Christo, the local audience and the remote audience.

One of my PhD students, Christo Dordlofva was to graduate on March 17, with a grading board from three different universities in Sweden and external examiner (opponent) from Texas. But due to restrictions on travel and the US closing its borders, all planning was turned upside down.

On March 12, we decided to run everything remotely, but this required both administrative decisions and a lot of planning. How to get a public defense as good as possible and at the same time legally secure.

Anna Öhrwall-Rönnbäck, principal supervisor and chaired professor in Product innovation took on the role of solving all administrative problems (according to the rules the grading committee has to be in Luleå), and I took on the role of solving all technical problems.

Administrative problems

Fortunately, with extraordinary circumstances systems that are normally slow and rigid, was surprisingly agile to work with. In a few days, we had a decision where we got an exception to the rules – good job Anna and Lena Abrahamsson (Dean) as well as all administrators who have prepared to resolve this.

Technical problems

Although I have worked with distributed collaboration for more than 20 years, it is always exciting and scary to run an important distributed meeting – no matter how much you prepare, something always messes up.


We laid out a plan to run the entire meeting via Zoom in one of the lecture halls we have at LTU that is adapted for distance education. In the hall, there are two projection screens and two LCD screens for the presenter. The lecture hall also has two cameras, the presenter camera can be put in automatic mode so it follows the presenter in three different zones (this makes the presentation quite fluid and the presenter is not forced to stand still, or that we use a camera operator).

The lecture hall A109.

The dissertation had several phases

  • Connection phase, everyone connected to the meeting 30 min before the start of the dissertation to check sound and video. Only the grading committee, opponent and the video from A109 used video. Here all friends and external persons connected to the meeting. Because both the opponent and the grading committee was following the presentation from distance, it was important that everyone in the audience known who was who I renamed all participants so their role was visible in zoom. 
  • Introduction, the chair of the meeting introduces the session and procedures and the agenda. 
  • PhD presentation, here Christo presented his work about 35 min, (sharing the slides on one screen and the audience on the other screen).
  • External examiner (Opponent). After a short break, we rearranged the physical room so Christo could sit on a chair in the middle of the room see image above. Here the Opponent grilled Christo for about 45 min (see picture below), and during this time Christos could share  his presentation if he wanted to present additional information from the thesis (on one of the large projection screens and shared via zoom).
The external examiner Professor Carolin Seepersad from University of Austin, Texas, US. 
  • Questions from the grading comitee, in this phase the grading committee members asked questions on the defence and thesis. The setup was similar as for external examiner.
  • Questions from the audience, after the grading committee was finished we switched to the audience, where we could use the micks in the tables and for a faulty mic Anna had to go to the person in the audience with one of the wireless microphones.
  • Examination committee meeting, the open session closes, the audience (local and on zoom) leaves this case the examination committee allowed both supervisors and the opponent to be in the meeting. the room.  The examination committee was asked if the replacement committee member, supervisors and the opponent could join their meeting. In this case, it was okay and then the chair of the examination committee took over the meeting and had a discussion about the defence and the thesis. After about 20 min discussion the committee members decided unanimously that Christo had passed.
  • Public announcement of the result, So after the decision Anna and I went over to the restaurant where the audience and Christo were waiting for the decision.
Professor Mikael Bäckström, chair of the grading committee announce the successful result 

Tips and tricks

  • Use a separate person dedicated to monitoring the meeting arrange windows in zoom and also monitor the ‘remote meeting’ so that audio/video/sharing works etc, that may not be obvious when you are sitting in the local meeting.
Peter monitoring the ‘remote session’
  • LTU always have a designated reserve for the examination committee, he was available in the room at LTU. To been able to replace a committee member with technical problem but also to bee the committee members eyes on site.   
  • Use a good wireless microphone for the audio from the PhD and for the chairperson.
  • Invite for a test session the day before so people can connect and test that their videocamera and audio works as it should.
  • All official persons (grading committee and opponent) should use video and a headset to avoid audio feedback. 
  • Create a backup channel. We also created a Microsoft Teams meeting.
  • Turn of the connecting chime for people that arrive late to the meeting.
  • Don’t forget to enable dual screens in Zoom (this enables viewing of participants on one of the screens and the participants on another.

PhD Defense in corona times