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  • 5 Tips for Talking about Your Work

    So, what do you do?

    This is a question graduate students hear frequently — whether from scholars in their field, people in an elevator, or family members. And while at first the answer might seem simple — it’s what you do every day, after all—finding ways to frame and explain your work to others can be a challenge. Thinking about your answer to this question is important since there are many situations when you might need to answer it: applying for fellowships or funding to support your work, job interviews or networking events, interviews with the media, or discussions with political leaders regarding policy. And recently, several UI students found themselves confronted with this question when former President Obama made an impromptu coffeehouse stop during his visit to campus!

    Below are some tips for talking about your work to help you prepare no matter the situation.

    Determine Your Context and Relevance to Your Audience

    The way that you speak about your work to experts in your field will likely differ from how you chat with friends over coffee. Therefore, you need to think of several ways of explaining your work based on the audience you are speaking to. In evaluating your situation, there are a few good questions to think about:

    • Where and in what context will you be speaking to others? (For example, are you giving a formal presentation, going to an informal networking event, speaking to experts in your field, speaking to non-experts, etc.)
    • What do you hope to gain from speaking to others about your work?
    • Why might your audience be interested in your work?

    The final question is one to spend extra time thinking about. Essentially, you want to determine why your audience should care about your work. Depending on who you are talking to, the answer might differ. For instance, if you are speaking with scholars in your field, you might aim to describe how your work relates to their projects. For others, you might explain what type of problem your research solves or how your work can impact their way of thinking. 

    Hook and Hold Your Audience

    Once you have determined a way to connect your work to your audience’s interests, think about ways you can grab and keep their attention. Some tactics to consider include:

    • Tell a personal story.
    • Explain what excites you about your work.
    • Ask your audience questions (rhetorical or not).
    • Describe something surprising or shocking about your work.

    These ideas work in different ways. Audiences are generally interested in learning about your relationship to your work, so describing it from a personal level (such as through storytelling) is a great way to connect with your audience. When you ask your audience questions or describe surprising things you have found, you can bring the audience into your narrative and grab their interest. Regardless of which tactic you choose, developing a hook that intrigues your audience and taps into their interests is a key element to holding their attention throughout your talk.

    Carefully Choose the Details You Share

    When you are working on your project, every detail seems exciting and important. But giving too many details can complicate your message and quickly lose your audience’s attention. As you plan, think about the main takeaways for your audience — in other words, what should your audience learn and remember from your talk. Then, choose a few topics or ideas that will help you reinforce this message and add details as needed.

    Mind Your Vocab

    It is easy to let jargon slip into the dialogue when you are talking about your work. Remember: not everyone speaks your “research language”! Be mindful of words or acronyms that are unique to your area of study and, if you want to use them, be sure to define them so that your audience is not lost. If you’re not sure whether you are using jargon, test words on a variety of people—not just colleagues.

    Practice, Practice, Practice!

    Talking about your work takes practice and preparation! Look for opportunities to engage with others about your work and reach out to a variety of people—both in your field and outside

    One great way to practice talking about your research is through participating in the Graduate College’s annual event Research Live!, which challenges students to give a three-minute talk about their work to a generalist audience. You can learn more about Research Live! on the Graduate College website. You might also check the videos from previous participants for ideas on structure and pace.

    If you would like to learn more tips for talking about your work, check out our Communication Skills webpage. The Graduate College frequently offers workshops aimed at helping students prepare for a variety of similar situations — including developing an elevator pitch, convincing people your research matters, and creating visuals to enhance your presentation. Make sure to check GradLinks for information on when these workshops are available.

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    This post was written 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.

  • Meet the 2018 - 2019 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 2018 - 2019 SAGE board:

     

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    Akshat Puri is a fourth year PhD student in the Physics department, and is a part of the ATLAS collaboration at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN). His work involves studying large amounts of data generated from colliding heavy ion heavy ions. When he is not coding in Loomis, he is either practicing on the dance floor for his next ballroom dance competition or in the kitchen trying out a new recipe.

     

     

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    Ashlie Santaliz-Casiano is a second year PhD student. Her research focuses on understanding the differential tumor microenvironment in breast cancer patients among race groups. She hopes her work will serve for novel therapeutic interventions to bridge the racial disparities gap between breast cancer patients and their outcomes. She aspires to become a mentor in her field and make science more accessible and inclusive. She is enthusiastic about culture exchange, fascinated by anthropology, and a passionate learner. In her spare time she likes to play guitar, read, journal, and listen to podcasts. She is a fan of documenting moments so you’ll always see her recording videos and taking pictures.

