Graduate Council Co-Presidents Discuss Upcoming Year

Graduate Council (GC) is the representative student government for the University of Chicago’s graduate student population. Made up of two co-presidents, 17 elected divisional representatives, and the Graduate Liaison to the Board of Trustees, GC focuses on building community across the graduate divisions, helping students get the funding they need to further their academic professional pursuits, and working with administrators to improve graduate student life.

In 2017-18, the GC Travel Fund and Finance Committee funded over 350 travel requests and 130 events respectively. In addition to providing financial support, GC also helped strengthen community by hosting 9 large-scale social events and 40 smaller community events.

UChicagoGRAD’s Kalee Schelkopf recently sat down with the 2018-19 co-presidents Jenni Antane and Ryan Duncombe to discuss goals and challenges for the upcoming academic year.

What do you see as some of the important issues facing graduate and professional students at UChicago?

We’ve received a lot of valuable feedback the past few years on what issues students care about, and we hope to address many of these. However, one broad issue facing students that we want to focus on this year is the ability to form connections and collaborations among student groups across campus in a manner independent of RSOs.

Grad Council represents over 8,000 graduate students in 12 distinct divisions, so connections among student groups across the university with shared causes (minorities, student parents, LGBTQ and others) can be difficult to achieve. Improving this ability is something we’re actively working on, and we see this as a way to continue to build UChicago’s graduate community and ensure that all UChicagoans can feel a connection to their fellow students in other divisions.

How do you envision Graduate Council helping to address the concerns of graduate students across the university?

We’ve learned a lot in the past two years about what works and what does not work in supporting, empowering and connecting UChicago’s graduate students. Going forward, we believe that three main areas can continue to be improved:

  • Community building– We’ve received a lot of positive feedback for last year’s Community Initiative, and we aim to continue expanding this program. We’re also continuing to develop Grad Council’s other funding programs (Travel Fund, Academic and Professional Fund, and the Social, Culture and Wellness Fund) to try and more equitably share their resources among divisions, as we’ve received feedback that previous application forms felt more applicable to some divisions compared to others.
  • Participation– To maximize Grad Council’s effectiveness as advocates and representatives of all graduate students, we aim to continue the increase in participation in the council we’ve seen over the past few years. As Grad Council’s various committees become more developed, we’re able to more effectively organize and tailor our efforts to the needs of students university-wide.
  • Online presence– One of our greatest tools for connecting and empowering student communities is our online presence, and it’s something we have a lot of new ideas for. Grad Council recently unveiled an events calendar on our website that we hope will enable students to more effectively take advantage of events going on around campus. We’re also developing a more comprehensive resource list, with the goal being to centralize graduate student groups and resources on Grad Council’s website to maximize its usefulness to the graduate student population.

Finally, we hope to continue our collaboration with UChicagoGRAD and the newly formed Graduate Education Committee, as both of these resources are crucial in helping us maximize our service to UChicago’s graduate students.

What do you anticipate being your biggest challenges?

We need to continue expanding participation in Grad Council to further our goal of addressing the large diversity of needs and concerns expressed by UChicago’s graduate students, and to ensure that we are serving each division fairly. It’s always difficult for graduate students to find time in their busy lives for involvement, so maximizing our effectiveness and flexibility while requiring minimal time commitments from students is a challenge we will have to overcome. However, we are pleased to report that recruiting efforts have gone well and we’re positive that the council will continue to grow, both in size and in capacity.

How can graduate and professional students get involved?

There are several different ways to get involved in Grad Council. People often start by serving on one of our funding or issues committees since they’re a great way to meet people and make an impact with a minimal and flexible time commitment. There are many committees, so it’s easy to find a fit for what you’re interested in – whether it’s social events, travel, or graduate issues.

Another valuable way to get started is to simply come to a meeting! We hold multiple meetings every quarter and they’re a great way to get an overview of everything GC does or to express a concern that you have in your graduate experience. We have an excellent group of talented students working with us and every one of them can help find ways for interested students to get involved in their area of choice. We’re always open to new people, new ideas, and new directions. And as a bonus reason to attend a meeting: food is provided!

We are always eager to hear from graduate students from across the university. Visit our website at or email our exec team at to learn more about how to get involved!

The first Graduate Council meeting of the year will be held on Monday, October 8that 7:30pm in Harper Center, Room C-07. All graduate students are invited to attend. 

Jenni Antane is a PhD candidate in Molecular Engineering entering her third year at the University of Chicago. Her research interests include understanding the generation and maintenance of peripheral immunological tolerance and engineering better immune responses. She graduated with a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering from Northwestern University where she served as the Outreach Director and then External VP for the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). During her graduate career, she has served as a member of the IME Dean’s Council, has achieved RSO status for the UChicago section of SWE, and has chaired Graduate Council’s Academic and Professional Fund Committee. Her passions outside of lab are cooking (and more importantly eating), exploring cities by walking for hours, and relaxing through yoga.

Ryan Duncombe is a 5th year PhD student in the Adams lab in the Biological Sciences Division (BSD), where he combines biochemical and immunological approaches to investigate fundamental questions of immunological tolerance. During his time with Graduate Council, he has served on a number of committees, including the Social, Culture and Wellness Committee, as GC representative to the Student Government Community Service Fund, and the Graduate Issues Committee. He currently serves as the Biomedical Sciences Representative to the BSD Dean’s Council and is the Student Liaison to the Committee on Immunology, his home committee. Outside of lab, Ryan enjoys spending time outdoors, reading, and playing baseball.