How to Succeed in PhD Dissertation Defense: Efficient Prompts


All PhD students guard their thesis as they would their most precious possession. The urge is obvious to understand. Students put months of time and effort into writing what is probably the most important document of their life, and having it picked apart by a committee can be daunting for them. As a presenter, you may be asked a question about any random word you wrote, or any simple fact that you may have put in. The whole process does seem frightening, but is at the end of the day, a rite of passage, beyond which lies the sweet taste of success. Therefore, here are some efficient prompts on how to succeed in PhD dissertation defense:

Practice many, many, many times


  • No matter how confident you think you are, do not overestimate your potential. Go through each and every slide that you have prepared and practice speaking about it and on it many times.
  • The optimum required practice is two weeks. During this period, you should practice in front of groups, time yourself and estimate any questions that you think the committee might put up.

Think up questions


  • No researcher or presenter ever goes through the door without answering your questions. Therefore, read your slides thoroughly and prepare questions that you think you might be asked.
  • Remember that even the littlest of details are important in this case. You might want to mellow out when you reach the end of your paper, but the committee is strict and attentive throughout.
  • A great way to learn how to anticipate questions is to practice with people who have knowledge of the field you are presenting on. This will get you to practice in front of an interested audience, which will hang on to every word and formulate intelligent questions.

Watch other people


  • If you are not much of a speaker, or need some tips, watch other presenters give their thesis defense talks. If you cannot find any on tape, consider attending a talk in real life and picking up hints.
  • Observe how the speaker binds the story together and presents his or her point of view. Take pointers from their body language and gestures. Open and humorous speakers are more likeable than stiff and closed off ones.

Be general


  • This simply refers to refraining from using jargon in your presentation. Since it is most likely that you will be presenting in front of a general audience, do not use words that they will not understand. However, if it is absolutely necessary to use technical terms, be sure to explain the meanings concisely.