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Effective Problem Solving

Students, faculty, and staff at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are a diverse group whose personalities, experiences, activities, and personal goals vary widely. The Graduate College staff's experiences suggest that most conflicts and problems that arise in this environment can be resolved informally, without invoking formal grievance procedures. This article addresses some of the informal and formal means by which graduate students may pursue resolution of their conflicts. Graduate students may consult the staff of the Graduate College for advice about proceeding along any of the paths suggested below.


One of the best strategies is to try to prevent problems, especially major ones. Many problems may be avoided by understanding your own professional and personal goals. Why have you decided to pursue graduate study, whether at the master's or doctoral level? The answer to that question should guide you in selecting a thesis adviser who has similar values and a compatible work style. Another way to help prevent problems is to have a clear understanding of performance expectations and the mechanisms available for addressing issues when they arise. What are the academic requirements for your graduate program? How many courses are required and at what level? Are there course distribution requirements? When are major examinations taken? What is the standard for passing those examinations? What are the consequences of a failing a major examination? When is a dissertation committee formed? How actively will the members of the committee be involved in the thesis research? How will you know how well you are doing in the program? Are there annual reviews of progress? How and when are decisions about graduate student support made?

Problems may also be prevented by having a clear understanding of the student-adviser relationship, which differs from person to person and from discipline to discipline. What are the adviser's standards and expectations, both for the thesis and for any publications or presentations that might arise from the thesis research? Will the adviser provide equipment, materials, or space? What are the student's responsibilities? Will the adviser provide funding for assistantships, conference travel, or other professional activities? Are there obligations for reporting to a funding agency or providing deliverables to that agency? Could publications be delayed by a patent filing? Will the adviser take an active role in job searches? How often will you meet with the adviser? How will authorship decisions be made? How will conflicts be addressed? The student and adviser should come to mutually acceptable agreements about these kinds of matters, reevaluating their understanding from time to time, especially when changes occur.

Peer support and advice can be invaluable throughout graduate school. Is there a formal graduate student organization in the program? What informal networks are available? Are there more senior graduate students or postdoctoral fellows from whom you can learn? While other graduate students can offer extremely helpful advice, it is important to verify information about program requirements and other professional matters with your adviser, the director of graduate studies in your department, or another trusted faculty member.

Despite good intentions, conflicts do still arise. In most cases a graduate student who has a problem should first discuss that problem with the person who seems to be the source of the difficulty. Many problems can be solved directly and easily in this way. If that discussion is inappropriate or unfruitful, the problem can probably still be resolved informally with assistance from the other individuals within the department or disciplinary college. Some of the resources available to the student are the advisor, director of graduate studies or graduate program staff in the department, another member of the dissertation committee or other trusted faculty member, the program's executive officer (usually the department head or chair), or the dean/director of the disciplinary college or school. Students who feel that they need advice about how best to approach a particular situation may also seek advice from a number of different campus offices, some of which are listed below.

Some Resources for Problem-Solving

  • The Graduate College offers many services for students and faculty, including mediation of problems that are academic in nature. 204 Coble Hall, 801 South Wright Street, 333-0035,


  • The Office of the Dean of Students offers general counseling, advocacy, and a variety of special programs. An emergency dean is available twenty-four hours a day through the main office number. 300 Turner Student Services Building, 610 East John Street, 333-0050,


  • The Office for Student Conflict Resolution offers a wide range of services for students involved in disputes, interpersonal conflicts, harassment situations, possible violations of the student conduct code, or similar problems. 300 Turner Student Services Building, 610 East John Street, 333-3680,


  • The Counseling Center helps students address problems that can complicate personal lives, undermine academic success, and interfere with career progression. Services in the Counseling Center are supported by the health service fee, and most are available at no additional cost. 206 Turner Student Services Building, 610 East John Street, 333-3704,


  • The McKinley Health Center Mental Health Department provides education and consultation for emotional and behavioral difficulties. Services provided by psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers are supported by the health service fee. Short-term psychotherapy and medication treatment are available, when indicated. 313 McKinley Health Center, 1109 South Lincoln Avenue, 333-2705.


