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.
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.
#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 .
#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?
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
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This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.
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Interesting. I appreciate!
My field is International Trade
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”
This is so helping… it has Enlightened me on how to answer specific questions. I pray to make it through for my upcoming defense
Lovely to hear that 🙂
Really educative and beneficial
Interesting. On-point and elaborate. And comforting too! Thanks.
Thank you very much for the enlightening me, be blessed
Thankyou so much. I am planning to defend my thesis soon and I found this very useful
Very interesting and useful to all masters and PhD students
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40 Thesis Defense Questions in
Practicing answering thesis defense questions in a mock thesis defense is the best way to get ready for this challenging step in your academic career. Aside from knowing your research project inside and out, you must have solid strategies for tackling different question types and talking about why you chose your research topic. You might have already answered questions related to your research interests in your research interest statement and grad school interview questions , but now after years for in-depth study, it's time to really test what you have accomplished! Check out some of the hardest thesis defense questions below and read our expert responses!
>> Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here . <<
Article Contents 11 min read
What to expect in a thesis defense.
A thesis defense is your chance to demonstrate your in-depth knowledge and expertise in the topic of your research thesis. While you will be able to take charge of the narrative and present your research to those on your thesis committee, the professors will prod you to test how well you know and understand your topic. The questions are mostly open-ended and give you the chance to showcase your knowledge and understanding, as well as any future plans you may have regarding your research topic.
A thesis defense usually lasts between one and two hours, depending on the area of your research. It starts with you giving a presentation of your interest, findings, and conclusions. After you have finished, the committee members will ask you questions based not only on your presentation, but also on your written thesis as they will have read it before your presentation. Lastly, the committee might approve your thesis or suggest changes to your paper.
Preparing thesis defense questions requires you to start well in advance. While the duration of your thesis defense might vary as per your institution's requirements, the major idea is to defend your research. Thus, you should go about preparing for your thesis defense questions by taking the following steps.
Interested in a quick overview of the section below? Check out this infographic:
Re-read your thesis for clarity
Your thesis defense questions will be based on what you have written in your research paper. Hence, it is a good idea to re-read your paper. You should be clear on the concepts and understand your research well. It might have been some time since you would have submitted your paper, so a revision should be the starting point of your preparation.
Have an answer strategy and structure
Plan a strategy to answer the panel’s questions. Keep your answers direct, but elaborate on the research details wherever necessary. If you do not know the answer to a question, that is alright. The key is to be able to formulate an answer even if you do not possess enough knowledge to answer at that point in time. For instance, if a question is about the content of your research, you can say something like “I am not certain my research touches on the question you are asking, but my research has led me to Dr. X. Based his evidence, I would have to conclude that…” Having a strategy for answering even the most unexpected questions can be a life saver in these situations!
Most of the thesis defense questions can be easily predicted based on your research. You can prepare a list of possible questions when you are going through your paper. Getting to know the committee can help you in preparing better. Their areas of expertise can help you in determining what they might ask. Once you have a list of questions, you can start brainstorming how you might answer them.
Prepare your slides in advance
If you require visual aids such as slides, it is a good idea to prepare them beforehand. You can double-check the slides and make sure that your presentation will run smoothly on the day of your thesis defense. Make sure your slides are arranged in the correct order.
Attend a thesis defense of other candidates if it is an open event
If your institution allows it, you can visit a thesis defense of other candidates. This will give you an excellent idea of what you can expect in your meeting. If it is not possible to attend the event, you can speak to your peers to find out how their meeting went and what questions were asked.
Dress appropriately for your meeting
The thesis defense meeting is a formal event, and hence you should be dressed in formal clothes. While there are no strict dressing rules, you should consider it something equivalent to a job interview. Don’t just wear your T-shirt and appear in front of the committee. Your formal suit is a better option for the occasion.
Practice speaking for your meeting
Take your preparation to the next level by practicing your presentation. This activity will give you the confidence for the actual meeting and presentation. You can request your academic peers to help you out in the practice task. Based on their feedback in the mock session, you can improve for the actual session. Make sure to prepare well for the mock session as if you are preparing for the actual session. You can also practice your speech and body language in the mock session. If you used thesis writing services , these professionals would also be the ideal people to test you in a mock thesis defense – don’t hesitate to reach out to them again!
Sample Thesis Defense Questions and Answers
1. what is your research study all about.
In your answer, you should summarize your research in a few sentences. The question is simple but requires technical expertise for a better explanation of concepts. For instance, if you completed a thesis in an attempt to explain the constituents of dark matter in the universe and particle accelerators, you could frame your answer like this:
In this research, the different aspects of dark matter and its detection models have been investigated. The cosmic ray positron excess observed by the PAMELA detector has been discussed and explained through the construction of models of decaying dark matter. The cosmic-ray electron and positron spectra were studied assuming a general Dirac structure for the four fermion contact interactions of interest. A supersymmetric leptophilic Higgs model was constructed to explain the possible excess of gamma rays in the galactic center. Finally, by the use of Razor analysis, an improvement on the dark matter collider searches is considered.
2. Why did you choose this study?
This question requires you to answer what motivated you to pursue the study in the first place. Your answers could touch on your interests in the area of the study. For example, if you conducted a study called “Media Combat: The Great War and the Transformation of American Culture” then you can shape your answer like this:
The First World War (1914-1918) has always been a topic of fascination for me, and my prime interest lies in exploring the state of society at that time. I wanted to analyze the formation of a nationalized, wartime cultural apparatus during the United States' involvement in the war and how theatre and music transformed the relationship between the government and American citizens.
3. Why did you choose this particular title for your research?
The title of your thesis captures the main point of your research, which is why it is so important to use an appropriate title. Your committee will want to know how you came to the final decision of naming your work. For example,
I chose the title “Dark matter in the heavens and at colliders: Models and constraints” for my research thesis because my research attempts to explain the constituency of dark matter as it occurs in the universe. “The heavens” is another word for the universe. Dark matter can also be created in particle accelerators such as the CERN collider. I have attempted to provide an explanation for both of the cases through the use of models, along with describing the constraints which exist in the current times due to certain scientific limitations.
4. What is the scope of your study?
In your answer, you have to define the boundaries of your project and define exactly what you are studying. There can be several elements involved but you have to define the parameters that you have chosen to study. For example,
My study is on the efficacy of equity stocks in the US market. For my study, I have chosen 50 companies listed on the NASDAQ. You can review the names of these companies on page 5 of my thesis.
5. What phenomenon were you trying to understand with this research?
Describe the focus concept of your thesis in the answer. For example,
In our study “Motivation to volunteer”, we were looking to study the Theory of Planned Behavior by analyzing the behavioral and normative beliefs that influence attitudes and subjective norms.
