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  • A Month in Wellness with Katherine Hatcher

    Katherine Hatcher founded her blog and Instagram accout, "Grad Self-Care" in October 2018 as a way to share her story about health and wellness in graduate school. Through it, she connected with countless other graduate students from around the country who are working to find their own meaning of work-life balance. In her first post for the GradLIFE blog, Katherine shares with us her monthly wellness routine and tips for setting up and sticking to your own. 

    Hello everyone!

    My name is Katherine Hatcher and I’m a fourth year PhD candidate in the Neuroscience Program. My research assesses the impact of environmental factors on behavior and the brain. In my dissertation, I am exploring how exposure to environmental chemicals modifies sleep quality and depression in women undergoing the menopausal transition.

    Outside of the lab, I try to foster my passions as much as possible. One of my main outlets is exploring the elusive concept of work-life balance through my Instagram called Grad Self-Care. This account has become a way for me to explore my passion for self-care, alongside sharing the unique stories of other individuals in graduate school who are trying to maintain a positive outlook and take care of their mental health.

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    Having battled mental illness most of my life and questioned my ability to be successful in academia because of this battle, I respect the power of sharing stories through social media and have found many amazing people through Instagram.

    Throughout my time at Illinois, I have also found a lot of strength in tapping into the wellness resources on campus and in the community. These resources have either supported me through difficult times or connected me with external opportunities to further develop my resilience as a graduate student. Grad school is hard, but oftentimes universities have resources that we can lean in to in order to enhance our training experience and overall wellness.

    Over my four years I have developed a monthly wellness routine that has honestly been a game changer for me in grad school. Tapping into these resources on campus, as well as those in the community, has allowed me to develop my own tool box to use throughout the month when I most need it.

    Here's a look at my monthly wellness schedule:

    Registered Dietician, twice per month

    I have been seeing a registered dietician through the SportWell Clinic at McKinley since my first year at Illinois. She is an amazing resource (and person!) and has provided me with so much support and encouragement throughout my PhD. She introduced me to many different resources in the community, as well as reading materials and concepts (such as Intuitive Eating) that I would not have been aware of without her. SportWell also offers physical therapy, stress management, and athletic training for students. Most of these resources are included in the student health services fee and are available simply by going to your General Practictioner first so you can get a referral. My home department even hosted a workshop for stress/time management in grad school by tapping into this resource!

    Group Therapy Sessions, once per week

    I attend weekly group therapy sessions at the Counseling Center, beginning last semester. This group has been immensely helpful for me to connect with other students in a private setting, where we can share difficulties we are experiencing and ideas on how to overcome them. I never thought I would enjoy group therapy, but now I see how helpful it is, because it offers a safe space where I can meet with other students who may offer their own perspective on difficulties we may share. There are many different groups available for students, depending on their need. The Counseling Center also offers individual counseling on a semester-by-semester basis, which I also took advantage of my second year here at the U of I. More information on scheduling an individual appointment can be found here.

    Boxing classes, at least once per week

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    I not only utilize resources on campus, but also have found fantastic wellness opportunities outside of the university, as well. For example, I have been taking boxing classes at CU Women’s Boxing since last summer, and it has changed my life! Coach Jessie is an amazing coach and gym owner, and the classes are challenging but approachable for women of all varying fitness abilities. The classes are relatively affordable, even for graduate students! I go at least once a week, if not twice, depending on much I can afford in a particular month. I also attend therapy on a semi-weekly basis in the community, as well. While I have not personally used them, I know of people who have attended local yoga and/or fitness studios, aerial arts classes at Defy Gravity, and even opportunities through Champaign and Urbana Park Districts.

    Group fitness classes, multiple times per week

    Every week, I try to attend as many group fitness classes as I can possibly manage in my schedule. Sometimes I attend none, or one, or even three or four. It just depends on the week! I check the Group Fitness schedule every week, and add times into my calendar that I know work for me. This year I purchased a class pass that lasts both the fall and spring semesters, and I love that I only have to attend 12 or so classes before the pass pays for itself! Some of my favorite classes are BODYCOMBAT, BODYJAM, BODYATTACK, and any yoga classes that are offered. Even though I’m not in the best shape, I never feel out of place, and find the instructors all supportive and motivating!

