Going virtual with remote PhD defences

Friday, April 3, 2020

laptop and desktop on desk

During this extraordinary time of physical distancing in our community, new measures have been established to shift academia to online delivery. One of the most important milestones for PhD students is their in-person dissertation defence, which represents the culmination of years of hard work and dedication to their research.

In the Faculty of Arts, the first remote defence was successfully completed on March 20. Yichun Huang, a graduate student in Economics successfully defended her dissertation titled “The Economics of Water Conservation Regulations in Mining: An Application to Alberta's Lower Athabasca River Region.” “I understood the need to shift the entire defence online and I appreciated the university’s cautiousness and concern for everyone’s safety,” Huang says. “I already prepared myself fully for my defence before finding out that it needed to be held remotely, so I still felt confident in my ability to defend my research.”  

On the day of her defence, Huang sought to participate from a room with stable internet connectivity and no household distractions, both of which were essential to ensure strong dissertation delivery. Her defence was held on the WebEx platform, and it went off without a hitch. “Yichun’s presentation was very clear—which is a testament to the hard work she had put in to creating excellent slides for the presentation,” says Professor Margaret Insley, Huang’s supervisor.

Many faculty and staff within Arts helped to organize Huang’s remote defence. “Thanks to those in the GSPA and the Arts Computing Office who made this happen,” says Insley. “Also, thank you to Elizabeth Nilsen and Angela Christelis from the Arts Graduate Office and Pat Shaw and Phil Curry from Economics who played instrumental roles in the quick transition from in-person to the fully online defence.“

Once the defence concluded, in the absence of being able to shake hands and congratulate Huang  on her wonderful accomplishment, all committee members agreed to drink a toast in their own homes in her honour. When the pandemic is over, the dissertation committee plan to gather in-person for a celebratory event. Congratulations Yichun Huang on your well-deserved success!

As of Friday, April 3, the Faculty of Arts has supported seven remote defences, and another six are currently in the works.