Want increase your productivity and mainain a healthy work life balance to help get you through your thesis project? Here are some tips straight from our CEO:
6. Who will be most interested in your research?
You can talk about who may be affected by your research and the parties who can potentially benefit from the research. Take a look at this example:
My sociology thesis on “Impact of social media on youngsters” can be of interest to sociology academics, social media companies, education experts, and parents of youngsters in general.
7. Did your research questions evolve during the process? If so, how?
Often, qualitative research questions change over time with respect to the responses that you might get from your focus group. Or you might just change your question as you do lab research or general text research. You can describe the change to the evaluating committee. For example,
We started our study to understand the impact of the new public policy change on recycling of vinyl waste through installation of garbage bins specifically for vinyl products. However, after interviewing some of the respondents in the target community, we found that the rule is actually irrelevant to their behavior and thoughts because the percentage of vinyl waste in that specific locality was very low and it didn’t need the installation of dedicated bins for the purpose. Going by their frustrations with the current economic insecurity, our study evolved into the impact of costs incurred by public policy changes.
8. What gaps did you intend to bridge with your research?
Your research thesis must eliminate the present gaps in the concepts related to your subject topic.
The relationship between hard water and its effect on the size of the kidney stone is not clear yet, so we analyzed the mineral composition of hard water to determine its impact on the size of the kidney stone.
9. Why is your research significant?
The answer to this research question should outline the impact of your research on your field of study. You may talk about the new insights contributed by your research and its impact on society.
Through my study on “The effect of chamomile in reducing stress and promoting better sleep,” patients with insomnia and anxiety will be able to find alternative treatments without the use of medicinal drugs. The medical abilities of chamomile will promote the usage of ingredients in nature and will encourage the community to plant more herbs and trees.
10. What did you find in your research?
You may describe your research in a few sentences in this answer. For instance,
In our study on “Impact of artificial fluoride in water on the human body,” we found that excessive exposure to high quantities of Fluoride can result in tooth discoloration and bone issues in humans since it has neurotoxic qualities.
11. What research findings surprised you?
When you conduct research, you come across findings that you were not expecting earlier. If you had such an experience, you might describe the same to the evaluation committee when you answer this question. For example,
I was expecting that business promotion through social media would not be a good idea for rural enterprises in developing countries in my comparative analysis of the usage of traditional and contemporary marketing methods. But I was surprised to learn that 68% of rural textile businesses in Nigeria promote their products on Instagram.
12. What is the validity of your findings?
You have to talk about the conditions in which your research findings would be valid.
In my research, I have considered test anxiety to be involving both nervous system activation and negative thoughts. Thus, my measure of test anxiety has included the elements of both nervous feelings and negative thoughts, the conditions in which my findings are valid.
For studying the differential protein expression, its localization, and distribution at different levels, we used the method of immunostaining in our research.
14. What sources did you use for data collection?
You would have used several sources to search for data for your topic. You may elaborate on those sources. You might have referred to databases, content on the web, or even conducted primary research by interviewing prospects. Thus, you can talk about these sources. Refer to the following answer:
To understand the impact of the current tax regime on skilled workers, we interviewed 150 subjects in 5 months. Additionally, we referred to databases and scholarly works available by authors who had previously conducted such studies for previous tax laws and rates.
15. How can your research be put into practice?
This question talks about the practical implications of your research. You should talk about how your research is beneficial for society and how it can help in eliminating current issues.
In our research titled “Effectiveness of Meditation on Reducing the Anxiety Levels of College Students in the US,” we discovered that students who practiced meditation at least thrice a week were two times more likely to score better in their exams, owing to the positive impact of meditation. So, this research finding can help in the reduction of mental health issues among students. A suitable course of action would be to hold meditating sessions a couple of times a week.
16. How will your findings contribute to the related area of knowledge?
Our study on medicinal analysis of herbs conveys information about various medicinal benefits of chamomile in treating depression and contributes to the area of medicinal botany.
17. Did you experience any limitations in your research?
Our research on “Impact of smoking on β-cell function and risk for type 2 diabetes in US citizens” finds that smoking increases the risk of diabetes among smokers. However, smokers might be affected by some genetic conditions which can protect them from diabetes.
18. What sampling techniques did you use?
When conducting research, it is practically not possible to study the entire number of elements. So, you would be using a method to select a sample population.
In our study “Impact of consumption of soda on the health of teenagers in Corpus Christi”, we used area sampling to divide the city into several areas and then selected some clusters for our sample group.
19. What are the dependent and independent variables in your research?
In research, several variable factors impact your study. You can describe these variables. Independent variables have values which are not affected by other variables in your study. On the other hand, the dependent variables have values that change with changes in the independent variable. For example,
In our study on “Impact of online tutoring on test scores”, the independent variable is the nature of the classes i.e., online and the participants' test score is the dependent variable.
20. What areas do you suggest for further research?
As a researcher, you should be able to describe what further areas are open for research with the addition of your research to the field. This can act as a starting point for future researchers. For example,
In my research on “Effectiveness of Acetaminophen in treating sports induced injuries”, I discovered that administering Acetaminophen is not very effective for treating joint pains such as the knee. This further suggests measures for the regulation of Acetaminophen in the production of painkillers for body pain and the search for alternative compounds.
After taking a look at the sample answers, now try answering these questions by yourself:
Do you have any closing comments? "}]'>
After submitting your research thesis for evaluation, you have to appear before a panel of professors and present your work; afterwards, they will ask you questions about your research.
You have to plan and prepare for your thesis defense. Review your paper and anticipate the questions that the committee can ask. Practice with mock defense sessions using professional servicesand make improvements based on their feedback. Be prepared with a strategy for answering any question asked by the panel.
Your research thesis should be on a topic of your interest. Scan your course syllabus to find something that makes you curious. Or, you can even refer to your grad school career goals statement to review what got you interested in grad school in the first place. Shortlist a few topics and zero down to the one that excites you the most.
The first step in preparing for a master’s thesis defense is to revise your research paper and write down a list of questions that the committee might ask. Find answers to those questions and get ready for your presentation. Practice your presentation beforehand. Try to attend a thesis defense of other candidates to know what you can expect in your session.
You will get questions related to what you have mentioned in your research paper. The most common starting questions are “what is your research about?" and “what was your motivation behind choosing this topic?” Later on, the committee asks you more detailed questions on research methodology, literature review, study variables, research findings, recommendations, and areas of further research.
