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Graduation & Research

The Graduate School wishes to ensure that, wherever possible, the unique circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic do not present obstacles to timely graduation of graduate and professional students. If you have any questions or concerns about your graduation, please contact the graduation specialists at or call the Graduate School (865-974-2475) to arrange an appointment for a phone call or remote session.

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

See the Thesis/Dissertation/Project Defense section for information regarding the Remote Participation form.

Updated Deadlines

Graduation deadlines for those planning to graduate fall 2020 have been updated to reflect the recent adjustments to the academic calendar. These new dates can be found on the Graduation Deadlines page.

Thesis/Dissertation/Project Defense

If you have a thesis, dissertation, or project defense planned during the remainder of the semester, please discuss with your faculty committee ways to ensure that it can be done safely. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, our university is encouraging social distancing as much as possible. Therefore, remote thesis/dissertation/project defenses through Zoom, Skype or other platforms may be a preferred alternative to in-person events for the remainder of the semester. To lower barriers for students, the Graduate School is temporarily not requiring the Remote Participation Form to be submitted when a remote defense is needed.

When defenses are conducted remotely, it will create difficulty in gathering signatures but fortunately, these forms accept 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.
    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.

Impacts on Research

The current coronavirus pandemic is creating many challenges and may impact your research or scholarly activity. If work restrictions or health outcomes cause disruptions in your activities, please be in close communication with your major professor. As you identify areas where you need support, please ask for help. Refer to the university’s coronavirus website to find resources that might be of use during this challenging time. You can also reach out to the Graduate School ( if you have questions or concerns.

Institutional Review Board

Anyone engaged in research that involves human subjects, or who is planning to engage in such research, should check out the information page from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and the Human Research Protection Program providing guidance during COVID-19. It is important that you be aware of what research can be done under Phase 2 of reopening, and what steps to take.

Laboratory and Studio Safety Concerns

The university has implemented social distancing measures intended to decrease the spread of coronavirus on our campus. Laboratory directors and supervising faculty have been asked to work with all employees, including graduate students, to be creative and develop telework options when possible. When attending the laboratory on campus is necessary, a healthy work environment for laboratory employees must be a top priority.

When there are potential safety issues in the laboratory, graduate students have options to discuss them through various channels. As a recommended and typical first step, graduate students can discuss the situation with the laboratory director or supervising faculty member. If the issue is not resolved, the next step would be to bring the issue to the department head or leader of the unit involved for discussion. As an alternative approach, graduate students can discuss the situation with the University Ombudsperson as a neutral party outside of the laboratory reporting structure. The Ombudsperson is available as an independent and confidential resource who can help graduate students decide how to approach the situation, including how to discuss the matter with the supervisor.

To learn more about the University Ombudsperson visit The Ombudsperson can be reached at 865-974-6273 and Please note that email is not a confidential form of communication, so it is best to limit email content to a meeting request. Because the university is currently implementing social distancing measures, the Ombudsperson is holding meetings on Zoom and on the phone. Zoom- and phone-based conversations are confidential.