Doctoral dissertation defense questions

Most universities in the United States require a final doctoral defense of your precious work, although the procedures and formats may different from those in other countries. In the U. In other countries, the defense may be conducted with a blind peer review process Australia or as a viva U.

Almost everyone who has a doctorate has a final defense story.

How To Defend Your Thesis? Top 10 Tips For Success

A friend of mine was obviously pregnant at her defense. Outrageous and maddening, I know. Happily, she proved the chair monumentally wrong.

PhD Dissertation Defense Questions and Answers

Later, with two kids, she became an award-winning professor at Brandeis. My defense was a little less dramatic but no less discomfiting. During the two hours of grilling and false camaraderie, my right foot fell asleep. They all laughed, almost as embarrassed as I.

I still blush reliving it. A fellow student in my doctoral cohort, by far the most brilliant of us all, felt he did so poorly at his defense that he cancelled a long-planned prepaid vacation to Scandinavia with his fiance. I never heard whether he ever went on the trip got married. This was mea culpa at its worst. What do these cautionary tales tell you? To see your defense rightly. A rite of passage, certainly, it is nevertheless an important event in your progress and professional development.

As a consultant and coach to dissertation writers, I have often noticed that most candidates are petrified of the defense and either overdo it or try to underplay it. They imagine the committee asking impossible questions, like a detailed explanation of their statistical involutions, or asking ridiculous questions, like their opinion of the university cafeteria food. Many candidates either spend every possible moment cramming, and risk predefense burnout, or avoid preparation entirely.

James started preparing before he had even completed his data collection. He kept asking me questions about the required procedures and sent me loads of articles on defense advice, confessing he kept losing sleep panicking about his defense. I gently told him, several times, that his preparation, although admirable, was premature. At the other extreme, Viola, a very bright candidate, told me years later that, despite my admonitions, she had minimized her defense and barely squeaked by. She knew the material but her nervousness and lack of preparation got the best of her.

She regrets to this day not following my advice.


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Recognizing that both extremes are, well, extreme, I developed the following suggestions for a good final defense before, during, and after the event. First, though, for your greater perspective, especially in U. Doubtless all members have their own defense horror stories, and your defense may trigger echoes of theirs. Their egos are at stake in your meeting, and they probably want to show off to each other. They also may want to show off by asking you tough questions. And yes, they may be unpredictable, quirky, mercurial.

5 Thesis Defense Myths: Your Committee is NOT Out to Get You

But remember that they are also upholding the high research standards of the university and their part in it. Keep in mind too that they have worked hard to get where they are. You will thank yourself for it later. Remind yourself that you are the expert on your dissertation, especially every time your stomach sinks.

Prepare and practice your presentation

Read the university manual on defense protocols. Attend several defenses before your own to familiarize yourself with the process. Ask your chair for advice. About a month before the defense, schedule a meeting and discuss the defense format and range of possible questions.

Ask the chair to look at your PowerPoint beforehand they often want to and will critique it and ask too for diplomatic insights on the committee members. Especially if other candidates have had your chair, study their final PowerPoints. Creating the new slides from your dissertation will help you remember, review, and summarize everything. Type out your answers. You can refine them later. Make sure your dissertation backs up your answers for example, correct number of participants, statistical results, themes revealed.

Know your material! Some candidates mark a hard copy of their dissertation at the pages reflecting anticipated questions.

How to prepare for your (shudder) doctoral dissertation defense

If you do, you can turn to the pages quickly. If your university has a media specialist, schedule an appointment for your electronic needs for the PowerPoint and have a list ready. Alone in the room, do a mock rehearsal.


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Stand at the podium and look out into the vast sea of faces eager for your wisdom. See the chair and committee members sitting there beaming at you. Choose clothes that look and feel professional and get them in shape. The night before, go to the movies, binge watch your favorite TV show, or do something physical. No alcohol.

Arrive early and meditate beforehand either in your car, on a bench outside, or even in the empty room.

The Top 10 Most Common Thesis Defense Questions And Answers

When the committee starts asking questions, have a notepad and pen ready to take notes, and take your time responding. The committee will admire your response. At the end of the defense, smile, shake hands admittedly clammy , and thank everyone profusely.

Tell them you enjoyed the meeting it is possible. Expect some revisions. Or offer to pick them up or ask them to email you their marked-up copies or lists of revisions. Study up on all the red-tape requirements and regulations for revised documents, all committee signatures, and final deposit of the dissertation. Your story will be a much happier one, and as you continue in your successful professional career, your defense will shine forever bejeweled in your memory.

They are questioned, cross-questioned on their work and often the questions turn out to be difficult and dicey.

Prepare and practice your presentation

In order to avert this situation, the best a student can do is prepare a list of thesis defense questions. This is quite tricky because you have no idea what your examiner may ask you. Although, there are a few common defense questions that are asked by the examiners in the viva examinations. If you want to know about them, you can try this site to get a checklist of the questions. Preparing a list of thesis defense questions is very crucial because it enables the students to prepare for the bunch of questions they are going to answer.

Often, we fail to devote any time for introspecting on what we may be asked in the Viva, and as a result, we end up not answering many questions. This automatically affects our overall marks.