Virtual Thesis Defenses During Coronavirus Restrictions

May 6, 2020

Credit Johan Jönsson (Julie)

Due to coronavirus restrictions, many graduate students are defending their work virtually this year, including those at Utah State University. 

“I did a practice meeting with my advisor and one of the people in my community. We just practiced so I can make sure that I was sharing the right screen and all of that. I feel like compared to when I've given public presentations, I didn't miss any of my key points," said Merran Owen, a USU graduate student who defended her master of science degree in ecology from home last week.

While USU still permits on-campus defenses, only the student and faculty members can attend at this time, according to Dr. Richard Inouye, Vice Provost of Utah State's School of Graduate Studies. Because of this restriction, entire defenses can now take place via teleconnection, a practice normally limited to a single committee member.

Dr. Kari Veblen, an Associate Professor of Wildland Resources and Owen’s advisor, said the technology allows the committee to confer after the student presents, then recall the student for the committee questioning session. She said although online presentations might be stressful for a student who is used to audience interaction, for other students the experience can cause less anxiety.

Both Veblen and Owen stressed that familiarity with the teleconferencing software and access to a good technical setup and wireless access are key to success.

“So, I had a webcam. I had a double monitor. I had a lot of help, knowing how to use Zoom, that type of thing,” said Owen. 

Although Veblen said both live and virtual defenses work well, she prefers the live thesis defense when it is possible.

“One of the things that's nice about it in person defense is that oftentimes, like loved ones will come and participate and sit there for the public presentation,” Veblen noted. “And then the other part of that too, is what comes afterwards – it’s really nice to be able to have a celebration with the students.”