PhD Dissertation Defense Slides Design: Start

  • Tips for designing the slides
  • Presentation checklist
  • Example slides
  • Additional Resources

Purpose of the Guide

This guide was created to help ph.d. students in engineering fields to design dissertation defense presentations. the guide provides 1) tips on how to effectively communicate research, and 2) full presentation examples from ph.d. graduates. the tips on designing effective slides are not restricted to dissertation defense presentations; they can be used in designing other types of presentations such as conference talks, qualification and proposal exams, and technical seminars., the tips and examples are used to help students to design effective presentation. the technical contents in all examples are subject to copyright, please do not replicate. , if you need help in designing your presentation, please contact julie chen ([email protected]) for individual consultation. .

  • Example Slides Repository
  • Defense slides examples Link to examples dissertation defense slides.

Useful Links

  • CIT Thesis and dissertation standards
  • Dissertations and Theses @ Carnegie Mellon This link opens in a new window Covers 1920-present. Full text of some dissertations may be available 1997-present. Citations and abstracts of dissertations and theses CMU graduate students have published through UMI Dissertation Publishing. In addition to citations and abstracts, the service provides free access to 24 page previews and the full text in PDF format, when available. In most cases, this will be works published in 1997 forward.
  • Communicate your research data Data visualization is very important in communicating your data effectively. Check out these do's and don'ts for designing figures.

Power Point Template and other Resources

  • CEE Powerpoint Slide Presentation Template 1
  • CEE Powerpoint Slide Presentation Template 2

Source: CEE Department Resources

  • CMU Powerpoint Slide Template

Source: CMU Marketing and Communications

  • Use of CMU logos, marks, and Unitmarks

Email me for questions and schedule an appointment

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Top 7 tips for your defense presentation

1. show why your study is important, remember, your audience is your committee members, researchers in other fields, and even the general public. you want to convince all of them why you deserve a ph.d. degree. you need to talk about why your study is important to the world. in the engineering field, you also need to talk about how your study is useful. try to discuss why current practice is problematic or not good enough, what needs to be solved, and what the potential benefits will be. , see how dr. posen and dr. malings explained the importance of their studies..

  • Carl Malings Defense Slides with Notes
  • I. Daniel Posen Defense Slides with Notes

2. Emphasize YOUR contribution 

Having a ph.d. means that you have made some novel contributions to the grand field. this is about you and your research. you need to keep emphasizing your contributions throughout your presentation. after talking about what needs to be solved, try to focus on emphasizing the novelty of your work. what problems can be solved using your research outcomes what breakthroughs have you made to the field why are your methods and outcomes outstanding you need to incorporate answers to these questions in your presentation. , be clear what your contributions are in the introduction section; separate what was done by others and what was done by you. , 3. connect your projects into a whole piece of work, you might have been doing multiple projects that are not strongly connected. to figure out how to connect them into a whole piece, use visualizations such as flow charts to convince your audience. the two slides below are two examples. in the first slide, which was presented in the introduction section, the presenter used a flow diagram to show the connection between the three projects. in the second slide, the presenter used key figures and a unique color for each project to show the connection..

phd defense video

  • Xiaoju Chen Defense Slides with Notes

4. Tell a good story 

The committee members do not necessarily have the same background knowledge as you. plus, there could be researchers from other fields and even the general public in the room. you want to make sure all of your audience can understand as much as possible. focus on the big picture rather than technical details; make sure you use simple language to explain your methods and results. your committee has read your dissertation before your defense, but others have not. , dr. cook and dr. velibeyoglu did a good job explaining their research to everyone. the introduction sessions in their presentations are well designed for this purpose. .

