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Academic Success

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an extensive impact on our university community. We are having to adjust to a “new normal” and graduate and professional students may have questions about how they can continue to succeed in their goals. On this page, we will work to provide information, suggestions, and practices to help you navigate your way in your program during this time.

Graduate Student Orientations

The Graduate School seeks to get new graduate and professional students off to a good start each fall with the New Graduate Student Orientation and the New Graduate Teaching Assistant/Associate Orientation. This year, the fall orientations were held on a virtual platform to ensure the safety of our participants. The New Graduate Student Orientation included live sessions on professional development, student health insurance, financial aid and funding, diversity, technology resources, library resources, and more.

The New Graduate Teaching Assistant/Associate Orientation included sessions on library resources, inclusive teaching practices, student success, and working with undergraduate students.

If you were unable to attend, or if you wanted to view other available sessions, the orientation presentations were recorded and can be accessed on our Graduate Student Orientations page.

Graduation Forms

We realize that social distancing presents a challenge to acquiring signatures on forms and prevents the delivery of forms to the Graduate School in person. To that end, we are allowing all Graduate School forms to be signed electronically, scanned, typed, etc. If you are presented with any difficulties in acquiring signatures for a graduation form, please contact the graduation specialists and they will help you find a solution.

Completed forms can be sent by email to the Graduate School. These forms must be sent from departmental personnel (faculty member, director of graduate studies, administrative personnel, etc.) to our graduation specialists at

Graduation Deadlines

Graduation deadlines for those planning to graduate spring 2021 and summer 2021 have been updated to reflect pandemic-related adjustments to the academic calendar. These dates can be found on the Graduation Deadlines page. Deadline dates for fall 2021 are forthcoming.

Thesis/Dissertation/Project Defense

If you have a thesis, dissertation, or project defense planned, please discuss with your faculty committee ways to ensure that it can be done safely. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, our university is requiring social distancing. Therefore, remote thesis/dissertation/project defenses through Zoom, Skype or other platforms may be a preferred alternative to in-person events through summer 2021.

When defenses are conducted remotely, gathering signatures can be difficult. Fortunately, the Report of Defense of Thesis/Dissertation/Project form accepts electronic signatures. Your major professor will initiate the signature form and follow the instructions on the form. The form will be emailed to That form will be the official record of the outcome of the defense.

If you have questions related to this process, you may contact your graduation specialist in the Graduate School at

Tips for Remote Defenses

Please consider these practices for virtual thesis and dissertation defenses.

  1. Announce the defense and share link for Zoom or other videoconferencing session for the defense through email to students and faculty of the department. Be sure to take steps to ensure security of your Zoom session.
    1. Ask all potential attendees to arrive/login in advance of the start of the defense.
    2. Ask all potential attendees to turn on their cameras and mute their mics after joining the virtual defense.
  2. Make sure in advance of the defense that all committee members are familiar with how to use Zoom.
  3. Make sure that the defending student knows how to use Zoom, in particular how to share their screen and thus their presentation slides.
  4. On the day of the defense, the Chair may want to make sure the committee members have been introduced to each other, if that has not already occurred.
  5. Establish the protocol for questions with attention to who may ask questions and when.
  6. Ask non-committee members of the audience to log off of the Zoom link when and if the committee wishes to question the defending student without the audience in attendance.
  7. At the point at which the committee prepares to discuss their decision, the defending student will be asked to sign off the Zoom link. Be sure to have a cell number to text the student to log back into the Zoom room to hear the decision of the committee.
  8. Alternatively, the student might be moved to a breakout room for the duration of the committee’s deliberation and then brought back into the main Zoom space to hear the decision.

Call 865-974-9900 to reach the OIT Helpdesk if you need assistance.

For information on how to use Zoom, visit Zoom Getting Started on the OIT website.

Effect of COVID-19 on International Students

The UT community continues to grow as an institution representing many cultures, both domestically and internationally. For our international graduate and professional students, the pandemic has presented unique challenges. The Center for Global Engagement is a great resource for international students wondering what these times mean for them as UT students. They have a page of Frequently Asked Questions for international students, which provides valuable suggestions and resources.

Learning Online

The need to provide a safe learning environment may continue to involve learning remotely in an online format. This mode of learning requires a set of practices that allow you to maximize this environment. Skills such as time management, accountability, and eliminating distractions take on a greater emphasis in the online learning environment. Northwestern University has a great list of strategies at 8 Strategies for Getting the Most Out of an Online Class.

The UT Division of Student Success has also compiled an Online Academic Success Guide with valuable suggestions, definitions and resources to help you get the most out of your classes this fall, regardless of how those courses are being delivered. If you have any difficulties with using technology in your classes, do not hesitate to contact the Office of Information Technology through the OIT Helpdesk. They have staff ready to assist you so that you can focus more on your learning outcomes and less on technological difficulties. And their website has tutorials and guides on using Zoom, Canvas, and other UT systems.