Corona faces Corona

In times of crisis, we need to be resilient, we need determination to get us through it, creativity to find new solutions, and innovation to make our ideas reality. Yesterday, UNU-MERIT and Maastricht University allowed me to do something unprecedented in their history – defend online.

As I was preparing for my in-person defense, the situation of COVID-19 quickly evolved – first, my elderly parents decided they should not fly from the USA to the Netherlands for the ceremony, then my friends who lived across Europe couldn’t come due to many restrictions, then due to the US Government restricting flights to Europe, I couldn’t attend in person, and finally the university buildings closed 3 days before my defense. I was watching the announcement barring flights to Europe, and the moment that sentence was uttered I messaged Eveline in de Braek (who makes all things happen) and my advisors if we can do a zoom defense. Quickly, UNU-MERIT and Maatricht University were able to figure out a solution to have all my corona members online with a prorector using zoom.

This wasn’t what I had imagined during all my years as a PhD student – I thought I would defend my thesis in the same dress I defended my proposal and celebrate with my friends and family with a party. But, in times of crisis, we have to act fast and creatively. So, I put a virtual background of where I would have defended, and carried on. In any other circumstance, I would not recommend it – I would advise against it. I wanted to be surrounded with my friends, to have the podium in front of me, to have a dinner with the corona members and conversations that can’t be replicated online. But, I needed my degree to start a new job this Fall as an Assistant Professor of Economics at Pace University. This called for creativity – a zoom defense. We even had a virtual defense party with my friends – people from across the world showed up and we could dance and talk together.

In the coming months, our lives will be completely disrupted. My experience has showed that we are remarkable in our ability to adapt. For the time being, this is what needed to be done. However, virtual life can’t replicate in person gatherings. A hug, a cheers, and intimate conversations can’t be virtualized. The future is not complete digitalization, it’s integrating the digital world into our physical world.

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