest some days, and more work other days, to maintain peak performance. Thus, we should always seek to bias our resources toward our most important goals, but not be willing to sacrifice anything and everything for those same ends—an ultimately ineffective and unhealthy approach, long-term.

    These three principles can be applied to the three primary domains of life, in order to achieve sustainable productivity. These domains are: sleep, rest, and work.


    We begin with sleep for two reasons. First, it is often the most neglected of the three domains; second, it’s arguably the most important in producing reliable and meaningful results. So, to be more productive, start with your sleep and work backwards. In other words, first figure out how much sleep you need each night, then schedule in the rest of your waking hours, making sure to bias your time and resources toward what matters most to you.


    The next domain of life is rest. The scientific definition of rest is the absence of work. However, it is important to distinguish between the simple lack of work and the presence of good rest. Good rest is any non-work activity that returns more energy than it requires, and that helps you to work more effectively. This can include exercise or sport, volunteering your time, socializing with friends, consuming media (books, television, films), participating in religious practices, or simply being still.


    The final domain of life we’ll cover today is work. There are many ways to think about work, but I want you consider two things: process and deep work. The first idea is that work is a process. It’s as important to optimize how you work as it is to focus on the results of work. If you can find a sustainably productive pace of work, the results will work themselves out. So, it’s often more helpful to focus on the process rather than on the results. Plus, an unhealthy obsession with results can add stress to your work and lead to performance anxiety. Work sustainable and consistently and let go of the outcome. Put another way, you can be goal-oriented but process-focused.

    Second, most experts believe that you cannot sustainably work more than three or four hours per day at your highest level of concentration—what the author and professor Cal Newport considers deep work. Deep work is any work requiring your full, undivided attention. This might be writing, planning, or strategizing. It is possible to push yourself beyond this limit occasionally—say, in pulling an all-nighter to finish a paper—but the goal is to find the number of deep work hours that you can sustain indefinitely, with no ill-effects. If you can use your deep work time to accomplish one significant thing per day, you’ll make great strides toward your goals, no matter what they are.

    You can view the video version of this blog post here.


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

    Daniel Wong is the Director of Graduate Student Recruitment and Retention for the Graduate College. He is deeply committed to the concept of sustainable productivity and how it can be applied to all aspects of academic and professional life. You may often find him on campus walking, reading, or enthusiastically discussing one of his current obsessions. He holds a BA in Biochemistry from the University of Kansas and a PhD in English Literature from the University of Illinois.