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How to Create an Effective Thesis Statement in 5 Easy Steps
Creating a thesis statement can be a daunting task. It’s one of the most important sentences in your paper, and it needs to be done right. But don’t worry — with these five easy steps, you’ll be able to create an effective thesis statement in no time.
Step 1: Brainstorm Ideas
The first step is to brainstorm ideas for your paper. Think about what you want to say and write down any ideas that come to mind. This will help you narrow down your focus and make it easier to create your thesis statement.
Step 2: Research Your Topic
Once you have some ideas, it’s time to do some research on your topic. Look for sources that support your ideas and provide evidence for the points you want to make. This will help you refine your argument and make it more convincing.
Step 3: Formulate Your Argument
Now that you have done some research, it’s time to formulate your argument. Take the points you want to make and put them into one or two sentences that clearly state what your paper is about. This will be the basis of your thesis statement.
Step 4: Refine Your Thesis Statement
Once you have formulated your argument, it’s time to refine your thesis statement. Make sure that it is clear, concise, and specific. It should also be arguable so that readers can disagree with it if they choose.
Step 5: Test Your Thesis Statement
The last step is to test your thesis statement. Does it accurately reflect the points you want to make? Is it clear and concise? Does it make an arguable point? If not, go back and refine it until it meets all of these criteria.
Creating an effective thesis statement doesn’t have to be a daunting task. With these five easy steps, you can create a strong thesis statement in no time at all.
This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.
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What is a Thesis Defense?
If you're researching a master's degree, you'll likely come across the phrase "thesis defense" among the list of requirements for earning an advanced degree. This formal-sounding requirement usually comes at the end of a graduate program. As a student seeking a master's degree, your thesis defines your educational experience at the university. Once you've completed all the necessary coursework and finished any internship or practicum experiences, you will be required to meet with a committee to defend your work. Details of a defense vary by college, but there are some general things to keep in mind as you embark on the graduate process.
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What is a Thesis?
In most schools, the thesis represents a student's collective understanding of his or her program and major. Students who major in English, for example, typically explore language, literary themes, a specific author's work or a similar topic when writing a thesis paper. Universities often require theses to consist of a prospectus, which outlines the intent of the paper, and a full-length paper treatment of a particular topic. In the natural sciences, theses might cover experiments or hypothetical situations in which a student researches certain elements of his or her field.
Theses projects demand full attention, and many schools require that students devote an entire semester to completing the research and resulting paper. Students work with a faculty committee or adviser on a close basis to make sure that the research stays on schedule. Depending on the level of degree, a thesis paper can be extremely complex.
Defending the Work
Once students submit their theses papers to the thesis committee, they will be assigned a date to defend their work. In this case, "defend" does not imply that a student will have to argue aggressively about his or her work. Rather, the thesis defense is designed so that faculty members can ask questions and make sure that students actually understand their field and focus area. Defending a thesis largely serves as a formality because the paper will already have been evaluated. During a defense, a student will be asked questions by members of the thesis committee. Questions are usually open-ended and require that the student think critically about his or her work. A defense might take only 20 minutes, or it might take an hour or more depending on the goal of the committee and the requirements of the program.
Preparation for Your Thesis Defense
Students have months to prepare for a defense . Schools want graduate candidates to be as prepared as possible when attending a defense, which means that neither the date nor faculty committee will be a surprise to the student. It's important to keep in mind that if you go into a defense with the right attitude and preparation, failing is nearly impossible. The committee wants to see how well you know your subject and your research. Nerves may get the better of you as you face unknown questions, but as with a job interview, practicing ahead of time will lead to a successful defense.
Facing a defense can be stressful, but think of it as an opportunity to share what you've learned. Remember that you aren't arguing points when you defend your work. Instead, a proper thesis defense gives you and your faculty advisers the chance to discuss your topic and research in greater detail.
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How to prepare an excellent thesis defense
- What is a thesis defense?
If you're about to complete, or have ever completed a graduate degree, you have most likely come across the term "thesis defense." In many countries, to finish a graduate degree, you have to write a thesis .
