Conversations around AI are becoming increasingly common, with new advancements in machine learning and innovative AI-powered products being announced each day. But how do these developments impact graduate students on our campus? We asked Illinois graduate students to share their thoughts on AI in an anonymous poll. Drawing from those responses, this ongoing blog series will explore how Illinois graduate students are engaging with AI.
Many respondents talked about the ways they are currently utilizing AI in their day-to-day work. One AI enthusiast shared that “AI is transforming my graduate student experience by streamlining research, personalizing learning, aiding in language translation, simplifying data analysis, automating grading, and enhancing collaboration.” In this initial post, we’ll look at some of the ways Illinois graduate students are using AI in their work right now.
Some graduate students noted that they use AI tools to address their accessibility needs.
“AI-powered assistive technology (like Otter AI) has greatly improved accessibility for me as a disabled student.”
“I will say that having an AI read aloud articles and online textbooks has been a great way for me to do something with my hands while listening to class materials.”
“As an international student it helps me understand the subject without the fear of being judged as dumb.”
Other grad students discussed the ways they use AI applications to help them study.
- “I use ChatGPT to enter in my lecture notes after class and it generates a class recap that I can read to reinforce the lesson. It’s very helpful to quickly generate flashcard content that I can put into StudyKit (a free student-made alternative to quizlet). I can also paste research papers into it and have it generate a better abstract than the creators of the paper wrote. I can have it summarize sections and explain sections if the writers didn’t include definitions. Overall, I can’t wait for AI personal assistants.”
- “AI really helps me summarize information that seems overwhelming – when reading about multiple complex topics, AI helps take the information and organize it all in a way that makes sense!”
Automating Mundane Tasks
AI allows some grad students to automate some of the rote and mundane tasks.
- “I use ChatGPT extensively at personal side for preparing and managing my schedule and to do lists. Sometimes I recommend AI to prepare a schedule for all open tasks I have. It’s helpful when I have so many items on my plate and I need to juggle between family, work and academics.”
“The AI I use most is ChatGPT, and it does some really simple things that save me time – writes code, rewords sentences, explains simple concepts, etc. I’ve even had it provide me with some studying outlines for classes. You can’t depend on it to give you completely accurate info all the time yet, but you really can talk to it like an assistant and get some really good use out of it.”
Many grad students wrote about how AI helps them to streamline their research processes.
- “It’s almost effortless to write scripts for plotting graphs or managing files. It’s easier to quickly gain an overview of new fields or different ways to approach an unfamiliar problem.”
“It's helping my research in terms of providing summaries of arguments or providing a survey so I can zero-in on what I wish to focus.”
“I briefly used AI to help draft emails and brainstorm new ways of thinking about my research topic... I switched to Brave Search, which uses an AI model to summarize search results but cites its sources, which improves my trust in it.”
“AI makes research on general search engines (e.g. Google, Bing) easier as the predictive text is smarter. Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic about AI in general.”
“I have found AI helpful with writing some Python/R scripts for various aspects for my research, however it is more useful for learning that for actually coming up with finished and working scripts.”
AI functions as an editor for some grad students, offering instant feedback on writing and coding.
- “AI helps provide feedback on the work I am doing instantaneously. It can help me debug code, write more professional emails, and fix grammar mistakes in my paper.”
“I have found it incredibly helpful. I struggle with academic wording, so I am able to write what I want to say and ask AI to edit my work and make it sound like it sounds in my head. When it comes to discussion board posts, it really helps to alleviate a lot of anxiety.”
We’ve highlighted some of the ways graduate students use AI as a resource in this post. In upcoming posts in this series, we look at additional graduate student opinions on AI as well as talk to some Illinois graduate students who are researching, thinking about, and teaching with AI. If you’re interested in contributing to this ongoing conversation, please take a moment to tell us.
Bri Lafond is a PhD candidate affiliated with the Center for Writing Studies, the Department of English, and the Department of Gender & Women's Studies. She is currently the Career Exploration Fellow for Graduate College Communications.
John Moist is the Communications Specialist for the Graduate College at Illinois. He holds degrees from Mount Aloysius College, Baylor University, and the University of Illinois. In his spare time he enjoys making music, playing board games, drinking espresso, and watching movies. He lives in Champaign, Illinois with his wife Kaitlyn, and their cat Mildred.