Degrees in Hand, New Alumni Discuss Remote Defenses

By Katya Hrichak

Jane Levya
Jane Levya, M.A. ’20

“If I had been asked two years ago how I would prepare for my thesis defense, I would not have said furniture rearrangement, lighting, and doing sound checks in my apartment,” said Jane Levya, M.A. ’20, a recent graduate of the field of fiber science and apparel design.

Like many degree candidates preparing to graduate in Spring and Summer 2020, Levya successfully defended her thesis remotely with the help of Zoom. A and B exams were another aspect of academic life moved online earlier this year in response to COVID-19.

Arranging the defense was “objectively simple and straightforward,” according to Youngmin Yi, Ph.D. ’20, who successfully defended to earn a doctorate in sociology. To prepare, she confirmed the platform and previously-scheduled date and time with her committee, and her chair set up the meeting.

Youngmin Yi
Youngmin Yi, Ph.D. ’20

“For the defense itself, we proceeded as though we were holding the defense in person, with me leaving ‘the room’ and re-entering at appropriate times before and after my dissertation defense presentation,” Yi said. After taking the B exam, she used the new electronic form to submit the results.

Practice talks and platform experimentation helped soothe the worries of Mohammed AlAmer, Ph.D. ’20, field of chemical engineering. His advisor and colleagues helped him work on voice level, visualization videos, and animations for a successful defense. Having a family at home in the same location where he would defend contributed to AlAmer’s concerns, but support from his partner in addition to academic colleagues made for a smooth process.

Mohammed AlAmer
Mohammed AlAmer, Ph.D. ’20

“To be completely honest, I was extremely worried for many reasons,” AlAmer said, noting online lags and glitches as potential hiccups. “Given that I have a one-year-old baby, I wasn’t sure about the background noise during my defense. Thankfully, my lovely wife kept our son happy during the day and ensured that his nap time coincided with the defense.”

Although the three new graduates had envisioned very different defenses when beginning their programs, each now hold a graduate degree from Cornell University.

“I feel profoundly grateful to have been able to pivot to an online defense and grateful that my advisors are all safe and well and able to do so,” said Yi. “It feels a bit surreal to be on the other side of it, post-defense, with the Ph.D. officially ‘in hand’!”