I want to say a special hello
to the graduate students I met in Atlanta at the Annual Biomedical
Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) and at my
TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished Workshop at the
University of Maryland College Park.
Preparing for Your Defense
if you are getting ready to defend your thesis or dissertation
you are almost finished. The thesis/dissertation defense represents
one of the final hurdles you will face in completing your degree,
and it is important to be prepared. Although the graduate handbook
might describe this stage as an oral presentation of your research,
the traditional defense is an oral exam that most graduate
students are likely to pass. You can pass your defense with
a grade of (1) “Pass As Is,” (2) “Pass With
Minor Revisions,” (3) "Pass With Major Revisions,” or
rarely (4) “Reject.”
Your defense is meant to be a useful
exercise, though at times it might seem like a form of hazing.
During the defense, you will be asked to present the main arguments
of your thesis/dissertation, followed by a question and discussion
period. You are responsible for clearly and succinctly presenting
the arguments of your document and for responding to questions
from faculty. In particular, you should be able to demonstrate
not only your control over the discipline specific knowledge
and theoretical arguments of your paper, but also your knowledge
of counter-arguments and alternative interpretations which may
arise in the questions. Shortly after the defense, the entire
committee will meet to evaluate the quality of your document
and the overall presentation.
Use the following strategies to help
you prepare for your thesis or dissertation defense.
Research Your University’s
of your first steps in preparing for this milestone is to familiarize
yourself with how the process works at your university so you
know exactly what to expect. Otherwise, you might be caught
off guard! A Harvard friend who had been working almost 10
years on his dissertation and was now preparing his defense
told me casually, “I think
our defense takes 20 minutes.” I quickly informed him that,
to the contrary, the defense can be a long, arduous process that
lasts up to three hours. At some universities, the process takes
place before writing the dissertation; at others, it is
done after the document is complete. In either case, you must be
prepared to defend, debate, conceptualize, synthesize, and explain
your research in great detail.
normal to be nervous at a defense. However, taking every opportunity
to practice before “the
real deal” can diffuse a great deal of stress and anxiety
you might otherwise feel. Your defense should definitely not be
the first time you publicly present your research for feedback.
Take advantage of forums such as on-campus “brown bag” seminars
or informal gatherings with friends and colleagues. Practicing
in these kinds of informal settings allows you to hone your
presentation skills in a relaxed atmosphere, and will increase
your self-confidence. It will have the added benefit of establishing
your expertise and enhancing your professional reputation,
and will also help prepare you for key career events such as
job interviews, teaching a class, or presenting at a regional
or national conference.
If you are required to give a PowerPoint
presentation, be sure to practice this with friends, as well.
Avoid simply reading what is on the screen! PowerPoint is a tool
to help you synthesize information; the screen should not include
every word you want to say but, rather, concise bullet points
that serve as “prompts” for the points you want to
make. There is nothing more frustrating than having someone read
off the screen. I have often felt like screaming at a presenter, “I
have a Ph.D.; I know how to read for myself!”
Attend a Colleague’s
Perhaps nothing better prepares
you for a defense than actually seeing the process firsthand.
Defense hearings are sometimes open to the public, and actually
witnessing the event can give you tremendous insight regarding
how to prepare for your own. Before doing so, however, be sure
to ascertain what your own department or school believes is
appropriate. If no one in your department has ever
attended another student’s defense, it might not be wise
to break this tradition, even if the graduate student handbook
deems defense hearings as “open to the public.”
If you can’t attend other students’ defenses,
gather information by asking your colleagues about their own
experience. Questions should include:
• How did it begin?
• How did the advisor facilitate the process?
• How difficult were the questions?
• How did you know it was over?
• Did anyone other than committee members attend the hearing?
Know Your Document Inside and Out
your defense, you are considered the expert in your discipline.
Come prepared to answer details about every aspect of your
thesis/dissertation … and
Be sure to go through your thesis/dissertation
with a fine-tooth comb a few hours before your defense. Although
you have written every word, and are already intimately familiar
with the contents, it’s still important to refresh your
memory by reading the entire document before your defense.
Your committee will bring a copy of the document with them and
will be prepared to ask very specific, detailed questions about
it. Be sure to bring a copy of your own, and that your draft/version
is identical to the one your committee members have.
A good tip is to spiral bind ($2.50
at Kinko’s) your copy of the document. This will give you
a psychological edge because you will be able to easily turn
to the requested pages of the document when the committee begins
firing questions at you.
Take time to repeat every question,
and breathe before answering it. And, while an answer of “I
don’t know” is not expected, if you find that you
really don’t know the answer to a question, be
sure to gracefully note the issue/point to consider for future
Prepare an Executive Summary
Be sure to prepare a one- to two-minute
summary about why you came to graduate school, why you chose
the topic you did, and what the overall findings of your research
have been. This will not only get your defense off to a good
start, it will also help you later in the job market, where
you’ll have a ready answer for common questions such
as, “What’s your research about?” or “What
are you working on these days?
