Being proficient at dissertation defense: Helpful advice

Sit in during someone else’s dissertation defense

You’ll get a lot of insight into what you can expect by sitting in on a public dissertation defense. Most of these sessions are open, so find out when one is taking place and attend as an observer.

Things to keep in mind

  • You are an authority on your topic. Any questions or doubts that get thrown your way should not deter you from this fact.
  • You are there to learn from them.
  • Your committee is not the enemy.

Ways that you can prepare for your defense

  • Get to know your committee before the defense in order to get an idea of personality types.
  • Get ready for disagreements on everything by anticipating disagreements and preparing answers.
  • Try to gauge objections to your dissertation before the defense starts. You can do this by making sure your committee members receive your dissertation well in advance, and then ask them about it throughout the weeks to come.

Stay present

You are not in the defense room alone. It’s not you against them. You are with your committee as their equal and you should make an effort to see yourself that way throughout the defense. Isolating yourself from everyone else in the room is a real danger, so be involved in the discussion as much as possible.

Disagree without being disagreeable

Don’t be too soft with your committee. You are permitted to disagree with them on certain points. Just make sure you do so in a friendly and professional way. Also make sure that when you disagree with someone, you have the facts to back up your opinion. Failure to do this will put you in an uncomfortable position.

If you find yourself in a disagreement, and realize that you are losing the argument, don’t be too proud to admit that you have learnt something new. In the case of simply not agreeing based on opinion, just agree to disagree and do so amicably.

Learn as much as you can – Take notes

Show your committee that you are with them in order to learn as much as you can. Be humble enough to take their points into consideration. Show them that you’re doing this by writing down pertinent suggestions they raise.

Ask your own questions

Put yourself in the driver seat for a while by posing some of your own questions. Ask members about their opinion on certain sections. Ask them how they would improve some of your explanations. Don’t take over the discussion with too many questions, but asking questions will help you to stay involved in the whole process.