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Defending Your Dissertation: A Guide

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Written by Luke Wink-Moran | Photo by insta_photos

Dissertation defenses are daunting, and no wonder; it’s not a “dissertation discussion,” or a “dissertation dialogue.” The name alone implies that the dissertation you’ve spent the last x number of years working on is subject to attack. And if you don’t feel trepidation for semantic reasons, you might be nervous because you don’t know what to expect. Our imaginations are great at making The Unknown scarier than reality. The good news is that you’ll find in this newsletter article experts who can shed light on what dissertations defenses are really like, and what you can do to prepare for them.

The first thing you should know is that your defense has already begun. It started the minute you began working on your dissertation— maybe even in some of the classes you took beforehand that helped you formulate your ideas. This, according to Dr. Celeste Atkins, is why it’s so important to identify a good mentor early in graduate school.

“To me,” noted Dr. Atkins, who wrote her dissertation on how sociology faculty from traditionally marginalized backgrounds teach about privilege and inequality, “the most important part of the doctoral journey was finding an advisor who understood and supported what I wanted from my education and who was willing to challenge me and push me, while not delaying me.  I would encourage future PhDs to really take the time to get to know the faculty before choosing an advisor and to make sure that the members of their committee work well together.”

Your advisor will be the one who helps you refine arguments and strengthen your work so that by the time it reaches your dissertation committee, it’s ready. Next comes the writing process, which many students have said was the hardest part of their PhD. I’ve included this section on the writing process because this is where you’ll create all the material you’ll present during your defense, so it’s important to navigate it successfully. The writing process is intellectually grueling, it eats time and energy, and it’s where many students find themselves paddling frantically to avoid languishing in the “All-But-Dissertation” doldrums. The writing process is also likely to encroach on other parts of your life. For instance, Dr. Cynthia Trejo wrote her dissertation on college preparation for Latin American students while caring for a twelve-year-old, two adult children, and her aging parents—in the middle of a pandemic. When I asked Dr. Trejo how she did this, she replied:

“I don’t take the privilege of education for granted. My son knew I got up at 4:00 a.m. every morning, even on weekends, even on holidays; and it’s a blessing that he’s seen that work ethic and that dedication and the end result.”

Importantly, Dr. Trejo also exercised regularly and joined several online writing groups at UArizona. She mobilized her support network— her partner, parents, and even friends from high school to help care for her son.

The challenges you face during the writing process can vary by discipline. Jessika Iwanski is an MD/PhD student who in 2022 defended her dissertation on genetic mutations in sarcomeric proteins that lead to severe, neonatal dilated cardiomyopathy. She described her writing experience as “an intricate process of balancing many things at once with a deadline (defense day) that seems to be creeping up faster and faster— finishing up experiments, drafting the dissertation, preparing your presentation, filling out all the necessary documents for your defense and also, for MD/PhD students, beginning to reintegrate into the clinical world (reviewing your clinical knowledge and skill sets)!”

But no matter what your unique challenges are, writing a dissertation can take a toll on your mental health. Almost every student I spoke with said they saw a therapist and found their sessions enormously helpful. They also looked to the people in their lives for support. Dr. Betsy Labiner, who wrote her dissertation on Interiority, Truth, and Violence in Early Modern Drama, recommended, “Keep your loved ones close! This is so hard – the dissertation lends itself to isolation, especially in the final stages. Plus, a huge number of your family and friends simply won’t understand what you’re going through. But they love you and want to help and are great for getting you out of your head and into a space where you can enjoy life even when you feel like your dissertation is a flaming heap of trash.”

While you might sometimes feel like your dissertation is a flaming heap of trash, remember: a) no it’s not, you brilliant scholar, and b) the best dissertations aren’t necessarily perfect dissertations. According to Dr. Trejo, “The best dissertation is a done dissertation.” So don’t get hung up on perfecting every detail of your work. Think of your dissertation as a long-form assignment that you need to finish in order to move onto the next stage of your career. Many students continue revising after graduation and submit their work for publication or other professional objectives.

When you do finish writing your dissertation, it’s time to schedule your defense and invite friends and family to the part of the exam that’s open to the public. When that moment comes, how do you prepare to present your work and field questions about it?

“I reread my dissertation in full in one sitting,” said Dr. Labiner. “During all my time writing it, I’d never read more than one complete chapter at a time! It was a huge confidence boost to read my work in full and realize that I had produced a compelling, engaging, original argument.”

There are many other ways to prepare: create presentation slides and practice presenting them to friends or alone; think of questions you might be asked and answer them; think about what you want to wear or where you might want to sit (if you’re presenting on Zoom) that might give you a confidence boost. Iwanksi practiced presenting with her mentor and reviewed current papers to anticipate what questions her committee might ask.  If you want to really get in the zone, you can emulate Dr. Labiner and do a full dress rehearsal on Zoom the day before your defense.

But no matter what you do, you’ll still be nervous:

“I had a sense of the logistics, the timing, and so on, but I didn’t really have clear expectations outside of the structure. It was a sort of nebulous three hours in which I expected to be nauseatingly terrified,” recalled Dr. Labiner.

“I expected it to be terrifying, with lots of difficult questions and constructive criticism/comments given,” agreed Iwanski.

“I expected it to be very scary,” said Dr. Trejo.

“I expected it to be like I was on trial, and I’d have to defend myself and prove I deserved a PhD,” said Dr Atkins.

And, eventually, inexorably, it will be time to present.  

“It was actually very enjoyable” said Iwanski. “It was more of a celebration of years of work put into this project—not only by me but by my mentor, colleagues, lab members and collaborators! I felt very supported by all my committee members and, rather than it being a rapid fire of questions, it was more of a scientific discussion amongst colleagues who are passionate about heart disease and muscle biology.”

“I was anxious right when I logged on to the Zoom call for it,” said Dr. Labiner, “but I was blown away by the number of family and friends that showed up to support me. I had invited a lot of people who I didn’t at all think would come, but every single person I invited was there! Having about 40 guests – many of them joining from different states and several from different countries! – made me feel so loved and celebrated that my nerves were steadied very quickly. It also helped me go into ‘teaching mode’ about my work, so it felt like getting to lead a seminar on my most favorite literature.”

“In reality, my dissertation defense was similar to presenting at an academic conference,” said Dr. Atkins. “I went over my research in a practiced and organized way, and I fielded questions from the audience.

“It was a celebration and an important benchmark for me,” said Dr. Trejo. “It was a pretty happy day. Like the punctuation at the end of your sentence: this sentence is done; this journey is done. You can start the next sentence.”

If you want to learn more about dissertations in your own discipline, don’t hesitate to reach out to graduates from your program and ask them about their experiences. If you’d like to avail yourself of some of the resources that helped students in this article while they wrote and defended their dissertations, check out these links:

The Graduate Writing Lab

https://thinktank.arizona.edu/writing-center/graduate-writing-lab

The Writing Skills Improvement Program

https://wsip.arizona.edu

Campus Health Counseling and Psych Services

https://caps.arizona.edu

https://www.scribbr.com/

Grad Coach

Preparing For Your Dissertation Defense

13 Key Questions To Expect In The Viva Voce

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) & David Phair (PhD) . Reviewed By: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | June 2021

Preparing for your dissertation or thesis defense (also called a “viva voce”) is a formidable task . All your hard work over the years leads you to this one point, and you’ll need to defend yourself against some of the most experienced researchers you’ve encountered so far.

It’s natural to feel a little nervous.

In this post, we’ll cover some of the most important questions you should be able to answer in your viva voce, whether it’s for a Masters or PhD degree. Naturally, they might not arise in exactly the same form (some may not come up at all), but if you can answer these questions well, it means you’re in a good position to tackle your oral defense.

Dissertation and thesis defense 101

Viva Voce Prep: 13 Essential Questions

  • What is your study about and why did you choose to research this in particular?
  • How did your research questions evolve during the research process?
  • How did you decide on which sources to include in your literature review?
  • How did you design your study and why did you take this approach?
  • How generalisable and valid are the findings?
  • What were the main shortcomings and limitations created by your research design?
  • How did your findings relate to the existing literature?
  • What were your key findings in relation to the research questions?
  • Were there any findings that surprised you?
  • What biases may exist in your research?
  • How can your findings be put into practice?
  • How has your research contributed to current thinking in the field?
  • If you could redo your research, how would you alter your approach?

#1: What is your study about and why did you choose to research this in particular?

This question, a classic party starter, is pretty straightforward.

What the dissertation or thesis committee is assessing here is your ability to clearly articulate your research aims, objectives and research questions in a concise manner. Concise is the keyword here – you need to clearly explain your research topic without rambling on for a half-hour. Don’t feel the need to go into the weeds here – you’ll have many opportunities to unpack the details later on.

In the second half of the question, they’re looking for a brief explanation of the justification of your research. In other words, why was this particular set of research aims, objectives and questions worth addressing? To address this question well in your oral defense, you need to make it clear what gap existed within the research and why that gap was worth filling.

#2: How did your research questions evolve during the research process?

Good research generally follows a long and winding path . It’s seldom a straight line (unless you got really lucky). What they’re assessing here is your ability to follow that path and let the research process unfold.

Specifically, they’ll want to hear about the impact that the literature review process had on you in terms of shaping the research aims, objectives and research questions . For example, you may have started with a certain set of aims, but then as you immersed yourself in the literature, you may have changed direction. Similarly, your initial fieldwork findings may have turned out some unexpected data that drove you to adjust or expand on your initial research questions.

Long story short – a good defense involves clearly describing your research journey , including all the twists and turns. Adjusting your direction based on findings in the literature or the fieldwork shows that you’re responsive , which is essential for high-quality research.

You will need to explain the impact of your literature review in the defense

#3: How did you decide on which sources to include in your literature review?

A comprehensive literature review is the foundation of any high-quality piece of research. With this question, your dissertation or thesis committee are trying to assess which quality criteria and approach you used to select the sources for your literature review.

Typically, good research draws on both the seminal work in the respective field and more recent sources . In other words, a combination of the older landmark studies and pivotal work, along with up-to-date sources that build on to those older studies. This combination ensures that the study has a rock-solid foundation but is not out of date.

So, make sure that your study draws on a mix of both the “classics” and new kids on the block, and take note of any major evolutions in the literature that you can use as an example when asked this question in your viva voce.

#4: How did you design your study and why did you take this approach?

This is a classic methodological question that you can almost certainly expect in some or other shape.

What they’re looking for here is a clear articulation of the research design and methodology, as well as a strong justification of each choice . So, you need to be able to walk through each methodological choice and clearly explain both what you did and why you did it. The why is particularly important – you need to be able to justify each choice you made by clearly linking your design back to your research aims, objectives and research questions, while also taking into account practical constraints.

To ensure you cover every base, check out our research methodology vlog post , as well as our post covering the Research Onion .

You have to justify every choice in your dissertation defence

#5: How generalizable and valid are the findings?

This question is aimed at specifically digging into your understanding of the sample and how that relates to the population, as well as potential validity issues in your methodology.

To answer question this well, you’ll need to critically assess your sample and findings and consider if they truly apply to the entire population, as well as whether they assessed what they set out to. Note that there are two components here – generalizability and validity . Generalizability is about how well the sample represents the population. Validity is about how accurately you’ve measured what you intended to measure .

To ace this part of your dissertation defense, make sure that you’re very familiar with the concepts of generalizability , validity and reliability , and how these apply to your research. Remember, you don’t need to achieve perfection – you just need to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your research (and how the weaknesses could be improved upon).

Need a helping hand?

preparing to defend your dissertation

#6: What were the main shortcomings and limitations created by your research design?

This question picks up where the last one left off.

As I mentioned, it’s perfectly natural that your research will have shortcomings and limitations as a result of your chosen design and methodology. No piece of research is flawless. Therefore, a good dissertation defense is not about arguing that your work is perfect, but rather it’s about clearly articulating the strengths and weaknesses of your approach.

To address this question well, you need to think critically about all of the potential weaknesses your design may have, as well as potential responses to these (which could be adopted in future research) to ensure you’re well prepared for this question. For a list of common methodological limitations, check out our video about research limitations here .

#7: How did your findings relate to the existing literature?

This common dissertation defense question links directly to your discussion chapter , where you would have presented and discussed the findings in relation to your literature review.

What your dissertation or thesis committee is assessing here is your ability to compare your study’s findings to the findings of existing research . Specifically, you need to discuss which findings aligned with existing research and which findings did not. For those findings that contrasted against existing research, you should also explain what you believe to be the reasons for this.

As with many questions in a viva voce, it’s both the what and the why that matter here. So, you need to think deeply about what the underlying reasons may be for both the similarities and differences between your findings and those of similar studies.

Your dissertation defense needs to compare findings

#8: What were your key findings in relation to the research questions?

This question is similar to the last one in that it too focuses on your research findings. However, here the focus is specifically on the findings that directly relate to your research questions (as opposed to findings in general).

So, a good way to prepare for this question is to step back and revisit your research questions . Ask yourself the following:

  • What exactly were you asking in those questions, and what did your research uncover concerning them?
  • Which questions were well answered by your study and which ones were lacking?
  • Why were they lacking and what more could be done to address this in future research?

Conquering this part dissertation defense requires that you focus squarely on the research questions. Your study will have provided many findings (hopefully!), and not all of these will link directly to the research questions. Therefore, you need to clear your mind of all of the fascinating side paths your study may have lead you down and regain a clear focus on the research questions .

#9: Were there any findings that surprised you?

This question is two-pronged.

First, you should discuss the surprising findings that were directly related to the original research questions . Going into your research, you likely had some expectations in terms of what you would find, so this is your opportunity to discuss the outcomes that emerged as contrary to what you initially expected. You’ll also want to think about what the reasons for these contrasts may be.

Second, you should discuss the findings that weren’t directly related to the research questions, but that emerged from the data set . You may have a few or you may have none – although generally there are a handful of interesting musings that you can glean from the data set. Again, make sure you can articulate why you find these interesting and what it means for future research in the area.

What the committee is looking for in this type of question is your ability to interpret the findings holistically and comprehensively , and to respond to unexpected data. So, take the time to zoom out and reflect on your findings thoroughly.

Discuss the findings in your defense

#10: What biases may exist in your research?

Biases… we all have them.

For this question, you’ll need to think about potential biases in your research , in the data itself but also in your interpretation of the data. With this question, your committee is assessing whether you have considered your own potential biases and the biases inherent in your analysis approach (i.e. your methodology). So, think carefully about these research biases and be ready to explain how these may exist in your study.

In an oral defense, this question is often followed up with a question on how the biases were mitigated or could be mitigated in future research. So, give some thought not just to what biases may exist, but also the mitigation measures (in your own study and for future research).

#11: How can your findings be put into practice?

Another classic question in the typical viva voce.

