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University of Victoria masters student Mike Irvine will appear before a panel of academics to defend his thesis, the penultimate step before graduation, underwater as he is photographed in Saanich, B.C., April 15, 2015. (Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)
University of Victoria masters student Mike Irvine will appear before a panel of academics to defend his thesis, the penultimate step before graduation, underwater as he is photographed in Saanich, B.C., April 15, 2015. (Chad Hipolito for The Globe and Mail)

University of Victoria student to defend masters thesis underwater Add to ...

Defending a thesis can be tough. Mike Irvine has decided to make his experience even tougher – and about as wet as you can imagine.

Next week, the 27-year-old University of Victoria student will be six metres underwater off the Saanich Peninsula, at a spot where his father had a diving accident, as he defends his masters thesis on using footage from underwater cameras in education.

Mr. Irvine will be underwater when he is questioned by faculty advisers connected remotely. Anyone else can follow along through a Web broadcast he is arranging.

He has been planning this since last July when the idea occurred to him at a marine conservation congress in Glasgow. Costs are being covered by friends and associates, who are also volunteering equipment and time.

Because a thesis defence is a formal occasion, Mr. Irvine plans to wear a grey pinstripe suit over his drysuit.

He spoke to The Globe and Mail by phone from Vancouver Island.

You could discuss these issues in the classroom. Why go underwater?

It showcases a new way of connecting with the ocean. We can now connect people to the ocean in real time and they can be anywhere in the world on their phone, touch tablet or computer.

Isn’t there enough pressure in defending a thesis without adding all this?

Absolutely, but I love this element. I am very much terrified, but excited to do this, and hopefully build it as a springboard into a lot of future work. The career that I would like would be an educator/entertainer/techie. I am pushing to build my own path.

How long do you expect your presentation will last?

It depends on the kinds of questions my advisers ask, but it shouldn’t go more than just over an hour.

Do you have enough air?

I do. And if I do run out, we have our contingencies where I will be coming to the surface and can finish the questions on the surface.

Is this risky?

We have taken every safety precaution possible. I have quite the dive team with proper certifications. We have been building a dive plan, an emergency plan. An abundant amount of emergency equipment will be on the site. There’s going to be two other divers in the water. Friends of mine. The diving community is a small world. I have a dive supervisor managing all the divers.

What is the special significance of the place where you’re doing your defence?

It is the site where my dad had a diving accident. It was about 15 years ago. He drowned. He had passed out underwater and then was brought to the surface and resuscitated.

Was this something you had in mind as you picked this location?

It’s basically about reconnecting with the ocean. This whole process of getting into my masters and live dives and everything has been a result of when I started getting back into diving in my early 20s. I worked very much with my dad [on this project]. He has been a big help in pulling this off. It just seemed this would be the best place to do it for logistics, but also to reconnect and move forward.

Did your father’s experience make you uneasy about pursuing diving?

It did. He was teaching me how to dive when I was about 12 and starting to get my certification through him. When he had his accident, I didn’t touch it after that. It came about later on when I was in Greece and wanted to go on a dive. I wanted to impress my dad. So I went and did this dive and came back and I said, ‘You know what? I have to get back into this.’

Will your father be present when you do your thesis defence?

My father. My mother. And my grandfather.

What word comes to mind when you think of diving?

Calming. When you go diving, you have everything you need with you. When you enter the water, you’re there as an observer. You’re there to just be. You’re very present in that space at that moment. It’s very beautiful and serene.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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