virus virtual dissertatio2

A screenshot from University of Illinois bioengineering doctoral student Indrajit Srivastava's dissertation defense on Monday, April 6, 2020, which he presented virtually, the first in his department to do so.

URBANA — Preparing to defend your dissertation can be stressful enough.

Having to do so virtually didn’t make it any easier for Indrajit Srivastava, who successfully pulled it off last month, the first virtual defense in the University of Illinois’ bioengineering department.

“It was a little surreal,” Srivastava said.

Instead of describing his work on next-generation nanoparticles called carbon dots in person to his advisers, colleagues and friends, he presented in a videoconference from his living room.

After taking questions via video, he then met virtually with just his committee members before he having to leave the meeting and wait for their decision.

“Then my adviser called back and announced that I was a doctor,” Srivastava said. “My boss told me he’d text me in 15 to 20 minutes. For me, it felt like an hour.”

A UI grad student since 2015, Srivastava has been working under bioengineering Professor Dipanjan Pan on developing carbon dots, which light up and can be used in medical applications such as bio-imaging and cell-labeling.

Next year, Srivastava will become a postdoc at the UI under bioengineering Professor Shuming Nie and electrical and computer engineering Professor Viktor Gruev and work on flourescent-based image-guided surgery.

About 200 UI students have had to defend their dissertation during the stay-at-home order, and Srivastava had some tips for students who have to do so virtually.

— Explain Zoom’s features, such as raising hands and unmuting, to everyone at the beginning.

— Practice beforehand to help prepare for any software issues that may come up.

— Avoid using animations because you don’t know how smooth the internet connection will be for everyone.

Srivastava said his preparation paid off and he didn’t run into any major issues during the virtual defense.

Now he’s looking forward to graduating May 16, also virtually, and hopes the situation will improve so an in-person ceremony can eventually be held.


Ben Zigterman is a reporter covering business at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@bzigterman).