Best practice for virtual dissertations

Published: 2021-09-09

During the pandemic new solutions and strategies for enabling meetings, lectures and other important get-togethers that are part of our everyday life at LUSEM have emerged. Virtual dissertations is one example. After several successful occasions with many happy participants from all over the world Christina Rothman at Department of Economic History and Jörgen Norén at the Dean's office seem to be aware of best practice for a virtual thesis defence. Learn from their tips, advice and knowledge!

Happy faces after a well-conducted virtual dissertation. From the left: Martin Andersson, Emelie Rohne Till and Tobias Axelsson, Department of Economic History. Photo: Christina Rothman.

During the spring 2021 six virtual dissertations were hosted by the Department of Economic History. With three more to go only in September there must be some accumulated experience and competence to check out here. How is this done? What technical equipment do you need? Are virtual dissertations here to stay and if so, why? A chat with Christina Rothman and Jörgen Norén gives us a good idea about these issues. 

Christina, please tell us about the dissertations you have hosted at your department so far!

”We have done six virtual dissertations since Corona struck, the first one was in early spring 2020. Back then we had very little experience from digital seminars and such. We hadn't been notified with any guidelines from Lund University and we weren't aware of any rules. We had technical issues of course but our biggest concern was about not following legal regulations when it came to this kind of public arrangements,” Christina says.

She continues: ”Right from the start I got valuable help from Jörgen Norén with technical equipment and since then we have worked out routines and the two of us make a really good team! I take care of practical issues and the styling and Jörgen sees to the technique. Without him this hadn't been possible.”

”Some of the dissertations have been pure virtual but a couple of them have been hybride versions, with about 20 participants in the room. We have had different types of virtual dissertations, for example we have had parts of the grading committee on link but the opponent in the room and vice versa,” Christina explains.

Had you tried this before?

”No, the idea about conducting a dissertation online like this is something that came suddenly, due to Covid-19. When the restrictions were a fact we quickly tried to solve it practically and we found a good way to do it,” Jörgen says.

How do you prepare the room before the dissertation?

”I want the room to look as nice as possible when broadcasting. Roll-ups, flowers and dark blue table cloths are some of the things that I use. We have also put up a rail in the ceiling with rust colored curtains as a back-drop,” Christina says.

Luis Serratos and his supervisor Tommy Bengtsson during their virtual dissertation at Department of Economic History. Photo: Christina Rothman.

”We have to place the people in another way, the people in the room can’t sit like during a usual dissertation, we have to make sure it looks good at Zoom. It should look good, this is a solemn occasion!”

What equipment did you use during the dissertations?

Jörgen Norén explains:

”The camera we use is a remote controlled so called conference camera. The microphones are high quality microphones, a portable option that handles microphone and speakers for up to 24 participants. Sound recording is the important thing and it has worked really well. Finally we use a standard desktop computer for connection to Zoom or Teams.”

What about the future, is this a good way to conduct dissertations also after the pandemic?

”I definitely think this kind of hybrid meetings and dissertations will stay on. It is covenient, we can welcome more people, they don't have to travel and can sit elsewhere. For example, we had almost 30 participants during one dissertation, friends and relatives of a PhD student, participating from Latin America. You should at least be able to offer alternatives in the future!” Christina says.

”It's easier to make plans and to get the most attractive opponents. This could be really hard before; to get a busy expert from another university in another country to travel to Lund. Now the opponent can meet one PhD in the morning and another in the afternoon im different places in the world. And it is great for the environment!”

Jörgen Norén agrees upon the benefits of continuing with virtual dissertations:

”A dissertation via Zoom is as exciting and interesting as a dissertation on campus. More people can participate via Zoom compared to a usual one. I definitely think that this way of conducting solemn events online will continue to be used in the future at least as a hybrid. We get a fantastic opportunity to spread information about our faculty and our research here to far more people outside our usual network. A hybrid version would also be a good way to give our alumni an opportunity to reconnect with both teachers and friends at LUSEM,” Jörgen concludes.


Christina Rothman
Department administrator
Department of Economic History

Jörgen Norén
Facility manager
Dean's Office

To keep in mind for a successful virtual dissertation

  • Use a good quality camera and microphones. The microphones should be table microphones to capture the sound from all participants and provide sound from those joining via link.
  • Make sure you can get in contact with the people online via telephone, like the opponent and the grade committee, if the connection should break down. 
  • Test everything in advance and meet all participants both in the room and online, before the digital meeting.
  • Check the settings in Zoom on the same day! Zoom is updated now and then and changes can affect your meeting.