Attaining a degree in master’s or doctorate study is a monumental achievement for most people. For students unfamiliar with the dynamics of higher education, that journey may seem simple. Basically, scholars may not understand that they commit to different academic activities to make their dreams come true. In this case, one of these activities is writing a thesis or dissertation, both of which are similar in principle. After writing a dissertation, doctoral students must appear before a dissertation defense committee to defend their work. In turn, this dissertation defense is not only about arguing aggressively but also taking questions from members of the committee and answering them satisfactorily. Also, these questions seek to measure the student’s understanding of their work and the research involved. Hence, students need to learn how to get prepared for the dissertation defense.
General Aspects of the Dissertation Defense
Students in postgraduate studies usually undertake a single, significant academic project to mark the completion of their education. Basically, this project is writing a dissertation for those pursuing a doctoral degree and a thesis paper for those seeking a master’s degree. In principle, both projects are the same, as they provide students an opportunity to confirm that they have acquired significant knowledge in a given field. Even though some students are expected to write a doctoral dissertation, many of them never prepare adequately. Besides submitting the written document, students also appear before supervisors, who happen to be university professors, to defend their work. In turn, the entire process lasts about 20 minutes to an hour or more. Also, it depends on what the dissertation defense committee is looking for and the program requirements.
Defending the Dissertation
Upon submission of dissertations by doctoral students, universities assign a date that they will appear before their supervisors to defend their work. Basically, this dissertation defense does not mean an aggressive argument about one’s work, but it is rather a platform for oral exchange between students and their supervisors. For example, this exchange aims to give professors adequate time to ask students some questions about their work and studies to confirm their level of understanding of their field and focus area. In this case, a dissertation defense is a formality because students have already submitted their work. Moreover, professors have already evaluated such dissertations. During the defense proceeding, members of the dissertation defense committee ask students open-ended questions, which they must respond to critically.
Difference Between a Dissertation Defense and an Exam or Presentation
It is common practice for institutions of learning to assess their students’ level of knowledge. Globally, colleges and universities prepare examinations for their students at every level of learning. Basically, these examinations can happen during the semester as continues assessment tests or end of semester examinations. Moreover, these examinations have a short lifetime. Then, a student has time restrictions with many examinations taking a maximum of two hours. In contrast, dissertations are academic projects that take a long period to complete. As a result, a student has ample time to prepare and write the project, which they submit as their time at the university nears its end.
What to Do to Prepare for the Dissertation Defense
Like any academic assessment, students must prepare to defend their thesis before the dissertation defense committee, being ready mentally and physically for the process. Basically, there are many ways that a student can achieve these milestones. Firstly, one way is to educate themselves on the dynamics of the process, which can happen by attending other students’ dissertation defenses. Then, another way is by adhering to the university’s rules regarding the dissertation defense, including deadlines and schedules. In short, students must ensure that they are conversant with all the requirements before their scheduled presentation. Doing so fosters one’s confidence and, ultimately, induces great performance.
Tips on Writing a Dissertation
Since writing a dissertation precedes the defense process, students must learn essential thesis writing tips. Hence, these tips include:
1. Writing a Winning Dissertation Proposal
Here, students develop a research proposal for the final thesis project, whose aim is to convince the dissertation defense committee of one’s commitment to finding answers to valuable, insightful, and complex questions. Basically, the proposal is a shorter paper than the final dissertation. However, it is equally as important. As such, students should approach it with all seriousness, take time to think of an important question, gather information, and write the paper. In turn, even if it is not mandatory for a student to write a proposal, it is advisable for purposes of adequate preparation. For example, writing thesis proposals allow students to discuss points with their mentors.
2. Deciding on the Theme, Question, and Title
Here, students should think critically about the purpose of the dissertation and the research problem. Basically, when making notes at this stage, scholars should ask themselves why it is vital to find a solution to the problem and how they are going to search for the answers. Moreover, these questions help students to commit to the project. Since no one wants to complicate their academic project, scholars need to select a unique but reasonable theme. Eventually, the question and the theme that students choose as the points of focus will inform the hypothesis, which must be testable. More importantly, scholars must ensure that they can sufficiently defend the question and the theme through research. In turn, it would make sense for students to discuss with their mentor a few alternatives that they may have developed before writing the dissertation.
