Two years ago, I started my Master’s degree at the University of Minnesota, I had experience defending my undergraduate thesis a couple of months before that. I expected something special for my defense for a graduate degree. Things went to more than I could even imagine. During my two years after moving to the US and trying to adapt to my new life, After restless days and nights of trying to maintain a good standing postilion in NOvA Collaboration. I spent most of my time learning about every aspect of my research, I was looking to magnetic monopole which is an exotic search and usually not appreciated by most of the collaboration members. I learned a lot of stuff, faced a lot of problems where in some times no one could help me. I wanted to make my defense day even more memorable. But I never expected that it would turn out like this: it was held in the middle of a pandemic that will forever trigger memories of writing and defending my thesis. Within the months prior to the pandemic, I imagined my defense to be in the fanciest room on campus and I would provide my audience with a chocolate fountain. I was thinking about inviting all of my Muslim community in our small city. However, those ideas quickly vanished as the COVID-19 pandemic forced my defense to be held remotely.
The defense took place through zoom which became the standard way of communication for most people. We were using it always at NOvA collaboration and I hated the way it works even before covid19. Instead of being in a room filled with curious eyes and chocolate-covered mouths, I was in a video meeting where I felt as if I was just talking to my PowerPoint because the meeting screen, I wasn’t even able to share my video as it affects the bandwidth. My camera was also off until the end where I gave the acknowledgments and answered questions. I did this to narrow the connection bandwidth and to secretly refer to notes to each of the slides on my iPad. Since I wasn’t able to view my audience, the actual presentation felt more like a practice run and it wasn’t until the very last slide, where I gave my acknowledgments. to make things worse, my PowerPoint froze a couple of times. Since this was actually a real talk and not a practice, the multiple computer glitches made me feel like I was further being initiated into the world of professional physics research.
At the end of the talk, the smiles from friends and visual satisfactory nods from my MS committee were lost as most people just sent “clap“ emojis and other appraisal messages through the chat window. My advisor then asked if there were any questions, the 15–30 seconds of silence felt like an eternity as I patiently waited for someone to ask anything they wanted about my research. I was furious until one of my colleagues raised his hand and they asked a question. The back and forth felt similar to virtual teaching (due to the pandemic) Labs that I was a Teaching Assistant (TA) for during the past term and the summer quick semester trying to answer a question as completely as possible while also trying to figure out who was asking the question. Now, while I didn’t get the room setup that I imagined and lost the visual interaction with my audience, the virtual setup did allow me to invite my friends back home from outside of the US who otherwise would have not been able to attend.
It was a difficult experience and wasn’t what I always had in my mind for my defense day. I felt after everything is done and everyone left zoom meeting that nothing changed. It is still that normal day that I will keep myself inside my room and be carful not to go outside while the peak of the pandemic is there. I will move to start my PhD in a couple of days and I will go on another journey which will be longer this time and will start in the worst time possible.