You can get help from a grad school essay tutor for your research thesis writing. They can help you in developing writing skills and reviewing your work. They can proofread your work and provide recommendations on areas of improvement.
You can include your research thesis on your grad school CV to show your practical knowledge and skills. You can add the details of the study in a separate section for research experience.
Immediately after the thesis defense, the evaluation panel will decide whether to approve your paper as submitted or request some changes, or reject it.
To pass a thesis defense, a majority of the panel members must approve the defense. In case of more than one vote against you, you can fail the thesis.
A thesis defense can last for two hours or longer, depending on your area of research.
Your thesis defense presentation should include the focus concept, findings, recommendation, and conclusion.
The contribution of your thesis towards your degree differs as per institution. You can refer to your course handbook for exact details. In most cases, the committee needs to approve your thesis for you to graduate from your degree.
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why did you choose this place for a research locale
BeMo Academic Consulting
Hi Jeff! Yes, this can also be one of the questions you are asked in a thesis defense!
That is good
Hello Eshetu! Thanks for your comment. Glad you found this helpful!
Thanks, Abel. Glad you found this helpful.
Helpful thank you.
Hi Lagat! Thanks!
As an 11th-grade student, I don't have any experience in thesis or research defense in general. Me and my groupmates will be conducting our research title defense next week, this is invaluable information for us. Thank you!
You are very welcome, Kate!
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS, I REALLY APPRECIATE.
Hello Stephanie! Thanks for your comment.
EMELDA NAFULA NYONGESA
This is a good guideline to post graduate students (Masters and PhD) CPA:Emelda Nyongesa
Hi Emelda! Thanks!
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- Scholar's Toolbox
What? Why? How? A list of potential PhD defense questions
In August 2020, I defended my PhD successfully. In the preceding months, I had generated a list of potential defense questions by using various different sources (websites, other defenses I watched, colleagues, and my supervisors). The list ended up helping me a lot. Today I shared this list with a colleague who is soon defending, and I thought: Why not share it publicly?
Note: The questions were compiled with a Finnish PhD defense in mind. In Finland, the defense is at the very end of the research process, and no changes to the PhD will be made after the event. The defense is also a public event.
The list was last edited: November 3rd, 2022
Title and cover.
- Why did you choose this title? Were there any other kinds of titles you were considering?
- Why did you choose this photo/image as your thesis cover? (if there is one)
Topic and contribution to the field
- Why did you choose this research topic?
- Why do you think this topic is important? For whom is it important?
- What do you think your work has added to the discipline/field/study of this topic?
- How is your study original?
- [Your topic] seems to be something that is usually studied discipline X. However, your thesis represents discipline Y. How did you navigate the interdisciplinarity of your work?
- How did you decide to use this particular conceptual/theoretical framework?
- How did your chosen framework help you to explore your research problem?
- How would someone using another theoretical framework interpret your results?
- What are the shortcomings of this particular theory/conceptual framework?
- How would you describe/define/summarise … [insert a term]
- In your work, you introduce a new concept/theory. Why did you decide to do that instead of using an existing concept/theory?
- Could you describe your theoretical/methodological framework in a way that the audience also understands it? (for public defenses)
- Why did your literature review cover these areas but not others?
- The literature review looks very tidy – doesn’t anything challenge it?
- Why did you (not) include the work by X in your study?
- Which scholar(s) have you been influenced by the most?
- How did you come to formulate this particular research question / these research questions?
- How did your research questions/problem changed during the research process?
- Were there research questions you decided to add/remove during the research process?
- Why don’t you have a research question?
- How did you decide to use these particular methods of data collection/analysis? Were there other options you considered?
- Why did you choose quantitative/qualitative/mixed methods approach?
- What informed your choice of methods?
- What are the advantages/disadvantages of the chosen methods?
- How did you select your participants/this particular data?
- Describe how you generated your data.
- Why did you analyse your data in this way? What other ways were there available? Why didn’t you choose those methods?
- If you could still improve this measure/procedure/etc., how would you do it?
- How would you explain the low/high response rate of your survey?
- How did you triangulate your data?
- If you could do your study all over again with unlimited resources, how would you do it?
- How do you explain the discrepancy between your findings and the findings of previous studies?
- Did you expect these kinds of results? Why (not)?
- What is the most important result of your work?
- Who should care about your work and the results?
- How generalizable are your findings and why?
- Were there any other ways to present your results?
- Based on your findings, how would you develop [your topic]?
- What is common or different to these substudies included in your dissertation?
- What did [your approach] reveal that other approaches could not have reveal?
- What did you not see because you did your work [in this way]?
- How could [x] now be rethought in the light of COVID-19?
- What kinds of implications do your results have for further research/practice/policy?
- How did your own position/background/bias affect your research?
- Describe your researcher positionality.
- What were the biggest challenges during the research process?
- Were there any surprises during your research, pleasant or unpleasant?
- What was the most interesting part of your work?
- How did you address research ethics during your research?
- What implications do your findings have for [your topic]?
- What do you see as the problems in your study? What limitations do these impose on what you can say? How would you address these limitations in future studies?
- What could you not study in the end? Why?
- What kind of a dissertation did you want to do originally? Why did your plans change?
- If you could now redo the work, what would you differently?
- Is there anything else that you would like to tell us about your thesis which you have not had the opportunity to tell us during the defense?
- What do you plan to do next with your data?
- What would be the next logical study to do as a follow-up to this one?
- What will you study next?
- How does gaining a doctorate advance your career plans?
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13 Tips to Prepare for Your PhD Dissertation Defense
How well do you know your project? Years of experiments, analysis of results, and tons of literature study, leads you to how well you know your research study. And, PhD dissertation defense is a finale to your PhD years. Often, researchers question how to excel at their thesis defense and spend countless hours on it. Days, weeks, months, and probably years of practice to complete your doctorate, needs to surpass the dissertation defense hurdle.
In this article, we will discuss details of how to excel at PhD dissertation defense and list down some interesting tips to prepare for your thesis defense.
Table of Contents
What Is Dissertation Defense?
Dissertation defense or Thesis defense is an opportunity to defend your research study amidst the academic professionals who will evaluate of your academic work. While a thesis defense can sometimes be like a cross-examination session, but in reality you need not fear the thesis defense process and be well prepared.
What are the expectations of committee members.
Choosing the dissertation committee is one of the most important decision for a research student. However, putting your dissertation committee becomes easier once you understand the expectations of committee members.
The basic function of your dissertation committee is to guide you through the process of proposing, writing, and revising your dissertation. Moreover, the committee members serve as mentors, giving constructive feedback on your writing and research, also guiding your revision efforts.
