Acing Your Dissertation Defense
March 26, 2019
After you turn in your dissertation, you will have a defense. The actual format can vary among disciplines and schools, but, in general, it’s a one to two hour event in which you “defend” your work, answer questions, or present your findings to your committee and colleagues. It can be daunting and intimidating, but it’s a rite-of-passage for doctoral students. The best way to get through it is to be prepared. Here are some things to keep in mind for your defense.
First impressions still count. Yes, your committee knows you, but this is your dissertation defense; a milestone in your academic and professional career. Dress the part. Don’t wear jeans and a t-shirt. With this in mind, it’s also important to be comfortable. You don’t want to be tugging on your suit jacket, shifting around because your clothes are too tight, or have aching feet because of ill-fitting shoes. When you’re comfortable, you can focus on the task in front of you and you’ll project an air of confidence.
You’re the expert in the room. You wrote the dissertation. No matter what questions you’re asked, you are the best one in the room to answer those questions. It might not feel that way, but remember: you’ve lived, breathed, eaten, and slept this work for months and months and months, if not years. You know more than you think you do and you are the expert on what you’ve written.
Stay hydrated. Especially if you’re nervous, you might experience dry mouth, which makes speaking fluidly that much harder. Bring a water bottle or thermos and keep drinking water. Taking a sip here and there will also give you an opportunity to slow down, pause, and think for a second about your next answer.
Prepare for anything. Preparation is crucial. Even though you’re the expert on your dissertation, make sure you know what’s on the page. If you wrote your discussion section a while ago and don’t remember the fine details, make sure you reacquaint yourself with it before your defense. Practice answering questions about the purpose of your work or any problems you encountered in your research (Dissertation Editor can provide you with consultations to prepare for your defense – contact us to learn more). Know your audience. If one of your committee members is notorious for being obstinate or asking tough questions, prepare for it. Be aware of their areas of expertise and take that into account.
Embrace the unexpected and unknown. Preparation is important, but there’s no way you can prepare for everything. There will always be unexpected questions or stumbling blocks. That’s okay. It’s how you respond to them that will speak volumes.
Expect to revise. You’ll likely be asked to do some revisions after your defense. This is completely normal. Don’t get discouraged or angry at your editor – most students receive feedback about revisions; this is simply part of the process. Dissertation Editor has assisted hundreds of students with post-defense revisions. We know what it takes to address committee concerns and help get you finished!
Your dissertation defense can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. With some thought, preparation, and planning, you can ace your defense – and Dissertation Editor can help! Contact us today to learn more.