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    Christy Verhelst is a PhD student in Spanish literature, specializing in late 19th/early 20th century Iberian literature. Her research interests include literary representations of disability and emotions. Christy enjoys singing, comedy songwriting, baking, and crafts.  

     

     

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    Kaylee Hahn is a second year graduate student pursuing a PhD in Nutritional Sciences. Her research focuses on the relationship between early life nutrition and immune development in neonatal pigs. In her free time, Kaylee enjoys hiking, yoga, and spending time with friends.

     

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    Kara Francis is a second year online doctoral student in Learning Design and Leadership and resides in Minnetonka, MN. She is developing an online community of practice model to connect online graduate students with relevant resources and people to facilitate social and scholarly connections and collaboration beyond their courses. She is also a consultant who partners with organizations to implement social collaboration and learning solutions using online communities. She enjoys stamping home-made cards, attending MN Twins games, and spending time with her husband, Luke and five-year old son, Tyler. 

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    Katie Frye is a fourth year graduate student pursing a PhD in the department of Microbiology. Her research focuses on the enzymes that the pathogen Staphylococcus aureus uses to defend against oxidative stress during infection. She hopes that by better understanding the mechanisms S. aureus uses to evade the host immune response, improved therapeutics can be developed. When she is not in the lab, Katie enjoys riding horses, spending time with friends, and enjoying the outdoors with her boyfriend, Diego, and their long-haired dachshund, Lexi. 

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    Kelsey LeFevour is a 2x graduate of the University of Illinois and current PhD student in Recreation, Sport and Tourism with a research interest in Paralympic sport development. She is also a current member of the University of Illinois Wheelchair Track and Road Racing Team. In 2016, Kelsey made her Paralympic Team debut, competing in Rio de Janeiro with Team USA. The University of Illinois has a historic tradition of advocacy for people with disabilities, both on campus and around the world, and she is grateful to be part of that legacy and is so proud to be an Illini!

     

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    Laura Cummings is a second year PhD student in Spanish Linguistics. Her research focuses on the bilingual development of child second language learners and heritage speakers of Spanish. In addition, she is interested in second language education and translation. Laura is an avid traveler, and spends her free time traveling throughout the United States and abroad.

     

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    Liqian Ma is a third year PhD student in the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology. Her research focuses on investigating the mechanism by which a cholesterol metabolite, 27-hydroxycholesterol, promotes breast cancer metastasis, and she hopes that her work can help develop preventative measures targeting metastatic breast cancer. In her free time, she loves traveling, hiking, exploring palatable food, and cooking tasty food.

     

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    Marcelo Kuyumjian is a DMA candidate in the Jazz Studies program at UIUC and 2018-19 Graduate Fellow at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities for his dissertation “Performing Samba: Aesthetics, Transnational Modernisms, and Race”. His research focuses on transnational practices of black music between Brazil and the United States. He is interested in exploring the intersections between performance and research and is currently developing an artistic and scholarly project titled Jazz and Black Music of the Americas. 

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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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    Meera Zukosky is a fourth year graduate student pursuing a PhD in Psychology. She is in the Attention and Perception Division with a research focus on mind wandering and how it relates to attention. Meera completed her undergraduate studies at Illinois, and then worked as an AmeriCorps member in Arizona. When Meera isn’t in the lab, she loves going on outdoor adventures, traveling, and riding her bike. 

     

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    Na Ri Shin is a fifth year doctoral student at the Department of Recreation, Sport and Tourism, with a concentration in sport management. Her research agenda lies in the critical understanding of sport and development, with links to the process of globalization in particular. She aims to enhance an understanding of how globalization changes and impacts the ways in which we manage sport and development, both development of sport and through sport. She loves to walks, cook, and brewery hop, as she is a self-described enthusiastic beer snob.

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    Prahallad Badami is a first year graduate student pursuing dual Masters in Architecture and Urban Planning with concentrations in High Performance Building and Sustainable Planning. He hopes to respond holistically to the needs of the built environment and work towards the creation of an equitable and sustainable society. In his free time, he enjoys traveling, reading, and binge-watching TV shows.

     

     

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    Reshmina William is a third 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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    Sarah Lyons is a second year graduate student perusing a Master of Healthcare Administration. Upon graduation, she hopes to become a hospital administrator or healthcare executive. Her areas of interest include researching methods to reduce the length of a patient’s overall hospital stay and identifying perioperative best practice measures. In her free time Sarah enjoys spending time with friends and family, cooking, crafts, and anything outdoors. 