The dissertation committee is usually formed once the academic coursework is completed. Furthermore, by the time you begin your dissertation research, you get acquainted to the faculty members who will serve on your dissertation committee. Ultimately, who serves on your dissertation committee depends upon you.
Some universities allow an outside expert (a former professor or academic mentor) to serve on your committee. It is advisable to choose a faculty member who knows you and your research work.
How to Choose a Dissertation Committee Member?
- Avoid popular and eminent faculty member
- Choose the one you know very well and can approach whenever you need them
- A faculty member whom you can learn from is apt.
- Members of the committee can be your future mentors, co-authors, and research collaborators. Choose them keeping your future in mind.
How to Prepare for Dissertation Defense?
1. Start Your Preparations Early
Thesis defense is not a 3 or 6 months’ exercise. Don’t wait until you have completed all your research objectives. Start your preparation well in advance, and make sure you know all the intricacies of your thesis and reasons to all the research experiments you conducted.
2. Attend Presentations by Other Candidates
Look out for open dissertation presentations at your university. In fact, you can attend open dissertation presentations at other universities too. Firstly, this will help you realize how thesis defense is not a scary process. Secondly, you will get the tricks and hacks on how other researchers are defending their thesis. Finally, you will understand why dissertation defense is necessary for the university, as well as the scientific community.
3. Take Enough Time to Prepare the Slides
Dissertation defense process harder than submitting your thesis well before the deadline. Ideally, you could start preparing the slides after finalizing your thesis. Spend more time in preparing the slides. Make sure you got the right data on the slides and rephrase your inferences, to create a logical flow to your presentation.
4. Structure the Presentation
Do not be haphazard in designing your presentation. Take time to create a good structured presentation. Furthermore, create high-quality slides which impresses the committee members. Make slides that hold your audience’s attention. Keep the presentation thorough and accurate, and use smart art to create better slides.
5. Practice Breathing Techniques
Watch a few TED talk videos and you will notice that speakers and orators are very fluent at their speech. In fact, you will not notice them taking a breath or falling short of breath. The only reason behind such effortless oratory skill is practice — practice in breathing technique.
Moreover, every speaker knows how to control their breath. Long and steady breaths are crucial. Pay attention to your breathing and slow it down. All you need I some practice prior to this moment.
6. Create an Impactful Introduction
The audience expects a lot from you. So your opening statement should enthrall the audience. Furthermore, your thesis should create an impact on the members; they should be thrilled by your thesis and the way you expose it.
The introduction answers most important questions, and most important of all “Is this presentation worth the time?” Therefore, it is important to make a good first impression , because the first few minutes sets the tone for your entire presentation.
7. Maintain Your Own List of Questions
While preparing for the presentation, make a note of all the questions that you ask yourself. Try to approach all the questions from a reader’s point of view. You could pretend like you do not know the topic and think of questions that could help you know the topic much better.
The list of questions will prepare you for the questions the members may pose while trying to understand your research. Attending other candidates’ open discussion will also help you assume the dissertation defense questions.
8. Practice Speech and Body Language
After successfully preparing your slides and practicing, you could start focusing on how you look while presenting your thesis. This exercise is not for your appearance but to know your body language and relax if need be.
Pay attention to your body language. Stand with your back straight, but relax your shoulders. The correct posture will give you the feel of self-confidence. So, observe yourself in the mirror and pay attention to movements you make.
9. Give Mock Presentation
Giving a trial defense in advance is a good practice. The most important factor for the mock defense is its similarity to your real defense, so that you get the experience that prepares for the actual defense.
10. Learn How to Handle Mistakes
Everyone makes mistakes. However, it is important to carry on. Do not let the mistakes affect your thesis defense. Take a deep breath and move on to the next point.
11. Do Not Run Through the Presentation
If you are nervous, you would want to end the presentation as soon as possible. However, this situation will give rise to anxiety and you will speak too fast, skipping the essential details. Eventually, creating a fiasco of your dissertation defense .
12. Get Plenty of Rest
Out of the dissertation defense preparation points, this one is extremely important. Obviously, sleeping a day before your big event is hard, but you have to focus and go to bed early, with the clear intentions of getting the rest you deserve.
13. Visualize Yourself Defending Your Thesis
This simple exercise creates an immense impact on your self-confidence. All you have to do is visualize yourself giving a successful presentation each evening before going to sleep. Everyday till the day of your thesis defense, see yourself standing in front of the audience and going from one point to another.
This exercise takes a lot of commitment and persistence, but the results in the end are worth it. Visualization makes you see yourself doing the scary thing of defending your thesis.
If you have taken all these points into consideration, you are ready for your big day. You have worked relentlessly for your PhD degree , and you will definitely give your best in this final step.
Have you completed your thesis defense? How did you prepare for it and how was your experience throughout your dissertation defense ? Do write to us or comment below.
The tips are very useful.I will recomend it to our students.
Excellent. As a therapist trying to help a parent of a candidate, I am very impressed and thankful your concise, clear, action-oriented article. Thank you.
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How to prepare an excellent thesis defense
- What is a thesis defense?
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 is a thesis 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.
- What happens at 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.
Questions from the committee
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.
- 6 tips to help you prepare for your thesis defense
Here are a few tips on how to prepare for your thesis defense:
1. Anticipate questions and prepare for them
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.
2. Dress for success
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.
3. Ask for help, as needed
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
4. Have a backup plan
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.
5. Prepare for the possibility that you might not know an answer
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.
6. De-stress before, during, and after
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.
- Frequently Asked Questions about preparing an excellent thesis 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.
- Related Articles
- Dissertation Defense: Home
- Preparing for the Defense
Consider These Example Defense Questions
- Student Experience Feedback Buttons
- Attending a Defense
- Sample Defenses
- Zoom Resources
- Dissertation Publishing in ProQuest
- School of Education Educator Dispositions
- What do you see as the main contributions of your research for your discipline, practitioners, and/or policy makers?
- In what ways, if at all, does your study contribute to the existing literature and/or prior research in the field? In what ways does it extend the literature? Contradict the literature? Fill gaps in the literature? Clarify contradictions in the literature?
- In planning and conducting this study, which major theorists influenced your thinking?
- What are the conflicting issues in your field (every field has conflicts—hence, the research problem), and what contributed most to your understanding of these issues?
- In what ways do you expect that your work will clarify the conflicting issues in your field?
- What motivated you to conduct this study? In other words, what brought you to explore this particular topic?
- What new learning about qualitative research have you come away with as a result of conducting this study?
- What, if any, are the unanticipated outcomes of your study? What surprises have you come away with?