With this question, your committee is assessing your ability to bring your findings back down to earth and demonstrate their practical value and application. Importantly, this question is not about the contribution to academia or the overall field of research (we’ll get to that next) – it is specifically asking about how this newly created knowledge can be used in the real world.

Naturally, the actionability of your findings will vary depending on the nature of your research topic. Some studies will produce many action points and some won’t. If you’re researching marketing strategies within an industry, for example, you should be able to make some very specific recommendations for marketing practitioners in that industry.

To help you flesh out points for this question, look back at your original justification for the research (i.e. in your introduction and literature review chapters). What were the driving forces that led you to research your specific topic? That justification should help you identify ways in which your findings can be put into practice.

#12: How has your research contributed to current thinking in the field?

While the previous question was aimed at practical contribution, this question is aimed at theoretical contribution . In other words, what is the significance of your study within the current body of research? How does it fit into the existing research and what does it add to it?

This question is often asked by a field specialist and is used to assess whether you’re able to place your findings into the research field to critically convey what your research contributed. This argument needs to be well justified – in other words, you can’t just discuss what your research contributed, you need to also back each proposition up with a strong why .

To answer this question well, you need to humbly consider the quality and impact of your work and to be realistic in your response. You don’t want to come across as arrogant (“my work is groundbreaking”), nor do you want to undersell the impact of your work. So, it’s important to strike the right balance between realistic and pessimistic .

This question also opens the door to questions about potential future research . So, think about what future research opportunities your study has created and which of these you feel are of the highest priority.

Discuss your contribution in your thesis defence

#13: If you could redo your research, how would you alter your approach?

This question is often used to wrap up a viva voce as it brings the discussion full circle.

Here, your committee is again assessing your ability to clearly identify and articulate the limitations and shortcomings of your research, both in terms of research design and topic focus . Perhaps, in hindsight, it would have been better to use a different analysis method or data set. Perhaps the research questions should have leaned in a slightly different direction. And so on.

This question intends to assess whether you’re able to look at your work critically , assess where the weaknesses are and make recommendations for the future . This question often sets apart those who did the research purely because it was required, from those that genuinely engaged with their research. So, don’t hold back here – reflect on your entire research journey ask yourself how you’d do things differently if you were starting with a  blank canvas today.

Recap: The 13 Key Dissertation Defense Questions

To recap, here are the 13 questions you need to be ready for to ace your dissertation or thesis oral defense:

As I mentioned, this list of dissertation defense questions is certainly not exhaustive – don’t assume that we’ve covered every possible question here. However, these questions are quite likely to come up in some shape or form in a typical dissertation or thesis defense, whether it’s for a Master’s degree, PhD or any other research degree. So, you should take the time to make sure you can answer them well.

If you need assistance preparing for your dissertation defense or viva voce, get in touch with us to discuss 1-on-1 coaching. We can critically review your research and identify potential issues and responses, as well as undertake a mock oral defense to prepare you for the pressures and stresses on the day.

preparing to defend your dissertation

Psst... there’s more!

This post was based on one of our popular Research Bootcamps . If you're working on a research project, you'll definitely want to check this out ...

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12 Comments

Jalla Dullacha

Very interesting

Fumtchum JEFFREY

Interesting. I appreciate!

Dargo Haftu

Really appreciating

My field is International Trade

Abera Gezahegn

Interesting

Peter Gumisiriza

This is a full course on defence. I was fabulously enlightened and I gained enough confidence for my upcoming Masters Defence.

There are many lessons to learn and the simplicity in presentationmakes thee reader say “YesI can”

Milly Nalugoti

This is so helping… it has Enlightened me on how to answer specific questions. I pray to make it through for my upcoming defense

Derek Jansen

Lovely to hear that 🙂

bautister

Really educative and beneficial

Tweheyo Charles

Interesting. On-point and elaborate. And comforting too! Thanks.

Ismailu Kulme Emmanuel

Thank you very much for the enlightening me, be blessed

Gladys Oyat

Thankyou so much. I am planning to defend my thesis soon and I found this very useful

Augustine Mtega

Very interesting and useful to all masters and PhD students

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How to prepare an excellent thesis defense

Thesis defence

What is a thesis defense?

How long is a thesis defense, what happens at a thesis defense, your presentation, questions from the committee, 6 tips to help you prepare for your thesis defense, 1. anticipate questions and prepare for them, 2. dress for success, 3. ask for help, as needed, 4. have a backup plan, 5. prepare for the possibility that you might not know an answer, 6. de-stress before, during, and after, frequently asked questions about preparing an excellent thesis defense, related articles.

If you're about to complete, or have ever completed a graduate degree, you have most likely come across the term "thesis defense." In many countries, to finish a graduate degree, you have to write a thesis .

A thesis is a large paper, or multi-chapter work, based on a topic relating to your field of study.

Once you hand in your thesis, you will be assigned a date to defend your work. Your thesis defense meeting usually consists of you and a committee of two or more professors working in your program. It may also include other people, like professionals from other colleges or those who are working in your field.

During your thesis defense, you will be asked questions about your work. The main purpose of your thesis defense is for the committee to make sure that you actually understand your field and focus area.

The questions are usually open-ended and require the student to think critically about their work. By the time of your thesis defense, your paper has already been evaluated. The questions asked are not designed so that you actually have to aggressively "defend" your work; often, your thesis defense is more of a formality required so that you can get your degree.

  • Check with your department about requirements and timing.
  • Re-read your thesis.
  • Anticipate questions and prepare for them.
  • Create a back-up plan to deal with technology hiccups.
  • Plan de-stressing activities both before, and after, your defense.

How long your oral thesis defense is depends largely on the institution and requirements of your degree. It is best to consult your department or institution about this. In general, a thesis defense may take only 20 minutes, but it may also take two hours or more. The length also depends on how much time is allocated to the presentation and questioning part.

Tip: Check with your department or institution as soon as possible to determine the approved length for a thesis defense.

First of all, be aware that a thesis defense varies from country to country. This is just a general overview, but a thesis defense can take many different formats. Some are closed, others are public defenses. Some take place with two committee members, some with more examiners.

The same goes for the length of your thesis defense, as mentioned above. The most important first step for you is to clarify with your department what the structure of your thesis defense will look like. In general, your thesis defense will include:

  • your presentation of around 20-30 minutes
  • questions from the committee
  • questions from the audience (if the defense is public and the department allows it)

You might have to give a presentation, often with Powerpoint, Google slides, or Keynote slides. Make sure to prepare an appropriate amount of slides. A general rule is to use about 10 slides for a 20-minute presentation.

But that also depends on your specific topic and the way you present. The good news is that there will be plenty of time ahead of your thesis defense to prepare your slides and practice your presentation alone and in front of friends or family.

Tip: Practice delivering your thesis presentation in front of family, friends, or colleagues.

You can prepare your slides by using information from your thesis' first chapter (the overview of your thesis) as a framework or outline. Substantive information in your thesis should correspond with your slides.

Make sure your slides are of good quality— both in terms of the integrity of the information and the appearance. If you need more help with how to prepare your presentation slides, both the ASQ Higher Education Brief and James Hayton have good guidelines on the topic.

The committee will ask questions about your work after you finish your presentation. The questions will most likely be about the core content of your thesis, such as what you learned from the study you conducted. They may also ask you to summarize certain findings and to discuss how your work will contribute to the existing body of knowledge.

Tip: Read your entire thesis in preparation of the questions, so you have a refreshed perspective on your work.

While you are preparing, you can create a list of possible questions and try to answer them. You can foresee many of the questions you will get by simply spending some time rereading your thesis.

Here are a few tips on how to prepare for your thesis defense:

You can absolutely prepare for most of the questions you will be asked. Read through your thesis and while you're reading it, create a list of possible questions. In addition, since you will know who will be on the committee, look at the academic expertise of the committee members. In what areas would they most likely be focused?

If possible, sit at other thesis defenses with these committee members to get a feel for how they ask and what they ask. As a graduate student, you should generally be adept at anticipating test questions, so use this advantage to gather as much information as possible before your thesis defense meeting.

Your thesis defense is a formal event, often the entire department or university is invited to participate. It signals a critical rite of passage for graduate students and faculty who have supported them throughout a long and challenging process.

While most universities don't have specific rules on how to dress for that event, do regard it with dignity and respect. This one might be a no-brainer, but know that you should dress as if you were on a job interview or delivering a paper at a conference.

It might help you deal with your stress before your thesis defense to entrust someone with the smaller but important responsibilities of your defense well ahead of schedule. This trusted person could be responsible for:

  • preparing the room of the day of defense
  • setting up equipment for the presentation
  • preparing and distributing handouts

Technology is unpredictable. Life is too. There are no guarantees that your Powerpoint presentation will work at all or look the way it is supposed to on the big screen. We've all been there. Make sure to have a plan B for these situations. Handouts can help when technology fails, and an additional clean shirt can save the day if you have a spill.

One of the scariest aspects of the defense is the possibility of being asked a question you can't answer. While you can prepare for some questions, you can never know exactly what the committee will ask.

There will always be gaps in your knowledge. But your thesis defense is not about being perfect and knowing everything, it's about how you deal with challenging situations. You are not expected to know everything.

James Hayton writes on his blog that examiners will sometimes even ask questions they don't know the answer to, out of curiosity, or because they want to see how you think. While it is ok sometimes to just say "I don't know", he advises to try something like "I don't know, but I would think [...] because of x and y, but you would need to do [...] in order to find out.” This shows that you have the ability to think as an academic.

You will be nervous. But your examiners will expect you to be nervous. Being well prepared can help minimize your stress, but do know that your examiners have seen this many times before and are willing to help, by repeating questions, for example. Dora Farkas at finishyourthesis.com notes that it’s a myth that thesis committees are out to get you.

Two common symptoms of being nervous are talking really fast and nervous laughs. Try to slow yourself down and take a deep breath. Remember what feels like hours to you are just a few seconds in real life.

  • Try meditational breathing right before your defense.
  • Get plenty of exercise and sleep in the weeks prior to your defense.
  • Have your clothes or other items you need ready to go the night before.
  • During your defense, allow yourself to process each question before answering.
  • Go to dinner with friends and family, or to a fun activity like mini-golf, after your defense.

Allow yourself to process each question, respond to it, and stop talking once you have responded. While a smile can often help dissolve a difficult situation, remember that nervous laughs can be irritating for your audience.

We all make mistakes and your thesis defense will not be perfect. However, careful preparation, mindfulness, and confidence can help you feel less stressful both before, and during, your defense.

Finally, consider planning something fun that you can look forward to after your defense.

It is completely normal to be nervous. Being well prepared can help minimize your stress, but do know that your examiners have seen this many times before and are willing to help, by repeating questions for example if needed. Slow yourself down, and take a deep breath.

Your thesis defense is not about being perfect and knowing everything, it's about how you deal with challenging situations. James Hayton writes on his blog that it is ok sometimes to just say "I don't know", but he advises to try something like "I don't know, but I would think [...] because of x and y, you would need to do [...] in order to find out".

Your Powerpoint presentation can get stuck or not look the way it is supposed to do on the big screen. It can happen and your supervisors know it. In general, handouts can always save the day when technology fails.

  • Dress for success.
  • Ask for help setting up.
  • Have a backup plan (in case technology fails you).
  • Deal with your nerves.

preparing to defend your dissertation

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How to Prepare for Your Dissertation Defense

How to Prepare for Your Dissertation Defense

4-minute read

  • 1st August 2023

After years of research and study, you’ve finally reached the grand finale of your PhD years: your dissertation defense. Since defending your dissertation is the culmination of all your hard work, it’s essential to do everything you can to prepare for it.

In this post, we’ll take you through how to ready yourself for your dissertation defense so you can focus on your accomplishments and excel during this crucial professional moment.

What is a Dissertation Defense? 

The dissertation defense is the crowning moment of years of research – the final examination before a PhD student is awarded their doctoral degree.

During a dissertation defense, the student presents their research, methodology, findings, and conclusions to a committee of faculty members and experts in their field. The committee then engages in a question-and-answer session to assess the student’s understanding of the subject matter, the quality of their research, and their ability to defend their work under scrutiny.

Many PhD students consider it to be the defining moment of their academic career and their chance to prove their expertise in their chosen research field.

If all this sounds overwhelming – don’t worry. If you’re a PhD student, you’ll have plenty of time and opportunity to adequately prepare for your dissertation defense. Below are some strategies to help you get ready for this significant occasion in your career.

1.   Know the Requirements

Familiarize yourself with your institution’s guidelines and requirements for the defense process. Understanding the format, time limit, and expectations for the presentation will help you to prepare your material and anticipate any issues.

2.   Review Your Dissertation

Even if you think you know it inside and out, review your dissertation from beginning to end. It may have been some time since you’ve last read and considered certain portions of your research and findings. Consider what your committee might ask about your research questions , data analysis, and conclusions.

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3.   Work on Starting Strong

To begin your defense on a strong note, work on creating a clear and engaging introduction. You can start by briefly outlining the purpose of your study, research questions, and methodology . Try to stay on topic and don’t veer off track by discussing unrelated or unnecessary information.

4.   Practice Presenting

Practice your presentation skills by rehearsing your defense multiple times. Focus on clarity and pacing and try to stay within the allotted time limit. It also helps to record yourself so that you can see yourself from your audience’s point of view.

5.   Practice Q&A Sessions

To build your confidence, enlist friends and colleagues to conduct mock question-and-answer sessions. When practicing, remember to pause before answering questions you’re unsure of. It’s better to take your time delivering a response than it is to give an inaccurate or incorrect answer.

6.   Seek Feedback

Find out if your institution offers mock defense sessions where peers or mentors play the role of the committee, ask you questions, and give feedback . You can also have colleagues, mentors, or advisors review your presentation and offer practical feedback.

7.   Create Visual Aids

Think about any visual aids , such as slides, you may want to use to illustrate your defense and prepare them in advance. Be sure to check that your university allows visuals or images and that they enhance, rather than overwhelm, your presentation.

8.   Stay Calm and Confident

It’s natural to feel nervous but try to stay calm and composed during your defense. Take deep breaths and remind yourself of the expertise you’ve gained through the experience of writing your dissertation.

Expert Proofreading Services

The best way to prepare for your dissertation defense is to have your dissertation professionally proofread. Our editing experts have extensive experience with a wide variety of academic subjects and topics and can help ensure your dissertation is ready for presentation. Send in a free sample of 500 words or less and get started today.

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The top 10 thesis defense questions (+ how to prepare strong answers)

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Crafting a thesis is significant, but defending it often feels like the ultimate test. While nerve-wracking, proper preparation can make it manageable. Prepare for your thesis defense with insights on the top questions you can expect, including strategies for answering convincingly.

Mastering the thesis defense: cultivate a success mindset

Question 1: why did you choose this particular topic for your research, question 2: how does your research contribute to the existing body of knowledge, question 3: what are the key findings of your research, question 4: can you defend your research methodology, question 5: how did you analyze the data and what challenges did you encounter, question 6: what theoretical frameworks or references underpin your research, question 7: how did you address ethical considerations in your research, question 8: in what ways does your research contribute to the field, question 9: how did you ensure your research was free from bias, question 10: where can future research go from here.