A thesis is a large paper, or multi-chapter work, based on a topic relating to your field of study.
Once you hand in your thesis, you will be assigned a date to defend your work. Your thesis defense meeting usually consists of you and a committee of two or more professors working in your program. It may also include other people, like professionals from other colleges or those who are working in your field.
During your thesis defense, you will be asked questions about your work. The main purpose of your thesis defense is for the committee to make sure that you actually understand your field and focus area.
The questions are usually open-ended and require the student to think critically about their work. By the time of your thesis defense, your paper has already been evaluated. The questions asked are not designed so that you actually have to aggressively "defend" your work; often, your thesis defense is more of a formality required so that you can get your degree.
- Check with your department about requirements and timing.
- Re-read your thesis.
- Anticipate questions and prepare for them.
- Create a back-up plan to deal with technology hiccups.
- Plan de-stressing activities both before, and after, your defense.
- How long is a thesis defense?
How long your oral thesis defense is depends largely on the institution and requirements of your degree. It is best to consult your department or institution about this. In general, a thesis defense may take only 20 minutes, but it may also take two hours or more. The length also depends on how much time is allocated to the presentation and questioning part.
Tip: Check with your department or institution as soon as possible to determine the approved length for a thesis defense.
- What happens at a thesis defense?
First of all, be aware that a thesis defense varies from country to country. This is just a general overview, but a thesis defense can take many different formats. Some are closed, others are public defenses. Some take place with two committee members, some with more examiners.
The same goes for the length of your thesis defense, as mentioned above. The most important first step for you is to clarify with your department what the structure of your thesis defense will look like. In general, your thesis defense will include:
- your presentation of around 20-30 minutes
- questions from the committee
- questions from the audience (if the defense is public and the department allows it)
You might have to give a presentation, often with Powerpoint, Google slides, or Keynote slides. Make sure to prepare an appropriate amount of slides. A general rule is to use about 10 slides for a 20-minute presentation.
But that also depends on your specific topic and the way you present. The good news is that there will be plenty of time ahead of your thesis defense to prepare your slides and practice your presentation alone and in front of friends or family.
Tip: Practice delivering your thesis presentation in front of family, friends, or colleagues.
You can prepare your slides by using information from your thesis' first chapter (the overview of your thesis) as a framework or outline. Substantive information in your thesis should correspond with your slides.
Make sure your slides are of good quality— both in terms of the integrity of the information and the appearance. If you need more help with how to prepare your presentation slides, both the ASQ Higher Education Brief and James Hayton have good guidelines on the topic.
Questions from the committee
The committee will ask questions about your work after you finish your presentation. The questions will most likely be about the core content of your thesis, such as what you learned from the study you conducted. They may also ask you to summarize certain findings and to discuss how your work will contribute to the existing body of knowledge.
Tip: Read your entire thesis in preparation of the questions, so you have a refreshed perspective on your work.
While you are preparing, you can create a list of possible questions and try to answer them. You can foresee many of the questions you will get by simply spending some time rereading your thesis.
- 6 tips to help you prepare for your thesis defense
Here are a few tips on how to prepare for your thesis defense:
1. Anticipate questions and prepare for them
You can absolutely prepare for most of the questions you will be asked. Read through your thesis and while you're reading it, create a list of possible questions. In addition, since you will know who will be on the committee, look at the academic expertise of the committee members. In what areas would they most likely be focused?
If possible, sit at other thesis defenses with these committee members to get a feel for how they ask and what they ask. As a graduate student, you should generally be adept at anticipating test questions, so use this advantage to gather as much information as possible before your thesis defense meeting.
2. Dress for success
Your thesis defense is a formal event, often the entire department or university is invited to participate. It signals a critical rite of passage for graduate students and faculty who have supported them throughout a long and challenging process.
While most universities don't have specific rules on how to dress for that event, do regard it with dignity and respect. This one might be a no-brainer, but know that you should dress as if you were on a job interview or delivering a paper at a conference.