    Okay, sure, all these resources are great. But how do I incorporate all of these wellness resources/strategies into my routine as a graduate student? I know we have A LOT to do. I get that. However, I read recently in Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before that “When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more from ourselves”. And I LOVE this quote (and had it posted on my letter board for several weeks in my room) because it speaks to why self-care/wellness is SO important! If we want to be productive graduate students, and productive members of society, we have to take care of ourselves FIRST, before we can take anything from ourselves and give it to others or our work. That is why we must prioritize engaging in the wellness resources that are most appropriate to maintain our mental health and prevent burnout.

    So how do I manage this on a weekly/monthly basis?

    Have a routine

    Having a morning and evening routine allots time to myself when I most need it. Over the years, I have identified that my anxiety is much lower when I get enough sleep and have at least an hour in the morning in which I am not doing any work. Having a morning routine that gives me time to have coffee, meditate, and reflect means I have a better work day. An evening routine in which I can stretch, relax, unplug, and read a little allows me to get to sleep faster and earlier than when I try to work through the evening. Your routine may look different, so this is where it is important to check in with yourself and identify the best way to schedule your day.

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    Create a schedule and stick to it (sort of)

    Schedule your self-care and wellness and stick to those items just like you would a meeting or experiment. If you need to, share your calendar with someone you know will hold you accountable for those appointments. However, sometimes you must be flexible (both in work and personal time), and that is okay, too!

    Do things you are passionate about and enjoy

    I do not incorporate any wellness into my routine that I do not enjoy and I am not passionate about. All of the exercise I do I enjoy, which makes it easier to maintain. My Instagram @grad_selfcare is another example – it is a lot of work, but I am extremely passionate about the work I do through the grad school Instagram community and my blog, therefore, it is easy to maintain a consistent schedule with it.

    Surround yourself with support

    Whether it is your advisor, friends, lab mates, therapist, program cohort… find people who support you, your wellbeing, your work, and your passions. These people should know that your mental and physical wellbeing come first, and then your work. Yes, we all have work to get done, but at the end of the day if your wellness is not maintained, you will not be able to put your best self forward.

    Have questions about self-care and/or how I maintain wellness in grad school? Feel free to email me at gradselfcare@gmail.com!

    All photos courtesy of Katherine Hatcher. 

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    Katherine Hatcher is a Neuroscience PhD candidate. Her research aims at understanding the impact of environmental exposures on behavior and the brain. In her dissertation, she will be investigating the impact of phthalate exposure on sleep quality and depressive symptoms in perimenopausal women. Outside of the lab, you can find Katherine hanging out with her three cats, curating her Instagram @grad_selfcare, or contemplating the complexities of Humulus lupulus.

  • Grad School 101 – Funding Graduate School

    Graduate school is one of the most important investments in your future you can make. To ensure that you invest wisely, it's essential that you identify your main expenses as well as develop a funding plan and a budget. It’s important to start thinking about these financial questions early and to seek out University resources that can help answer your questions.  

    Identifying Expenses

    First, identify your main expenses, which means you’ll need to assess the cost of education for your particular program and the cost of living. To help determine your cost of education and cost of living at Illinois, visit our Cost of Attendance page.

    Seeking Funding

    Next, you will want to develop your funding plan and seek out funding sources. To start, assess your current funding sources. Then identify additional sources that might be options for you. Many graduate students fund their educations through a combination of sources, with some years funded by assistantships and other years funded by fellowships, loans, or supplemental work.

    As you explore funding sources, keep the following criteria  in mind:

    • Requirements of funding (eventual repayment, work obligations, travel to meetings)
    • Whether or not the funding includes a tuition waiver
    • Eligibility (citizenship, degree program, demographics, special purpose)
    • Any associated restrictions on the funding (credit load, impact on federal loan limits)
    • Restrictions on the funding (impact on federal loan limits, research expenses vs. living expenses)
    • Tax implications

    Fortunately, there are many ways to fund your graduate education and ensure your financial wellness. The best place to start your search for funding is your home department. Once you know what to expect from your department, your next steps may be to explore funding sources such as federal loans, supplemental employment, or external fellowships.