Nurturing a success mindset for your defense is pivotal. This means adopting a mental outlook geared towards achieving favorable outcomes during your thesis defense. To truly excel in this pivotal academic moment, it’s imperative to cultivate both confidence and composure.

Confidence enables you to present your research with conviction, while composure allows you to navigate any challenges with grace and clarity.

Remember, you know your thesis best, so trust in your expertise.

In essence, a success mindset encompasses the belief in your abilities, coupled with the ability to remain calm and focused under pressure.

Stay composed and focused, relying on your thorough preparation. If you encounter a question you can’t answer, gracefully guide the conversation back to familiar topics.

Use strategic responses when needed. For example, if a question goes beyond your thesis scope, acknowledge its relevance but steer back to your focused areas. Similarly, if you’re unfamiliar with a theory or literature, admit it but offer related insights or perspectives.

By embracing these principles and staying confident and adaptable, you’ll navigate your thesis defense with ease.

This question delves into the origins of your academic journey, aiming to understand not just what you studied, but the underlying motivations and processes that drove your exploration. It’s not merely about the superficial aspects of your research, but rather about the deeper intellectual curiosity that ignited your quest.

To effectively respond, take the opportunity to elaborate on the intricacies of your journey. Begin by unpacking the specific interests or questions that sparked your intellectual curiosity in the subject matter. What events, experiences, or influences led you to delve into this particular area of study? Providing an anecdote or example that vividly illustrates the genesis of your scholarly pursuit can be helpful.

Moreover, discuss the gaps you identified in the existing literature that motivated you to contribute to your field. What deficiencies or unanswered questions did you observe? How did these gaps inspire you to embark on your research journey with the aim of filling these voids? By articulating the specific shortcomings in the current body of knowledge, you demonstrate a nuanced understanding of your research area and underscore the significance of your work.

Additionally, highlight any personal or academic experiences that played a pivotal role in steering you towards your chosen topic. Whether it was a transformative educational experience, a profound personal interest, or a meaningful encounter, these experiences can offer valuable insights into the origins of your scholarly pursuits.

In summary, when articulating your narrative, consider the following key points:

  • Unpack the specific interests or questions that sparked your intellectual curiosity.
  • Discuss the gaps in the existing literature that motivated your research.
  • Highlight any personal or academic experiences that influenced your choice of topic.

This question delves into the vital role your research plays within the existing body of knowledge, urging you to articulate its significance and impact. It’s not merely about the subject matter you’ve studied, but also about the unique contributions and advancements your research brings to your field. To effectively respond, delve into the intricacies of your work and its implications for the broader academic landscape.

Begin by emphasizing the novelties and breakthroughs your research introduces. Highlight specific aspects of your study that represent advancements in understanding or methodologies. Whether it’s a novel approach to a longstanding problem, the discovery of new phenomena, or the development of innovative methodologies, these contributions underscore the significance of your research within the academic community.

Next, describe how your work engages with or challenges current conversations in your field. Discuss the existing paradigms or theories your research builds upon or critiques. Articulate how your findings contribute to ongoing debates or reshape prevailing understandings. By positioning your research within the broader context of scholarly discourse, you showcase its relevance and impact on the evolving landscape of your field.

Illuminate how your findings could influence future research trajectories. Explore potential avenues for further inquiry that emerge from your research findings. Consider how your work opens up new questions or areas of exploration for future researchers. By identifying these potential research directions, you demonstrate the forward-looking nature of your work and its potential to shape the future trajectory of your field.

In summary, when addressing how your research contributes to the existing body of knowledge, consider the following key points:

  • Emphasize the novelties and breakthroughs your research introduces.
  • Describe the conversations in your field that your work engages with or challenges.
  • Illuminate how your findings could influence future research trajectories.

Addressing the question of your research’s key findings demands skill, as it necessitates succinctly summarizing your work while conveying its significance. To effectively respond, distill your findings into digestible takeaways that encapsulate the essence of your research. Identify the central discoveries or outcomes of your study, ensuring clarity and conciseness in your presentation.

Furthermore, relate these findings to the broader implications they hold for your field. Articulate how your research contributes to advancing knowledge or addressing pressing issues within your academic discipline. Consider the potential impact of your findings on theory, practice, or policy, highlighting their relevance and significance within the larger scholarly community.

Additionally, be prepared to elucidate the nuances and complexities involved in your results. While providing a concise summary of your findings is essential, it’s equally important to acknowledge the intricacies and limitations of your research. Discuss any methodological considerations, unexpected outcomes, or areas for further investigation, demonstrating a nuanced understanding of your work.

In summary, when addressing the key findings of your research, consider the following key points:

  • Distill your findings into digestible takeaways.
  • Relate the outcomes to the broader implications they hold for your field.
  • Be prepared to shed light on the nuances and complexities involved in your results.

Defending your research methodology entails a comprehensive understanding of its rationale, alignment with research objectives, and acknowledgment of potential limitations. It’s not merely about explaining the methods employed but also justifying why they were chosen over alternative approaches. To effectively respond, delve into the intricacies of your methodology and its implications for the study.

Begin by elucidating the reasons for selecting the chosen methodology over alternatives. Discuss the specific advantages or suitability of the selected approach in addressing the research questions or objectives. Consider factors such as feasibility, appropriateness for the research context, and compatibility with the theoretical framework guiding your study.

Furthermore, explain how your chosen methods align with your research objectives. Articulate how the selected methodology enables you to achieve the intended outcomes and contribute to answering the research questions. Discuss how each methodological choice supports the overall research design and furthers the overarching goals of the study.

Be prepared to discuss the limitations inherent in your chosen methodology and how you mitigated them. Acknowledge any constraints or shortcomings associated with the selected approach, such as potential biases, sample size limitations, or data collection challenges. Demonstrate your awareness of these limitations and discuss the strategies implemented to address or minimize their impact on the validity and reliability of your findings.

In summary, when defending your research methodology, consider the following key points:

  • Justify the methodology with reasons for selecting it over alternatives.
  • Explain the methods’ alignment with your research objectives.
  • Be ready to discuss the limitations and how you mitigated them.

Addressing the intricacies of data analysis involves not only outlining the techniques employed but also navigating the challenges encountered and evaluating the reliability and validity of the interpretations drawn. When responding to inquiries about data analysis, it’s essential to provide a comprehensive understanding of the methodologies employed, the obstacles faced, and the strategies utilized to ensure the accuracy and credibility of the findings.

Begin by outlining the techniques used for data analysis. Describe the specific methods, tools, and software employed to process and interpret the data collected. Whether it involved quantitative statistical analysis, qualitative coding techniques, or a combination of both, provide insights into the analytical framework guiding your study. Additionally, discuss the rationale behind the chosen analytical approach and how it aligns with the research objectives and questions.

Next, share the hurdles faced during the data analysis process and how you overcame them. Reflect on any challenges encountered, such as data cleaning issues, missing data, or unexpected patterns in the dataset. Discuss the steps taken to address these challenges, whether through iterative refinement of analytical techniques, consultation with peers or supervisors, or adaptation of the research design. Highlighting your ability to navigate obstacles demonstrates resilience and resourcefulness in overcoming methodological challenges.

Furthermore, discuss the reliability and validity of your data interpretation. Evaluate the rigor and credibility of your analytical process, considering factors such as data integrity, consistency, and relevance to the research objectives. Discuss any measures taken to ensure the trustworthiness of the findings, such as inter-coder reliability checks, triangulation of data sources, or member checking with participants. By critically examining the reliability and validity of your data interpretation, you provide insights into the robustness of your analytical approach and the credibility of the conclusions drawn.

In summary, when addressing inquiries about data analysis, consider the following key points:

  • Outline the techniques used for data analysis.
  • Share the hurdles faced during the process and how you overcame them.
  • Discuss the reliability and validity of your data interpretation.

Exploring the theoretical underpinnings of your research involves delving into the foundational frameworks and seminal works that informed your study’s conceptual framework and analytical approach. When responding to inquiries about theoretical frameworks , it’s essential to provide a comprehensive understanding of the theories and references that shaped your research, elucidate their influence on your hypothesis and analysis, and reflect on the potential contributions or revisions your study may offer to existing theoretical foundations.

Begin by naming the key theories and seminal works that guided your research. Identify the theoretical frameworks that provided the conceptual scaffolding for your study, as well as the seminal works that shaped your understanding of the research area. Discuss how these theories and references informed your research design, methodology, and analytical approach, providing a theoretical lens through which to interpret your findings.

Elucidate on how these frameworks shaped your hypothesis and analysis. Describe how the theoretical perspectives and insights gleaned from seminal works informed the development of your research questions, hypotheses, and analytical framework. Discuss the ways in which these theoretical frameworks guided your data collection and interpretation, influencing the selection of variables, measures, and analytical techniques employed in your study.

Reflect on how your research may contribute to or revise these theoretical foundations. Consider the implications of your findings for advancing existing theoretical frameworks or revising established paradigms within your field. Discuss how your research extends or challenges current theoretical perspectives, offering new insights, conceptual refinements, or empirical evidence that may enrich or reshape prevailing theories. By critically examining the relationship between your research and existing theoretical frameworks, you provide insights into the broader theoretical implications and contributions of your study.

In summary, when addressing inquiries about theoretical frameworks, consider the following key points:

  • Name the key theories and seminal works that guided your research.
  • Elucidate on how these frameworks shaped your hypothesis and analysis.
  • Reflect on how your research may contribute to or revise these theoretical foundations.

When addressing ethical considerations in your research, it’s essential to demonstrate a commitment to upholding ethical standards and protecting the rights and well-being of participants. Responding to inquiries about ethical protocols involves explaining the steps taken to ensure ethical conduct throughout the research process, describing the consent process and data protection measures implemented, and mentioning any institutional review board (IRB) approvals obtained.

Begin by explaining the ethical protocols you followed. Detail the ethical guidelines, codes of conduct, or regulatory frameworks that informed your research design and conduct. Discuss how these guidelines influenced decisions regarding participant recruitment, data collection methods, confidentiality protocols, and data storage procedures, emphasizing your adherence to ethical principles throughout the research process.

Describe the consent process, if applicable, and how you protected participants’ data. Provide insights into how informed consent was obtained from participants, including the procedures used to inform participants about the research purpose, risks, benefits, and their rights. Discuss any measures taken to safeguard participants’ privacy and confidentiality, such as anonymizing data, securing data storage, and limiting access to sensitive information, ensuring the protection of participants’ identities and personal information.

Mention any institutional ethics review board approvals you obtained. Highlight any formal ethical review processes or approvals obtained from relevant regulatory bodies, such as IRBs or ethics committees. Discuss how the research protocol was reviewed for compliance with ethical guidelines and standards, including considerations of participant welfare, informed consent procedures, and data protection measures. By acknowledging the oversight and approval of institutional review bodies, you demonstrate your commitment to ethical integrity and accountability in conducting research involving human subjects.

In summary, when addressing inquiries about ethical considerations in your research, consider the following key points:

  • Explain the ethical protocols you followed.
  • Describe the consent process and data protection measures implemented.
  • Mention any institutional ethics review board approvals obtained.

When discussing the contributions of your research to the field, it’s essential to highlight the novel insights and potential impact your thesis offers. Responding to inquiries about your research’s significance involves detailing the unique perspectives and fresh understanding it brings to the academic discourse, as well as considering its implications for future research or practice and arguing its relevance within the broader academic community.

Begin by detailing the novel insights your thesis provides. Articulate the key findings, discoveries, or perspectives that distinguish your research from existing literature and contribute to advancing knowledge within your field. Discuss how your study fills gaps in current understanding, challenges established assumptions, or offers innovative approaches to addressing pressing issues, highlighting its potential to generate new avenues of inquiry and broaden the scope of scholarly discourse.

Discuss how your findings might influence future research or practice. Consider the implications of your research for shaping future scholarship, informing policy decisions, or guiding professional practice within relevant domains. Reflect on the potential practical applications, theoretical advancements, or methodological innovations stemming from your findings, highlighting their significance for advancing the field and addressing real-world challenges.

Be prepared to argue the relevance of your research within the broader academic community. Articulate the broader significance of your study within the context of current debates, trends, or priorities within your discipline. Discuss how your research aligns with existing scholarly agendas, contributes to interdisciplinary dialogue, or addresses pressing societal concerns, underscoring its relevance and potential impact on shaping the direction of future research and practice.

In summary, when addressing inquiries about the contributions of your research to the field, consider the following key points:

  • Detail the novel insights your thesis provides.
  • Discuss how your findings might influence future research or practice.
  • Be prepared to argue the relevance of your research within the broader academic community.

When ensuring the integrity of your research and minimizing bias, it’s crucial to maintain objectivity and rigor throughout the study. Responding to inquiries about bias involves discussing the steps taken to uphold objectivity, describing any blind or double-blind procedures employed, and acknowledging and mitigating any unavoidable biases that may have arisen during the research process.

Begin by discussing the steps taken to maintain objectivity and rigor. Detail the strategies implemented to minimize the influence of personal biases, preconceptions, or external factors on the research outcomes. This may include adhering to a predetermined research protocol, using standardized procedures for data collection and analysis, and engaging in peer review or validation processes to ensure the reliability and validity of the findings.

Describe any blind or double-blind procedures employed in the study. Explain how blinding techniques were used to prevent bias in data collection, analysis, or interpretation. This may involve withholding certain information from researchers or participants to minimize the potential for conscious or unconscious bias to influence the results. Discuss how these procedures were implemented and their impact on enhancing the credibility and impartiality of the research outcomes.

Acknowledge any unavoidable biases that may have emerged during the research process and discuss how they were mitigated. Reflect on the inherent limitations or sources of bias in the study design, data collection methods, or participant selection criteria. Discuss the steps taken to minimize the impact of these biases, such as conducting sensitivity analyses, controlling for confounding variables, or triangulating data sources to corroborate findings.

In summary, when addressing inquiries about bias in your research, consider the following key points:

  • Discuss steps taken to maintain objectivity and rigor.
  • Describe any blind or double-blind procedures employed.
  • Acknowledge any unavoidable biases and discuss how they were mitigated.

When considering the potential trajectory of your research topic, it’s essential to identify areas where further investigation could yield valuable insights, discuss unexplored questions that emerged from your research, and reflect on the limitations of your study as starting points for future research endeavors. Responding to inquiries about the future direction of research involves suggesting fruitful areas for further investigation, highlighting unresolved questions, and leveraging the limitations of your study as opportunities for future exploration.