  • Laren M. Cook Defense Slides with Notes
  • Irem Velibeyoglu Defense with Notes

5. Transition, transition, transition

Use transition slides to connect projects , it's a long presentation with different research projects. you want to use some sort of transition to remind your audience what you have been talking about and what is next. you may use a slide that is designed for this purpose throughout your presentation. , below are two examples. these slides were presented after the introduction section. the presenters used the same slides and highlighted the items for project one to indicate that they were moving on to the first project. throughout the presentation, they used these slides and highlighted different sections to indicate how these projects fit into the whole dissertation. .

phd defense video

You can also use some other indications on your slides, but remember not to make your slides too busy.  Below are two examples. In the first example, the presenter used chapter numbers to indicate what he was talking about. In the second example, the presenter used a progress bar with keywords for each chapter as the indicator. 

phd defense video

Use transition sentences to connect slides 

Remember transition sentences are also important; use them to summarize what you have said and tell your audience what they will expect next. if you keep forgetting the transition sentence, write a note on your presentation. you can either write down a full sentence of what you want to say or some keywords., 6. be brief, put details in backup slides , you won't have time to explain all of the details. if your defense presentation is scheduled for 45 minutes, you can only spend around 10 minutes for each project - that's shorter than a normal research conference presentation focus on the big picture and leave details behind. you can put the details in your backup slides, so you might find them useful when your committee (and other members of the audience) ask questions regarding these details., 7. show your presentation to your advisor and colleagues, make sure to ask your advisor(s) for their comments. they might have a different view on what should be emphasized and what should be elaborated. , you also want to practice at least once in front of your colleagues. they can be your lab mates, people who work in your research group, and/or your friends. they do not have to be experts in your field. ask them to give you some feedback - their comments can be extremely helpful to improve your presentation. , below are some other tips and resources to design your defense presentation. .

  • Tips for designing your defense presentation

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Enago Academy

13 Tips to Prepare for Your PhD Dissertation Defense

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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?

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.

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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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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

Public Lecture

Dress Professionally

Items to Bring to the Defense

The Closed Examination

Address Questions with Confidence

Student Status

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 Defense

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 .

Preparing for your PhD thesis defence

As you start thinking about the end stages of your PhD, it’s important to understand the processes and timelines related to the thesis defence so that your degree completion is not delayed. Even if your thesis defence seems far away, there are several planning considerations you can consider early on to help the end stages of your PhD go smoothly.

On this page you will find videos, tools, and information about what the PhD thesis defence is , timelines for the PhD thesis defence , and tips for a successful PhD thesis defence .

All PhD students should also ensure that they read the PhD thesis examination regulations and review the thesis preparation guidelines prior to their oral defence. If your thesis defence will be conducted remotely, you should also review the process for a remote thesis defence .

What is the PhD defence?

Understanding the purpose, processes and possible outcomes of the thesis defence can help you feel more prepared for the defence itself. In this video, you’ll learn about what the defence is, who’s there, what happens, and the deliberation and range of possible outcomes.

Transcript - Demystifying the thesis defence at University of Waterloo (PDF)

You may wish to learn more about some of the topics discussed in this video. Here are some helpful links to learn more:

Examination committee members (including the external examiner): Visit the PhD thesis examination regulations section on the  PhD thesis examining committee for more information about the committee members, including information about the external examiner and conflicts of interest.

  • Closed thesis defences and non-disclosure agreements: Visit the PhD thesis examination regulations section on guidelines for thesis examination without public disclosure for more information about closed thesis examinations.
  • Thesis defence decisions and outcomes: Visit the PhD thesis examination regulations section on  decisions for additional information about decisions and outcomes.
  • Thesis submission: Visit the thesis submission webpage for information about the thesis submission process, including approvals that must be obtained before submitting your thesis.
  • UWSpace: Visit the Library’s UWSpace webpage for information about what UWSpace is and how to submit, or deposit, your thesis to UWSpace.

Timeline to defence

Early planning considerations.

Well before your defence date, there are several considerations to think about that can help make the end stages of your degree go smoothly and ensure your defence date and degree completion are not delayed:

