Preparing for PhD Defense: The Ultimate Guide

After handing over your completed PhD thesis, you still have one big hurdle on the way: PhD defense. It is the moment that every PhD candidate dreads and looks ahead to. In many candidates’ minds, PhD defense can look like an iceberg standing on the only route to success. They think of standing frozen in front of everyone to answer tricky questions. But it does not have to be this way if you prepare well.

In this post, we will demonstrate how to prepare for PhD defense presentation and answer the questions directed at you with confidence. We will further outline special dissertation defense tips that have been tested and proven to work. You have worked for many long months to get here; this post will help you to get through the final hurdle professionally and great confidence.

Preparing for PhD Thesis Defense

There is no denying that a PhD thesis defense is a monumental task. But it is an activity that you have been preparing all along during the study. Therefore, preparing for dissertation defense should be like summarizing your work and responding all associated questions. Here is an account of how to prepare appropriately.

  • Practice Your Presentation
  • The best way to prepare for your PhD defense is getting down and practicing what will happen on the final day in front of the assessors/ defense committee. But how do you do it? Look for a big room that is similar to the one that your college uses for thesis defense. Then, practice in front of colleagues and friends. Make sure to include even critical friends who can ask the hard questions about your thesis.

    Remember that when you are practicing PhD dissertation defense, the goal is to mimic the final presentation as much as possible. Therefore, you need to focus on the following key things:

    1. Understand your thesis inside out: This is very important because you can be asked a question from any place in the thesis.
    2. Understand how long a thesis defense is: This is very important in order to plan well and make every point concise. In most of the cases, thesis presentation takes about two hours.
    3. Learn to maintain eye contact with the audience: If you have ever made a presentation to an international conference, this will be easy. The goal is learning to stay in touch with the audience throughout the presentation.
  • Learn from Other PhD Presentations
  • One of the best methods of honing your PhD thesis presentation skills is looking at how others are doing it. Make sure to attend such presentations to understand how experts do it, the nature of questions asked, and mistakes to avoid. Then, use the lessons to perfect your presentation. The good thing is that most presentations by PhD students are in most of the cases open to graduate scholars.

What Does the Assessment Committee Look in a PhD Dissertation Defense?

When you finally stand in front of the assessment committee, it is important to know what is required. The committee wants to see a firm understanding of the subject matter, implications of your work, ability to see weakness in the work, and possible routes for future work. This implies that your thesis defense should provide a succinct and logical overview of the topic, questions, and conclusions.

It is important to point that the committee members are not here to pin you down. Their questions will largely come from three main areas:

  • Testing your knowledge of the subject.
  • Clarification of confusing points.
  • Genuine curiosity.

If you make a very good presentation, most of the questions are likely to be out of genuine curiosity and need for clarifications. As part of the preparation, you need to learn how to tackle these questions. Indeed, use them to dig more info about your study. Some of the common questions to anticipate include:

  1. What makes this project original and how does it contribute to the body of knowledge about the subject?
  2. Looking at the first question in your study, why was it important to ask? Why should we care about the findings? (hint: never answer by saying “for the sake of knowing”).
  3. How does the project factor the changes over the course of the study?
  4. What are the difficulties you experienced during the study and how did you address them?
  5. Is the data gathered during the study ample to address the question you pose in chapter one? Can you justify?
  6. If you are to repeat this project within an unlimited time and finances, how different would the methodology look?

Dealing with the Awkward Question that does not have an Answer

As you work on how to prepare for a thesis defense, it is prudent to be prepared for the dreaded question. Being asked a question that you cannot answer is one of the scariest things for PhD scholars when making presentations. Even if you have done a lot of reading, gaps will always be there. So how do you respond to the question that you do not have an answer to?

In most of the cases, these questions are not thrown to you because the examiner is looking for specific answers. Instead, the aim is seeing how you think. Though it is okay at times to say that you “do not know” the answer, it is advisable to consider framing it like this:

“…. I do not know, but I think it would happen this way …… because of reason X and Y. However, you would have to do A and B to find out.”

Special Dissertation Defense Tips and Tricks

To help you prepare for your defense thesis more effectively, here is a list of top tips and tricks to apply.

  • Practice the first several minutes of your defense presentation until you can do it seamlessly. This is crucial in giving you ample time to relax during the presentation.
  • If the public is allowed into the presentation room, consider asking supportive friends to attend. This is important in boosting your confidence.
  • Though you have already reviewed literature in the main PhD thesis, it is prudent to also review emerging works leading to your defense.
  • Even if you have a soft copy on your laptop/ tablet, make sure to also have a hardcopy. It is easy to peruse through when a question on a specific area is asked.
  • Take the same food and drinks you are used to. This will be a two hours presentation task only. But it pays to have some water.
  • Let enthusiasm be your subject matter. Your audience will be positive when they see how enthusiastic you are about the subject.
  • When a question is thrown your way, it is okay to take a moment thinking about it prior to responding.
  • Make sure to publicly thank your support committee, supervisor and others who assisted you with the project.
  • Be smart and confident.

After working so hard for your PhD and handing over the thesis, it is time to get it right on PhD dissertation defense. This post has demonstrated how to prepare for dissertation defense and emerge a winner. After all, you have worked so hard for it. Make sure to pre-practice the presentation, follow other defenses, seek expert help and use the outlined tips.

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