Begin by suggesting areas where further investigation could be fruitful. Identify specific gaps, ambiguities, or unanswered questions within the existing literature that warrant additional inquiry. Consider emerging trends, advancements in technology or methodology, or pressing societal issues that may inform potential research directions. Propose research topics or hypotheses that build upon the findings of your study and extend the boundaries of current knowledge within your field.

Discuss unexplored questions that arose from your research. Reflect on any unexpected findings, anomalies, or areas of ambiguity that emerged during the course of your study. Consider how these unanswered questions or unresolved issues could serve as catalysts for future research endeavors, prompting further investigation into related phenomena, alternative explanations, or novel research methodologies.

Reflect on the limitations of your study as starting points for future research. Acknowledge any constraints, biases, or methodological shortcomings that may have influenced the outcomes or interpretations of your study. Discuss how these limitations provide opportunities for future research to refine methodologies, address confounding variables, or explore alternative theoretical frameworks. Consider how addressing these limitations could enhance the validity, reliability, and generalizability of future research findings within your field.

In summary, when addressing inquiries about the potential trajectory of your research topic, consider the following key points:

  • Suggest areas where further investigation could be fruitful.
  • Discuss unexplored questions that arose from your research.
  • Reflect on the limitations of your study as starting points for future research.

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preparing to defend your dissertation

How to write a unique thesis acknowledgement (+ FAQs)

preparing to defend your dissertation

Dissertation Defense | Strategies & Tips

preparing to defend your dissertation

Introduction

The doctoral program, the dissertation stage, what is a dissertation defense, what is the structure of a dissertation defense, preparation for your dissertation defense, what happens after you defend your dissertation.

The dissertation is the centerpiece of a graduate student's career at the doctoral level. It is a demonstration of a doctoral student's ability to conduct and present research with the skills necessary to contribute to scientific knowledge. As a result, the dissertation defense (sometimes called a thesis defense in non-American contexts) is the main opportunity for doctoral students to demonstrate they can contribute to scholarly discussion.

Many graduate students think of the dissertation defense as a final examination or a job interview. It is often a key final step to complete the doctoral degree.

preparing to defend your dissertation

Graduate studies are the venue in which students build expertise in a particular field and focus area. There are different kinds of graduate degrees, but what separates the doctoral journey from all others at this level is one's ability to generate or discover new knowledge through research. Mastery of trivia or encyclopedic knowledge is far less important to doctoral studies than a systematic organization of that knowledge through established research methodologies .

Requirements for a doctoral degree will vary depending on the institution and the program and may include coursework, comprehensive examinations, research experience, and an established record of research publication . In most cases, however, graduate students complete a doctoral degree when they successfully defend their dissertation.

The culmination of a doctoral program is the graduate student's demonstration of their abilities to conduct and present research in academic work. Not only must students show their understanding of theories, methods, and argumentation necessary for contributing to scientific knowledge, they must also navigate the intricacies inherent to academic institutions in a way that shows that they can cohesively work with and engage scholars.

The dissertation represents this understanding and mastery of skills necessary to work in established academic contexts. The research in a dissertation is deemed credible and worthy of being considered scientific knowledge when a university approves it and adds it to its repository, which is made available to all of its members so they can, in turn, conduct research and generate knowledge. However, this approval comes after a lengthy process that involves assembling members of the academic community together to review and develop research.

To be sure, the main objective of dissertation research is to present new knowledge, but the manner in which students conduct that research should also illustrate their understanding of how to generate insights rigorously, ethically, and in collaboration with others. As a result, doctoral programs, while varying with each other on some level, share a number of core characteristics outlining a long-established process of facilitating dissertation research.

Dissertation committee

A dissertation requires an audience of knowledgeable academic scholars who can comment on and critique the research. A committee made up of faculty members internal or external to the student's university fulfills this role by guiding the research, providing feedback, and asking questions about the resulting dissertation. Is the research that the student has produced "state of the art"? Does it meet reasonable standards of research rigor and transparency? Will the research make a valuable contribution to future academic discussions or practical developments outside of the academy?

It's the job of dissertation committee members to help develop and critique the research. Through this process, graduate students can refine their research design and attain guidance on key theories and methodologies . In turn, committee members gain insight from fresh perspectives on the graduate student's research.

The main committee member is your dissertation chair, which might be your supervisor or a committee member who is most knowledgeable about the research you want to conduct for your dissertation. Beyond that, a good committee member is an established scholar who can provide useful insight about the research context, the issues or theories currently being discussed within the research context, and the methods used to further develop those theories.

Oftentimes, students rely on a faculty member whose classes they have taken to serve as committee members. Students might also identify potential external committee members in academic conferences or by asking for recommendations from their professors.

preparing to defend your dissertation

Dissertation proposal

Designing a robust and rigorous study often requires discussion among colleagues within academia so that research methods can be refined before all the data is collected and analyzed.

The proposal stage gives doctoral students a chance to gather preliminary feedback on their prospective research as well as an opportunity to practice their ability to defend their expertise in their chosen field and focus area. At the dissertation level, this aspect of an academic career is represented by the proposal.

The dissertation committee approves the study design as an indication that the dissertation research has potential. Think of the writing and presentation of the dissertation proposal as a practice run for the eventual defense, while the substance of the proposal, in many cases, becomes part of the final dissertation as it details the underlying theories and methodology for the study.

Dissertation research

While the proposal lays out the research design , the study itself is where you will collect and analyze all the data necessary for the findings and discussion sections of your dissertation. Needless to say, the theoretical developments and actionable insights will come from this part of the dissertation process.

preparing to defend your dissertation

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The oral defense of your dissertation synthesizes every step of the research process you have undertaken for your research project. It's best to look at it like an opportunity to show off your expertise about the research in your field and, more importantly, your methodological process for developing your original research.

What is the role of a defense?

The defense is the main forum in which you share your research with the larger academic community. Some think of it like a job interview or a test where the committee members assess the worthiness of the research and the student who conducted it. Others consider a defense to be more of a coming out party, a critical event where the student is elevated from a novice scholar to an established expert in their chosen research field.

However it is interpreted, the dissertation defense is a critical event in a graduate student's career. In a successful defense, the doctoral candidate is no longer a newcomer but a scholar who understands the intricacies of academic research and can contribute to it in a substantive manner.

Is a dissertation defense just a formality?

If you are well-prepared and your research is robust and rigorous, you should have no problems passing your oral defense. That said, it is by no means "just" a formality. A graduate student who wants to demonstrate expertise should be prepared enough to anticipate and answer questions from the committee that might otherwise stump or confuse a layperson.

preparing to defend your dissertation

While defenses will differ depending by program and institution, there are a couple of common elements.

First, the doctoral candidate presents their research in a short presentation or lecture. While your committee is already familiar with your research, many defenses are open to the entire academic community who may be interested in your field but may not have the necessary context to understand your research. As a result, this presentation is vital to providing the fundamental knowledge necessary for later discussion.

That discussion, mainly moderated by your dissertation chair and involving all committee members, serves as the central portion of the defense. Committee members will direct questions to you to interrogate your research, but they will also discuss the research amongst themselves to build their own understanding of the key theories and insights.

In some programs, the audience will also have an opportunity to pose questions to the candidate toward the end of the defense. The dissertation committee wants to know if you can engage with outsiders who are less familiar with your research field. This part of the defense is a test of your ability to share scientific knowledge with the greater academic community.

preparing to defend your dissertation

When you get to this stage of the process, most of the preparation for your defense is already complete. That said, the defense is its own event as it is the sole opportunity for the dissertation committee to determine if your research is state of the art and advances scientific knowledge.

In many cases, a dissertation defense can last about two hours and typically follows a set order. It's important to know how to prepare for each part of a defense.

Preparing your dissertation

At this point, the dissertation should be as close to polished as you can make it, but keep in mind you may still receive substantive feedback from your committee members. With the exception of your dissertation chair, members of your committee likely will not deeply engage your research until the oral defense itself. Even so, you still need to present as complete a study as possible during your defense. The key to preparation is to be able to demonstrate a working knowledge of every step of the research process, from research design to how you contribute novel and interesting insights to your field. Successfully defending a dissertation means having a thorough understanding of every major aspect of your study and the surrounding scholarship.

preparing to defend your dissertation

Presenting your dissertation

The dissertation defense typically begins with the student presenting themselves and their research. In many cases, this presentation is similar to those found at conferences or workshops, where the presenter needs to demonstrate that they can showcase their research in a succinct and accessible manner. After all, the audience at a defense will often include members of the academic community who may have a general interest in the research but not a deep familiarity with the specifics of the research.

The presentation itself should be detailed enough to lay out the most important points of the research but within a reasonable amount of time. This presentation lays the groundwork for the ensuing discussion with the rest of the academic community. The dissertation committee or program will often prescribe a set time limit for this presentation; it would be a mistake not to consider this time limit when making your presentation. An overly lengthy presentation or a presenter who meanders with no clear direction will be less persuasive and will not garner the interest of the audience. More importantly, successful time management during the presentation leaves more time for your committee to more thoroughly engage with the research through questions and answers.

preparing to defend your dissertation

Fielding questions asked

Dissertation defense questions make up the primary part of the discussion. This is the main opportunity for members of your committee to point out the novel aspects of your research as well as critique any weak points that should be addressed in revisions to your dissertation.

Ultimately, a successful defense will result in lively discussion among dissertation committee members. A dissertation committee will often look highly on research that engages their thinking and expertise, meaning that novel insights will prove incredibly valuable to a defense.

You may get a question from a committee member to which you may not readily have an answer. After all, it's impossible to anticipate every possible question posed within two hours of scholarly discussion. In the case where a question is truly outside of your knowledge, it's important to acknowledge this and at least explain your thinking about how you would address the question to get a meaningful answer. In other words, it's not always about giving the "correct" answer to all questions asked but demonstrating your ability to reflect and engage in scholarly discussion around your research.

preparing to defend your dissertation

Keep in mind that the defense itself is not the end of the doctoral journey. More often than not, the dissertation committee will accept the dissertation on the condition that revisions will be made based on the committee members' feedback. Even the most successful defense will likely require the doctoral student to make revisions to their dissertation.

In many cases, revisions to the dissertation can be more challenging than the dissertation defense itself. Up until this point, your advisor or dissertation chair was likely the main source of feedback on your dissertation research. After your defense, you will have gained a great deal of rich feedback that you can constructively build on to further hone your dissertation as you move forward in publishing and sharing your research.

preparing to defend your dissertation

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preparing to defend your dissertation

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Dissertation Defense: Steps To Follow To Succeed

dissertation defense

A dissertation defense is arguably one of the most important milestones in every student’s career. While it signals that your tenure as a student is soon about to close, it validates all your efforts towards your thesis.

Being cautious about including all the necessary details is very important to successfully complete your dissertation proposal defense. This article tells you everything that you need to know about writing a defense that can add great credibility to you as a student.

What is A Dissertation Defense?

The first thing that you need to learn is what is a dissertation defense and what is its purpose. In simple terms, it is a presentation made by a student to defend all the ideas and views that are presented in a dissertation.

The presenter must include details like what is the reason for choosing specific research methods, the theory that has been selected for the paper, and other such points. This presentation is made before an audience that comprises of the university committee, professors and even fellow-students. It is met with questions and answers that gives the student an opportunity to provide more clarity on the dissertation in order to convince the committee to approve it.

Stages of a Dissertation Defense

One of the most important dissertation defense tips provided by several professors is to breakdown the process into three steps:

  • Preparation : This stage involves collection of all the necessary information that must be included in the defense dissertation and making all the arrangements for the actual meeting.
  • The defense meeting : This is where you decide how you will present the defense. The actual meeting is hugely reliant on the performance, body language and the confidence in your oral defense.
  • After the defense meeting : This stage, also known as the follow up, requires you to make the necessary revisions suggested by the university committee. You can even provide bound copies of the whole dissertation to distribute among different members of your departments. In the follow up stage, one must also think about expense that are related to publishing the Ph.D. dissertation defense as well as printing additional copies of the manuscript, if required.

How Long is a Dissertation Defense?

The first thing that a student should know is how long does a dissertation defense last? The length has to be carefully calculated to make the impact that you want. One of the most important steps in the dissertation preparation is to understand how much time each department allocates to the closing oral defense. When you plan in the early stages of your dissertation itself, you can write it in a manner that allows you to defend it in the allocated time.

Usually these meetings including the presentation, the oral defense and the question and answer session last for about two hours. In most cases, these two hours also encompass the time needed by members of the committee to deliberate.

How to Prepare for the Dissertation Defense

Now that you know how long is a dissertation defense, the next step is to prepare well enough to make your presentation impressive.

Here are some tips on how to prepare for a dissertation defense:

  • Watch other students in action to learn about different presentation styles. You can attend defenses of different colleagues in your department as well as other departments in your university.
  • Get all the details about the deadlines and the rules of your college or university about scheduling your defense.
  • Scheduling is also a very important part of your preparation. It is important to note that members of the committee and University chairs need to make time for these defences in a very packed schedule. Coordinate the date, venue and time of your defense as early as possible.
  • Prepare a manuscript adhering to the necessary formatting rules. Review your manuscript thoroughly before you hand it in. During your PH.D, your faculty will also assist you with the defense. For this, they must have a crisp and polished copy of your manuscript.
  • Most colleges have the facility for a pre-defense meeting. This is the best opportunity to sort out any concerns that you may have about the actual meeting. It is a good idea to ask the chairs what types of questions may be put forward and if there are any problems with the defense that need to be resolved. When you prepare for a pre-defense meeting, think of it as the final one and give it your all.
  • Put together all the material that you need for the defense. A detailed, yet to-the-point presentation must be prepared.
  • The final stage of preparation is practicing your presentation over and over again. It is not just the presentation but also the approach towards the questions that you must practice.

Tips To Nail Your Actual Meeting

With these tips you will be one step closer towards a successful defense that will help your dissertation pass and be approved:

  • All meetings should begin by addressing the chair. Make sure you thank all the committee members and the advisors for the efforts that they have put it. This gives you a professional start to the presentation.
  • The presentation should cover the following subjects in brief:
  • The research topic
  • Literature review
  • The methods used for analysis
  • The primary findings of the research
  • Recommendations of additional research on the subject in the focus.
  • Do not get rattled by any discussions among the chairs. They will deliberate on any disagreements or topics of interest. This is a part of the process and is not a reflection of the presentation itself.
  • There are two questions that are commonly asked that you should be prepared for. This includes the weaknesses of the dissertation and the research plans that you have made post-dissertation.
  • Use subtle gestures when you are talking. Do not overuse your hands when doing so. The whole meeting including the question and answer session should have a very formal appeal.
  • The tone of your voice must be assertive without making it seem like you are trying to hard. Be clear and enunciate when you speak.

Once the questions have been answered, the committee will leave the room. Then, after the deliberation, you will be informed if your dissertation has passed or not.

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preparing to defend your dissertation

Dissertation Defense

preparing to defend your dissertation

What is a dissertation defense?

