Personal Experience: How I Defended My Thesis Online  

Due to pandemics, many students not only studied, but also defended their theses online. Alina Yerofeyeva, SMM Editor at Manshuq, was one of them.
By Alina Yerofeyeva 

When studying at the university, I often thought of my graduation year, how our group would be awarded diplomas. I imagined how we, wearing robes and graduation caps, would gather in a big hall, hold a graduation speech and share this joyful moment with our parents. 

Unfortunately, the reality did not meet my expectations
Last March, we were told that we would study online. Students took this news neutrally, as we were sure everything would return back to normal soon. Pandemics, lockdown, red zones, quarantine. Our “soon” became a year. I must say that studying online is controversial.

First, I found more positive than negative aspects: I did not have to wake up early, waste my time travelling to the university and back, and could attend lectures and seminars while lying in bed. You only need to be there at the beginning of the class and say “Hello, I am here”, and then you can tend to your business while the lecture is going on. 

I and my group mates quickly got used to lectures in Zoom and to uploading our homework to the University’s portal. The portal often did not respond due to a large number of students. This was uncomfortable, but not critical. By the way, we were exempted from exams that semester. We were offered to have summative assessment instead, to which we gladly agreed. My third year ended in this odd and new way.

The fourth year, the year of graduation, began. We continued studying online. That year we had a lot of interesting and creative projects, but the volume of homework increased too, so we had to work many hours on our laptops and meet the deadlines. 

And then came the time to defend theses, the biggest stress in my life
Honestly, nobody thought of the theses until the end of the autumn. We did not do anything, although both students and lecturers knew that we would have to defend our theses and that it was high time to start preparations. We postponed it as far as possible, and how wrong we were! Suddenly everyone became agitated: we had to select the thesis advisor and the topic. While the first task was easy: I had already “claimed a place” with the lecturer I wanted to work with, the second task turned out to be a challenge, since I did not know what to write about. I was lucky to have support from my thesis advisor with this issue. My thesis was entitled “Charity as a PR Tool”, and my major was Public Relations.

The entire process of writing my thesis was held online, which is why I often experienced communication problems. For example, at the university you can easily meet a lecturer and ask him or her your questions, while everything is different when you study online. You have to write to your thesis advisor, wait for a reply and, if no reply is received, send your message several times and wait for the reply again. Sometimes, this took several days. In general, we received any information relating to theses with big delays.

I also realised one very important thing: a lot of lecturers still used fear to motivate their students
Due to such ‘support’, my cortisol level skyrocketed and ‘greeted’ me from above. Why couldn’t they just explain everything clearly? Why do they intimidate students? I don’t maintain that all of our lecturers are cruel and intimidating, not at all. They are professionals and wonderful people. I just didn’t like that they used fear as the only means to control us.

When I say ‘fear’, I mean unreliable facts. For example, we found out about the thesis proposal defence two days before the date. They said that if we failed to upload our thesis in time, we would not be admitted to the thesis defence. During those two days, we turned into kind of “Sonic the Hedgehog” to complete everything in time. We could think of nothing but the forthcoming thesis proposal defence and this caused terrible stress. This was only to find out that... the thesis proposal defence was cancelled. By the way, I wrote my thesis in one month and a half, but I had to stay up late, search for needed information, consult with friends and revise the text which I already knew by heart. What annoyed me most was the lack of any clear instructions about the contents and format of the thesis. Due to this lecturers returned my thesis back each time with more remarks.

Writing a thesis is already terra incognita, and it becomes even more challenging during pandemics. I would compare this process with a game with unknown rules. You are the main character who receives hints from time to time. Together with your allies – friends and group mates – you move towards your ultimate goal.

As for the thesis defence, I spent little time preparing for it. One day before the defence, I prepared a presentation and rehearsed my speech several times. On the night of the defence, I thought that everything would end tomorrow and I would finally get good rest.

I woke up in the morning with a determination to accept the inevitable. I opened my presentation, checked if everything operated normally in my laptop and raised my morale. Everything was OK until it was my turn to defend. As by Murphy’s law, I had problems with sound and could not share my screen. I understand that this was partially my fault, but this could happen to anyone.

Technical failures are one of the biggest shortcomings of studying online
And one of the real causes of worry during the defence. You can’t be sure that there will be no power outage or failures of the Internet or your laptop during your speech. This cannot be predicted. This filled me with panic, but my friend responded quickly and suggested that I send my presentation to her. I did not have a sense of closure after my presentation, because everything was not as I had imagined. The results were known in half an hour. I received 99 of 100. Two weeks later we had a formal ceremony of graduation, also online. There I found out that I graduated with honours.
 education, distance learning, online, university, thesis
Later I and my group mates went to the university to take our precious diplomas. Due to the quarantine, we did not have a diploma award ceremony, so we decided to organise it ourselves. We went outdoors, and a friend of mine took everyone’s diplomas and awarded them to us to festive music. It was funny and very touching. But still my expectations were absolutely different.

You know, it is strange to realise that I am no longer a student. This means adulthood, and honestly, I like it. Online study was too stressful. And when my relatives ask if I wish to continue postgraduate education, my answer is a definite no. I think I’d better have some rest.

Illustration: Азиза Киреева
This project is supported by a grant provided by the U.S. Embassy in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. All opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Government or the U.S. Mission to Kazakhstan.

Данный проект реализуется с помощью гранта от Посольства США в Нур-Султане, Казахстан. Мнения, выраженные в материалах, принадлежат их авторам и не обязательно отражают точку зрения Правительства США или Дипломатической Миссии США в Казахстане.

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