At the end of March St Petersburg University was the first Russian university to move online the defences of candidate and doctoral theses. The procedure is carried out according to the rules that were established by the University. It provides maximum transparency and the highest standards of defence.
Since the beginning of the pandemic 38 theses have been defended remotely: 5 doctoral and 33 candidate theses.
Academic freedom in organising and conducting theses defences by their own rules is one of the most important traditions of the University. The tradition had existed since the 1830s and it was broken after the revolution in 1918. Almost 100 years later, in 2017, theses defences were held again according to the rules of the University. Unlike the system of the Higher Attestation Commission of the Ministry of Education and Science, the Dissertation Council of the University cannot be formed before the dissertation is submitted for defence. It is formed individually for each thesis from leading experts in the field of the thesis and with the assistance of Russian and foreign unaffiliated researchers.
The text of the thesis, reviews of the members of the Dissertation Council as well as other documents are posted on the University website in advance, so that everyone can read them. Defences are held in the Russian and English languages and are broadcast on the University website. Anyone who is interested can ask any questions concerning the presentation through the President of the Council.
The doctoral thesis of the associate professor of St Petersburg University Vladislav Arkhipov was successfully defended online. It was devoted to the issue of semantic limits of law in the context of digital transformations of society. Mr Arkhipov claims that online defence has certain challenges caused by the fact that all members of the Council are opponents who meticulously study the text of the thesis and prepare critical remarks.
Also, the members of the Council are experts in the field of the thesis. This is what distinguishes the University’s own Councils and raises the level of the thesis defences.
Vladislav Arkhipov, Associate Professor at St Petersburg University.
Protection from coronavirus
During the pandemic St Petersburg University has significantly simplified the administrative and organisational procedures of defending theses. Even the application of documents goes online (the original copies are sent by post later).
Oleg Shupliakov, a Professor at St Petersburg University and Karolinska Institutet (Stockholm, Sweden), is convinced that online thesis defence is an important part of the global university experience.
‘Not long ago, one of my post-graduate students from Karolinska Institutet defended his thesis. It involved participants from the United States and two Swedish cities, all of whom worked remotely. The Academic Council meeting was held online. Everything ran smoothly. Online thesis defence is now also possible at St Petersburg University, and this is wonderful, this is the future,’
Oleg Shupliakov, a Professor at St Petersburg University and Karolinska Institutet (Stockholm, Sweden)
Without borders or obstacles
Nataliia Vasileva received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and graduated from postgraduate studies at St Petersburg University. Having finished her thesis, she found out that the pandemic could have become a serious obstacle to getting her candidate’s degree in law. The possibility to defend the thesis online turned out to be a perfect solution to the problem.
‘Everything went very well without any technical difficulties. Defending the thesis online was a great way out in such a troubled period. However, I reckon, such format will always be in demand, especially among those who live outside St Petersburg or Russia,’ Nataliia Vasileva points out.
Antonina Popova is a graduate of St Petersburg University, who now works as an international economist with one of the UN organisations in Switzerland. She is also planning to defend her thesis online. Getting a PhD is necessary for her further career advancement.
‘I have been living abroad for three years and do not often visit Russia. I believe this is a very good opportunity that gives students and graduates additional possibilities. I have chosen St Petersburg University because I know that the education it provides is highly valued both in Russia and abroad. It would be much easier for me to defend my thesis in some mediocre university. However, I realise that St Petersburg University means not only accessibility, but also quality,’
Antonina Popova, St Petersburg University graduate
According to Vladislav Arkhipov, online defences enable the required level of transparency and publicity to be provided. ‘After the defence, I found out that some colleagues from foreign countries had watched it online. It was not my first time on air both literally and figuratively. However, I think that it was the first time when I experienced such intellectual exertion and the necessity for absolute concentration. In this sense, everything seemed as if I were physically present in the lecture room. This conforms to the idea expressed in my thesis: everything was real, whereas the online format is a media for the scientific communication,’ Vladislav Arkhipov said.