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Adapting to the times

A doctoral candidate and her committee didn’t let COVID-19 delay her dissertation defense.

Well before anyone had heard of COVID-19, Sarah Reese had known March 2020 was going to be a hectic time. Not only would she be defending her dissertation, but she would also be in the final month of her pregnancy.

“Heading into March I had already wrapped up my dissertation study and rounds of edits with my committee chair and was getting ready for the presentation,” said Reese, a doctoral candidate in the College of Social Work. “I was partnering with University of Utah Health’s Substance Use in Pregnancy Recovery Addiction Dependence Clinic (SUPeRAD), so I was still supervising students who were working with clients there, and I was getting ready to have a baby who is due April 6.”

screenshot of Sarah Reese and her slides as she defends her dissertation via Zoom

Sarah Reese, a doctoral candidate in the College of Social Work, defends her dissertation via Zoom.

When it became apparent the virus wasn’t going away anytime soon and buildings on campus began shutting down, Reese said she didn’t have much time to worry about what would happen to her dissertation. Right away, members of her committee let her know they would figure out a way for her to defend virtually.

“I was able to adapt my presentation for an online environment and I set it up in my home,” said Reese. “My husband helped me with the lighting and we just made it work. It was actually kind of cool because in some ways I think it made it easier for some people to access. One of my committee members was already Zooming in from the Netherlands, and my sister from Tennessee was able to watch me present. So, it was neat to actually have increased access.”

Reese’s research focuses on improving behavioral health treatments for women who are pregnant and have a substance use disorder. She recruited women from the SUPeRAD clinic to participate in a randomized control trial of a mindfulness-based intervention called “Mindfulness-Oriented Recovery Enhancement,” developed by her advisor, Eric Garland, director of the Center on Mindfulness and Integrative Health Intervention Development.

“I’m hoping to be able to follow up and do this study later with a larger group of women,” said Reese. “I think I learned a lot about how to work with this group and how to improve the A screenshot of Sarah Reese and her presentation slide showing list of acknowledgementsstudy design and participant retention in the future.”

As she focuses on the next life-changing event coming her way, Reese said she’s grateful to the university, the College of Social Work, thesis office and especially her committee chair and members for their flexibility.

“I’m just so happy that nothing was held up,” said Reese. “They really came together and made it happen and I think are really meeting the needs of students which I truly appreciate.”

Reese said she even learned some new Zoom skills that could be helpful if she ends up teaching online in the future.