Hannah Moshontz reflects on the experience of defending her PhD dissertation remotely on March 18, 2020. Moshontz is the first student in the department to do so, with great success! Congratulations, Dr. Moshontz!
What was the process of defending your dissertation remotely?
It worked a lot like a normal defense: I gave a 40 minute talk to a public audience, and then, with just the committee present, I answered several rounds of questions about the dissertation. The committee went into a separate breakout room to evaluate me, and then returned to tell me I passed and offer congratulations. I then went into a different Zoom meeting where my friends were waiting to celebrate with me. The entire defense process lasted just about two hours, which is on the shorter side of typical.
Were there any aspects to presenting remotely that you found advantageous?
There were a few silver linings to having a remote defense, in addition to the obvious benefit of allowing me and my committee members to stay safe and contribute to keeping others in our community safe by staying home. Having a remote defense made it possible for people far away to watch the talk, including my Dad who tuned in from his living room in Oregon! In total, about 20 people tuned in in addition to my committee members.
Were there challenges that arose by not presenting in person?
This set up preserved many characteristic aspects of defenses: getting to share my work beyond my committee, that moment of waiting alone while the committee deliberates, and being called “Dr. Moshontz” excessively by friends afterwards.
The thing I missed most was being able to see the audience during the talk! I could only see three people in a small window while I presented. I missed being able to see people nodding or looking skeptical or looking confused! Other than not being able to see the audience, it felt very similar to a normal talk. I was lucky to experience no glitches or technology issues.
What advice would you give to other students preparing to defend via Zoom?
Here are some tips for other students who are planning to remotely defend their dissertations from home: