In the journey to a higher education degree, a student has to pass several examinations. Most exams are written, but some of the critical evaluations, such as a qualifying examination or viva-voce exam, are conducted in the form of personal interviews. These interviews are a detailed examination of the students’ academic abilities and may go on for a long duration. For some exams, an external examiner is invited to evaluate the student’s eligibility for the degree. As a common courtesy towards the external examiner and examining committee members, refreshments (tea/ coffee/ soft drinks and light snacks) are provided during the interview. The snack menus at these interviews depend on the importance of the exam and the culture of the institution/university, but the salted-peppered roasted cashews remain the undisputed jewel of the crown. After the exam is over, sometimes the examining committee is invited for a courtesy lunch/dinner. The hospitality is intended to melt the toughest and hardest of the examiners. In good spirit, successful outcomes must be celebrated, so there is nothing wrong here.
There is, however, a dark side to academic snacking/dining. Sometimes, these events are turned into festivals of elaborate snacking and feasting. I know of the places where the entire department is invited for lunch after the Ph.D. defence presentations. More often than not, it is the graduating student who has to pay the bills for these events. I have also heard of incidences when the students have paid for the travel, boarding and lodging costs of the external examiners. In my humble opinion, it is unethical to expect students to foot the bills for academic dining, whatever be the reason/logic. The institutional mechanisms must always take care of these costs.
Then the unexpected happens. The Covid-19 pandemic forced most interview examinations to online platforms and halted the academic snacking altogether. Doing the viva exams online is a paradigm change with tons of benefits for the students, faculty and the institutions. It saves on travelling, boarding/lodging costs of the external examiner and gets the job done from the desktop without compromising on the quality of the examination. It saves everyone’s time and money.
I do miss the occasional roasted cashews (fun intended!), but I am also happy to see the silver lining of the pandemic cloud.