  • Being aware of formatting requirements will save you time on revisions later on – the last thing you want to be doing before submitting your thesis to UWSpace is updating page numbers or your table of contents! Consider using the Microsoft Word or LaTeX thesis template produced by Information Systems & Technology. 
  • The Dissertation Boot Camp can help you develop effective writing practices and strategies for completing your thesis, while the three-part Rock Your Thesis workshop series will provide practical guidance for planning, writing, revising, and submitting your thesis project. You can also book an individual appointment to do backwards planning with an advisor. They can help you utilize the planning tools most effectively, while providing hands-on guidance and feedback.  
  • If you are using third-party content, including your own previously published work in your thesis, or seeking intellectual property protection (for yourself or another involved party), there may be implications for your thesis or defence. Learn more about copyright for your thesis , and email [email protected] for help with copyright questions related to your thesis.
  • Depending on your departmental or discipline’s norms, you may require approval from your entire committee, or just your supervisor. Ensure you talk with your supervisor and/or committee early on to confirm processes and timelines, so you’re not surprised later.
  • Depending on your departmental or discipline’s norms, your supervisor may select an external examiner themselves, or they may seek your input. Talk to your supervisor early on about this process, as in some faculties the external examiner may need to be vetted and approved as early as the term before you wish to defend. Remember that there are conflict of interest guidelines around the appointment of the external examiner , and the PhD candidate should not be in communication with the external examiner prior to the defence.
  • A PhD thesis must be on display for a minimum of 4 weeks prior to the defence date. To accommodate, you may need to submit your thesis as early as 6-8 weeks prior to your defence. Review your faculty specific backwards planning tool for the thesis submission deadline in your faculty and learn more about the display period in the PhD thesis examination regulations.
  • After your successful thesis defence, you will likely have some required revisions to your thesis. It’s important to understand revision timelines , especially if you’re hoping to become “degree complete” before a tuition refund or convocation deadline. Find tuition refund and convocation deadlines in the important dates calendar .
  • Following your thesis defence, there are several steps to be taken before your final, approved thesis is accepted in UWSpace. Ensure that you’re aware of these thesis submission steps and timelines in advance.

Backwards planning tools

Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs, in collaboration with the Faculties, have prepared faculty specific backwards planning tools to help PhD candidates map out the timelines related to their thesis defence and degree completion.

Select your faculty below to download a PDF copy of the backwards planning tool. We encourage you to discuss your ideal timelines with your supervisor(s) and your department graduate program co-ordinator.

  • Faculty of Health backwards planning tool (PDF)
  • Faculty of Arts backwards planning tool (PDF)
  • Faculty of Engineering backwards planning tool (PDF)
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The PhD thesis defence is the culmination of years of hard work! The tips outlined in this video, compiled from recent PhD graduates and experienced thesis defence chairs, cover tips for preparing for your defence, day-of logistics, and defending successfully.

Transcript - Your Thesis Defence: Tips for Success (PDF)

Will your PhD thesis defence be held remotely? We’ve compiled additional tips for success specifically related to the remote defence.

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Defense Videos

After years of research on their dissertation topic, PhD candidates present their work and field questions from students, faculty, and postdoctorals. Professors on the dissertation committee then confer privately, and render their vote to the student.

In 2020, a defense on Zoom included a circle of attendees that is no longer restricted by geography — friends, parents, and other family members were able to join from around the world. 

Below are short videos with screenshots of some of the Immunology graduate student defenses.

To view upcoming Immunology defenses, visit the Defenses page . 

Becky Leylek

Idoyaga Lab | May 22, 2020

Payton Marshall

Bollyky Lab | May 27, 2020

Nancy (Qi) Zhao

Blish Lab | June 1, 2020

Julia McKechnie

Blish Lab | June 4, 2020

Luke Pennington

Jardetzky Lab | September 22, 2020

Engleman Lab | November 23, 2020

Cesar Lopez Angel

Davis Lab | November 30, 2020

David Glass

Bendall Lab | December 11, 2020

Meyer and Negrin Lab | December 15, 2020

Sarah Barnes

Engleman Lab | May 17, 2021

Kartik Bhamidipati

Robinson Lab | June 16, 2021

Khatri Lab | July 14, 2021

Amber Moore

Palmer Lab | July 29, 2021

Lawrence Bai

Habtezion Lab | August 5, 2021

Caleb Glassman

Garcia Lab | August 13, 2021

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  • 30 March 2020

How to defend a PhD remotely

  • Alyssa Frederick 0

Alyssa Frederick is a postdoctoral scholar at the Bodega Marine Laboratory in Bodega Bay, California, part of the University of California, Davis.

