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A momento of Alfarano's talk
The first slide of Alfarano's Talk
A moment of relax during Alfarano's talk
A happy Serena Alfarano after the PhD defense

My PhD defence with slippers

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, I had to discuss my PhD thesis from remote. Here is how.

On 18 March 2020 the Ruhr University Bochum, the place where I work, closed every activity in compliance with the current measures that Germany is adopting to stop the spreading of the coronavirus COVID-19. And this just six days before my PhD discussion, the biggest milestone of my research career. What a luck! It was a big blow, but I’m not someone who quits at the first stumble. I asked the Doctorate Board if it was still possible for me to defend the PhD as scheduled. At first, we agreed on a “closed doors” session with three members of the committee and myself at the four corners of a room. But it proved to be impossible with the new regulations. Therefore, the whole committee decided to go for a virtual disputation, using an online conference tool. They were able to finalize the details in less than 48 hours, just before the defence!

A meticulous preparation

Staying at home actually helps me to concentrate better. During my university years I was always used to repeat loudly what I was studying and therefore I took advantage of this "quarantine" period to try at home my talk freely, without others’ ears listening to me. The preparation was then simple, also because I did most of it already in the period before the closure of RUB.

Pros and contra

As for everything, there are advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantages: I was super worried that the internet connection could break, forcing me to suspend or repeat the exam; I had to perform the exam alone, without the physical presence of the colleagues, family and friends – and of my mum, who has always the power to calm me down. But there are also advantages: We are lucky to live in the 21th century and in the Interconnected Era, so we quickly found a plan B, the remote option. Additionally, my mum was often in streaming connection with me simultaneously with my sister and my best friend and both of them where video chatting with other friends and family members to cheer me up and to test my internet connection in the days before the exam. On top of that, everyone in the committee, in the PhD board and in the department was super available for questions, solving doubts and looking for quick solutions in case of problems, working also during late evenings in the weekend. I was very lucky and, even if I was alone at home, I never felt forgotten.

Celebrate good times…Come on! (will do) 

In the end everything went smoothly and I could successfully defend my PhD thesis in solvation science with the title "THz spectroscopy of aqueous solutions: Conditions beyond the ambient”. I will celebrate whenever there will be the possibility to meet everyone together. In the meantime, I prepared for me and my partner Manuel "panzerotti", a typical food of my home region in Italy (Puglia, one of the most beautiful place in the world!). They are prepared in occasion of large family or friends meetings. We had online dinner together with friends (everyone in his/her own apartment, spread around Italy and the whole world). So it was still feeling like a celebration.


About the author

Serena Alfarano from Noci, Italia, earned her PhD from Ruhr-University Bochum in March 2020 under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Martina Havenith. During the PhD time she developed and tested new electrochemical cells suitable for spectroscopy studies in Raman and in th THz regime for decipher the role of water in a reaction.



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