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From the desk of Vicky Prince


Is there a mental health crisis in graduate education?

As we enter the new academic year and welcome our latest class of graduate students, we have also moved into a new administrative structure for our sixteen UChicagoBiosciences graduate programs. Our dedicated administrative staff play a key role in graduate student life; not only do they make sure important programmatic activities, paperwork, and student milestones all happen as they should, they also provide a completely invaluable source of deep information and support, not just to students but to faculty too.


What can we as members of the BSD community do about the potential mental health crisis for graduate students? Evans and colleagues noted that supportive mentoring relationships with PIs/Advisors correlated significantly with less depression and anxiety. In addition to fostering positive relationships, they called for more faculty training, to ensure the impact of graduate education on student mental health is better understood. In accord with that recommendation, in Autumn Quarter OGPA partnered with the BSD Office of Faculty Affairs to host the first “mental health first aid” session designed for faculty, provided by staff from the health and wellness center. Eighteen BSD faculty attended the session, and we will repeat the training in the future with the goal of ultimately reaching a broad faculty group.

The Evans et al. study also showed that different student groups have different levels of depression and anxiety, with women affected more than men, and transgender or gender non-conforming individuals affected still more. Of relevance to this, on February 13th the LGBT+ Resource Group will be hosting Elizabeth McConnell, who will speak on “queer resiliency and LGBTQ+ mental health.
In a recent discussion with our BSD Dean's Council students, I heard that the first year of PhD studies is especially stressful. Given our rigorous courses and the fast pace of the quarter system this was not too surprising. However, I also learned that a source of stress for some first-years is lack of clarity regarding expectations, a problem that can be mitigated by consistent advising practices. The Dean's Council also noted that peer support can be very helpful as students navigate the stresses of graduate school. Recognizing that, GRIT (the Graduate Recruitment Initiative Team) hosted a first year ‘check in’ in November 2018, attended by almost half of our first-year class. This event provided a valued opportunity for first years to get advice from more senior students on navigating their first year. GRIT also hosts a popular monthly “Wolf’s Den” –  a mental health wellness check in, hosted by students who have gone through the full mental health first aid training. Interestingly, less targeted peer support, in the form of social activities, clubs and other “extra-curriculars”, which bring students together outside the lab, was also noted as important to mental health by Dean's Council members.
Evans et al. also suggested that programs designed to support career and professional development are natural partners in mental health awareness. This makes sense given that concerns about the vagaries of the job market are an active source of trainee stress. Finally, the authors call for cultural change, with faculty moving towards a focus on student efficiency and the need for self-care and a growth mindset, rather than solely emphasizing long hours in the lab. To help our community begin to think about positive ways to enhance our local culture and support our trainees, OGPA and myCHOICE are partnering to bring Dr. Sharon Milgram to campus in May. Dr. Milgram is based in NIH’s intramural program, where she has instigated innovative approaches to supporting her students. She is an inspiring speaker who also offers practical advice, and I hope that both faculty and trainees will take the opportunity to benefit from her insights.




UChicago safe app

The University of Chicago Department of Safety and Security is pleased to add the UChicago Safe app to the campus' comprehensive safety and security resources.


UChicago Safe enhances the University community’s ability to contact the Department of Safety and Security at the push of a button. The app is free for download and is available in the App Store and on Google Play. All students, faculty, staff, visitors and community members who live within the University of Chicago Police Department Patrol area are invited to use the app. 
Some of the key features of the UChicago Safe app are:

·         Mobile BlueLight:
Send your location to the University of Chicago Department of Safety and Security in real-time in case of a crisis

·         Friend Walk:
Send your location to a friend, who can watch you walk home in real-time.

·         Emergency Contacts:
Contact the correct services for the University of Chicago area in case of an emergency or a non-emergency concern

·         Safety notifications:
Receive instant notifications and instructions from campus safety when on-campus emergencies occur.

·         Emergency Plans:
Learn what to do in case of an emergency

Additional information is available at the DSS  website.

New letter of support required for institutional training awards

The NIH has published a new notice (NOT-OD-19-029) regarding the requirement for institutional policy for harassment and discrimination protections.


A new letter of support is now required for all Institutional Training Applications (T awards).  This letter must describe the institutional commitment to ensuring that proper policies, procedures and oversight are in place to prevent discriminatory harassment and other discriminatory practices.   The Provost’s Office has prepared a standardized institutional letter which is now available on the URA webpage.

See the notice for full details.


BSD recruitment travel awards

Interested in presenting your research at a conference and recruiting some great students to our graduate programs?


The BSD recruitment travel awards are designed to support students who will be actively involved in recruiting applicants to the Biological Sciences Division's graduate programs (especially from groups under-represented in the sciences) at their scientific area meetings. You could earn as much as $500 with your application. 

For full details see the recruitment travel award email sent to the bsdgradstudent list serve on Wednesday January, 9th.