- What new learning about yourself have you come away with having conducted this study? What additional insights has the dissertation experience afforded you?
- What were the high and/or low points for you in the dissertation experience?
- If you were to redo this study, how might you conduct this study differently? How might you change your research methodology? Why?
- How could you build on or extend this research in the future?
- What are the major strengths and/or limitations of your research design/methodology?
- What might further strengthen this study?
- Why did you analyze the data in the way that you did? How might you have analyzed your data differently?
- What suggestions might you offer somebody about to conduct a study of this nature?
- How did you arrive at your conceptual framework?
- What are the theoretical components of your framework?
- What informed your conceptual framework?
- How did you decide upon the components that you include in your conceptual framework?
- How did the components of your conceptual framework assist you in visualizing and explaining what you intended to investigate?
- How did you use your conceptual framework to design your research and analyze your findings?
Bloomberg, L. D and Volpe, M: Completing your qualitative dissertation: A Roadmap from Beginning to End (Sage 2016).
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- PhD Defense
Preparing for a PhD Defense
Table of contents, preparing to start, nominate a faculty member to serve as chair for your defense, selecting a defense date, international students and work visas, registration categories for defense, dissertation writing and guidelines, preparing your dissertation for defense, registering your dissertation for the final oral exam, know the rituals.
- Use PowerPoint
Items to Bring to the Defense
The Closed Examination
Address Questions with Confidence
Final corrected copies of the dissertation, publishing your final dissertation, binding your final dissertation, before defense.
Before you can start your thesis you must:
- Complete all courses, exams, and research requirements
- Meet with your advisory committee to ensure that everyone agrees that the work is ready to defend
- Decide on a date for the defense
- Inform your graduate administrator that you have started the process to prepare for your defense
A chair is appointed for each PhD oral defense to monitor and promote fairness and rigor in the conduct of the defense. To help eliminate pre-established judgments on the candidate’s work, the chair should be from a different program/department than the student. For more information about chair responsibilities, read the instructions for the chair .
You must identify a faculty member to serve as chair for your defense. The chair must be:
- A current full-time faculty member at assistant professor rank or higher
- Outside the department offering the degree program, or outside your advisor's department (interdisciplinary degree programs only)
- Someone who has not had prior involvement in your research
The selection of the chair is subject to the approval of the department/program, th Arts, Sciences and Engineering dean of graduate education and postdoctoral affairs, and the University dean of graduate studies.
The chair must be physically present during the entire defense, including the public oral presentation (if applicable) and the questioning session. The chair is welcome to read and comment on the dissertation and/or the defense presentation, but this is not required. The chair does not need to be an expert in your research area.
It is your responsibility to get a copy of the final dissertation to the chair at least one week prior to the defense.
You should begin scheduling the actual defense date three months in advance to ensure that your advisor, committee members, and chair are able to be present and that rooms are available on the date and time selected.
Defenses can be held on any day the University’s Graduate Studies Office is open (not weekends, evenings, holidays, or the days between Christmas and New Year’s). Check the academic calendar for important dates and deadlines.
Use the PhD calendar to determine the deadline dates for getting your paperwork to the Office of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs and department committee.
When all committee members and your chair agree to a specific date and time for the defense, inform your graduate administrator as soon as you possibly can, but no later than six weeks prior to your defense date . Your graduate administrator will advise you of any program-specific requirements for the defense as well as work with you to prepare for your thesis defense. They will also help you determine who will schedule the room for your thesis defense.
You should provide your committee members at least two weeks to read and comment on your dissertation before the date you need to register your dissertation.
Participating Via Video Conferencing
While you, your advisor, and the chair must all be physically present in the room for the defense, other committee members are allowed to participate in the defense remotely via Skype or other video conferencing technology so long as all committee members agree to the arrangement. This must also be approved by the AS&E dean of graduate education and postdoctoral affairs and the University dean of graduate studies before the dissertation is registered for defense.
Someone other than you and your committee must handle the IT setup and be on standby for any problems. If anyone involved finds that remote participation is interfering with the defense, he or she can request that the defense be rescheduled.
We strongly recommend that international students meet with an International Services Office (ISO) representative as soon as permission to start writing is granted. The ISO will provide information on visa options, documentation, and timelines for applying for a visa for employment in the United States.
You will register for one of the following categories while preparing your defense:
- 999: Dissertation —Indicates the PhD student has completed all of the requirements for the degree except the dissertation and is in residence as a full-time student
- 995 : Continuation of Enrollment —Indicates the PhD student has completed all of the requirements for the degree except the dissertation and is not in residence as a full-time student
See the registration page for more information about these categories.
The Preparing Your Doctoral Dissertation manual is a great resource to help you bring your dissertation up to the required standard of organization, appearance, and format for the University of Rochester. Before preparing the defense copy of your dissertation, check the contents of the manual carefully to help avoid mistakes that can be time-consuming and costly to correct.
Before beginning your dissertation, you should consult with your advisor for your department or program’s preferred style guide (APA, MLA, Chicago).
Including material produced by other authors in your dissertation can serve a legitimate research purpose, but you want to avoid copyright infringement in the process. For detailed instructions on avoiding copyright infringement, please see ProQuest’s Copyright Guide .
The University requires that you provide copies of the dissertation to your committee members and exam chair. You should check with your committee members to see if they prefer printed or electronic copies (or both). Printed copies do not need to be printed on heavyweight, expensive paper unless there is the need to do so for figures and images.
Printing and binding a dissertation can be expensive. You can use the Copy Center or FedEx Office to print and bind your dissertation.
In order to register your dissertation, you or your graduate administrator will need to create a record on the Graduate Studies PhD Completion website . This record will include:
- Degree information
- Past degrees
- Contact information
- The defense version of your dissertation as a PDF
- Other relevant documents
The version of your dissertation attached to your online record is considered the registration copy.
When your PhD completion record is finalized, committee members will receive emails with links to access your record and approve your dissertation to progress to defense. You’ll need to provide copies of the dissertation identical to the registration copy to all members of your committee, including the chair, at least two weeks before the record is finalized. Everyone but the chair is required to comment or sign off on the dissertation before it is submitted.
There may be deadlines for registering your dissertation specific to your program. Consult with your graduate administrator to ascertain those deadlines and follow them carefully.
After all committee members have provided their approval, your thesis will be reviewed by your faculty director/department chair, the AS&E dean of graduate education and postdoctoral affairs, and the office of the University dean of graduate studies. When all of these officials have approved your committee and dissertation for defense, your dissertation is considered registered. You will be able to track these approvals in your online record and will receive a confirmation email when approvals are complete.
