General Guidance for virtual committee meetings, general exams, and dissertation defenses

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many program activities may continue to be conducted virtually. If you have a committee meeting, general exam, or dissertation defense, we encourage you to make use of an online platform of your choosing. As members of the UW community, you have access to Zoom for these activities, but you are free to use whichever platform will work for your purposes (e.g., Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, etc.). Guidance for using Zoom has been provided by UW Information Technology. When scheduling a Zoom meeting, it’s important to consider privacy of your session; recommendations are provided by both Zoom and UW-IT.

Students and faculty mentors, we understand this is not how you envisioned your meetings, exams, and defenses would be conducted. However, the current time requires that we be flexible, and most importantly, that we support our students as they progress through their career. 

The program must make expectations clear to all participants in advance of the meeting regarding process and logistics. Here are a few suggestions for a successful meeting or exam:

  1. The exam chair sets up the Zoom meeting as the host (list the student as a co-host). The chair and/or student emails a link to the committee, including a cc to your program GPA and GPC.
  2. The exam chair/host, but not the presenting student, manages the meeting proceedings (e.g., monitoring questions through the Chat feature, moving committee members into breakout rooms during an exam or defense, having the student ‘step out of the room’ so the committee can deliberate, etc.). 
  3. Students are encouraged to practice with the technology prior to the meeting to become familiar with different features (e.g., sharing your screen, used of the whiteboard feature, lighting in your room, remove clutter from the background, etc.).
  4. Please consider using a headset or headphones – the sound quality is better. And remember to speak slowly and clearly. 
  5. Student and committee members have at least one agreed-upon backup system at their disposal (e.g., a phone-based conference call). 
  6. All committee members should consider signing-in to the meeting 15 minutes prior to the start time to ensure they are able to connect and participate constructively in the meeting, exam or dissertation defense. Please use your video to effectively interact and engage with the student.  
  7. Remember to ask all participants to mute themselves at the beginning of the meeting or presentation. 
  8. If you are part of the presentation audience, please activate your video (if bandwidth allows) and exaggerate your positive responses; it’s easier for the student to ‘read the crowd’ if they see smiling faces and nodding heads!
  9. While celebratory gatherings aren’t currently allowed, we encourage students to celebrate their success with a virtual celebration and to make plans for a more formal celebration once things return to normal. This is a HUGE accomplishment so you should treat it accordingly!
  10. If desired, program requirements may be delayed as a result of our response to COVID-19. Please reach out to your GPA and GPC. In addition, members of the Graduate Enrollment Management Systems ( are available for consultation.  

Thank you to these people for providing advice, resources, and reflections on their experiences with virtual meetings and defenses: