Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
You may use the Biophysics office address as a contact address. You will have a departmental mailbox in the student office until you establish a lab. Once you have joined a lab, your mail can go to your lab address, or you may continue to have it sent to your Biophysics mailbox. The Biophysics office address is:
Center for Biophysics and Quantitative Biology
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
318C Roger Adams Laboratory (MC-712)
600 S Mathews Ave
Urbana, IL 61801
There are several housing options available in town: you may stay in University-run graduate dorms or family student housing; you may stay in University-certified housing; you may rent your own apartment from a private individual, property manager, or commercial property company; or you may choose to purchase a home of your own.
For information regarding University housing options please visit: www.housing.illinois.edu
Single rooms in the University graduate dorms run: $5432 (Sherman Hall- shared bath) to $7172 (Daniels Hall-private bath; $6884-shared bath) per academic year (Aug-May). Twelve month contracts are also available. The rooms are sparsely furnished (a bed, desk and chair) and do NOT allow you to cook in the rooms. You may sign up for a meal plan (from $2160-$5604/academic year...depending on how many meals you wish to eat), which allows you to eat at the dorm cafeteria. I hear the food's not too bad. And the campus town area is full of restaurants if you get tired of dorm food!
If you prefer, you can stay in University-run apartments. Orchard Downs Apartments (off-campus) have one-bedroom furnished apartments for $700 per month; unfurnished for $640/month. They have newly remodeled one-bedroom units for $740 unfurnished; $850 furnished. The Goodwin-Green Apartments (located on campus, across the street from the Biophysics office) offer one-bedroom non-furnished apartments for $845 per month. You can also get furnished sleeping rooms there for $600 or furnished efficiency rooms for $755 per month. Ashton Woods Apartments are off-campus and have furnished two-bedroom apartments for rent that run from $810-$910 per month (depending on the type of kitchen you want) and unfurnished two-bedrooms that run $700-$800 per month. The nice thing about all these apartments is that they include many of the basic utilities (water, trash, sewer, internet, basic cable) in the rent. Orchard Downs and Ashton Woods also provide free parking and are on convenient bus routes – which you may ride for free as a graduate student!
Staying in graduate dorms/apartments for the first year can be good for some students. It gives you the opportunity to look for an apartment on a more leisurely time frame and it will give you the opportunity meet graduate students in other departments across campus.
To find out more about U of I housing, visit their web site at: www.housing.illinois.edu (email: firstname.lastname@example.org; phone: 217-333-7111). If you want to sign up for University housing in the residence halls, you should call: 217-333-7111. If you are interested in the University apartments, you should call 217- 333-5656 (email: email@example.com). You may contact Graduate Halls Contracts Office, and they will send you information about roommates, etc. There is also an apartment roommate bulletin board (illinois.edu/blog/view/858).
There are also private apartments in the area that are "certified" by the University. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org (or call 217-333-1420) for Certified University Housing or visit their website at certified.housing.illinois.edu.
You may decide that you want to rent an apartment on your own. Rents can run anywhere from $350-$1,500/month, depending on the kind of apartment you want and if you have a roommate or two. Rents for a 1-bedroom, unfurnished apartment usually average $500-$900/month.
There are also thousands of apartments available in town. You may wish to check the local newspaper, The News-Gazette, for listings. The News-Gazette classified website is at www.news-gazette.com/classified/rentals.
If you choose to look for your own place, I would strongly suggest that you contact the Champaign-Urbana Tenant Union at 217-352-6220. (The U of I Office, for registered students, can be reached at 217-333-0112, or visit their website, www.tenantunion.illinois.edu.) They now have a Housing Explorer tab which lists places for rent. Please note that The Tenant Union does not endorse these apartments, just lists them, so be sure to inspect the properties before signing any leases. Their offices also have information on landlords and any complaints that may have been filed against them. This helps you avoid getting into apartments with problem landlords before you sign a lease!! The UI Student Legal Services website also has information regarding Tenant and Housing Information: www.odos.illinois.edu/sls/tenantHousing/index.html.
A few students actually purchase homes in the area while attending graduate school. Housing rates in Champaign-Urbana have continued to climb, so when you are ready to sell after graduation, you may make a small profit from the sale of your house. I strongly suggest getting a good realtor (I know a couple if you are interested) to help you locate that perfect home your price range and in a good location. Location is everything, they say!
In the first semester in the Program, most students receive a 50% research assistantship that is paid by Biophysics. After the first semester, most students are appointed as a 50% research assistant by their advisors. 50% is considered a full-time assistantship. Because you are a student first and foremost, you cannot hold a 100% appointment.