The GEPA Office and the AS&E dean of graduate education and postdoctoral affairs, as well as the University Graduate Studies Office, may make corrections to the PDF of your dissertation. This annotated copy of your dissertation, along with the original version, will be stored in the PhD completion website. You are not allow to distribute updated versions of your dissertation prior to the defense, but be sure to incorporate any corrections before uploading your final dissertation to ProQuest®.
After the defense, if the committee has required major revisions to be approved by one or more of its members, it is your responsibility to provide them with the corrected final version for their approval. They will be asked to submit written confirmation of that approval to the University Graduate Studies Office. Failure to do so could delay conferral of your degree.
After the defense, you will receive additional instructions by email for completion of all PhD degree requirements.
It is important to walk into the defense knowing that your committee wants you to pass. Even if criticism is harsh, it is meant to be constructive. The defense is not solely an opportunity for the committee to compliment and congratulate you for the work you have done. It is also meant to challenge you and force you to consider tough questions.
The best way to prepare for your defense is to regularly attend the defenses of your colleagues throughout your graduate program, not just several weeks prior to your own defense.
You can also talk to people in your department who already defended to find out what their defenses were like. You should also speak with your advisor to get a sense of his/her specific expectations of a defense.
Guidelines for Presentations
Use PowerPoint or Other Software to Create Slides
You should prepare a presentation of the research that comprises the thesis. Your slides should encapsulate the work and focus on its most salient contributions. In preparing, ask yourself these questions: “What do I want people to know about my thesis? What is the most important information that I can present and talk about?”
Here are some basic tips:
- Use text large enough to be read by the audience (especially text from figures)
- Ensure graphics and tables are clear
- Don’t clutter your slides—if necessary, have things come up on mouse clicks
- Use spell check and proofread your slides
- Practice your presentation with your peers
- Work on pronunciation, if required
- Time your presentation to ensure it will fit the allotted time while allowing time for questions
If your defense includes a public lecture, we recommended that you do a trial run a day or two before in the room that has been booked for your lecture. This will allow you to familiarize yourself with the space and the equipment and to address any problems that arise during the trial run.
Plan your public lecture to allow enough time for questions. Present enough information so that the audience understands what you did, why you did it, what the implications are, and what your suggestions are for future research.
Friends and family are welcome to attend your public lecture. Faculty and students in the audience are given the opportunity to ask questions.
Plan to dress professionally for the defense in the same way you would if presenting a paper at a conference or for a job interview. You will be standing for a long time on the day of your defense. You might want to keep this in mind when selecting the shoes you will wear for your defense.
Essentials for your public lecture include:
- Your presentation
- A laser pointer
- A copy of your dissertation
- A pen or pencil
- A bottle of water
You will be asked to leave the room while your committee reviews your program of study, and decides whether:
- The thesis is acceptable/not acceptable
- Whether members will ask sequential questions or whether each member will be allotted a specific time period for questioning
The person to start the questioning is designated. You will be called back into the examining room and questioning will begin. After all questions have been addressed, you will be asked to leave the room while your committee decides the outcome of the exam. You will be asked to return to the room to be informed of the outcome by the chair of your exam committee.
- Listen to the entire question no matter how long it takes the faculty member or student to ask it (take notes if necessary).
- Pause and think about the question before answering.
- Rephrase the question.
- Answer the question to the best of your ability; if you do not know the answer, remain calm and say so in a professional way.
- Remember that no one will know the ins and outs of the thesis and your research materials as well as you. You are the foremost expert in the thesis topic and YOU know the research involved. Be positive!
Possible outcomes include:
- Acceptable with minor or no revisions (no further approval required)
- Acceptable with major revisions in content or format (in this case, one or more committee members must be responsible for overseeing and approving the major revisions before the final copies are submitted)
- Not acceptable
After the Defense
You can submit the final corrected copies of your dissertation as soon as you address any remaining comments that were brought up during the defense or noted in the registration copy of your dissertation, which will be returned to you usually within a few days before or after the defense. You can take up to one semester following the defense to address any comments, during which you can remain a full-time student. Your degree conferral date will depend on when you submit the final corrected copies of your dissertation.
The day after your defense, you will receive an email from the University dean of graduate studies that provides instructions on how to:
- Submit the final corrected copies of your dissertation through ProQuest
- Provide authorization for the release of your dissertation through UR Research
- Complete a mandatory online exit survey
- Verify to the University dean of graduate studies’ office that the dissertation has been submitted
The University of Rochester requires all doctoral candidates to deposit their dissertations for publication with ProQuest Dissertation Publishing and with the University libraries. Hard copies are not required. The library receives an electronic copy of the dissertation from ProQuest, but students must give the University permission to obtain it.
For questions regarding publishing through ProQuest, contact Author Relations at [email protected] or (800) 521-0600 ext. 77020.
Check with your graduate administrator to see if your department wants a bound copy of your dissertation, and, if so, how the cost of binding is covered.
If you want a bound copy for yourself or your family, you can purchase one through ProQuest .
- PhD Defense
Successful PhD Dissertation Defense: Questions and Answers
Questions and Answers
What is your study about, how significant is the topic, how can the research topic contribute to currently available research on it, what were the limitations encountered, the importance of your phd thesis defense.
At the end of all your hard work, you will be required to defend the research that you have done in front of your peers. For many this is something that they will approach with great trepidation. Few people like to talk in public, and defending your own research in front of real experts in your own field that will want to pick holes in what you have done can be a real challenge.
This is why you really do need to spend a lot of time and effort in ensuring that your PhD defense is up to scratch and that you are fully prepared for what may be asked of you. Each institution and even country will approach a PhD defense differently. Yours could be just defending to a board of two professors through to a wider public audience with several professors asking questions of you. Whatever it is that is expected of you, however, you will need to prepare accordingly.
How to Prepare for Your Defense of Dissertation
After you have submitted your dissertation there really is no time for you to relax. While you cannot do any more to your paper it is now time to very much concentrate on how you are going to defend it. A poorly defended dissertation could result in you being tasked with a huge number of revisions and even additional research. A successful PhD thesis defense, however, should result in only minor changes, it is very rare that a panel will allow you to escape this ordeal with nothing to do.
The following tips will provide you with a good framework to help you with preparing both your presentation and yourself for your PhD proposal defense:
- Be sure that you know precisely what the format of your defense will be. Every institution differs in some way with regards to the length of your PhD defense presentation, the makeup of your audience, through to how long they will ask questions for. Make sure that you understand exactly what you are walking into.
- Don’t leave things to the last minute before you begin your preparations. It can be very easy to fall into the party trap as soon as you have submitted your dissertation, however, you should wait until after your defense PhD thesis before you begin your celebrations.
