By day, Stephen Johnson is a Sponsored Business Analyst for the School of Molecular & Cellular Biology. By night, he’s a podcast host and avid marathon runner. Johnson filled us in on his daily routine, the similarities between financial work and sound editing, and his efforts to raise money for a peer support nonprofit.

Can you tell us a little bit about what you do within the School of MCB? What does an average work day look like for you?
No two days are the same; there is always something new. My main tasks center around grants—helping [primary investigators] PIs prepare applications, managing the grants that get funded, and closing them out when it’s time.

What was your academic background, and how did you find yourself with the school?
I have two BAs, in art sculpture and music composition. I came to Illinois interested in the MFA program; while I was here I got a job with Sponsored Programs Admin, where I worked for four years. In 2005, I saw that MCB was hiring and I’ve been here since.

What do you do for fun outside of work?
I try to use my free time to cultivate my passions. Until I had foot surgery in 2023, that meant running and fundraising for Imerman Angels, a nonprofit that provides one-to-one peer mentorship for individuals with cancer. The goal of mentorship is to prevent isolation, so no one feels like they’re fighting alone. It is a personal cause for me because my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. Since then I have run 97 marathons to fundraise, and I’m hoping to run my 100th race this year. I also founded a charity music tape label, where I connect with local bands to produce a limited run of tapes. All proceeds benefit a charity of the artist’s choosing. I aim for two to three releases per year, and as we enter our fourth year we’ve donated around $2,000 to various local, regional, and national organizations. It’s cool on two levels, because we’re producing something that didn’t exist previously, and at the same time generating funds for some really worthy organizations.

What piqued your interest in the marathon running distance?
I ran cross country in high school, but didn’t pick it up again until my wife’s diagnosis. She wanted me to find an outlet outside of the house and ended up volunteering me to fundraise for an organization called the Young Survivors Coalition. Then in 2011 I started running and fundraising for Imerman Angels. Running helped me discover an activity I liked that could also benefit someone else. My racing outfit includes a pair of angel wings decorated with photos of individuals facing cancer. I aim to complete 10 - 12 races per year, and I try to group them regionally so I can run one every weekend for a few months. After running 26 miles so many times, I’ve learned my routine enough that I don’t have to think about it as much.

You also do some podcasting on the side. How did that start?
Champaign Is Also A Band started in June 2018 after my friend commented that I knew a lot of people in the music scene. I wanted a way to turn a casual conversation with artists into something formally recorded and presented. I ask every guest to talk about one song they’ve written, and then we chat about the local music scene. It’s very format driven. Having produced a podcast by myself for the past six years, I’m no longer surprised why many podcasts don’t make it past 10 episodes. It’s a big time commitment. About 6 hours of editing goes into a 1 hour episode - that usually ends up being my Sunday afternoon.

Is there any crossover between your work and hobbies?
I feel like I’m activating the same areas in my brain whether I’m working in finance or expressing myself creatively through my hobbies. Anything creative is a means to solve a problem.

What does success look like to you?
Lately I’ve been focusing less on chasing success and more on feeling content and fulfilled. It’s important to me that the things I’m doing matter. Ultimately I equate success with finding fulfillment outside of oneself.

How would you describe yourself in three words?
“Loves being lazy” (laughs). But I have to feel like I’ve earned it. I really savor the opportunity to do nothing.

Editor’s note: more information about Imerman Angels can be found here:
To donate to Sephen's fundraiser:
Story photo courtesy of Stephen Johnson.