Getting accommodations for a PhD Thesis Defense

By Hart Plommer

Hart (front, centre) with his PhD defense examiners

Defenses are not the kind of thing you do in your sleep. In a standard PhD defense, one presents a 20 or so minute talk on their Thesis and must be prepared to answer questions related to the Thesis in its entirety. First, let me take you back in time. In 2015, I had to do a similar task – called a Comprehensive Examination. Long story short, it didn’t go well and I barely passed. I was inexperienced in my presenting skills back in those days. At the time, I was also more focused on the actual Examination itself. Upon arrival for the Comprehensive Examination, I realized that I had neglected to charge my FM batteries. Unfortunately, I did not have the foresight to consider the gravity of my error (in having fully charged FM batteries) – not having my FM meant that I had a harder time following the examination conversation(s) and responding to questions.

Fast forward to 2019 and I was not prepared to let this happen again in any form. My goal was to have a seamless experience. On September 17, 2019, my PhD defense was scheduled. With confidence in hand, I was going to advocate for audio/visual accommodations so that I could hear the examiners clearly and loudly. It helped that I connected early on with the people in charge of facilitating the examination and promptly informed them that I have a hearing loss – meaning that audio system accommodations were needed.  In my conversation, I mentioned that I have a wireless device (Cochlear Mini Microphone) that could be plugged into a 3.5 mm port and asked if the audio system would accommodate this. Additionally, I also requested for a time to be arranged to test out the setup. The facilitator quickly arranged for the AV person to meet with us in my pre-defense briefing.

The Defense Room

Picture this, the defense boardroom has microphones throughout the ceiling for any external examiners attending via video-conference. The AV person tried to utilize the audio feed from these microphones, however, I ended up hearing my own voice with a second (or two) delay which was incredibly distracting. The AV person decided to implement tabletop microphones to bypass this issue. On the morning of the defense, he set up the tabletop microphones and I plugged in my Mini Mic into the audio system. Lo and behold, after some tweaking of the volume control, I was able to hear him loudly and clearly without my own voice distracting me! It was awesome! Moreover, I could hear the test audio from the video-conference software just as well, ensuring that I would have no issues hearing the external examiner. It was a relief knowing that I would hear the examiners clearly. My defense proceeded smoothly and without any added stress related to my hearing loss.

All smiles – and jokes. Congratulations!

Congratulations Hart on your successful PhD defense, and sharing your story on how advocating for your needs is key to ensuring access to information without feeling additional stress (on top of presenting!).