    Assistantships

    Holding an assistantship will allow you to gain experience that will help you grow both academically and professionally. Some types of assistantships include teaching, research, graduate, or pre-professional (you can learn more about assistantship types on the Illinois Human Resources website). Though the responsibilities and benefits of assistantships vary, generally you will hone your research skills, gain teaching experience, develop professional skills (such as leadership, communication skills, and performance evaluation), and collaborate with others. Assistantships typically come with tuition waivers, and you can learn more about the tuition waiver policy in the Graduate College Handbook. Teaching assistants and graduate assistants are represented by the Graduate Employee Organization (GEO).

    To find assistantships available to you, the best place to start is your home department. Ask about the types of assistantships the department offers as well as how and when to apply. You might also reach out to department in areas that relate to your interests to learn about assistantships opportunities. Finally, the Graduate College has an Assistantship Clearinghouse where you can search for assistantships that are available campus-wide.

    Student Loans

    Borrowing money from the federal government or from another source is one way to help offset your student expenses. Graduate students may be eligible for Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Federal Direct Grad PLUS Loans. To qualify, you must be enrolled at least half time (6 credit hours) in a degree or eligible certificate program. Loan amounts depend on the calculated cost of attendance for that academic year, and you will need to begin repaying the loan shortly after degree completion or if you cease to be at least half-time. To learn more about federal loans, check out the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid  and the University of Illinois’ Office of Student Financial Aid (OSFA)

    If you don’t qualify for federal loans, you might look into alternative loans from banks or credit unions. The OSFA website has information about these.

    Fellowships

    Fellowships are important sources of funding, but they’re also valuable items to add to your CV because of the prestige they bestow on you and your work. Most fellowships provide a stipend, and most are “non-service” awards, meaning they do not require any type of work outside of the student’s own coursework and research. At the University of Illinois, fellowships over a certain amount (currently $10,000) may generate a tuition waiver. 

    "Internal" fellowships are awarded by units within the university, whereas "external" fellowships are awarded by government agencies, foundations, corporations, and professional associations. Awards are usually determined via a competitive application process, and most are given only to doctoral students in research-oriented programs. For information on internal fellowships, contact your home department. For information on external fellowships, visit the Graduate College’s Fellowship Finder database

    Scholarships

    Scholarships are a form of gift aid that doesn’t require repayment. They’re generally awarded on a variety of factors, including academic achievement, talent, athletic ability, leadership, geographical location, field of study, or financial need. Scholarships help pay for your education costs, but they do not provide a tuition waiver. Learn more about scholarships from OSFA.

    Grants

    Grants are funds usually awarded for a particular purpose, such as purchasing research equipment or paying to attend a professional conference, and they usually do not include a stipend. Some grant opportunities are listed in the Graduate College’s Fellowship Finder database. Check with your department or professional organization for other possibilities.

    A note on the use of “Fellowships,” “Scholarships,” and “Grants”

    Funders vary in terms of the labels they give to their awards. Some awards that the University of Illinois categorizes as “scholarships,” for example, may be called “grants” by the funders. If you have questions about a particular award, contact the Graduate College’s Business & Fellowship Processing Office

    Supplemental Employment

    Sometimes students find work outside of their graduate program in either an on-campus or off-campus job. It’s important to plan for how you will balance time for your studies with your work responsibilities. If you wish to pursue this option, the Graduate College Campus Job Boards page has several databases where you can look for openings.

    Planning and Budgeting

    Developing a financial plan and budget for graduate school is an ongoing process. As you move through your graduate program, you’ll continue to refine your budget as your needs and funding sources change. There are several campus offices and external resources to support you in the budgeting process. The Financial Wellness for College Students program through University of Illinois Extension provides information and peer educators. The USFSCO Student Money Management Center offers activities, newsletters, and other information. Finally, Grad Sense, sponsored by the Council of Graduate Schools, offers a budget calculator and other resources.

