Your committee will likely take notes during your presentation and later ask detailed questions.
A number of advanced degree programs, whether Master's or PhD, require students to submit a thesis or dissertation. The purpose of such an assignment is to enable you to demonstrate the knowledge you have accrued throughout the duration of your studies, as well as your ability to conduct academic research and complete an extended project. And while writing thousands of words is a significant challenge in and of itself, that's usually only half the battle. As a thesis or dissertation candidate, you will be expected to complete a thesis defense.
The defense is, in essence, exactly how it sounds: a formal meeting whereby you explain your project and the reasons why you decided to explore your chosen topic. As the Guardian explained, however, academic institutions tend to have varying protocols in how the defense process is set up and what is expected of it. For example, according to the University of Rochester, some schools will hold closed defenses, wherein you simply discuss your work with your advisors and maybe a panel of other professors. Other institutions, however, will conduct more involved defenses where you will be expected to deliver a presentation or lecture to a public audience. In nearly all cases, a thesis defense will comprise of a question and answer session, where the strengths and weaknesses of your project will be discussed and scrutinized. Finally, you will be required to leave the room, and your committee will reach a final grade or score for your project.
However your institution structures its dissertation defense process, it's crucial to be as prepared as possible beforehand. If you are nearing your dissertation defense or are simply reading for future reference, review the list of five tips for success below:
1. Consult with your panel
According to the American Psychological Association, it's wise to conduct regular meetings with your thesis panel in the weeks prior to your defense. Through routine meetings, you'll have a more accurate sense of where you stand with your project and any improvements that need to be made. You may also be able to gauge the kinds of questions that may be asked of you throughout the defense. In other words, keep in contact with your panel as much as possible, and ask as many questions as you can, big or small. The more communication you have with your committee, the less stressed you will feel.
2. Prepare thoroughly
The thesis defense is arguably one of the most important moments of your academic career, which is why thorough preparation is absolutely essential. While you may have written your thesis, if you don't have an intimate knowledge of pretty much every page and argument you make, then you could be in trouble. After all, you will likely be required to present on your material and you will then have to field often complex questions from your panel and the public. According to the University of Central Florida, in depth preparation involves reading over your thesis a number of times and highlighting areas that will likely be cause for discussion or concern. Indeed, try to anticipate the kinds of questions that you may be asked, and then prepare detailed and nuanced responses. Contingent on the requirements of your school or program, the preparation stage may also involve writing a lecture or building a presentation.
The source also noted that the primary objective of any defense is to ascertain why your work matters. The examiners will likely enquire about the purpose of the project and how it complements or expands existing academic research. If you are able to answer such questions in a comprehensive way, while providing evidence, you'll likely do well.
"The primary objective of any defense is to ascertain why your work matters."
3. Dress well
Unless stated otherwise by your panel, the thesis defense should be accorded the same respect as a job interview or professional meeting. As the University of Rochester pointed out, that means dressing in a relatively conservative way. Men should select a suit or at the very least a button-down shirt with a tie. For women, a jacket, blouse and professional skirt are advised. In essence, use your best judgment – you don't want a risky outfit choice to overshadow your accomplishment!
4 . Be open and confident
Although it's called a thesis defense, coming across as overly defensive during the question and answer suggestion can make you appear rude and stubborn. Relax, be open to suggestions and take your time while you think through your answer. As the University of Rochester explained, it's best not to rush thinking through any questions, so that you can deliver a more detailed answer with confidence.
5. Regard the process as a conversation
While you may be nervous, try to relax. As the Guardian noted, there can be enjoyment in the fact that the thesis is often treated as an academic conversation between equals. Put another way, it's unlikely that your committee will try to discredit your project. Instead, they will most likely want to explore the nuances of your work and offer you suggestions for improvement. Once you understand that the defense isn't grounds to be overly defensive, you'll likely feel more relaxed.
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