The final oral examination for a doctoral candidate, commonly known as the dissertation defense, represents the conclusive formal stage prior to the submission of the dissertation manuscript and the conferral of the doctoral degree. This examination centers on the dissertation itself and its relevance within the candidate's area of academic specialization.

A successful defense is the peak of your academic career, so don’t treat it lightly. Make sure that you take enough time to learn everything there is to know about the topic and prepare well. If you look at your paper and it seems raw or unfinished, and especially if your academic advisor says so, it might be best to take another semester for prep. We don’t mean to scare you, but it truly is a responsible moment, and if you fail your defense, all the years of hard work will be wasted.

Defending doctoral dissertation is not going to be easy. If you don’t get to choose the members of your board and you will be met with unfamiliar faces, you might start to panic and feel lost. This is exactly why you need to be over-prepared. In fact, there’s no such thing as being overly prepared when it comes to your defense. Think of all the possible questions your dissertation committee members may have, even the most far-fetched ones, and then find the answers.

Doctoral dissertation defense process

During the dissertation defense, the candidate delivers an oral presentation of their dissertation to the Supervisory Committee (refer to the Supervisory Committee Policy) and to a public audience. The length of both the oral presentation and the subsequent question-and-answer session is determined through consultation between the Committee and the candidate, ensuring it meets the specific requirements and standards of the process.

The dissertation defense process, often the culmination of a doctoral program, is a critical step in the journey towards earning a PhD or similar advanced degree. This process involves several key stages designed to assess the quality, originality, and contribution of the candidate's research. Here's a general overview:

  • Completion of the Dissertation : Before the defense can be scheduled, the dissertation must be completed. This involves conducting original research, writing up the findings, and often, revising the document based on the advisor's feedback.
  • Submission of the Dissertation : Once the dissertation is completed and approved by the advisor, it must be submitted to the department or dissertation committee for review. This submission typically includes a written document detailing the candidate's research findings and conclusions.
  • Scheduling the Defense : After the dissertation is submitted, a defense date is scheduled. The timing of this can vary widely depending on the institution and the specific requirements of the department.
  • Preparation for the Defense : The candidate prepares a formal presentation of their research findings. This presentation is typically structured to highlight the research question, methodology, key findings, and the significance of the work.
  • The Defense Event : The defense itself is a public forum in which the candidate presents their research to the dissertation committee and often, an audience of peers, faculty, and sometimes the general public. Following the presentation, committee members and sometimes audience members ask questions related to the research and the findings.
  • Question and Answer Session : This session allows the committee to probe the candidate's understanding of the research area, methodology, and conclusions. The candidate must defend their research choices and conclusions, demonstrating deep knowledge of the subject.
  • Committee Deliberation : Following the Q&A, the committee deliberates in private to decide whether the candidate has successfully defended the dissertation. Criteria for success can include the originality of the research, the soundness of the methodology, and the significance of the contributions to the field.
  • Outcome Announcement : The committee then informs the candidate of the outcome. Possible outcomes can include pass, pass with minor revisions, pass with major revisions, or fail, although specifics can vary by institution.
  • Completion of Revisions (if required) : If the committee requires revisions, the candidate must complete these before the degree can be officially awarded. The scope of revisions can vary significantly.
  • Final Submission : After any required revisions are made and approved by the committee, the final version of the dissertation is submitted to the university. This often includes submitting bound copies of the dissertation and making it available through the university's library or institutional repository.
  • Graduation and Degree Conferral : Following successful defense and submission of the final dissertation, the candidate is eligible to graduate and receive their doctoral degree.

This process is a significant milestone in an academic career, representing the transition from student to scholar and contributing new knowledge to the field.

Even though it may seem horrible and nerve-racking, the process of defending your dissertation is pretty straightforward. And if you take your time to prepare for it well, you will not have any problems with the defense itself.

The scariest part is presenting your work to a group of professionals. You have to show your proficiency in the field, ability to think critically and withstand criticism. Most colleges and universities will allow you to choose your own committee. So, try to take your pick as early as possible so you’re not left with people the rest of your group didn’t want. 

How to defend dissertation?

Navigating your dissertation defense involves thorough prep, including understanding your institution's format, mastering your material, anticipating committee questions, and perfecting your presentation. During the defense, remain poised, address inquiries with depth, and interact professionally. Post-defense, be ready for revisions. Ensure professional attire, early arrival, and confidence in your expertise. Embrace feedback as growth. Celebrate this significant academic milestone, as it's not only an examination but a showcase of your scholarly journey.

Defending your dissertation is a pivotal moment in your academic career. Here's a step-by-step guide to prepare for and successfully defend your dissertation:

Let’s assume that your dissertation paper is done and approved. The next step after choosing your committee would be preparation. In one of the committee meetings, you will discuss how much time you have for your defense and the Q&A session afterward. Normally, the whole defense lasts about an hour, but it can vary depending on the number of doctoral students defending on the same day. 

Preparing for your defense means getting thoroughly acquainted with your paper. It might seem like a ridiculous piece of advice if you’ve written it yourself, yet, with a paper of that size, it’s easy to get lost. If you’ve used a dissertation writing service , you need to take special care in learning the contents of your paper. 

Prepare a presentation that you will be showing to the committee. Make sure the slides are clear and easy to understand, with most information placed in the speaker notes. You don’t want to overload the slides with text. 

Analyze your dissertation and think of all the possible questions the defense board members may have afterward. It’s hard to anticipate what a professional may ask about your ‘rookie’ paper, so it might help to speak to your academic advisor before the PhD defense . They might shed some light on the inconsistencies and possible lack of analysis in some areas. 

How to prepare for defense day?

When the day of defending dissertation finally comes, no matter how prepared you are, it will still be stressful. So, it makes sense to come over-prepared. Learn your dissertation text by hard.

Find every grammatical mistake and fix it. Get acquainted with every letter and word and really make sure it’s perfect. If you are convinced your paper is perfect, it will be hard for the defense board to convince you otherwise. 

How do I know I’m ready for my PhD dissertation defense?

Your academic advisor is your best friend in this situation. They have lots of experience in the matter, and they will be the first person to tell you if your paper is defense-proof. If you see them doubting or if they are asking lots of questions, use those questions as learning points. 

Most likely, they criticize you not because they hate you. But because they want to show you your gaps in knowledge. This is a powerful tool to help you find blank spots and fill them

What should I bring to my PhD thesis defense?

  • Presentation Materials : This includes any slides or visual aids you'll use to support your talk. Ensure they are ready and compatible with the equipment available.
  • Laser Pointer : Useful for highlighting specific areas or data on your slides during the presentation.
  • Copy of Your Dissertation : Have at least one printed copy for your own reference. It's helpful for addressing specific questions or sections during the Q&A.
  • Pen or Pencil : For making quick notes or annotations based on feedback or questions you may receive.
  • Notepad : To jot down notes, questions, or reminders during the defense.
  • Bottle of Water : Keeping hydrated is important, especially since you'll be speaking for an extended period.
  • Backup of Your Presentation : Have a backup on a USB drive or accessible online in case of technical difficulties.
  • Any Necessary Forms : Sometimes, there are forms that committee members need to sign post-defense. Check with your department for any such requirements.
  • Questions for Your Committee : Have a list of questions or clarifications you might want to ask your committee after your defense.
  • A Watch or Timer : To keep track of your presentation time and ensure you cover all points within the allotted duration.

Depending on how long is a PhD defense, you will need a different supply. If you are planning to sit through your whole class’ defense, you will need lots of water, some snacks to eat during the breaks, and your presentation materials.

However, if you are allowed to only show up to your defense and not listen to the entire class defend their dissertations, the most important thing you need to have is your dissertation and presentation. And don’t forget to bring some water, it can help you calm down if you get stressed.

Why does the dissertation length vary?

Various elements, such as institutional standards, the research's complexity, the extent of analysis, and the presence of supplementary materials, can determine a dissertation's length.

The length of your defense may also depend on how long is a dissertation . If your dissertation is 70 pages, your defense will definitely run shorter than if it is 300 pages long. The length of your paper will also influence the length of your PowerPoint presentation and the number of questions you get.

But how do you defend a dissertation? Defense is just an academic word for presenting your findings. You do your research, you present it to the board, and they ask you questions. By answering these questions, you defend the legitimacy and academic value of your doctoral defense research.

The key here is preparedness. Being well-acquainted with the contents of your paper and being able to defend it is your key to success. If you’re not sure about some parts of your dissertation, consult your academic advisor. They will be willing to help and advise you on whether you should take another semester to prepare.

Of course, it’s a great thing that ‘ write my dissertation ’ services exist. You can address a service like Studyfy and rely on it completely in the dissertation writing process. If you do, you can order your dissertation chapter by chapter and bring each draft to the professor for their notes and critiques.

What else do I need to know?

The most important part is you need to be prepared to defend dissertation meaning, and you need to know your dissertation by heart and be ready to justify every word in it. Sure, it may sound terrifying but thinking that millions of people have done that before you might give you some ease. 

How long is a dissertation defense?

Normally, defending my dissertation shouldn’t take more than an hour and a half. It usually lasts anywhere between 30 minutes and 1,5 hours.

It depends on your academic level, the number of people defending, and your preparedness. If the committee members sense you’re ill-prepared, they will ask you more questions.

It’s not because they want to thank you, but actually because they want to give you more chances. Asking more questions is usually an attempt to find an area that you’re very good at to give you a chance to redeem yourself.Your doctoral defense ia an important part of your doctoral journey, and it's bound to be more intense than a bachelor’s one. That’s only natural. Since your doctoral dissertation will be more in-depth, show a deeper understanding of the subject and better proficiency. 

The length of your defense will depend on many factors. But the most important one is your preparedness and confidence. If you are not prepared well, the dissertation committee will ask you lots of questions. They do that to find an area of study that you are good at, but at that moment, it might make you even more stressed. So, coming prepared is the best thing you can do for your defense to be successful. 

Using services like Studyfy is also an option. Yet, you must understand that if you show up with a perfectly written paper, yet you have no idea what it’s about, it will raise even more questions. That’s why you must prepare very well, regardless if you write your paper yourself or outsource it. If you still have some questions about how to write a dissertation , make sure to read our guide.

What is the key to dissertation defense?

Comprehensive Preparation: Familiarize yourself with your institution's defense protocols and engage in extensive practice. Segment your thesis for easier presentation, manage timing, highlight essential arguments, and anticipate likely inquiries. Organize a practice defense session to gain comfort with the procedure.

The most important thing you need to do to defend my dissertation is to start your prep early enough. What does it mean to defend your dissertation? Your defense is the pinnacle of all the hard work you've put in your studies throughout the years. Every time you write a paper, you must understand that you may use that research for your dissertation. So, your prep for dissertation defense starts as soon as you enter college.

What is defending a dissertation? Are there dissertation committee members?

Defending dissertation meaning is the process of presenting your research and findings to the board. Regardless if you buy dissertation or write it yourself, you will need to defend it. This is why you need to prepare carefully for your defense - study your paper through and through, think about all the possible questions you may be asked and think of the answers.

The dissertation committee or the dissertation chair are faculty members that will simply ask dissertation defense questions - some about research methodology, and some about the primary role of your work. Before the actual oral defense, try setting up a mock defense with your friend and go over the important topics.

How long is a thesis defense?

It depends on the length of your paper. Since your master’s thesis will probably be a bit shorter than a doctorate dissertation, you can count on your oral defense lasting up to an hour. Again, the length of the doctorate defense depends on how well you are prepared and how you handle the professors’ questions. 

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Trapped in dissertation revisions?

Dissertation proposal defense: 12 tips for effective preparation, published by steve tippins on may 11, 2020 may 11, 2020.

Last Updated on: 2nd February 2024, 02:59 am

The dissertation proposal defense is a nerve-wracking time for even the most hardened of doctoral students.

Even a pirate (writing his dissertation on effective cutlass techniques), will quake a bit in his boots before delivering his dissertation proposal defense.

However, it doesn’t need to be a stressful time. 

As a longtime Dissertation Committee Chair and committee member, I’ve overseen more dissertation proposal defenses than I can count. I’ve also helped students through the process as a coach . 

If you follow these tips for preparing and delivering your presentation, you shouldn’t have any problem passing your proposal defense.

Dissertation Proposal Defense Tips

man in a blue shirt working on his laptop

Preparing for your Dissertation Proposal Defense

1. anticipate questions.  .

In your presentation, try to answer all of the questions you expect your committee to ask. That way, you control the material. Your committee will be more satisfied with your preparation and understanding and it will be less likely that you have to answer questions that you aren’t prepared for.

preparing to defend your dissertation

2. Look for Weaknesses.  

If there are potential weaknesses (in your study, proposal, or presentation), address them ahead of time. Ask peers or mentors to review your proposal or presentation for weaknesses. Look at it yourself with a critical eye. Even if you’re not able to eliminate a weakness, take steps to address it as best you can so that your committee can be confident that you’re aware of it and able to handle it.

multicultural group of people all collaborating together on a laptop

3. Practice.  

Ideally, you would practice with someone who has been a committee member before. They’ll point out the types of questions they would see your committee asking, so you can prepare for those. I can’t understate the value of having this kind of feedback beforehand so that you can properly prepare. I offer this service as part of my dissertation coaching package .

4. Avoid Wordiness on PowerPoint Slides . 

Most dissertation proposal defenses have PowerPoints. Don’t put too many words on the slides! People will start reading the slides instead of paying attention to you. Then they’re off somewhere else which will produce questions that you’ve already answered when they weren’t paying attention.

5. Be Able to Pronounce the Words Correctly. 

This might sound obvious, but as a dissertation committee member , I’ve heard far too many students struggle through pronunciations of important terminology. This is probably because, up until this point, they’ve only read them and not spoken them out loud. 

However, it gives the committee the impression that they don’t know what they’re talking about. Make sure you can properly pronounce all the words you plan on using (like “phenomenological” and “anthropomorphism,”). 

6. Watch Recordings of Previous Defenses.  

woman with headphones listening to online courses and taking notes

Some schools have recordings of previous defenses. Listen to one or two. See how the procedure goes. Even if it’s not anything in your discipline, it will still help you get familiar with the procedure itself, which will help you be more comfortable when the time comes.

During your Dissertation Proposal Defense:

7. breathe . .

I’ve seen way too many people try to do their dissertation proposal defense seemingly in one breath. Give your committee time to hear and understand what you’re saying. Remember to leave some moments of silence to allow your audience to digest what you say. Also remember that one second of actual time feels like about thirty minutes to someone who’s giving an important presentation. Breathe. 

woman in a bright suit jacket looking at her student giving a presentation

8. Remember: They Want to Pass You.  

If you’ve gotten to the point where your committee has scheduled a dissertation proposal defense for you, that means they believe that you can pass it. They want to pass you. Remember that. 