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

In November 2019, I conducted my PhD defence using the videoconferencing software Zoom.

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Defending a phd thesis on zoom.

Zoom image: Luisa Angeles (left) in the lab in 2019 with her PhD adviser, UB chemistry professor Diana Aga. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki

Luisa Angeles (left) in the lab in 2019 with her PhD adviser, UB chemistry professor Diana Aga. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki


Published May 11, 2020

Zoom image: In UB chemistry professor Diana Aga’s lab, students sign a laboratory freezer after a successful PhD defense. Luisa Angeles wasn’t able to take part in this tradition on the day of her defense on April 21, but she was able to add her name in early May when she returned her keys to the lab. Photo: RJ Mendoza

In UB chemistry professor Diana Aga’s lab, students sign a laboratory freezer after a successful PhD defense. Luisa Angeles wasn’t able to take part in this tradition on the day of her defense on April 21, but she was able to add her name in early May when she returned her keys to the lab. Photo: RJ Mendoza

Like so much else in life, a rite of passage for doctoral students has gone virtual during COVID-19: the PhD defense, in which students present their research and field questions from faculty before receiving a degree.

You enter this event as a student. You leave as a newly minted PhD.

For Luisa Angeles in the Department of Chemistry, this milestone took place on the afternoon of April 21. It happened on Zoom.

On the bright side, her parents and siblings in Asia got to attend, logging in at 1 a.m. in the Philippines. On a less cheerful note, the celebration afterward just wasn’t the same as it would have been in person, despite a virtual toast.

As far as everything in between — the actual defense — the experience was a little strange, but it went pretty smoothly, Angeles says.

“I’m really happy,” she says. “It’s one thing that makes me feel really good, that I was able to finish everything. I had to defend my thesis before I can start a job — even with the pandemic going on.”

Tips to conquer a Zoom defense

Angeles was the first student in the UB chemistry department to defend a PhD online during the pandemic.

When she learned in March that she would need to defend virtually, “I really wanted to push through with it,” she says. “I thought it would be agony, waiting to see if the social distancing rules would change.”

For her dissertation research, she developed lab techniques for detecting chemicals such as antibiotics, pesticides and industrial compounds in the environment. She also put those analytical methods to work identifying pollutants found in waterways such as rivers and lakes, and in water released from wastewater treatment plants.

Some tips from Angeles on prepping for a virtual defense:

  • Practice — virtually! Angeles’ defense included a 45-minute presentation, followed by a Q&A. She practiced in person with her husband, but she also did a virtual run-through. “I did a practice with other lab members via Zoom,” Angeles says. “I did the actual presentation, and afterward, they were asking questions. It made me comfortable doing the actual Zoom defense.”
  • Get familiar with the technology. Angeles says her department laid out some helpful recommendations for online defenses, such as assigning a member of the PhD candidate’s thesis committee to serve as meeting host — a role that Angeles’ adviser filled. Before the defense, Angeles and her adviser worked together to test functions like screen-sharing and breakout rooms for private conversations. 
  • Dress up and find a quiet spot. “Try to dress up the same way you would dress up in a normal defense, and find a nice area in the house where it’s well-lit and quiet, where you would be able to focus,” Angeles says. Doing so gave her confidence and underscored the importance of the event.

Before the defense, “I was still nervous in the same way I was nervous if it was going to be in-person,” Angeles says. “I really appreciate the support of everyone that helped me because it’s really a difficult time to do a defense because there’s a lot of stress and anxiety.”

With her time at UB complete, Angeles will soon head to North Carolina, where she has landed a job as a chemist with a company that specializes in analytical chemistry. The job interview took place on Zoom, and a tour of the firm’s labs on FaceTime.

Zoom image: A screenshot shows Luisa Angeles (second user from left) conducting her PhD defense via Zoom as UB faculty members and her parents (sitting together in the far right screen) watch. Image: Diana Aga

A screenshot shows Luisa Angeles (second user from left) conducting her PhD defense via Zoom as UB faculty members and her parents (sitting together in the far right screen) watch. Image: Diana Aga

Zoom image: A screenshot shows friends, family, mentors and colleagues toasting Luisa Angeles on Zoom after her successful PhD defense. Image: Diana Aga

A screenshot shows friends, family, mentors and colleagues toasting Luisa Angeles on Zoom after her successful PhD defense. Image: Diana Aga

The many emotions of a virtual defense

The end of the PhD journey counts as a joyful moment at a time when so much else is grim.