- Read and reread your dissertation several times. Re-familiarize yourself with everything that you have done. Also go back to some of your main sources and reread those also.
- Don’t produce too many or too few slides for your presentation: 100 slides for a 10-minute talk is going to be far too many and 10 will not be enough for 20 minutes.
- Cover the main points of your research: clearly show why you have done it, why it is important, what impact it will have as well as the usual what you actually did and found.
- Don’t neglect details on your slides: label axes and try to use the same format throughout.
- Tell a story: you want your presentation to actually flow so take the time to work on your transitions between slides.
- Don’t just read the slide: a slide should be a prompt for what you have to say not just a teleprompter for you to read from.
- Practice. Then practice again. Give your presentation for PhD defense several times to your friends so that you are totally comfortable with what you are doing.
- Try out the room. walking into a presentation and finding that the projector will not talk to your laptop or some another disaster is avoidable.
While you are never going to be able to prepare for every question for PhD defense you should be able to answer anything around the core area of your research. If asked something that you really do not know the answer to simply say that you don’t know or explain how you would go about trying to find an answer. Just because someone asks you a difficult question, it does not mean that they have an answer to it either.
Our Dissertation Advice Services
One of the mistakes that most graduate students commit when writing is not having any plan at all. This causes them to spend time on doing pointless tasks when they could have focused all their energy in tackling their research, analyzing the information they have gained and translating data into a well written paper. Although many rely on online help, having a clear idea on how or where to begin is an advantage. The good news is that our PhD comics thesis defense writing service can do more than just write dissertations but we can also help coach you into getting your dissertation done in time. From formatting to reviewing and editing we are your one stop shop for all your needs.
We Can Help
It’s not surprising to find graduate students having a hard time getting started on their PhD oral defense especially when they lack a plan of attack. The idea of having to go through this final hurdle often put pressure on students that they can’t seem to focus on their work. This is not a good sign especially if you want to achieve your MBA or PhD. We are ready to help you with all the writing issues!
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17 Thesis Defense Questions and How to Answer Them
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.
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Remote PhD Defense: Lessons Learned
This post was written by Aravin Sukumar, a recent PhD graduate from the University of Toronto, Institute of Medical Sciences.
My PhD defense was something I was envisioning for many years throughout graduate school, where I would dress up in a fancy suit, demonstrate my abilities as an academic researcher, and celebrate with handshakes and hugs from people who have watched me grow. With the current pandemic, this image of the defense seemed to disappear. For those of you who plan on defending your MSc or PhD over the next few months, or in the near future, you will have to be prepared to conduct a virtual defense, either through Zoom or another online platform. I was part of a cohort of graduate students that recently defended their PhD in a virtual setting and wanted to share my experiences and tips for preparation. These tips are based on a combination of articles I’ve read, advice from others who have defended in the past, and from my own experience with a virtual defense.
When I first heard I had to switch to a virtual defense, like many others, I was a bit disappointed because I had spent several years of my life leading up to this moment. The most important thing to remember is that this is still a special occasion for you, your family, friends, and colleagues, regardless if it is done at home or not. Despite the virtual nature, this is your momentous opportunity to showcase your passion for your area of research, while having a fun and interactive conversation with your examiners. Your supervisor and examiners are eager for you to pass, and they will want to hear your ideas on the implications and applications of your research and how you would further advance this project.
One of the first things to do is read up on your department’s policies on scheduling the online defense which can differ between graduate departments within your institution. My department was the Institute of Medical Science (IMS) which chose to facilitate the virtual meeting using the Zoom platform. The IMS Thesis Coordinator set-up the Zoom meeting and relinquished control to the designated Chair once they joined. My department did a great job in coordinating the defense and ensuring all examiners received protocol information for the defense which alleviated any stress regarding the set-up of the meeting. I was required to email copies of my thesis to all defense members ~1 month before the defense, but I know of some examiners preferring a hardcopy. I joined the Zoom meeting ~15 minutes before the defense start time to ensure my PowerPoint presentation could be effectively shared and that my camera/background were properly set-up. I used an external monitor connected to my laptop which allows you to use presenter view on Zoom (need to enable dual monitor usage in Zoom general settings). Your attire is entirely up to you, however, my attire reflected what I would have worn if the defense was in-person, a dress shirt and blazer, but with sweatpants as I planned to present sitting down. Dressing professionally helped keep this memorable moment special, while taking advantage of the comfort of having a virtual defense at home.
For the defense, I used plugged-in earphones with a built-in microphone but was notified within a few minutes that my microphone was making contact with my shirt resulting in additional noise. I adjusted the microphone to resolve this issue but may have benefited from an alternative wireless headphone/microphone option or if sensitive enough, your computer microphone should be sufficient. During the question period, each member had an allotted time to ask their questions (~8–10 minutes) and this occurred over two rounds. I was advised to keep my PowerPoint presentation in outline mode so I could view multiple slides at once, which is much easier to navigate than individual slides. I printed a hardcopy of my thesis just in case the examiners wanted to refer to a specific section in the thesis. However, I mainly used my PowerPoint slides to answer the questions throughout the defense. I was able to practice my defense presentation several times with my lab which gave me confidence that my computer, internet, and camera were fully functional and optimized. I also informed everyone in my house that this meeting was happening to avoid any unpredictable requests or incidents (e.g. fire alarm from cooking, etc). At the end of the question period and the start of the deliberation period, I was requested to leave my room and to wait for a text message from my supervisor to re-enter. An alternative approach to this would be to leave the meeting entirely and join the Zoom meeting again once I got the approval. This process will ultimately depend on your department’s best practices. Overall, the defense went smoothly with no glitches, the committee members were all supportive and interested in the research, and I passed!
Here are some tips and lessons I believe helped me prepare for my defense:
- Practice, practice, practice: I received invaluable feedback from my lab and people who have previously defended. Even presenting to people outside your field is a great way to get unique perspectives on your work, which will prepare you for the defense in which you have experts from wide-ranging fields.
- Anticipating questions: There are many articles online regarding what questions you can expect at your defense which will help prepare you for the “big picture” questions or even questions related to your future goals . During my PhD defense, I noticed two main question types: i) how does your research contribute to the broader area of research? ii) how would you advance your current work as a scientist? what would be your hypothesis and experimental strategy to address this hypothesis?
- Body language and backdrop: It is obvious that presenting in-person is quite different than presenting through a webcam, but many aspects are similar. Mark Bowden, a body language expert, provided some great advice on establishing a “personal connection” with your audience. He provides several key points for virtual meetings in general which include positioning your laptop/webcam to eye level which promotes a better personal connection with people, compared to looking up or looking down at the audience. Lighting is also important and can include a lamp behind your computer to shine light towards your face or even a window to allow natural light to illuminate your face.