They’re not out to screw you, they’re not out for “gotchas.” They’re saying, “we believe you’re ready, show us that’s true.” While they will be rigorous in their evaluation because they have a responsibility to make sure that they don’t allow you to move forward until you are ready to, it’s helpful to remember that they believe you can pass. 

9. Answer the Question, No More.  

When committee members ask questions, answer only the question–don’t give them anything more than that. Imagine that you’re a witness in a courtroom (or don’t if that makes you more nervous). Committee members value direct, relevant answers and often find tangents irrelevant and frustrating.

10. Dialogue With Your Committee.  

If the committee disagrees with something you said, it can be a discussion. You don’t need to just roll over and say “Yes, you’re right. I made a mistake and I’m very bad.” That’s not what your committee wants to hear, either. 

preparing to defend your dissertation

A much better response would be, “I hear what you’re saying, however, this is the reason I’m going in this other direction. What do you think about that?” So you’re beginning to engage in discussions as a scholar. Your committee will be impressed by your ability to think critically and your willingness to engage in dialogue.

man in beige suit jacket holding a presentation on a whiteboard

However, do not make it adversarial. It’s incredibly important to be respectful in these conversations. After all, your committee members have significant control over your life for as long as you’re writing your dissertation.

11. Make Life Easy for Your Committee.  

It’s always good to send your committee members a copy of your PowerPoint presentation and the most recent copy of your proposal the day before the defense. They likely already have a copy, but when in doubt, make their lives easier. It doesn’t cost you anything. Someone might accidentally have an old copy, or might take them some time to find the copy they have. You want their life to be as easy as possible so they can focus on moving you forward.

12. Pay Attention to Time. 

Ask your Chair (in the preparation stage) how long you have to make your presentation. It’s extraordinarily important to stay within this timeframe. If you’re told 25 minutes but you take 50 minutes, committee members are predisposed to say “why isn’t this person better prepared, and why are they wasting my time?”

Likewise, if you run through a 30-minute presentation in ten minutes (nervousness can sometimes lead to very fast talking–that’s why it’s important to practice beforehand), your committee will be wondering why you didn’t use the whole time that was allotted to you. And you’ll likely have to field a lot of questions you weren’t prepared for.

Dissertation Proposal Defense Summary

As long as you prepare properly, your dissertation proposal defense should be nothing to worry about. Your committee thinks you’re ready: all you have to do is show them you’re right.

If you’d like help preparing for your defense, or if you’d like to reduce the amount of time it takes to finish your dissertation, take a look at my Dissertation Coaching Services .

Steve Tippins

Steve Tippins, PhD, has thrived in academia for over thirty years. He continues to love teaching in addition to coaching recent PhD graduates as well as students writing their dissertations. Learn more about his dissertation coaching and career coaching services. Book a Free Consultation with Steve Tippins

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How to Prepare for Your Dissertation Defense

December 14, 2021

preparing to defend your dissertation

If you’re in a doctoral program, there’s no doubt you are dreaming of the day where you’ll be announced as “doctor” for the first time. However, it’s a long road to get there with many steps along the way, the biggest of which is the defense of your dissertation.

The dissertation defense is often shrouded in mystery. I equate it to the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” with the mysterious man behind the green curtain. But it doesn’t have to be. I’m pulling back the curtain with tips on how to prepare for your dissertation defense.

Attend a Defense

American College of Education allows you to attend the defenses of your colleagues remotely. This gives you the unique opportunity to see the defense process and understand what to expect. Take it one step further by attending a defense where your dissertation chair is involved so you get a sense of what they’re looking for in the process. I recommend reaching out to your chair ahead of time, as they can even help find a defense that’s a good fit for you to observe.

To find a list of upcoming defenses, go to the Dissertation Calendar in Student Commons. Remember, of course, to be a respectful audience member when attending a defense. While they are open to viewing, it’s still an intimate process solely belonging to the doctoral candidate.

Know the Rituals

The oral defense is similar to a wedding in that there is prescribed way in which events take place. Fortunately, ACE provides doctoral candidates with a detailed dissertation template that you’ll work through with your chair to fine tune your presentation. You’ll likely find yourself with a dissertation of over 100 pages that you’re trying to summarize in a short period of time. Work closely with your course instructor and chair to make sure you’ve addressed everything the dissertation committee is looking for in the presentation. If available, use an oral dissertation rubric as your checklist and guide to ensure you’ve answered the demands of the defense.

Create a Timeline

You have a specific time limit for your dissertation defense. Create a timeline for your presentation. Schedule out every single key point of your dissertation to ensure it’s included. Then, to make sure you adhere to your timeline, practice, practice, practice.

Be the Expert

Remember, you are now the expert on this topic. This is your research and your findings. The committee is not there to dispute your findings. They are there to engage you in scholarly conversation about what you’ve found and celebrate this momentous occasion in your academic career with you.

When you get to your dissertation defense, you’ll have been through a lot with your committee members and chair. It will be the first opportunity for your whole team to celebrate your accomplishment and contribution to your field. Revel in the hard work it took to get to this moment and enjoy it!

American College of Education provides personalized support to doctoral candidates, from the first day of your program to the last minute of your dissertation defense. Explore our fully online doctoral programs .

Amy Vaughan-Roland, Ed.D.

Amy has a strong passion for educating all learners and has over 12 years of experience in special education. She works on her family's dairy farm and is currently a doctoral candidate.

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How to Defend Your Dissertation, Virtually

by Nitasha Mathayas, PhD / Apr 9, 2020

Nitasha Mathayas

Tips on preparing, presenting, and celebrating from a new PhD.

On March 24, one day after in-person meetings and instruction at the university were halted and moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic, Nitasha Mathayas earned a new title: PhD. She delivered her dissertation defense—on students’ sensemaking using gesture-augmented simulations—via Zoom to her committee of Curriculum & Instruction faculty, her family, and friends. Over the next several weeks, many doctoral students will face the same situation. Here, Nitasha shares her experience and advice for holding a successful virtual dissertation defense.

Prepare Well in Advance

  • Online meeting setup and structure: Several days before your defense is scheduled, talk to your dissertation committee chair and decide your conferencing platform and how to structure the meeting. One of my committee members, Dr. Stina Krist, hosted the Zoom video conference call and made me a co-host. She also managed the breakout session for the private discussion.
  • Practice, practice, and practice some more on Zoom! (Or whatever video conferencing platform you choose to use.) Don’t just practice your talk like you normally would in person. Try giving the talk a few times to make sure you test everything out. I practiced my talk on Zoom three times with my colleagues and their feedback helped me adjust my pacing and presentation. Shout out to my Education peers for coming online multiple times on late evenings for me. You know who you are!
  • Make adjustments: I like to point when presenting in person. But I could not do that remotely, so instead I added subtle animations and bolded things on my slides. While there is a laser pointer option with PowerPoint, it is better that the slides themselves highlight things you need to emphasize.
  • Strong internet connection: While practicing, I figured out my home internet was not good enough to run the video call and my presentation, so I went to campus (was the only one there, social distancing was practiced), used an ethernet cable, set up a lamp, and ensured my environment looked professional.
  • Professionalism matters: On that note, do everything you can to look professional. Dress formally, use a good webcam that is centered on your face (no weird angles). Use good lighting (add more lamps if needed) and have a clean background (no bright windows, distracting artwork, no pets in the background).
  • Last call: Touch base with your dissertation committee a few days ahead of your scheduled defense to see if they have specific requests. For instance, one of my committee members asked me for my slides ahead of time.

Check—and Double-check—your Tech

  • Connectivity: Before the defense begins, see if your committee members can hop onto the call 10 minutes early to check for issues on both ends.
  • Two screens recommended: In terms of technical set up, I used my laptop and a second monitor. I presented my slides on my laptop and transferred Zoom’s control bar and attendee video to the second screen. This way there was nothing in front of my slides while I used them.
  • Single screen works, too: If you use a single screen, you may have to minimize your speaker view to see your slides. If not, you might have to leave some empty space on your slides so you can put the attendee video there. A few people could not see text on my slides as their video panel obscured it.
  • Test screen sharing options : Zoom has multiple options and things may get confusing if you use PowerPoint's automatic presenter mode. I set mine to use the primary screen only. I did not have access to slide notes, but I did not need them as I had practiced it well enough.
  • Backup hardware: Keep a backup device (or two) ready to go in case you have technical issues. I had a backup laptop with me that I thankfully did not have to use. Yet later that evening, my dock gave out and my second screen went green. I really lucked out there. Phew!
  • Record yourself: You can watch video of practice sessions to critique yourself, and you will also want to remember to record your actual defense.

Present, then Celebrate!

  • Slides: I shared my final presentation file with my committee a few hours before my defense by uploading it to Box. This way they could access the slides at any speed they wanted, and I got to correct some typos without emailing them multiple versions. The upload file was the final version though, it was not a draft.
  • View your committee: Ask other attendees to log off and log onto the call again after all dissertation committee members have joined, so that the committee appears on top of the speaker view.
  • Explain the process: My chair described how we would structure the conversation. My presentation was about 30 minutes. He requested that my committee ask me clarification questions during the talk but to hold substantive questions for later.
  • Questions: There was time for audience questions at the end from non-committee attendees. Audience members were asked to turn their video off during the talk but to turn it back on while they asked me questions. This really helped keep the committee’s videos up on top and I could see them when I needed to.
  • Main room and breakout room: The main room was used for the public portion of the defense and was recorded, and then committee members moved to a breakout room that was not recorded. My family and friends waited with me in the main room while my committee discussed.
  • Audience: I am glad I invited my friends to attend my oral defense. I was nervous and having them there made me much more confident when I talked. And they cheered with me when my advisor informed me that I had passed!
  • Positive takeaways: There were some unexpected perks of my online defense. My friends and family from India were in attendance, which would not have happened if the talk was on campus. This way they were given the same experience as everyone else. Also, the Zoom session was recorded (a personal choice that everyone agreed to but is optional) so I now have a video of one of the most important days of my life to look back upon.
  • Celebrate! Finally, plan to celebrate yourself. You did it! You made it! You deserve it! This is an important milestone, and it is unfortunate that you cannot celebrate in person. I set up a second Zoom party between 6-8 p.m. that evening and invited friends, committee, and family. We all toasted in our respective homes and people hopped on and off the call during that time. I was able to feel thankful and connected for a while. My friends and colleagues have given me so much and I was glad I could cherish that moment.

P.S. I also bought myself a Ph.Diva shirt. It’s not coming off for a few days. No one can smell it but me… phew for social distancing right now! Good luck fellow colleagues. You will all be great!

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How to Effectively Prepare for Your Thesis Defense

preparing to defend your dissertation

You’ve completed your research study, written your thesis, and think you’re done! If only it were this easy. Before you finish with your thesis, there is one last hurdle to overcome: the thesis defense.

What is a thesis defense?

A thesis defense is an opportunity for you to present your research study before other academic professionals who will evaluate the quality of your academic work. While a thesis defense can sometimes feel like a cross-examination in a court of law, in reality, there is no need to fear your thesis defense as long as you are well-prepared. In this article, we’ll talk about how to prepare for a thesis defense, what to expect at the defense itself, and what comes after your defense. 

Why do I have to defend my thesis?

At your thesis defense, you will discuss everything you’ve learned with a group of interested examiners who are eager to hear your thoughts.

The fundamental purpose of a thesis defense is to prove that you have mastered your subject and can be considered as a knowledgeable expert in your field, thereby allowing you to graduate successfully. For many students, a thesis is one of the first attempts at conducting original research and demonstrating that you are equipped to function as an independent expert in your field. If qualified academic professionals can assess your work, question your methods and results, and confirm that your study is sound and novel, then you meet the requirements.

The exact format and expectations for your thesis defense will differ depending on the region you study in and your institution’s rules for the thesis program. The thesis defense meeting may have just two or three examiners or may have a whole panel of examiners along with an audience. 

If the thought of facing your professors, peers, and parents to present your research study makes you feel dizzy, you aren’t alone . Moreover, a thesis defense is a great opportunity for you to hone your public speaking skills as well as talk about your research study. At your thesis defense, you will discuss everything you’ve learned with a group of interested examiners who are eager to hear your thoughts.

While the format for a thesis defense will vary, as mentioned above, most thesis defenses consist of:

  • Presenting your research study (using PowerPoint or other similar tools)
  • Answering questions from your thesis committee
  • Receiving feedback from your thesis committee

So how can you prepare for it? Let’s talk about some important tips.

Preparing: Before the defense

It is useful to attend multiple defenses and ask others who have gone through the process what it was like.

The best way to prepare for a thesis defense is to attend other defenses at your institution so that you know what to expect. It is useful to attend multiple defenses and ask others who have gone through the process what it was like. Senior students are often happy to provide advice and can give you specific insights about particular examiners as well as details of the administrative process at your institution.

You should also talk to your thesis advisor well in advance of your defense about what to expect. Ask whether you need to shortlist your own committee, how long your presentation should be, and how long the thesis defense will be. The duration of a thesis defense varies by the degree level as well as the institution. On average, expect your defense to be at least an hour long, possibly longer for a Ph.D.

What should my presentation cover and how can I prepare it?

While preparing your presentation, also prepare a list of questions and answers that you think are likely to be asked by your committee.

You will need to prepare a presentation that will cover the details of your research study. It is wise to rehearse this presentation multiple times in advance of your thesis defense so that you will be comfortable when you actually present in front of your audience. While preparing your presentation, also prepare a list of questions and answers that you think are likely to be asked by your committee. If you can, enlist the help of a classmate or friend to be the examiner. They can ask you questions about your research study so you will be able to practice addressing these questions.

One mistake many students make is assuming that all members of their defense committee will thoroughly read their thesis prior to the defense. This is simply not always the case. For this reason, you should make sure your presentation makes sense to someone who has not actually read your thesis. A typical thesis defense presentation gives:

  • An introduction to the topic
  • Explains how the study is significant in the field
  • Covers the main highlights of the methodology and results of the study
  • Picks out the main points from the discussion and conclusion

What should I do the day before my defense?

Before your thesis defense, make sure you have backups of everything you need saved in multiple formats and multiple locations.

Before your thesis defense, make sure you have backups of everything you need to be saved in multiple formats and multiple locations. Put your presentation and your thesis on a USB drive, email it to yourself, upload it to the cloud, and print it out. Leave nothing to chance: you want to be absolutely prepared to defend your thesis short of an act of God obliterating the venue. In addition, make sure you prepare hard copies (printouts) of both your thesis and slideshow for the committee members. It need not be professionally bound at this stage, but they will appreciate having reference material on hand.

Finally, there are some practical steps to take in preparation for the thesis defense. Choose your outfit in advance (you should dress professionally) and practice presenting in it. You should also make sure you know the exact location of the thesis defense venue. Scope out the venue before your defense, if possible, so you can imagine yourself there while you rehearse. If you are presenting virtually, test all your equipment in advance and have a backup plan in case your internet goes out or your computer suddenly crashes. Most importantly, make sure that you eat well and get proper rest the night before. Don’t stay up late rehearsing last minute in the hopes of improving your chances of passing your defense. You will do much better if you are well-rested and alert. 

