University of Victoria student diving for his master’s

University of Victoria student Mike Irvine will be immersed in his subject when he defends his master’s thesis next week.

That’s because Irvine, 27, plans to discuss his research while underwater — with a wetsuit, flippers and a full-face intercom mask for communicating with his evaluators.

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And, he plans to wear a pinstripe suit over his gear for the auspicious occasion.

As far as Irvine knows, he’s the first student anywhere to conduct an underwater thesis defence.

“I have done some thorough research,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything like it.”

His foray into Saanich Peninsula waters on Monday — to a maximum depth of about six metres — will be transmitted over a 32-inch screen sitting on a dock, with his observers tuning in during a videoconference. It will also be streamed live online.

“My adviser will be on the top, my other adviser will be in Alberta and then the chair will be at the University of Victoria,” Irvine said. He said he expects to be bombarded with questions from the trio.

Establishing an audio connection took some work, Irvine said, adding, “We found a way to match the frequencies to do it.”

Bringing diving into the milestone academic presentation was a natural for Irvine.

“I’ve been diving for about four years,” he said. “I come from a family of divers. My grandfather was an underwater engineer, my dad works for Aqua Lung.”

Some people might assume Irvine must be working on a science degree, but that’s not the case, he said.

“I don’t fit the norm. I have a Greek and Roman history major with a film minor.”

The masters degree he is pursuing is in education, and is about motivating people to learn about the ocean around them.

“My research was on using stationary underwater web cameras to initiate and engage students in inquiry, asking questions, discovering and exploring, engaging them in marine science.”

Irvine has already accomplished similar things through the Fish Eye Project, a not-for-profit initiative he co-founded that uses technology to build awareness of the ocean.

“We’ve been doing live underwater safari tours for the past year,” Irvine said.

“We have it on our YouTube Live channel and you can see, hear and talk to the divers through instant messaging.”

The dives have been seen in 30 countries and at least 135 classrooms across Canada.

Beyond earning his master’s, Irvine hopes to keep up with the work he has been doing.

“The goal is to promote ocean literacy and build marine awareness, and by doing that we just want to take you there and we want to engage you and entertain you and subtly educate you.”

Irvine’s plunge for academic advancement can be seen on a live webcast at fisheyeproject.org on Monday from 12:30 to 2 p.m.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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