Both Angeles and her adviser, chemistry professor Diana Aga, say the best part of the Zoom defense was that it allowed Angeles’ family in the Philippines to attend. This included Angeles’ parents, whose plans to travel to Buffalo were canceled due to the pandemic, and Angeles’ three siblings, who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to join.

“It was actually a bit emotional at the end when Luisa’s parents gave a congratulatory message to their daughter,” says Aga, Henry M. Woodburn Professor of Chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences. “The parents were choking back tears when they spoke. Her younger sister, who is in college in the Philippines, also attended virtually. Incidentally, she is also a chemistry undergraduate student, so now she has a good idea of what to expect in a PhD defense.”

The defense brought people together in a special way. A faculty member who recently had a baby was able to attend without leaving home. A former graduate student who mentored Angeles logged in from Luxembourg, where he’s doing postdoctoral research.

Somehow, though, the worst part about defending on Zoom was not being able to truly celebrate together, Aga and Angeles say.

Before the pandemic, Aga’s team would mark a successful defense with a series of traditions. Friends and colleagues would gather, and the student who just defended would add their name to the door of a laboratory freezer holding the signatures of a long line of past graduates. Though Angeles was able to sign in early May, when she stopped by campus to return keys to Aga, the ritual was a quiet one. Only Angeles, her husband and Aga were present.

Following past defenses, “My students would also give a present and a card to the successful graduate, say congratulatory words and take pictures,” Aga says. “We miss all of these.”

“It’s just happier, more fun, when you’re all together,” Angeles says. “Usually after the defense, we would share food and celebrate together. Just being together after a happy event, I think. That’s what I missed.”

Instead, following Angeles’ defense, participants gave a virtual toast. Together, but also apart, they raised a glass on Zoom. From the U.S., from the Philippines, from Luxembourg, they cheered Angeles on and wished her well in the next phase of her life.

PhD Defense: Deep Video Analytics of Humans: from Action Recognition to Forgery Detection

In this work, we explore a variety of techniques and applications for addressing visual problems involving videos of humans in the contexts of activity detection, pose detection, and forgery detection.The first works discussed here address the issue of human activity detection in untrimmed video where the actions performed are spatially and temporally sparse. The video may therefore contain long sequences of frames where no actions occur, and the actions that do occur will often only comprise a very small percentage of the pixels on the screen. We address this with a 2-stage architecture that first suggests many coarse proposals with high recall, and then classifies and refines proposals to create temporally accurate activity proposals. We present two methods that follow this high-level paradigm: TRI-3D and CHUNK-3D.This work on activity detection is then extended to include results on few-shot learning. In this domain, a system must learn to perform detection given only an extremely limited set of training examples. We propose a method we call a Self-Denoising Neural Network (SDNN) which takes inspiration from Denoising Autoencoders in order to solve this problem, both in the context of activity detection and image classification. We also propose a method that performs optical character recognition on real world images when no labels are available in the language we wish to transcribe. Specifically, we build an accurate transcription system for Hebrew street name signs when no labeled training data is available.We continue our analysis by proposing a method for automatic detection of facial forgeries in videos and images. This work approaches the problem of facial forgery detection by breaking the face into multiple regions and training separate classifiers for each part. The end result is a collection of high-quality facial forgery detectors that are both accurate and explainable. We exploit this explainability by providing extensive empirical analysis of our method’s results.Finally, we present work that focuses on multi-camera, multi-person 3D human pose estimation from video. To address this problem, we aggregate the outputs of a 2D human pose detector across cameras and actors using a novel factor graph formulation, which we optimize using the loopy belief propagation algorithm.Examining Committee:

Chair: Dr. Rama Chellappa Dean's rep: Dr. David Jacobs Members: Dr. Christopher Metzler Dr. Shuvra Bhattacharyya Dr. Abhinav Shrivastava

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phd defense video


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