Time to shine: At the defense

Try to stay calm and remember you are not on trial!

What can you expect on the day of the defense?

Typically, you will enter the room, set up, and begin your presentation once the committee indicates that they are ready. As mentioned above, it is always advisable to bring hard copies of both your thesis and slideshow for the committee. That way, they can easily refer to what you are talking about as you present. Make sure you also bring a pencil and notebook with you to take notes, and some water, because you will get thirsty as you talk.

After you are done with the presentation, the committee members will ask questions. Try to stay calm and remember you are not on trial! Your committee generally wants you to succeed, but they also want you to prove that you really know what you’re talking about. Do your best to answer their questions and never be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. It is much better, to be honest than to be caught lying or making something up during your thesis defense.

After the question and answer session, depending on your institution, you may be asked to leave the room while the committee deliberates. You may also be present while they discuss the merits of your defense and make suggestions for how to revise it. Alternatively, they might adjourn to another room if there is a large audience present. After they deliberate, they will usually thank you for your time, and your defense will be over. At some institutions, they will inform you if you passed right away, while at others, you will find out after a few days. 

How does my committee decide if my work is good or not?

In general, you can expect your thesis defense and your thesis as a whole to be evaluated based on the below criteria:

  • Whether the thesis meets the departmental requirements
  • Whether the research study is logical and clear
  • Whether the stated objectives are met in the study
  • Use of primary and secondary literature
  • Use of relevant and up-to-date sources
  • Methodological rigor
  • Your ability to critically analyze data, facts, relevant literature, and synthesize information into a coherent narrative
  • Writing quality and flow
  • The validity of your conclusions based on your data and analysis
  • The relevance and importance of your research study in the field
  • Your ability to clearly and coherently present what your thesis is about
  • Your ability to answer questions about your work accurately and in-depth
  • Your ability to acknowledge and consider other theories or perspectives and explain why you dismissed one theory in favor of another

In summary, the examining committee want to know:

  • Did you meet the thesis criteria set by your institution?
  • Did you perform high-quality research work?
  • Do you know what you are talking about?

After the defense: What’s next?

After your thesis is approved, you will need to have it professionally bound and then submit copies to your university.

After your thesis defense, you should definitely celebrate and congratulate yourself for all your hard work! Unfortunately, you aren’t quite done yet. Although the committee may notify you about passing, it is also very likely that you will be asked to make some changes to your thesis before you are finally done. You should work with your advisor to finalize and incorporate any comments you received into your work as quickly as possible.

After your thesis is approved, you will need to have it professionally bound and then submit copies to your university. You will also get the chance to order copies for yourself. This process also differs by institution, so make sure you talk to the administration department to figure out what you need to do and when to complete this process.

All in all, while a thesis defense is a scary and overwhelming event, it is also an incredible achievement. Earning your degree is no small feat, and you should definitely feel proud of yourself once you have done it! Check out our site for more tips on how to write a good thesis, where to find the best thesis editing services , and more about thesis editing and proofreading services .

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Review Checklist

To prepare for your thesis defense, make sure that you:

Find out your institutional requirements

Talk to your advisor well in advance about what to expect and prepare

Attend defenses of other students to see what they are like

Prepare your presentation early so you can rehearse it

Rehearse your presentation with a timer

Make a list of questions and answers about your research study

Enlist a friend to be the examiner and ask you questions

Prepare multiple backups of your materials (USB drive, Google Drive/Cloud storage, email, hard copy) 

Have a plan for computer/internet problems if you are presenting virtually

Eat well and get a good night’s rest before the defense

Arrive at the defense venue early enough to test any IT equipment or internet connection

What should I do to prepare for my thesis defense? +

  • Find out your institution’s requirements
  • Attend other thesis defenses
  • Speak to your advisor
  • Prepare and practice your presentation
  • Enlist a friend or classmate to act as the examiner and ask you questions while you practice

How long is a typical thesis defense? +

Every institution is different, but most thesis defenses are at least an hour long.

What should my thesis presentation actually contain? +

 A typical thesis defense presentation introduces the thesis topic, explains how your study is significant in the field, and covers the main highlights of the methodology and results of the study. It finally picks out the main points from the discussion and conclusion section of your thesis.

What if I fail my thesis defense? +

The odds that you will fail are extremely low! Most advisors and committees do not let a candidate schedule a defense unless they feel the candidate is ready. So, don’t worry about it. However, if you do fail for some reason, your institution will have a process for you to apply to try again.

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Thesis Defense Steps: Full Guide How to Prepare and Present

Thesis Defense Steps: Full Guide How to Prepare and Present

How To Prepare For Your Thesis Defense

How To Prepare For Your Thesis Defense

If you are conducting post-graduate research within your discipline, you will come across the phrase “thesis defense”. A thesis defense is part of the things you will need to accomplish before acquiring a postgraduate degree. 

The thesis defense comes at the end of the graduate program. It is used to determine or define your education milestone while in the university. For this, you need a thesis defense comprehensive guide to be outstanding.

preparing to defend your dissertation

You should do a thesis defense after you have completed the course work and attended practicum or internship programs.

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How Long does a Thesis Defense Take?

On average, a thesis defense takes somewhere between 30 minutes and one hour. However, the time it takes to do a thesis defense depends on the academic level you are in.

While there is no standard or general length for a thesis defense, post-graduate sessions will take longer compared to undergraduate sessions.

Yes, some institutions, professors, or some disciplines may require you to do a thesis defense at your undergraduate level. But the length of the presentation depends on your academic level.

What is Thesis Defense?

Defending your thesis

A thesis defense is an act of presenting your academic work to a panel or committee of professors and other involved scholars. From this, they can gauge or grade your abilities in presenting your work.

The arguments presented during the thesis defense are to ascertain that you have understood the course and your selected topic.

You will have to first hand in your work or paper to the professor for grading. Thereafter, you will be summoned for thesis defense.

When summoned for a thesis defense, you will be required to answer all the questions presented to you by the panel of professors. After this, you will be required to leave the room. The panel is to decide whether your paper or thesis is ready for publication. In addition, the panel checks whether your work needs corrections. 

In other words, a thesis defense is a forum that allows postgraduate students to defend the topic of their thesis before a panel of professors. Therefore, the thesis defense is part of the requirements that postgraduate students must accomplish to receive advanced degrees in whichever academic disciplines they pursue. 

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Factors that Determine the Length of a Thesis Defense

Just like a dissertation that you have to write a thesis , it is important that you will have to present it. The time is taken to do this varies. The following four factors determine the length of a thesis defense

Determining the length of thesis defense

  • As noted earlier, the level of education will determine the length of your thesis defense.
  • The second factor is the institutional requirements. Some institutions will have a specified amount of time allocated for a thesis defense. In some institutions, that time is longer than and vice versa.

Very recognized institutions of higher learning will have the autonomy to decide on the length of a thesis defense.

  • The third factor that will determine the length of a thesis defense is the consensus of the panel of professors. Some will give students very limited time to do a thesis defense while others will give more time to their students.

Some institutions, scholars, applaud limiting the amount of time for thesis defense and educators because it gauges the student’s ability to accurately defend their work within a short time. If they succeed, then they are good learners.

  • Another factor determining the time of a thesis defense is the academic discipline that is explored by the topic.

While every academic discipline deserves respect, they are not the same in terms of the complexity of the concepts and what the student covers.

Some disciplines will require students to come up with much longer papers. This means that the time it could take to do a thesis defense will be longer. 

From the aforementioned factors, it is evident that it would be difficult to predetermine the standard length of a thesis without holding some parameters or factors constant such as the academic level of the thesis. 

Also, the length of your dissertation or thesis determines the time you will take to present it at your defense session. Longer documents will take you longer to defend.

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How to Defend a Thesis – 5 Comprehensive Steps

Some steps can help you defend your thesis effectively. You should follow the steps below if you are summoned by a panel of professors to defend your thesis. 

1. Adequate Preparation

preparing for thesis defense

When you are required to defend your thesis, you will be given a specific date you will appear before the panel of professors for the actual exercise.

As long as you have submitted your paper to the professor for grading, you should always be aware that you will have to defend your thesis.

Therefore, between the period of submitting your paper and the date provided for thesis defense, you should do adequate preparation.

Students will have several months to prepare for a thesis defense. This is because the institutions themselves want their students to be well prepared before they meet the panel of professors.

After all, they would wish their students to excel in their studies. As noted, there will be a specified date for the thesis defense. Therefore, it will not surprise their committee members or students when the time comes for defending the thesis. 

Adequate preparation entails knowing or rather anticipating what is required of you. You should be prepared for the kinds of questions your thesis topic will provoke from the panel and practice on them.

When you have the right attitude and have adequately prepared for the thesis defense, it would be nearly impossible to fail. Also, be prepared to wear decently during the defense. 

2. Carry an In-Depth Knowledge of the Thesis

This is a very important step when defending your thesis. Since you are the one who has written the paper, you should be fully aware of the topic and the contents of your paper. What this means is that you should adequately research the topic of your thesis so that you can be ready for any question you are asked by the panel of professors.

For a postgraduate student who wishes to master their discipline, it would be a shame if you do not know about your topic.

For example, if you are within the field of environmental sciences and have written your paper based on the discipline, you should narrow down the scope of your knowledge to that of your topic, the topic of your paper should act as the guide to the amount of knowledge you are supposed to give for the sake of the thesis defense.

Avoid too much knowledge because it may overwhelm you. At the same time, do not narrow down the scope of your topic too much because you will have limited knowledge during the thesis defense.

Your instructor or professor can help you in terms of giving you direction on the type and scope of knowledge you are required to have during a thesis defense. 

3. Prepare an Introduction

writing resources for thesis defense introduction

Have you ever heard of the first impression and its significance?

The first impression of a person will determine how the other person will perceive them.

If it is terrible, the other person may consider them a terrible person and even dislike them.

An introduction plays the same role as the “first impression” of your thesis defense to the panel of professors.

You should prepare a good introduction that should summarize the contents of your paper, the reasons why you selected the topic and its relevance to the discipline, and any other detail that you will anticipate to be asked during the thesis defense.

Make sure that the thesis is crystal clear and concise to avoid making any contradictions of your topic and confusing the panel.

Since you will be given several months to prepare for your thesis defense, take time to refine your introduction.

Make adjustments or corrections whenever necessary so that you will have a perfect introduction for your thesis defense. You may recite the introduction or carry it with you if the panel will allow it. 

4. Making the Actual Presentation

The action presentation of the thesis defense is quite scary to many students. This is because you will have to face a panel of professors to defend your paper. Based on your paper’s content, you will answer several questions.

Therefore, if you fail during the actual presentation, your paper may not be published and you will have to do further revisions. 

During the actual presentation, you should be well dressed because grooming tells a lot about the character of a student. Carry the necessary equipment you will require during the presentation. Such equipment can include a laptop that contains a PowerPoint presentation, a pen, and a notebook.

The PowerPoint presentation should be legible, objective, and strategically written to maximize the time used to defend your thesis. Ensure that you arrive early to the place where you will face the panel of professors to give you time to reflect and lessen your anxiety.  

As aforementioned, adequate preparation, understanding your topic or thesis, and a good attitude will guarantee success. Therefore, if you adhere to the aforementioned guidelines during the presentation, there is a high probability that your paper will be published. 

5. Do a Good Conclusion

Doing a good introduction and effectively presenting your defense is not enough without an equally good conclusion. Just like you took a good time to write your thesis , you will also need a good time to write a presentation and a good conclusion.

A good conclusion of your presentation leaves the panel of professors with a good impression of you and your overall ability to defend your work within the academic community. 

A good conclusion will sum up your work. What this means is that you should include a summary of the topic’s background, the literature review, the methodologies, the findings, and the discussions. Make sure that the conclusion compresses the details of your paper logically. It should be brief and straight to the point.

Finally, the conclusion of your thesis defense should clearly describe the limitations or setbacks encountered while you were conducting the study.

Even though you are trying to show that you are a good post-graduate student, it is important to be clear about the limitations. This will demonstrate your academic integrity and ability to conduct actual research in the field. 

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Tips on How to do a Good Thesis Defense

A good score

1. Anticipate the Questions 

As aforementioned, you should anticipate the questions you may be asked by the panel and prepare for them.

The questions’ base is on your thesis. As such, you should go through your paper and list the possible questions.

At the same time, the academic expertise of the committee members determines the types of questions you may be asked.

Try to have an informed idea, based on your paper, on the areas to receive much focus. 

2. Dress for Success

Do you remember that we have talked about first impressions? Well, your dress code and overall grooming will have a degree of impact on the outcomes of your presentation. Dress well.

Mostly, you are required to dress in an official attire because you are going to do a presentation to a panel of academic experts. You should try as much as possible not to wear casual or provocative clothes. 

3. Delegate

To avoid being overwhelmed during the day of your presentation, you can delegate some of the less complicated activities to a trusted person or friend.

The activities that you can delegate include setting up the equipment you will use for your presentation or distributing handouts to the panel. 

4. Create a Backup Plan

This especially involves the mode of presenting your defense. Since you will be using your laptop and a projector, they may fail during the presentation. It is therefore important to have a plan B. such can include having printed handouts. 

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FAQs on Thesis Defense

Can you fail a thesis defense.

The answer to this question is yes. Though it is rare, it is possible to fail a thesis defense if you are not adequately prepared and you don’t know much about the topic. This would indicate that you haven’t understood the course or you did not write the paper. You hired someone to do it for you. 

How long is a Ph.D. thesis defense?

A Ph.D. thesis defense is about 2 hours long. However, it may differ from one country to the other.

How long is the master’s thesis presentation?

A master’s thesis is usually one-and-a-half hours long. It takes a lesser time compared to a Ph.D. thesis. 

Josh Jasen

When not handling complex essays and academic writing tasks, Josh is busy advising students on how to pass assignments. In spare time, he loves playing football or walking with his dog around the park.

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17 Thesis Defense Questions and How to Answer Them

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A thesis defense gives you the chance to show off your thesis work and demonstrate your expertise in your field of study. During this one- to two-hour discussion with the members of your thesis committee, you'll have some control over how you present your research, but your committee will ask you some prodding questions to test your knowledge and preparedness. They will all have read your thesis beforehand, so their questions will relate to your study, topic, methods, data sample, and other aspects.

A good defense requires mastery of the thesis itself, so before you consider the questions you might face,

1. What is your topic, and why did you choose it?

Give a quick summary in just a few sentences on what you've researched. You could certainly go on for hours about your work, but make sure you prepare a way to give a very brief overview of your thesis. Then, give a quick background on your process for choosing this topic.