F30, F31, F32 deadlines

As students and postdoc fellows prepare and finalize their NIH National Research Service Award (NRSA) F30,  F31, F32 applications, please be aware there are helpful resources on the UChicago Biosciences website including a useful application checklist.  


There are three due dates throughout the year: April 8, August 8 and December 8.

The annual BSD NRSA Individual Predoctoral Fellowship Workshop (F30/F31) will take place on Thursday, February 7, 2019 from 4:00-5:00pm in BSLC 008 for graduate students interested in applying. Please mark your calendars. 
NIH increases training grant funding

NIH has announced new NRSA stipend levels for 2019.  Please use these new rates when preparing applications and RPPRs.


Note that the training related expenses for postdoctoral fellows has increased to $10,850 however, the predoctoral level remains the same at $4,200.  No other changes have been noted.  The Biosciences website has been updated to assist you in preparing your proposals.


Queer resiliency and LGBTQ+ mental health

The LGBT+ Resource Group will be hosting Elizabeth McConnell  will speak on “queer resiliency and LGBTQ+ mental health. Wednesday, February 13 at 4:00pm; Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery, Room 1103.

Elizabeth McConnell, M.A. is a PhD student in Psychology at DePaul University, a NRSA Pre-Doctoral Fellow at NU's Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing and a research affiliate with Northwestern University's Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing. Liz's research focuses on socio-contextual influences on the health and wellbeing of intersectionally diverse sexual and gender minority popoulations using a variety of methodological approaches. This event is sponsored by the LGBT+ Resource Group and all are welcome to attend. 

RSVP: email your RSVP to Drew Richardson at:


B$D funding in general

Graduate students are supported by a variety of funding sources during training and these sources will pay on one of two schedules. 

Stipends distributed on the quarterly schedule are available at the beginning of the quarter.  Stipends distributed on the monthly schedule are available at the end of the month.  Note that the transition to the monthly schedule will mean stretching that last quarterly stipend payment an additional month (ex. the Summer Quarter stipend is paid in June but the first monthly Autumn Quarter stipend payment is paid on October 31).

In general, funding will follow this pattern:
  • Year 1: distributed on the quarterly schedule; lump sum stipend check
  • Year 2:
    • international students: distributed on the monthly schedule, funding provided by advisor funds; stipend paid at the end of the month.  Individual circumstances may vary depending on the program
    • domestic students: distributed on the quarterly schedule from training grant support or individual fellowship; lump sum stipend check.  Some students will receive funding from advisor funds, in which case the stipend is paid at the end of month.
  • Year 3: similar to year 2
  • Year 4 - completion: the vast majority of students will have transitioned to funding provided by advisor funds with the stipend paid at the end of the month.  The funding model for some programs requires students to remain on a quarterly schedule so individual circumstances may vary depending on the program.

2018-2019 mentor training program for postdocs

This year, BSD Postdoc Affairs has partnered with the Institute for Molecular Engineering to offer the fourth iteration of Postdoc Mentor Training. The 2018-2019 mentor training workshop series began in October and postdocs who complete all 6 sessions over the course of 2 years receive a completion certificate for the program.


The interactive format consists of moderator-led workshops where participants work through case studies in small group discussions. Literature on mentoring shows that postdocs directly benefit from improved mentoring relationships. Led by trained facilitators here at UChicago, we use a tested curriculum developed specifically for postdocs by the National Research Mentoring Network that we evaluate annually, and covers the following topics:

  • Maintaining effective communication
  • Aligning expectations
  • Assessing understanding
  • Addressing equity and inclusion
  • Fostering independence
  • Promoting individual development

In the first three years of the program (2015-2018), a total of 27 postdocs have completed all required courses. So far this year, 20 postdocs have attended the first two sessions and are on track to complete the program. Feedback from Postdocs who completed the program has been 100% positive, with all participants indicating that the program was a valuable use of their time; that they would recommend training to other  postdocs; and that they made changed in their mentoring as a result of the training. 

New UChicago Biosciences staff

We are pleased to announce the arrival of two new staff in OGPA. 


Amber Chatellier is the new Director for Graduate Education in the Biomedical Sciences. She will also serve as the program administrator for the immunology graduate program. Amber joins us from Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), where she spent five years as a graduate student advisor and department administrator. Prior to working at IIT, she spent three years as an Assistant Registrar at Loyola University. Amber completed her BS in Economics at Northern Illinois University.

Stephanie Laine-Nazaire is the new Graduate Education Administrator for the cell and molecular biology graduate program and the development, regeneration and stem cell biology graduate program.  Stephanie joins us from the Department of Enrollment Services where she spent three  years as an Assistant Director of Financial Aid. Stephanie is a liftime resident of Chicago and graduated from Roosevelt University. 

BSD student fellowships and accomplishments

New student fellowships are updated regularly on our website. Students who have been recognized for excellence at national meetings are announced on the Accomplishments page. 

New Alumni

The Biological Sciences Division conferred the PhD on 17 students at the end of Autumn Quarter, December 14, 2018.  There were 2 students who received the MS degree.
We are very proud of our new graduates.
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