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Remote control: Graduate student is 1st of Warnell’s Class of 2020 to complete fully online presentation


Cody Tisdale’s recent presentation for his master’s thesis was groundbreaking—but maybe not in the way you might expect.

Yes, his work examining the levels of contaminants in wild turkeys opened up new avenues of research, but it was his method of presenting his work—via a virtual Zoom meeting—that was completely new.

Tisdale is one of many graduate students at the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources now facing a new, if not temporary, reality as they complete their graduate research. One requirement for the degree is an oral exam and thesis defense, which typically involves presenting a project before a faculty committee and others who are interested in the work. Until this week, that took place in a Warnell conference room; now, with classes moving to an online format for the remainder of the semester, it’s going to be done virtually.

Tisdale’s presentation was the maiden voyage for this new format, which allowed him to talk while sharing his presentation on his computer screen. It ended up with a similar effect as talking in front of a live audience.

Except this time, the attendees were boxes on a screen, rather than people gathered around a table.

“It is somewhat convenient for me, actually, as I am based in South Carolina and it saved me a bit of travel time, as I can do it from here instead of going to campus,” he says. “I’ve never really used Zoom before this, but I was able to give it a test run and it seems pretty simple. This way will probably be easier to keep my mind off the audience and focus on what I want to present—barring any technical difficulties, anyway.”

Tisdale, who will be graduating this spring with a master in natural resources from Warnell, studied the effect that heavy metals might have on the health of wild turkeys on the Savannah River Site, as well as risks that might be posed by lead content in bullets.

While turkeys sampled in the study showed an increased level of mercury, Tisdale said the levels might only be concerning if the meat was eaten along with fish, which also might have elevated levels. Issues also might arise when wild game, meant to be eaten, is shot with ammunition that contains lead. While there has been a movement to replace lead with other metals, not all states have banned the practice.

Tisdale’s presentation included 16 audience members—comparable with an in-person presentation—and attendees could ask questions via the chat function after his presentation.

His advisor, Warnell associate professor James Martin, says the thesis defense is a requirement of the UGA Graduate School. Due to the coronavirus outbreak and moving to online classes, the Graduate School relaxed its requirements for in-person presentations, allowing them to take place online.

Martin says this isn’t the first time he’s had to grapple with a remote presentation. And it certainly won’t be the last.

Although, the last time, it was under much different circumstances.

“I was on a (thesis) committee when I was a faculty member at Mississippi State and the student was here at UGA,” he says. “I couldn’t leave Mississippi because my wife was expecting our first child any day; there was no way she was letting me out of her sight.”

For students planning their own remote presentations, Martin said it can be helpful if you’re still presenting to someone in the room, even if they’re in shorts and a T-shirt.

And, like always, just try to relax.



Associated Personnel:

Dr. James Martin

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