Come Well Rested And
Dress For Success
Don’t stay up the night
before your defense worrying. Get a good night’s sleep;
your defense will be smoother and sharper if you are well rested,
ready and alert. You will need to have your wits about you
to answer the barrage of questions that will come your way.
How you're dressed sets the tone of
the defense. You don’t need to run out and spend a lot
of money on clothes for the defense, but you should make sure
your attire is professional. Dressing conservatively is always
the safest route; your attire will give you a competitive edge
and make a positive impression. Make sure that there is no gum
or candy in your mouth when the defense hearing begins.
Be Confident: You’re Ready
this process with the self-confidence of knowing that you know
more about your thesis/dissertation topic than anyone else in
the room; after all, you’ve been working on this document for months … if
not years! YOU are the expert. Work from that point of reference.
And, finally, reassure yourself that
your advisor would not have scheduled the defense unless he/she
thought you would pass. If your advisor has agreed to a defense
date, he/she believes that you are ready!!!
If you haven’t already purchased
the TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished CD, I encourage
you to do so; it will keep you organized, and advise you what
to expect and how to prepare for all aspects of your thesis/dissertation,
including the defense.
Email Question of the Month:
My advisor is a new assistant professor
and is very busy, how do I get his attention?
Often I urge students not to select an
assistant professor to chair their thesis or dissertation
committee. An assistant professor is often busy trying to
get tenure. Nonetheless, trying to get some attention,
advice, or feedback from your advisor is a common problem
for many graduate students like yourself. If your
advisor is teaching a course, I suggest that you try to attend
his office hours. Many students do not regularly attend
office hours unless they need help with an assignment. Thus,
when students do not show up, many professors spend this time
catching up on their own work. Be the first one to get
to his/her office...i.e before any of his/her other students
arrive. Make the best use of your advisor's time by coming
to every meeting prepared with written questions. And by all
means — take notes during every meeting!
Professors often post their office hours
on their door or in their syllabus. If his/her office hours
are not posted ask the staff when this professor hold his/her
office hours. If attending your advisor's regularly scheduled
office hours does not work, send him/her an email to schedule
an alternative time to regularly meet.
What TA-DA!™ Users
Have to Say...
If you're still wondering whether or not
TA-DA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished™ can help you — don’t
take our word for it. Take a few moments to read what some of our
customers have told us.
See how TA-DA!™ helped them...
Ph.D. Doctoral Students…
gave me the incentive to "get the lead out" and finish. The 12
minutes a day has lead to approximately two to three hours. I
have really got a lot done, just knowing that the twelve minutes
does wonders for the psyche. Maryjane, Fayetteville, NC
commitment to a deadline and to working 12 minutes a day actually
reduces stress. I can always do 12 minutes--even if I'm tired,
sick, uninspired or grumpy. Facing a deadline makes it feel like
I will actually get done! "I have to do my 12 minutes" we say
in our house these days. I've been progressing steadily on my
dissertation by committing to 12 minutes, and my husband has
covered huge amounts of material for an upcoming professional
exam. My friend has committed to completing the annulment papers
she has procrastinated on for 10 years, and my father-in-law
has started studying Spanish 12 minutes a day. Thanks! Christine, Seattle, WA
• It helped
me to set goals for my chapters and give me some practical strategies
for finishing. Also I believe it's good to list your finish date.
It gives you something to strive for rather than letting the
thesis become nebulous. Martha; Albany, CA
explains the dissertation process and lifts the curtain to a
process that seems impossible to accomplish. It provides strategy
for selecting the committee and provides timelines that enable
accomplishment of the dissertation within a specific time frame. Randall; USMC Jacksonville, NC
• The program
helped me to understand the dissertation concept much better.
I am a visual individual; the tutorial was a great help. Deborah; U.S. Army
helpful suggestions for how to proceed as well as suggesting
disciplined and reasonable timelines for completion. Lawrence; Philadelphia, PA
Master’s Thesis Students…
• It has
helped with the fact that my graduate school does not have a
formal format for the proposal. The Journal has helped a lot. Talia; Naranjito, Puerto Rico
is a great tool for those who will be starting either their Master's
Degree or Dissertation. I highly recommend it. Teresa; Naguabo, Puerto Rico
that I set a goal date for finishing, kept me focused and it
was the first step in accomplishing the task. Also, I kept remembering
the words; a good thesis is a done thesis. Gladys; NY, NY
guided me to a fair start. Gracias! Jess; San Francisco, CA
About the Author: As a single mother, professor
Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D., completed three masters' degrees and a
PhD. Her motto is a Good Thesis/Dissertation is a Done Thesis/Dissertation.
She is the creator of a new innovative interactive resource tool
on CD—TADA! Thesis and Accomplished. To learn more and sign
up for her FREE tips and teleclasses, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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