A thesis defense can be quite daunting, but if you know what it is, how it’s structured and how to prepare, you’ll have a good shot at acing it. This article is designed for students considering a PhD and want to learn more about what it entails, but could also be of assistance to current PhDs coming up on their own defense.
A thesis defense is basically a twenty-minute to an hour-long presentation, where you demonstrate knowledge of not only your own work but your field as a whole. This could mean authors that have come before you, to colleagues who’ve written on similar topics. You’ll be presenting in front of a ‘thesis committee’, which is usually a panel of professors. This panel can be decided in a number of ways, depending on the university. Institutions like ANU don’t even do a thesis defense, whereas others like VU allow you to nominate candidates to examine your work, which is then ultimately decided upon by your supervisor. Some universities even let you hand-pick the whole committee! So it’s worth checking which style your university employs.
Generally, after your thesis has been submitted. They can’t talk about your thesis if you haven’t got one after all! In cases where a thesis defense is secondary or non-existent, your thesis is presented to two or more qualified evaluators, who then make the bulk of their judgement on the work. Not on your rhetoric! This should come as a relief if public speaking isn’t your forte. Even so, it’s worth practising up! It can’t hurt to make a solid impression. You’re a subject matter expert after all.
No matter who’s evaluating you or what discipline you’re in, there are some general guidelines to follow. We recommend bolstering these by getting your supervisor’s advice and/ or the experiences of your peers.
That’s about the gist of it! Remember: this is basically a formality. Going into your thesis defense doesn’t need to be daunting, as they’ve already made their decision. Just do your best to appear relaxed and comfortable. Let prep work carry you through and you’ll walk out with ‘Dr’ appended to your name!
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