     

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    Sriramya Bhamidipati is a second year PhD student in the Department of Aerospace Engineering. She received her Master’s degree from Illinois in 2017. She obtained her B.Tech. with honors in Aerospace and minor in Systems and Controls from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, India in 2015. Her research is related to developing signal processing and machine learning algorithms that provide robust and attack-resilient PNT solutions with applications to power systems and UAVs. In her free time, she enjoys playing piano, reading novels, hiking, and other outdoor activities.  

     

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    Stephanie Schramm is a second-year graduate student pursuing a Masters in Environmental Engineering. She is most interested in examining the metabolic properties of microalgae in order to further nutrient recovery and biofuel production technologies. 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 playing softball in her free time.

     

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    Sulagna Chakraborty is a third year PhD student pursuing the program in Infectious Diseases Epidemiology from the Department of Kinesiology & Community Health. Her research is focused on vector borne diseases globally. She wants to combine her backgrounds in microbiology, social media, and public health towards a future career as both a chronic disease and infectious disease epidemiologist. She is an avid traveler and an amateur poet and writer, and she loves to sample different cuisines, dance, and make meaningful connections with people.

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    Tanitoluwa Akinbode is a second year MSc student in Community Health Science. Her primary research interests are in perinatal trends and mental health in women and children with disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. She is particularly passionate about the girl-child and women empowerment and hopes to help develop health interventions that would benefit underprivileged women and children in the future. She loves to travel, read, plan events, and cook and enjoys binge watching true crime and medical documentaries when she has free time.  

  • Where Are They Now?: Lexi Shurilla

    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?”.

    Lexi Shurilla graduated from the University of Illinois in 2015 with an M.S. in Recreation, Sport and Tourism with a Sport Management focus. She currently works for AmPride Communications, Inc. as the Editor-in-Chief of Community Concierge Magazine (CCM), a quarterly magazine featuring the best of the Champaign-Urbana community. She is responsible for the content and quality of CCM by ensuring stories are accurate, engaging and informative.

    I understand your BS from the University of Illinois is in Journalism, but I was curious what the transition from graduate student in Recreation, Sport and Tourism to Editor-in-Chief of a magazine was like for you. Is your current role the realization of a long-term goal or were there surprises and changes along the way?

    I always loved to write. I went to college wanting to be a sports journalist. Just before graduation, I started thinking about grad school and the idea of wanting to further my career in athletics. While pursuing my master’s degree I worked as a writer and reporter for Illinois Athletics. I worked in Illinois’ Athletics Communication department for over two years as I was completing my master’s program and absolutely loved it. I always had the idea that I wanted to try working in all forms of media at some point. I had worked in print, broadcast, and online before graduating and when the opportunity to head a magazine came up, I knew it was something I wanted to do.

    What does a normal day/week look like for you?

    Most of what I do as editor of CCM is managing. Whether I’m managing people, copy, or the layout of the magazine, that’s what I’m doing on a daily basis. Once the writers have their assignments, it becomes all about follow-up and maintaining relationships. Once I have all of the content, I also edit and fact-check the entire magazine before it goes to press each quarter. It’s important to keep open communication with the writers and contacts to make sure the articles are accurate and everyone involved is happy with the finished product.

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

    A lot of work goes into each issue of the magazine. It’s very tedious and there are a lot of pieces to each issue and each page that have to be considered. Having strong organizational skills definitely helps with this job.

    I always enjoy seeing what each writer does with their topic. There are so many interesting stories in the Champaign-Urbana community, and we get to share them. It’s fun when someone points out something they saw in the magazine that they didn’t know about or they “can’t wait to try.” The best part is when we finally send each issue to press after everything comes together.

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

    Time management. As a graduate student, I was doing my master’s program online while working for Illinois Athletics. I was at the office during the day, but there were plenty of nights and weekends where I was working a sporting event and regularly working very long—but very fun—days. But I had to make time for school too so it was a juggling act. I really enjoyed my graduate classes, and most of them went right along with what I was doing at work. I could always apply what I was doing in either of them to the other, so that made it easier. Of course, time management is a huge part of putting together the magazine today.

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

    Gain as much experience as you can, alongside school, while you’re still a student. It was invaluable for me to be able to work in the athletic department and work toward my master’s degree in sport management at the same time. There are so many ways to get involved on campus, or if you’re doing an online program, companies looking for interns. Doubling up on your experience while in school will serve you well in all aspects of your life.

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    This inteview was conducted by Mike Firmand, Assistant Director for Employer Outreach in the Graduate College. He works with employers to connect University of Illinois graduate students to new opportunities and promote the value of graduate education. He previously worked for the College of Business at Illinois State University and has held positions in insurance, marketing, banking, and retail and event management. Mike holds a B.S. in Recreation, Sport and Tourism from the University of Illinois and an M.S. in Communication from Illinois State University.