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131. How to Host a Dissertation Defense On Zoom

It’s finally here! The day you’ve been preparing for for the last five years!

Your experiments are finished, papers published, and your dissertation has been typed, referenced, printed, and distributed. Now, it’s time to stand proudly before your committee and a room full of peers to defend your work and be dubbed a Doctor of Philosophy!

At least, that’s how things used to be done before COVID-19 and social-distancing.

Now, you have to do all the experiments, writing, and publishing, and then convince your audience to MUTE THEIR !@#%@% MICROPHONES so you can hear the committee’s questions on your Zoom defense!

The Best Defense

So much has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but one thing has not changed: nearly-minted PhD students still want to finish and get the heck out of grad school!

And nothing will stand in their way.

But defending a dissertation takes on a new level of anxiety and drama when you can’t be in the same room as your audience. Students defending during the socially-distant Spring of 2020 have had to adapt to videoconferences and screen-sharing.

It’s tough enough to be prepare for a dissertation defense under normal circumstances. You need to know the literature. You need to prepare slides. You need to anticipate the questions of committee member #3 who always likes to bring up research papers from the 1960’s.

But now, you also need to manage your audio quality, deal with limited WiFi bandwidth, and avoid back-lighting that makes you look like you’re in the witness protection program.

Luckily, a handful of students have gone down this path before you, and at least one has drawn a map to help you out.

This week on the show, we talk with Ashton Merck, whose Google Doc-Manifesto Defending a Dissertation by Videoconference has already been referenced thousands of times.

Recently-minted Dr. Merck (has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?) defended her dissertation in March 2020 remotely via Zoom. Better yet, she took notes on how to handle the remote defense with grace and style.

She has advice for PhD students ranging from how to solve audio/video errors, to how to avoid the recent spate of Zoom-bombing and trolling.

She also gives advice to committee members and observers that helps ensure a productive environment for everyone.

These are strange times, but we’re all in this together, and Dr. Merck’s guide is here to make the transition from student to graduate just a little bit easier.

But you should still read that paper suggested by committee member #3…

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