With a 50% appointment, you are expected to work 20 hours a week. The first semester your "work" will be rotating through three Biophysics faculty laboratories, in order to make an informed decision on the research group you will join at the end of the semester. After that, your 20 hours will be spent working in your lab on experiments, etc. (you may work more or less than 20 hours, depending on the advisor). Your appointment is considered "renewable", which means you will continue to be appointed as a RA, as long as you remain in good academic standing. For a minimum of one semester, you will be appointed as a teaching assistant (TA).
Note that our assistantship appointments run for only 11 months. The rationale is that if you get paid at 50% for 12 consecutive months, you are then considered a full-time employee and no longer qualify for student status. Some advisor’s business offices will pay 33% over the 3 summer months so that students receive a paycheck each month, but many do not. Therefore, it is important to save up for the month you will not be paid (August). You can always check with the business office to see what you can work out, if you prefer to be paid over 12 months. Your total stipend will remain the same either way, though your monthly rate would change somewhat.
As long as you hold a fellowship or a 25%-67% research or teaching assistantship, you will receive a tuition waiver and a reduction of certain fees. Graduate students are responsible for paying between $400-$600 in fees each semester to cover health insurance, health services, transportation (it allows you to ride the city buses for free), etc. For more information regarding the types of fees you will be responsible for, you may visit the Registrar’s website at: www.registrar.illinois.edu/tf-rates-academic-year. There are payment plan options available if you wish to spread out your payments over the semester.
Most students in Biophysics can live fairly comfortably on their monthly stipends...which will be $2292.22 a month before taxes for the 2017-18 academic year.
Depending on the lodging you chose (see above) and the way you will handle your meals (dorm cafeteria or fast food restaurants), your expenses can vary widely. It really depends on your lifestyle. If you eat at nice restaurants, obviously it will be more expensive to live. (We have a WIDE variety of foods in town for all different budgets.) There will be textbooks and supplies to purchase, as well as clothing and incidentals.
Sorry I can't give you a more definite answer on this, as there are just too many variables to take into account. But let’s say you spend $700 on rent, $20 per day on food ($600/month), $50 on a cell phone, $150 on utilities** (internet, electricity, gas, water, etc.), and $200 on personal items, student fees, and entertainment, that’s about $1700 in expenses a month. After taxes (roughly 15-18% for federal; 5% for state) most students take home about $1800 a paycheck. Actual amounts may vary! If you get a roommate and split the rent, eat at home instead of at restaurants, and spend all your time in the lab so you don’t go out on weekends, you can actually cut your expenses down significantly from my example. I am just trying to show that even if you have expenses, you can live comfortably on your salary.
**most apartments have some or all utilities figured into the rent, so you may not have to budget for utilities at all!
You should bring enough money to cover living expenses through September 16, when your first check should arrive (provided there are no unforeseen problems that arise!). All graduate students are paid once a month, on the 16th of each month. If the 16th falls on a weekend or holiday, you will be paid the Friday (or last working day) before the 16th. You will be completing hiring paperwork prior to August 15. One of the forms you will be asked to complete a direct deposit form. This allows the University to deposit your paycheck directly into your local bank account, which makes it very convenient!
Most apartments require a deposit of at least 1-2 month’s rent. Other start-up costs can add up quickly, especially if you are buying furniture, stocking a kitchen with food, purchasing personal hygiene products and school supplies. Remember to take those costs into consideration when deciding your initial budgetary needs.
Once you register for classes and pay your fees, you will be covered by University health insurance, unless you decide to provide your own. Graduate students also have dental insurance and vision care insurance available to them, much like that given to other University employees. Check out the Student Insurance site at si.illinois.edu for more information.
We allow up to 7 years for you to complete a Ph.D. in Biophysics and Quantitative Biology. Most students are able to finish in that amount of time or less, with the average at about 6 years. If you find you need a little more time to complete your degree, you may petition the Graduate College for an extension. (If you are an International Student, your I-20 will expire in 5 years, but you can extend it for up to one year at a time.)
The first two years are generally taken up with core coursework and the remainder of the time is usually spent doing research.
The three requirements with time limits are:
1. you must choose your research advisor before the end of your first semester,
2. you must pass the Biophysics Qualifying Exam (BQE) by the end of your second year, and
3. you should be ready to take your prelim by the end of your 3rd year.
I think it may be a little early to be thinking about the Qualifying Exam, or BQE as it is commonly called, however, I receive a lot of questions on this. You will have two chances to pass this comprehensive exam. The BQE is a 4-hour written exam, consisting of 6 essay problems covering 3 sections - Experimental Biophysics; Quantitative Biology; Fundamentals of Biophysics. After the written exam is graded, you will then be asked to participate in an oral exam. The oral exam is scheduled for at least 20 minutes. You will be questioned on the items you did not do well on in the written exam and your proposed research. The committee will make the final determination as to whether you passed, based on your performance on both sections of the exam. The exam is offered each spring, and you will have the opportunity to re-take the exam once. In order to prepare for the exam, we provide links from our website to old exams to use as study guides. The good news is that we guarantee at least 1 question in each section is a question from an old exam.
