EAPS Remote Education and Degree Program


Department Policies and Procedures

Updated June 30, 2020


To our graduate students:

As we experience the first week of online teaching, we would also like to offer some guidelines on how to proceed with online general exams and thesis defenses. We know that many of you may be experiencing stress related to the COVID-19 pandemic -- including concerns about friends, family, neighbors, and yourselves -- in addition to the usual pressures associated with your academic pursuits. Some of you may be in environments that are less conducive to academic pursuits than your usual surroundings. We are aware of the unique challenges this situation presents (faculty and staff are experiencing many of the same feelings!), and we want to do all we can to support you as you proceed with your education and research. We hope that the specific guidance below will alleviate some of the stress for those of you who plan to proceed with online thesis defenses and general exams.
The bullet points below are general guidelines for the format of online exams and defenses. The two attached documents provide checklists and step-by-step technical instructions for students and committee chairs participating in online general exams and thesis defenses. The same guidelines and instructions have been shared with EAPS faculty.
Please contact Brandon Milardo (bmilardo@mit.edu) or Megan Jordan (mkjordan@mit.edu) in the EAPS Education Office with questions about these guidelines, and please contact me if you have additional ideas about how we can make online defenses and exams as smooth as possible for everyone involved.
Taylor Perron, Associate Department Head

—for the EAPS Education Committee:
Megan Jordan (Academic Administrator)
Paul O’Gorman (Graduate Officer)
Richard Binzel (Undergraduate Officer)
Amanda Bosh (Senior Lecturer)

Guidelines for Remote General Exams and Thesis Defenses

Before the exam/defense:

•    Make sure the student has a suitable environment to present in. If this is not possible given the student’s housing situation or internet connection, notify the Education Office and we will seek another venue for the student to use during the exam or defense.

During the exam/defense:

•    In situations where the student is required to leave the defense/exam temporarily while the committee confers, establish a clear procedure for having the student rejoin the meeting. For example, the student could leave the video call and wait for an email from the committee chair (or a mobile phone call or text message, if the student is comfortable sharing a mobile phone number) when it is time for the student to rejoin the call.

•    Students are allowed to use scratch paper during the exam/defense (provided it is blank at the start of the exam/defense), but are not allowed to use reference materials.

•    Keep “chalkboard” work to a minimum (compact expressions of one or two lines at most, or rephrase as questions that can be answered verbally). This is different from our usual approach to exams and defenses, but it may be a necessary compromise given the variety of remote setups and computer hardware.

•    If some written work is deemed necessary, low-tech solutions (for example, having the student write on a sheet of paper and hold it up to the camera) are less likely to cause delays and distract from the intellectual content of the exam/defense.

•    The committee chair should communicate with the student in advance of the exam or defense to clarify expectations for written and oral content in the online format.

After the exam/defense:

•    Students and committee members should feel free to follow up after the exam or defense to discuss topics that arose during the discussion. This is something we commonly do after in-person exams and defenses, and it is something we can continue to do despite the physical separation required under the current restrictions.

Links to EAPS Detailed Guidelines for Summer 2020 Defenses and General Exams

Virtual PhD Defense or Public MS Defense

Virtual PhD General Exam or MS Private Defense

Previous Education Policy Updates

EAPS Education Policies Update 1 (March 20)