Anne Gorden


When Auburn University announced a new alternate operations model in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Anne Gorden had to quickly find another way for her PhD students to defend their dissertations.

“We knew we would use Zoom, but we still had a number of challenges to overcome. We started by touching base with the Graduate School and other institutions and doing some research to identify common problems with this approach.”

After their initial research and planning, things started falling into place. Dr. Gorden served as the Zoom host and appointed the student defending as co-host. This allowed the student to share materials during their presentation which they did using PowerPoint and a Wacom tablet. Dr. Gorden also implemented a waiting room so that the host could approve everyone coming in to watch the defense.

“I met with my student before their defense to practice and ease their anxiety about using this new medium. I suggested presenting on a solid-colored background and using a Wacom tablet since many chemistry principles are easier to explain when you draw them. My student is now being contacted by other PhD candidates to get pointers.”

On defense day, Dr. Gorden reminded everyone to turn off their video (committee members kept their video on), mute their audio, and not use the chat feature unless they were having technical issues. The student then gave their presentation while Dr. Gorden monitored the chat in case technical issues came up. After the presentation, the host unmuted everyone so they could applaud.

Following the presentation, the committee moved into a breakout room to discuss while other viewers stayed in the main room to chat with the student. Following the committee meeting, the committee returned to the main room, asked others to sign off, and began the Q&A portion. During the Q&A, the host locked the room to keep people from coming in and out.

“This unconventional process was a little anxiety provoking at first for the student and me, but like with a lot of things, you get used to it and do it.”

Last modified: April 28, 2020