    Only you can figure out the right financial strategy for your particular needs and we encourage you to start early on forging that strategy. Having your finances in order will allow you focus on the true task at hand, which is to learn and achieve as much as you can while maximizing the wealth of opportunities we have here at the University of Illinois! 

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    Ken Vickery is the Director of Fellowships in the Graduate College. He helps graduate students pursue external fellowships, and he coordinates the Graduate College’s fellowship and grant competitions. When not reviewing proposals, he’s either taking pictures or attempting something akin to dancing at the Regent Ballroom.

  • Where Are They Now? Daniel Harnos

    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?”.

    A close call with a tropical cyclone as a child caused Daniel Harnos to become fascinated with the weather. This led him to earn degrees in Atmospheric Sciences from the University of Illinois in 2010 (MS) and 2014 (PhD). Now, he works as Meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s Climate Prediction Center where he helps others prepare for weather and climate changes by delivering real-time meteorological information and forecasts.

    Your research focuses on tropical cyclones, which was also the subject of your dissertation. How did you become interested in this topic? Has it always been your goal to work at a research center like NOAA?

    I became interested in tropical cyclones because I was born shortly before Hurricane Gloria passed near my home in New Jersey, and my parents frequently recounted facing this event with a newborn. They managed to make it out OK other than a few trees down in their yard, but the event clearly stuck with them and helped drive my interest in tropical cyclones.

    I was not always interested specifically in working at a government organization such as NOAA but did always have a desire for a career where I would be doing something tangible in terms of serving the public, which NOAA certainly does. The primary goal of our climate outlooks are meant to help protect life and property.

    At NOAA, you work in the Climate Prediction Center (CPC). What are some of your primary responsibilities in this position? What does a normal day or week look like for you?

    My current job responsibilities are a mix of forecasting, performing research, and developing or supporting existing operational products. I use my tropical cyclone background in forecasting for CPC's Global Tropical Hazards and U.S. Hazards Outlooks, while I have also picked up forecasting temperature and precipitation for 3 - 4 weeks in the future for the U.S. My initial research at CPC was focused on seasonal prediction of tropical cyclone activity but has shifted toward improving prediction of temperature and precipitation in the U.S. from 2 - 4 weeks in the future.

    Meteorology is a very young science relative to others such as chemistry or physics, resulting in numerous “big picture” outstanding research problems for the field, such as predicting for these longer time-frames. Most weeks are a mix of these duties, but I also run our social media pages, so I have to stay aware of our forecasts on a daily basis and pay attention to any significant climate variability that may be of interest.

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

    The most rewarding aspect of my job is knowing that somewhere someone could be using the climate outlooks that I am developing to make decisions to protect themselves or their property. The fact that someone may be taking action based upon my forecast makes me want to put my all into it. Similarly, it helps motivate me to develop better forecast guidance to improve the predictions from all of our meteorologists on staff.

    While at the University of Illinois, you had a number of roles in both teaching and research and landed a fellowship from NASA. How did your experiences at the university prepare you for your current position? Are there any skills that you have found particularly transferrable between graduate school/academia and your current position?

    My time at the University of Illinois helped me develop a number of skills that I was able to transfer into my career, such as: communication, statistical analysis, and computer programming. While I do not work in the same niche field of meteorology as I did during my graduate school days, these skills have translated across interests and been critical to my career. Since I also am working in a different aspect of meteorology now, I have been able to introduce some new ideas and methods into it from my graduate school days to help tackle problems in ways that climate scientists may not have been aware of.

    Is there a particular course, professor, or experience at the University of Illinois that has impacted your way of thinking?

    The two courses that helped me the most at Illinois were “Applied Meteorology” with Bob Rauber and “Risk Analysis” with Ryan Sriver. Each course got me thinking outside of the direct theory regarding the atmosphere, and into how to actively apply meteorological information to real-world problems. Most courses I took taught pure research and theory, which are important, but these fail to produce societal benefits until they can be communicated and applied to the greater public.

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

    Focus not directly on the content you are studying, but on the skills you are building while doing that study. You are not likely to work on the same exact subject matter again, but those skills will be with you and transferable into many other realms that could aid you throughout your career.

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    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.