Several graduates have gone into industry positions at places like Google; Intel; Canon (Japan); Walmart; Wolfram; Procter and Gamble; and Eli Lilly.
Many have done post-docs in various universities including Stanford; Harvard; Princeton; Yale; MIT; CalTech; Carnegie Mellon; University of Chicago; University of California at San Francisco; Johns Hopkins; Max-Planck Institute; University of Brisbane; and the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai, PRC.
Others have chosen to work in major laboratories such as Abbott Laboratories; Argonne National Lab; The Scripps Research Institute; Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research; Sandia National Labs; Lawrence Livermore National Labs; and National Institutes of Health, and medical centers like Mount Sinai School of Medicine; Harvard Medical Center; Massachusetts General Hospital; Nippon Medical School, Japan; and St. Jude’s Research Hospital.
Still other graduates hold teaching positions at universities such as Cornell; University of California at San Diego; University of Chicago; University of California at Berkeley, University of Texas; Escuela Politécnica Nacional (Ecuador); Prince of Songkla University (Thailand); University of Hong Kong; Sabanci University (Turkey); Chettinad University (India); and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
A good many of our graduates have started their own businesses: SimVivo; TissueVission, Inc.; Ostackers, Inc; HealthMyne; GenerisBio, LLC; Nauset Environmental Services, Inc; BioStar Consulting, Inc; JRM Data Science and Analytics Consulting; and FARM, LLC.
Lastly, a daring few went off the “normal” track and headed into the financial sector to serve as consultants at companies like Deutsche Bank Securities; the Citadel Investment Group; and various legal offices.
This should give you an idea of the wide variety of options that are available to our graduating students. You may wish to visit the Biophysics Alumni section of our website to take a look at the current positions our alumni hold. You can also visit the Alumni page for highlights.
Registered student organizations come and go quickly, depending on their membership any given semester. There is a wide variety of student-run organizations on campus. You can contact the Office of Registered Organizations at 217-244-2357, email@example.com, or visit their websites at www.union.illinois.edu/involvement/rso or illinois.collegiatelink.net/organizations for contact names and email addresses. You may wish to contact the organization that relates to your home country (for example: the Indian Students Association or the Chinese Students Association), as I understand they can be very helpful to new international students.
When you get settled in, you should join the Illinois Biophysics Society – our student-run organization. They co-sponsor Biophysics social events and organize an annual research symposium. It is a great way to meet and keep in touch with other Biophysics students across campus!
International students may want to check out the extremely helpful International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) site: isss.illinois.edu. It will help guide you through check-in procedures and has its own FAQ section that will address concerns specific to international students. You might also want to visit the International Students section of the Housing website: www.housing.illinois.edu/living-options/special-options/international.
The summer months (approximately June-September) in Champaign-Urbana are usually hot and humid. Temperatures of 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit (F), with 90-100% humidity, and dew points in the upper 60's-low 70's are common. With the dew points/humidity, which measures the amount of moisture in the air, factored into the temperature, the temps can feel like upper 90 to low100 degrees F. The winter months (approximately November-March) can be very cold, with temps generally around 15-30 degrees F. Wind chill -- the way the wind affects the temperature -- can make the temperature feel like 15-50 degrees below 0 F!!! The spring and autumn are my favorite times of year. During those seasons, the temps range from 50-70 degrees F during the days and with evening temps around 40-60 degrees. Just about as perfect as you can get!
Our average rainfall in a year is 37 inches, and the average snowfall is 26 inches. Don't worry, it usually doesn't all come at one time! However, the winter of 2014 proved we can still have 12 inches of snow in one night. The good news is that this kind of occurrence happens only once every 15 years or so. Last year we barely had any snow at all! The snow is beautiful when it first falls, then can get pretty slushy and dirty before it melts. We occasionally have ice storms, where the rain or snow turns to ice upon contact with anything (roads, sidewalks, trees, cars...) then the sun comes out and melts it all away!
Luckily, the extreme weather, either hot or cold, usually lasts only a day or two -- a week at most. So, enjoy the wide range of weather and the change of seasons. Each has its own beauty, which, in time, I hope you can appreciate.
I suggest, since you are arriving in the midst of summer (when it can be unbearably hot), that you bring lightweight clothing with you. Most buildings have air conditioning, so it is best to dress in layers, for example, wear a cardigan, which you can shed as the temperature goes up or in case it gets cold inside. Closer to the fall/winter months, you should invest in a heavy winter coat, hat, scarf, boots, and a good pair of gloves to help keep you warm.
Revised May 2017