Graduate School allows video conferencing for dissertation defenses

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For graduate students, after years of work and research toward their dissertation, scheduling their dissertation defense just got a little easier by ideoconferencing, teleconferencing and using other technologies to get the necessary people in the room.

Terry Kahn, associate dean for the Office of Graduate Studies, said because scheduling dissertation defenses had been a long-standing problem for students and faculty, the Graduate Assembly amended the defense policy to incorporate technology.

The dissertation defense is the final step for graduate students before submitting a dissertation. The defense committee chosen by the student consists of at least four faculty members. Kahn said although this is already in effect, students will likely begin taking advantage of it starting this summer.

“When we realized this was a problem to get graduate students, coordinators and faculty members in a room, we wanted to find a more flexible way,” Kahn said. “I can’t imagine anything more flexible than this. We listen to what the problems are and are trying to fix them.”

Columbia Mishra, Graduate Student Assembly president, said students might have committee members who are researching internationally or have administrative positions on campus that can make finding a defense time difficult.

Mishra said the changes will help reduce stress caused by scheduling coordination, allowing graduate students to better prepare for their defense.

“Sometimes people are out of the country or doing research, they’re all very busy people and it can be very difficult to get all these professors in the same room,” Mishra said.

She said previously, that might have delayed defenses and even caused students to postpone their defense and graduation.

“You don’t know if you’ll be funded next semester and you want to get things done quickly, so it becomes a problem,” Mishra said.

Kahn said the new option requires all committee members must be present, but only two must be physically present. Previously, a minimum of three committee members was required at the defense along with a nonvoting observer. Kahn said the policy does not specify which technologies can be used, so as new technologies become available they can be implemented as well.

“The old standard option is still there and I think most people will still use that because a defense is a pretty important thing and having people in the room means something,” Khan said.

Eugenio Santillan, former GSA academic affairs director, said the new policy will allow students to focus on their studies instead of coordinating with faculty.

“This will serve to relieve a lot of graduate students from the stresses of having to plan defenses around their committees’ schedules,” Santillan said. “Writing and defending a dissertation is stressful enough in addition to all the things we need to do to graduate.”

Santillan said he plans to take advantage of the changes at his defense and hopes it may eventually create the opportunity for collaboration with graduate students and professors at other universities as outside committee members.