- Climbing the thesis mountain: Read your thesis a few times (which can be exhausting) and with extended breaks in between to get a fresh perspective on your thesis. I would recommend waiting between 1–3 weeks (depending on defense date) to take a deep dive into your thesis. It helped me perform a less biased critical appraisal of my own work and formulate new questions.
- External perspectives: Review 2–3 recent papers from your examiners. Your examiners are the leading experts in their own field and will have differing perspectives than yours. I would recommend reading some of their research to anticipate how their work could relate or apply to your research. For example, if one of your examiners is developing a new technology to deliver drugs within the human body, you could come up with ideas on how your research could benefit with this technology or at the very least, have an idea about other similar technologies. This will demonstrate to your examiners that you possess the ability to apply external concepts to your own work and research objectives.
- Keep the application in mind: Often times in biomedical research, we delve deep into testing research questions that require a razor-sharp focus on specific biological pathways, the interaction between two chemicals, or algorithms that analyze diverse datasets. In order to appreciate the impact of your research, you will need to keep the real-life application (e.g. patient for medical research, communities for epidemiological research) in mind and be able to communicate how your research will provide a future benefit. This can be non-trivial sometimes but can be addressed with further research and conversations with other researchers in your respective fields.
- Endgame: After the defense, I knew I could not have a big celebration with my family and friends or go on the dream vacation as I envisioned for many years — this was disheartening. However, I was still able to connect with the people I care about and enjoyed the moment! My lab planned a virtual Zoom party where we had some drinks and played online games. They even surprised me with a cake delivery which was heartwarming! I caught up with my family and friends and ordered an enormous amount of food from our favourite local restaurant. During these times, it is the simple things that matter more. Within a few days, an anti-climactic feeling does sort of set in, but I took solace in the fact that my next chapter will be a more exciting and fulfilling adventure. With the current COVID-19 situation, we must acknowledge that patience is not only a virtue, but a necessity.
You have spent more time on your research project than anyone else so you should feel confident that you know your data and conclusions. It is impossible to know all aspects of your research area and it is very common that there are conflicting reports in your field. You should accept these imperfections as it is inherent in all disciplines of research. The key skills to take away from this include being able to use your data to come up with your own hypotheses and to understand the methodological approaches that are used in your field. Make sure you have fun, acknowledge the limitations of your research, and continuously highlight the impact of your data. The purpose of the defense is not to get a grilling, but for the examiners to see your perspectives and understanding of the implications of your work in the broader scientific realm. Good luck with your upcoming defenses!
Many many thanks for sharing your experience. Really it is ver helpful to me, as i am going to defend my Ph. D. thesis in near future.
Much appreciation for your advice based on your experience. I’m defending my dissertation in three weeks time. My research project is on health care equity. Your advice on how to prepare.
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Dissertation Defense and Graduation Instructions
- Created by Tom Atchity , last modified by Andreas Gerstlauer on Oct 31, 2023
Dissertation Defense Step-by-Step
Before your defense, at your defense, immediately after your defense, commencement.
The Cockrell School of Engineering hosts one commencement ceremony each spring. Students who graduated in the fall semesters prior to the ceremony and those who have applied to graduate in the spring may participate. Learn more here about the Cockrell School of Engineering Commencement Ceremony .
The Graduate School hosts one convocation ceremony each spring. Students who graduated in the summer or fall semesters prior to the ceremony and those who have applied to graduate in the spring may participate. Learn more here about the Graduate School Convocation Ceremony .
Regalia must be purchased or rented for the ceremonies and details for required regalia can be found online at the links for each ceremony. You can purchase or rent regalia at the University Co-op . Check the co-op site for details and deadlines.
Prior to graduation, you will receive a “Degree Candidate” email from the Office of the Registrar (sent to the email on file with the university), which will ask you to confirm your diploma name and the degree you will earn . Please remember to update your email if it has changed.
Effective spring 2021 and future semesters, degree candidates may select to have a diploma name that is different from the legal name on their student record. A diploma name can be updated the semester of graduation, but unless specified, your legal name will be the default name on the diploma. If you have designated a chosen name on your student record and would like your diploma name to match your chosen name, you will still need to update your diploma name during your graduating semester.
Options for how to receive your diploma are given online .
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Preparing for Your PhD Defence
Completing your dissertation isn’t the final hurdle to earning your PhD, the oral defence (called a viva voce or viva in the UK) is. But once the date has been set and the examiners are confirmed, how do you start to prepare? Here are some tips to help you beat the nerves and rock your defence.
Know What You’re in For
If defences are public in your department, try to attend a couple before your own. Attending someone else’s defence is a great learning experience and will help you see what works and what doesn't. Notice things like how the candidate dresses, how they address the examiners, and the sort of questions the committee asks. What makes their talk compelling? Watching a live defence is the best way to understand the format and what will be expected of you when it’s your turn.
Reread Your Dissertation
This is a very important step. A PhD is a multi-year endeavour and it may have been a few years since you did some of the research in your dissertation. Go through each chapter and summarize your main arguments. Then zoom out about your dissertation as a whole. While the committee will question you about the details, they will also ask you to consider your work in a broader context. What are the implications of your findings? What does your thesis contribute to the field? It’s also a good idea to take note of any weaknesses or mistakes so you’re prepared if they’re discussed during the defence.
Prepare Your Talk
After rereading your thesis, you will be in a good position to put your talk together. Your talk should address what you did, why you did it, how you did it, what you found, and what it means. Remember you will only have about 20 minutes. Preparation is more than just building a slide deck, you must also practice giving your talk. Practice giving your talk multiple times both on your own and in front of groups—and remember to rehearse the question part too. Fielding questions from your test audience will help you get better at thinking on your feet when facing unexpected questions.
Basic Question Types
It’s impossible to predict every question you will be asked during your defence so instead prepare for questions in these five common categories: General questions, the context of your work, your methods and research design, analysis of your results, and discussion. You can also familiarize yourself with the work of your committee members as they are more likely to ask questions about their own area of expertise.
Defence preparation shouldn’t be purely academic. Don’t forget to prepare yourself mentally and physically as well by eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep.
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- KU Leuven 110
- University of Twente 61
- ETH Zürich 54
- Université catholique de Louv... 52
- Free University of Bozen - Bo... 38
- International Baccalaureate® ... 38
- Ghent University 36
- Mohammed VI Polytechnic Unive... 34
- University of Oulu 32