Three years of doctoral research culminate in an online defence

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There should have been 50-60 people in the audience in the auditorium for Trine Block Mattesen’s PhD defence. Instead, three years of research culminated in an online defence at home in her living room with her immediate family.

2020.04.23 | Marie Groth Andersen

Trine Block Mattesen is ready to begin defending her PhD. Her project focuses on classifying colorectal cancer into subtypes to improve prognosis. Mattesen is now a postdoc at the Department of Clinical Medicine. Photo: Private.

Trine Block Mattesen, PhD, is a postdoc at the Department of Clinical Medicine in the section for molecular medicine. And when she handed in her thesis on December 23rd last year, she was looking forward to defending it this spring in an auditorium in front of 50-60 colleagues, friends and family members – in addition to opponents. Followed by lots of toasts at a champagne reception for even more guests.  

Defence and finger food cancelled

But a few weeks before March 24, the date for her defence, Mattesen realised that it wouldn’t take place exactly as planned. 

“To begin with, we talked about going ahead with the defence, with with only 25 people in the audience. Then the scenario changed to holding it without an audience, with only me and the opponents in the auditorium. And finally, the defence was cancelled, along with the food for the reception,” Mattesen said.

Two options: Do the defence online or postpone it 

However, the Faculty of Health quickly figured out a solution: PhD students could either defend their theses on line or postpone their defence.  

“I discussed the pros and cons with my PhD supervisor, Professor Claus Lindbjerg Andersen. But because there was a risk that the defence might have to be postponed until the fall, I decided to do it online, while my thesis is still fresh in my mind,” Mattesen explained.

Positively surprised  

On March 24, she logged onto Zoom at home in her living room, surrounded by her boyfriend, her parents and her sister – at an appropriate distance, of course.

“Because the PhD defence is public, there was open access to listen in online, and I could see that 30-40 of my friends and colleagues were logged on. It was a positive surprise that so many people watched it – and stuck around afterwards to say congratulations,” Mattesen said.

The technical aspects also went smoothly. 

“I had a little trouble hearing the opponents’ questions a couple of times, and I had to ask them to repeat them, but otherwise there weren’t any problems.”

The feeling of relief is the same

After the defence was over, Mattesen popped the cork on a bottle of champagne and shared catered food and a toast with her family. 

“I think the feeling of relief that it’s over is the same, regardless of whether the defence takes place online or in an auditorium. And I haven’t regretted the decision to do the defence online instead of postponing it indefinitely,” she said.

“I definitely recommend it to other PhD students in the same situation,” she concluded.

Translated by Lenore Messick

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