2. How does your topic contribute to the existing literature? How is it important?

Many researchers identify a need in the field and choose a topic to bridge the gaps that previous literature has failed to cover. For example, previous studies might not have included a certain population, region, or circumstance. Talk about how your thesis enhances the general understanding of the topic to extend the reach beyond what others have found, and then give examples of why the world needs that increased understanding. For instance, a thesis on romaine lettuce crops in desert climates might bring much-needed knowledge to a region that might not have been represented in previous work.

3. What are the key findings of your study?

When reporting your main results, make sure you have a handle on how detailed your committee wants you to be. Give yourself several options by preparing 1) a very general, quick summary of your findings that takes a minute or less, 2) a more detailed rundown of what your study revealed that is 3-5 minutes long, and 3) a 10- to 15-minute synopsis that delves into your results in detail. With each of these responses prepared, you can gauge which one is most appropriate in the moment, based on what your committee asks you and what has already been requested.

4. What type of background research did you do for your study?

Here you'll describe what you did while you were deciding what to study. This usually includes a literary review to determine what previous researchers have already introduced to the field. You also likely had to look into whether your study was going to be possible and what you would need in order to collect the needed data. Did you need info from databases that require permissions or fees?

5. What was your hypothesis, and how did you form it?

Describe the expected results you had for your study and whether your hypothesis came from previous research experience, long-held expectations, or cultural myths.

6. What limitations did you face when writing your text?

It's inevitable — researchers will face roadblocks or limiting factors during their work. This could be a limited population you had access to, like if you had a great method of surveying university students, but you didn't have a way to reach out to other people who weren't attending that school.

7. Why did you choose your particular method for your study?

Different research methods are more fitting to specific studies than others (e.g., qualitative vs. quantitative ), and knowing this, you applied a method that would present your findings most effectively. What factors led you to choose your method?

8. Who formed the sample group of your study, and why did you choose this population?

Many factors go into the selection of a participant group. Perhaps you were motivated to survey women over 50 who experience burnout in the workplace. Did you take extra measures to target this population? Or perhaps you found a sample group that responded more readily to your request for participation, and after hitting dead ends for months, convenience is what shaped your study population. Make sure to present your reasoning in an honest but favorable way.

9. What obstacles or limitations did you encounter while working with your sample?

Outline the process of pursuing respondents for your study and the difficulties you faced in collecting enough quality data for your thesis. Perhaps the decisions you made took shape based on the participants you ended up interviewing.

10. Was there something specific you were expecting to find during your analysis?

Expectations are natural when you set out to explore a topic, especially one you've been dancing around throughout your academic career. This question can refer to your hypotheses , but it can also touch on your personal feelings and expectations about this topic. What did you believe you would find when you dove deeper into the subject? Was that what you actually found, or were you surprised by your results?

11. What did you learn from your study?

Your response to this question can include not only the basic findings of your work (if you haven't covered this already) but also some personal surprises you might have found that veered away from your expectations. Sometimes these details are not included in the thesis, so these details can add some spice to your defense.

12. What are the recommendations from your study?

With connection to the reasons you chose the topic, your results can address the problems your work is solving. Give specifics on how policymakers, professionals in the field, etc., can improve their service with the knowledge your thesis provides.

13. If given the chance, what would you do differently?

Your response to this one can include the limitations you encountered or dead ends you hit that wasted time and funding. Try not to dwell too long on the annoyances of your study, and consider an area of curiosity; for example, discuss an area that piqued your interest during your exploration that would have been exciting to pursue but didn't directly benefit your outlined study.

14. How did you relate your study to the existing theories in the literature?

Your paper likely ties your ideas into those of other researchers, so this could be an easy one to answer. Point out how similar your work is to some and how it contrasts other works of research; both contribute greatly to the overall body of research.

15. What is the future scope of this study?

This one is pretty easy, since most theses include recommendations for future research within the text. That means you already have this one covered, and since you read over your thesis before your defense, it's already fresh in your mind.

16. What do you plan to do professionally after you complete your study?

This is a question directed more to you and your future professional plans. This might align with the research you performed, and if so, you can direct your question back to your research, maybe mentioning the personal motivations you have for pursuing study of that subject.

17. Do you have any questions?

Although your thesis defense feels like an interrogation, and you're the one in the spotlight, it provides an ideal opportunity to gather input from your committee, if you want it. Possible questions you could ask are: What were your impressions when reading my thesis? Do you believe I missed any important steps or details when conducting my work? Where do you see this work going in the future?

Bonus tip: What if you get asked a question to which you don't know the answer? You can spend weeks preparing to defend your thesis, but you might still be caught off guard when you don't know exactly what's coming. You can be ready for this situation by preparing a general strategy. It's okay to admit that your thesis doesn't offer the answers to everything – your committee won't reasonably expect it to do so. What you can do to sound (and feel!) confident and knowledgeable is to refer to a work of literature you have encountered in your research and draw on that work to give an answer. For example, you could respond, "My thesis doesn't directly address your question, but my study of Dr. Leifsen's work provided some interesting insights on that subject…." By preparing a way to address curveball questions, you can maintain your cool and create the impression that you truly are an expert in your field.

After you're done answering the questions your committee presents to you, they will either approve your thesis or suggest changes you should make to your paper. Regardless of the outcome, your confidence in addressing the questions presented to you will communicate to your thesis committee members that you know your stuff. Preparation can ease a lot of anxiety surrounding this event, so use these possible questions to make sure you can present your thesis feeling relaxed, prepared, and confident.

Header image by Kasto .

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Take your thesis to new heights with our expert editing

Take your thesis to new heights with our expert editing

Mom delivers baby in car hours before defending her Rutgers doctoral thesis

  • Updated: May. 08, 2024, 3:05 p.m. |
  • Published: May. 08, 2024, 11:30 a.m.

Tamiah Brevard-Rodriguez

Tamiah Brevard-Rodriguez delivered her son, Enzo, hours before defending her dissertation at the Rutgers-New Brunswick Graduate School of Education. Nick Romanenko/Rutgers University

  • Tina Kelley | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

Giving birth and defending a doctoral dissertation could easily be considered among the most stressful items on a bucket list. For Tamiah Brevard-Rodriguez, it was all in a day’s work. One day’s work.

She even grabbed a shower in between.

On March 24, Brevard-Rodriguez, director of Aresty Research Center at Rutgers University, was finishing up preparations for her doctoral defense the next day. Eight months pregnant with her second child, she didn’t feel terrific, but she persisted.

She was trying to hone down to 20 minutes her remarks on “The Beauty Performances of Black College Women: A Narrative Inquiry Study Exploring the Realities of Race, Respectability, and Beauty Standards on a Historically White Campus.” The Zoom link had gone out to family, friends, and colleagues for the defense, scheduled for 1 p.m. the next day.

“Operation Dissertation before Baby,” as she called it, was a go.

But at 2:15 a.m. on March 25 her water broke, a month and a day early.

As the contractions came closer and closer, her wife drove her down the Garden State Parkway, trying to get to Hackensack Meridian Mountainside Medical Center in Montclair before Baby Enzo showed up.

But the baby was faster than a speeding Maserati and arrived in the front seat at 5:55 a.m., after just three pushes. He weighed in at 5-pounds 12-ounces, 19 inches long, and in perfect health for a baby four weeks early.

“I did have to detail her car afterward,” the new mom said of her wife.

Brevard-Rodriguez was feeling so good after the birth that she decided against asking to reschedule her thesis defense.

“I had more than enough time to regroup, shower, eat and proceed with the dissertation,” she said. She had a quick nap, too. The doctors and nurses supported her decision and made sure she had access to reliable wifi at the hospital.

She gave her defense with a Rutgers background screen. When she learned she had passed, she dropped the fake background, and people could see Brevard-Rodriguez in her maternity bed, and Enzo in her wife’s arms.

“I said, ‘You guys missed the big news,’ and they just fell out,” said Brevard-Rodriguez, who waited for the reveal because she didn’t want extra sympathy from her dissertation committee.

Melina Mangin, chair of the Educational Theory, Policy & Administration Department at the Graduate School of Education, was astounded.

“Tamiah had delivered a flawless defense with zero indication that she had just given birth,” she said. “She really took the idea of productivity to the next level!”

Finishing her doctorate in education and having her last child were fitting 40th birthday presents to herself, Brevard-Rodriguez said. She turned 40 in November and returns to work in late August.

Tina Kelley

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One Senior Place: Setting up your finances can help stave off worry of running out of money

Financial planners can help you secure your future so you don't outlive your savings.

Q: How can I protect my retirement savings?

A: A nagging concern for many people is that they might outlive their retirement savings.

We all want the retirement lifestyle of our dreams, but how?

While many books have been written on the subject, we'll make a few key points here — and assume your savings are invested.

Previous One Senior Place columns:

Summer is here. Make sure you wear sunscreen to reduce risk of skin cancer

Busy medicine cabinet: Seniors on multiple medications need to maintain a list to keep track

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Your nest egg

Your nest egg is the money you set aside for retirement, along with investment earnings generated by that money.

During your earning years and into retirement, you may want to get some professional help with managing investment risks, using appropriate investment strategies and managing expenses.

Your Income Floor

The income floor is the money you have to live on (deposits in your bank account every month), excluding contributions from your investments.

A financial planner may be able to help increase your income floor with an annuity or other financial products.

Don't forget an emergency fund that covers six months of your living expenses in savings.   

When to take Social Security

Your Social Security and other income sources make up your income floor in retirement.

When to start taking social security is part of your retirement strategy (and a beefy subject in itself).

While delaying SS payments will mean higher guaranteed lifetime income, your health situation and life expectancy must be part of the equation, too.

Withdrawing from the nest egg

Unforeseen health expenses can really make a dent in your retirement savings.

Finding an insurance plan that will minimize your out-of-pocket costs when you need to access to healthcare is key.

Long-term care can be especially tough on your nest egg.

Talk with your financial advisor or insurance professional about long-term care insurance.

Likewise, estate planning attorneys have long-term care strategies to protect your nest egg. 

Required Minimum Distributions (RMD)

Your RMD is the minimum amount you must withdraw annually from certain retirement accounts once you reach a specific age.

Generally, the withdrawals from traditional IRA, SEP IRA, SIMPLE IRA, and retirement plan accounts start when you reach age 72.

The IRS calculates your RMD, based on your age and life expectancy.

Financial planners can customize distributions from your nest egg, based on your lifestyle and portfolio, with an eye toward minimizing your tax burden.

The fear of outliving your savings or being unable to financially weather a health condition is a very real concern for many seniors.

One Senior Place provides access to a group of professional advisors to help you protect your nest egg.

Review the list of upcoming financial seminars at OneSeniorPlace.com or call 321-751-6771 in Viera.   

One Senior Place is a marketplace for resources and provider of information, advice, care and on-site services for seniors and their families. Questions for this column are answered by professionals in nursing, social work, care management and in-home care. Send questions to [email protected], call 321-751-6771 or visit One Senior Place, The Experts in Aging.

Brenda Lyle is a Certified Care Manager and Certified Dementia Practitioner with One Senior Place, Greater Orlando.

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Office hours with… logan wright.

Logan Wright

Logan Wright

Logan Wright, who came to Yale last July, is an applied physicist with big ambitions. He wants to take the power of programming and algorithms to new levels and expand what’s possible with computing.

His long-term goals include creating what he calls “laser brains,” which can efficiently learn and perform neural-network-like calculations, and developing laser-wielding scibots that can tirelessly discover or design new things. He grew up in Saskatchewan, Canada, a great place, he says, if “you really enjoy having a lot of time on your hands.”

In the latest edition of “Office Hours,” a Q&A series that introduces new Yale faculty members to the broader community, Wright discusses his research and how it overlaps with his electric guitar playing, how science fiction influenced him, and what makes New Haven a great walking city.

How would you summarize your research?

Logan Wright: Topically, my research is a sort of weird feedback loop between the physics of complex systems and computer science. With the former category, I am mostly focused on photon physics — the physics and applications of lasers, nonlinear optical waves, entangled photons, all with as many degrees of freedom as possible. With the latter, I am mainly focused on machine learning and artificial intelligence, especially neural networks.

What was the first early science-related thing that sparked your curiosity?

Wright: I grew up in a community that was very literary; there were a lot of famous fiction writers, and I was kind of enamored by that. I read an enormous amount of science fiction as a kid, but eventually I realized that science fiction is not the most stable career path. So I’m doing the next best thing, which I consider to be very hard science fiction. It’s so hard that I have to prove that it is indeed actually doable. 

What brought you to Yale?

Wright: To be sure, Yale is a famous university that has many achievements and world-leading expertise, not least in my fields of interest — lasers, nonlinear and quantum optics, quantum information, cognitive science, control theory. 

But maybe above all, I’ve just had a fantastic impression of people at Yale. There is an exciting start-up energy, especially as Yale expands its engineering. The students are brilliant, driven, inspiring, and fun to be around. I remember reading that Yale students were among the happiest students at any U.S. university — I’m not sure how scientific this is, but anecdotally it seems plausible. I feel incredibly privileged to be able to collaborate with such fantastic young scientists, not to mention the supportive senior colleagues and staff I’ll get to work with in my department and beyond.

You also play electric guitar.

Wright: Yes — there’s a lot of overlap in what I do and music. Both are creative disciplines in their own way, and very much about exploring new ideas. I teach nonlinear optics and lasers, and the electric guitar often features into that, because a lot of the sounds that we hear in modern music — electronic music, or in distorted guitars and stuff like that — actually involve effects that distort the waveform in a similar way that laser waveforms are distorted by interacting with matter. So there are some nice connections there, and I always like that we could actually hear that in the music.

What’s the best non-work-related thing you've discovered since coming to Yale?

Wright: My partner and I really like that New Haven has a lot of diversity in terms of where you can walk to and what you can see in a very short distance. I really enjoy living in New Haven. I previously lived in places where you’d need a car. I lived in Palo Alto for a while, and it’s very frustrating that there’s no public transit; if you want to walk anywhere, it’s impossible because, number one, there are no sidewalks, and number two, everything requires six hours of walking. Here, it’s an old, small city. Any business I need to do, I can walk from here, to campus, to there… That’s been an upgrade in my lifestyle.

What is the best New Haven pizza?

Wright: I like that there is a diverse ecosystem, there is creativity and passion and depth. But I don’t know which pizza is the best. I’m open to collecting data though — especially if we can talk about research while doing it.

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    State your research question clearly. All of this should ultimately lead to your research question. State it clearly, and explain the terms and jargon used in it, the same way you have in the dissertation itself. If there are sub-questions, elaborate on those too. Focus on methods and methodology. Delve deeply into how you carried out the research.

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    Take it one step further by attending a defense where your dissertation chair is involved so you get a sense of what they're looking for in the process. I recommend reaching out to your chair ahead of time, as they can even help find a defense that's a good fit for you to observe. To find a list of upcoming defenses, go to the Dissertation ...

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