During these unprecedented times, students are learning to adapt common experiences of graduate studies into an online format. Thesis defence and dissertation examinations mark the culmination of a graduate degree, and having this in an online format proved to be a surprising transition for many. However, there are many resources and tricks available to make this change as seamless as possible. In the following Q & A session, learn how three graduate students who recently remotely defended thrived, what they wished they knew, and what they would do differently:
Tips and Tricks for Defending Your Thesis or dissertation Online
|Tina Marten is an Interdisciplinary Studies PhD graduate. Her research Germans on Demand: The Migration of Highly-Skilled German Workers to the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada, under the British Columbia Provincial Nominee Program, 2000 to 2015, investigates the migration experience of one ethnic group in British Columbia’s Provincial Nominee Program.|
- Take time to prepare for the event: Read all the defence rules and make sure you understand them, know how Zoom works, and know who will be in the Zoom room.
- Practice, practice, practice your defence! The more secure you feel with the material and the technology, the less you have to worry about it. I found it helpful to do a Zoom practice run with my supervisor and the neutral chair.
- Have back-up plans in case the technology fails to work and you will have to, for example, deliver your defence without being able to do a screen share. I sent my PowerPoint to the neutral chair a few days ahead of time. In the case my screen share would not have worked, the chair could have forwarded my PowerPoint to the defence members and I would have talked to them without a screen share.
- Keep your visual presentation simple, in case you have to explain it verbally without access to visual aids.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. At times, I repeated the questions before I answered them to make sure I did understand them correctly.
- Keep some paper close by, to jot down some notes, as needed.
- Consider what to do with your pets, if you have any. You do not want them to bark or howl next to you during your defence!
- Don’t underestimate how important emotional support is. My committee members, internal and external chairs, and IT were all trying to make the best of a difficult situation. I felt supported. However, my remote defence was not open to the public, so I did not have family or others present for emotional support. Since remote defence presentations will be open to the public this year, I suggest bringing one person with you or even have a process observer who can watch your defence and support you.
|Alison Trim is a Visual Arts MFA graduate. Her research was based on exploring how drawing enables a deeper understanding of, and response to, place through physical engagement with materials and surface.|
- Have a clock in the room! It did not occur to me that while I was screen sharing my presentation, the clock on my laptop would not be visible.
- Have a quiet space, where you are comfortable, not cold, and won’t be interrupted or distracted.
- Have someone around nearby so that when it’s all over you can celebrate/destress! It felt odd and anticlimactic just signing off the computer, rather than having the opportunity to chat and wind down with the committee members afterwards.
- Make full use of the split-screen feature on Zoom. Having attended an in-person thesis defence previously, I do feel that the presentation feels more relaxed and conversational in person than via remote defence. The split-screen can help facilitate conversation and can help students feel less isolated. Some people may prefer not to see, but I did not use this feature and found it odd talking to an empty room. Seeing the faces of the committee responding and listening would have helped me to feel I was talking to someone.
|Helena Neudorf is a Health and Exercise Science MSC graduate. Her research was focused on gaining a better understanding of the complex interactions between diet and inflammation.|
- Don’t stress about how to give a virtual presentation – I wish I had realized earlier that it was essentially the same as an in-person presentation, but just in a different format. Fortunately, you don’t have to relearn how to give a presentation, the same principles still apply! Everything you can do in an in-person presentation, you can do virtually: have your PowerPoint in Presenter View (I used a second monitor to make the screensharing smoother), and use the laser pointer feature in PowerPoint to help your audience follow along.
- Practice the technology with a friend at least once before the defence, and not just the day/night before. For example, I figured out two weeks in advance that Presenter View didn’t work over Zoom on a single monitor on my laptop, which allowed me time to find a second monitor to borrow.
- Make sure you have a few close friends or family members nearby or waiting on Zoom/Skype for when you finish your defence, as you would under normal circumstances. It is a big achievement and one that should be shared and celebrated with the people that supported you along the way! The achievement of a graduate degree is never the work of the student alone, but rather the culmination of many peoples’ efforts and contributions. I hadn’t realized how much I cared about being able to share my defence with my friends and colleagues who helped me achieve my Master’s degree – until I couldn’t. In a way, it helped me realize how much I appreciated and valued them because I wasn’t able to recognize them in the way that I had hoped.
- Remember to enjoy the experience! I think the best piece of advice I received was from a post-doc in the lab who encouraged me to try to look forward to and enjoy the experience of getting to share my work with four very respected scientists. I wish I had taken this more to heart in the week leading up to my defence – I don’t think this would have changed my stress level, but it might have helped motivate me throughout the last few days of studying.
At the College of Graduate Studies, we are committed to the best interest of student health, well being, and success. Although we may not physically be together right now, our graduate community is as important as ever. Reach out to our office, your professors, and your peers and support one another.
DEFENcES AND ORAL EXAMINATIONS
Master’s thesis defences and Ph.D. oral examinations are currently being held remotely.
Resources to support remote defences are listed below.