  • The International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) provides international students with comprehensive services, including advice and information on federal regulations applying to international students, alien income tax returns, health care, insurance and housing problems, payroll clearances, social security numbers, English language problems, personal problems, and other matters. 400 Turner Student Services Building, 333-1303,

Formal Resolution

If informal procedures are ineffective, a formal process may be initiated. Many of the policies listed below may be found in the Student Code. The Code is available at Copies of the Code are also available at the Office of the Registrar, 901 West Illinois; the Office of the Dean of Students, 300 Turner Student Services Building; and the Student Organization Complex, 280 Illini Union. Some of the formal policies and procedures are described below.

Graduate Student Grievances

Graduate students who believe that they have received an incorrect or inappropriate decision or behavior that adversely affects their status as graduate students may file a formal grievance if informal efforts to resolve the problem are not successful. The grievance may be filed with the student's department/unit, if the department/unit has a written grievance procedure that has been approved by the Dean of the Graduate College, or it may be filed directly with the Graduate College. See the Graduate College Policy and Procedures on Grievances by Graduate Students. Students who wish to consult with a Graduate College dean about a possible grievance situation may call the Graduate College at 333-6715 to make an appointment.

Graduate Student Assistantship Conflicts

For issues related to the performance of assistantship duties, students and faculty should contact Academic Human  Resources, and for represented students, the Agreement by and between The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois and Graduate Employees' Organization IFT/AFT 6300 should be referenced, for policies and procedures. Graduate College staff (333-0035) are available at any time to advise graduate student assistants, supervisors, graduate program administrators, or executive officers who are involved in such conflicts.

Discrimination and Harassment

University policy prohibits discrimination or harassment based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, disability, unfavorable discharge from the military, or status as a disabled veteran of veteran of the Vietnam era, or other forms of invidious discrimination. This policy covers all students and employees. Additional information may be found in the Campus Administrative Manual, Section IX/A-22. Questions about this policy or its procedures may be directed to the Office of the Provost (244-4545).

Capricious Grading

Capricious grading is the assignment of grades on the basis of some standard other than a student's performance in a course, on the basis of more exacting standards than were applied to other students in the course, or by a substantial departure from the instructor's previously announced standards. Section 3-107 of the Code provides more information.

Religious Accommodation

University policy provides for reasonable accommodations of students' religious beliefs, observances, and practices in regard to admissions, class attendance, and the scheduling of examinations and work requirements. For further information, consult section 1-107 of the Code.

Instructor's Ability to Communicate in English

Students who cannot understand an instructor should contact the department head or chair of the department in which the course is being offered. For more information, consult section 3-108 of the Code.

Accommodation and Provision of Auxiliary Aids for Students with Disabilities

Students who need special accommodations or auxiliary aids due to a disability apply for these services through the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services (333-1970). Additional information may be found in section 1-110 of the Code.

Student Discipline

The Code specifies rules of conduct that apply to all students. Student disciplinary procedures are administered by the Office of the Dean of Students (333-2121). More information is available in sections 1-301 through 1-311 of the Code.

Academic Integrity Policy and Procedures for All Students

Students are expected to uphold the University's standards of academic integrity. This includes knowing the University's rules on proper conduct. You may be charged with academic misconduct if you engage cheating, plagiarism, fabrication or falsification of information, assisting another person in committing an academic integrity infraction, or other improper acts. For more information about the student academic integrity policy and procedures, refer to sections 1-401 through 1-406 of the Code.

Academic Integrity in Research and Publication

Both Federal regulations and University policies have provisions for protecting the integrity of scholarly work performed at the University of Illinois. For information on the responsible conduct of teaching, research, and service, see chapter 5 of the Academic Staff Handbook or chapter IX of Graduate College Handbook. Questions about appropriate scholarly conduct may be directed to your department head or the Research Standards Officer in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor for Research (333-0030).