Higher education degrees consist of much more than attending classes, doing your homework, and passing the exams. To get your graduate degree, you’re going to have to spend a lot of time writing your thesis. Beyond that, before it’s accepted, you have to engage in a thesis defense in front of a panel of experts who have the sole intent of ensuring you know your stuff. It’s not personal. They don’t set out to discredit you. But you must be able to defend your thesis to their in-depth questioning before you get your degree.
Since you’ve already spent years preparing your thesis and learning all the content in your specific subject area, the knowledge aspect isn’t the hard part. Sure, you’ll want to hone up on some topics you haven’t touched in a while, but overall, you’re probably one of the leading experts at the time on the most innovative and up-to-date concepts in the area you’re defending. But before you head in for your thesis defense, consider these thoughts to get to know what you should expect.
What is a Thesis Defense?
Graduate students enter their university years understanding that they need to undertake research, attend courses, and conduct experiments that will lead them towards writing an in-depth thesis paper before they get their degrees. But it’s usually not until closer to the end of the thesis’ completion that the knowledge of defending the thesis becomes fully apparent.
A thesis defense is a meeting between you and a committee of two or more professors who are in the program you’re attending. The committee panel may also have people from other institutions or industries in the field of your thesis; people who are considered experts and will be able to discern whether you have the knowledge you claim to have and whether your thesis premises are valid and legitimate.
The time you spend in this meeting will include you being questioned and answering the problems set forth before you by the panel. They will require detailed, thorough explanations of their questions that pertain to your thesis to ensure you know the subject. These questions are typically open-ended and conducive to critical thinking. Although you’re defending your knowledge of the subject, your paper has already undergone final evaluations. The defense is the final stage required of you before you get your degree.
Things to Consider as You Prepare for Your Defense
The requirements for your thesis will be contingent on the type of program you’re going for and your institution’s procedures. When it’s time for the defense, it can take anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours. This time is spent with your presentation and the questions.
As you’re preparing, keep these tips in mind:
● Some thesis defenses are closed to the public, but yours may be open. Check with your institution ahead of time.
● Reread your thesis and try to get a feel for questions that you may be asked. Don’t write a script - these sound rehearsed and you’ll stress yourself trying to memorize them. But go through the important parts of the answers to freshen your memory.
● Appearance counts in a thesis defense. It’s a formal occasion in which the whole department might be there. Dress as though you were attending a coveted job interview.
● List the tasks that you need to have done before your thesis, like picking up your dry cleaning or setting the room up for your presentation. Get help where you can to limit your stress.
● Don’t rely solely on technology. Even with the best laid plans, it’s possible for the equipment you need to do your presentation to be faulty. Have another plan for presenting your information just in case.
● Have a default answer for the questions you aren’t sure of. Don’t worry if you don’t know all the answers. The point is to see how you respond with critical thinking and challenges.
● Accept your nervousness and control it. You are not the first person to have walked into your thesis defense full of anxiety. Accept that you will be nervous and that your examiners understand your concern and are willing to help.
Your defense is the final cherry on the ice cream sundae of your graduate degree. You’ve already done all the legwork and you have the knowledge. Don’t overthink it, but don’t under prepare, either. Use these tips to make sure you’re ready for anything that comes your way in this meeting!