3. Choosing the Structure of the Dissertation Proposal
To make the proposal convincing, students must use a format that is easy to follow. Basically, the proposal’s core elements should be the title, objectives, literature review, research methodology, potential findings or results, timeframe, and references.
4. Conducting Effective Research
Here, students should execute their project methodically and effectively, ensuring that they do not waste time on trivial tasks and irrelevant materials. As such, they should develop a timeline for identifying and analyzing sources. Hence, students should think critically about where to get credible sources.
5. Writing a Persuasive Dissertation
When it comes to writing the dissertation, students should start with a first draft. At this stage, they should create an outline that typically entails the introduction, research question(s), literature review, methodology, findings, discussion, and conclusion.
6. Editing and Proofreading for the Dissertation Defense
Before handing in their dissertation, students should ensure it is free of inconsistencies in arguments and grammatical errors.
7. Getting Feedback
After editing and proofreading their work, students should give it to their mentor, peers, and friends for review. Doing so helps to identify possible weak points, meaning that papers require some revisions.
8. Writing the Final Draft
After being satisfied that the paper is high quality, students should submit it to the dissertation defense department and prepare to defend their work before a committee.
Constructing a Dissertation Presentation
After submitting the dissertation to the department, students should begin thinking about their defense presentation. Here, scholars should engage in pre-defense meetings, such as attending others’ defenses, to familiarize themselves with the dynamics of the defense process. In this case, they should organize their presentation materials by creating and practicing to deliver a flawless presentation. As a result, this practice should involve answering expected questions from members of the dissertation defense committee.
1. Preparation for the Actual Speech
To make sure that students are ready for the actual presentation before the dissertation defense committee, they should:
- Prepare PowerPoint presentation slides and practice delivering the actual speech.
- Research the thesis committee to understand their objectives and likely questions. Here, scholars should use the feedback that they received with the first draft to identify common themes, perspectives, and questions.
- Exude professionalism and confidence. In this case, students should understand that they are authors of documents and, therefore, know the contents more than any other person.
2. Psychological Factors of the Dissertation Defense
As students prepare to defend their dissertation, they should note some psychological factors that are likely to emerge during the process. Basically, these factors include unexpected events such as questions that students may never have thought possible. In turn, scholars should have a mindset to be prepared for unexpected aspects.
Besides being psychologically prepared, scholars should be aware of factors that might affect their performance during the defense process. For example, these factors include the lack of enough sleeping before the day of the presentation and anxiety. In this case, the best way to avoid such instances is to get enough sleep and prepare adequately.
Expectations for the Dissertation Defense
Given the complex nature of the dissertation defense process, it is common for students to overlook some vital facts. Basically, one of these facts is the importance of attitude and preparation. In this case, scholars must never forget that the right attitude and adequate preparation help to convince the dissertation defense committee that they understand their subject and research. Like a job interview, students should practice their defense ahead of time. Then, one of the unexpected problems that scholars should be prepared to encounter during their presentation of the dissertation defense is being required to revise the work. Despite editing and proofreading dissertations before submission, students may experience a committee that is unsatisfied with how some arguments are constructed. As such, scholars must be prepared to get revision requirements.
Summing Up on How to Get Prepared for the Dissertation Defense
Pursuing postgraduate studies is a significant milestone for many students, especially those seeking to attain a degree in doctorate studies. In this case, one must be prepared not only to write a dissertation that convinces themselves, their supervisors, the university community, and the world that they have gained substantial knowledge during their time at the university but also to defend it. More importantly, students must be sure to give a strong defense for their work once they appear before the dissertation defense committee.
When it comes to the dissertation defense, some tips below are essential for a convincing presentation:
- know the dissertation committee;
- acknowledge the assumptions and limitations of one’s conclusions.
- use a visual presentation;
- expect unique questions from members of the dissertation defense committee.
- get enough sleep;
- exude confidence and stay calm.