3. Ask for help, as needed
It might help you deal with your stress before your thesis defense to entrust someone with the smaller but important responsibilities of your defense well ahead of schedule. This trusted person could be responsible for:
- preparing the room of the day of defense
- setting up equipment for the presentation
- preparing and distributing handouts
4. Have a backup plan
Technology is unpredictable. Life is too. There are no guarantees that your Powerpoint presentation will work at all or look the way it is supposed to on the big screen. We've all been there. Make sure to have a plan B for these situations. Handouts can help when technology fails, and an additional clean shirt can save the day if you have a spill.
5. Prepare for the possibility that you might not know an answer
One of the scariest aspects of the defense is the possibility of being asked a question you can't answer. While you can prepare for some questions, you can never know exactly what the committee will ask.
There will always be gaps in your knowledge. But your thesis defense is not about being perfect and knowing everything, it's about how you deal with challenging situations. You are not expected to know everything.
James Hayton writes on his blog that examiners will sometimes even ask questions they don't know the answer to, out of curiosity, or because they want to see how you think. While it is ok sometimes to just say "I don't know", he advises to try something like "I don't know, but I would think [...] because of x and y, but you would need to do [...] in order to find out.” This shows that you have the ability to think as an academic.
6. De-stress before, during, and after
You will be nervous. But your examiners will expect you to be nervous. Being well prepared can help minimize your stress, but do know that your examiners have seen this many times before and are willing to help, by repeating questions, for example. Dora Farkas at finishyourthesis.com notes that it’s a myth that thesis committees are out to get you.
Two common symptoms of being nervous are talking really fast and nervous laughs. Try to slow yourself down and take a deep breath. Remember what feels like hours to you are just a few seconds in real life.
- Try meditational breathing right before your defense.
- Get plenty of exercise and sleep in the weeks prior to your defense.
- Have your clothes or other items you need ready to go the night before.
- During your defense, allow yourself to process each question before answering.
- Go to dinner with friends and family, or to a fun activity like mini-golf, after your defense.
Allow yourself to process each question, respond to it, and stop talking once you have responded. While a smile can often help dissolve a difficult situation, remember that nervous laughs can be irritating for your audience.
We all make mistakes and your thesis defense will not be perfect. However, careful preparation, mindfulness, and confidence can help you feel less stressful both before, and during, your defense.
Finally, consider planning something fun that you can look forward to after your defense.
- Frequently Asked Questions about preparing an excellent thesis defense
It is completely normal to be nervous. Being well prepared can help minimize your stress, but do know that your examiners have seen this many times before and are willing to help, by repeating questions for example if needed. Slow yourself down, and take a deep breath.
Your thesis defense is not about being perfect and knowing everything, it's about how you deal with challenging situations. James Hayton writes on his blog that it is ok sometimes to just say "I don't know", but he advises to try something like "I don't know, but I would think [...] because of x and y, you would need to do [...] in order to find out".
Your Powerpoint presentation can get stuck or not look the way it is supposed to do on the big screen. It can happen and your supervisors know it. In general, handouts can always save the day when technology fails.
- Dress for success.
- Ask for help setting up.
- Have a backup plan (in case technology fails you).
- Deal with your nerves.
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What is a thesis defense and how does it work?
A thesis defense can be quite daunting, but if you know what it is, how it’s structured and how to prepare, you’ll have a good shot at acing it. This article is designed for students considering a PhD and want to learn more about what it entails, but could also be of assistance to current PhDs coming up on their own defense.
So what is a thesis defense?
A thesis defense is basically a twenty-minute to an hour-long presentation, where you demonstrate knowledge of not only your own work but your field as a whole. This could mean authors that have come before you, to colleagues who’ve written on similar topics. You’ll be presenting in front of a ‘thesis committee’, which is usually a panel of professors. This panel can be decided in a number of ways, depending on the university. Institutions like ANU don’t even do a thesis defense, whereas others like VU allow you to nominate candidates to examine your work, which is then ultimately decided upon by your supervisor . Some universities even let you hand-pick the whole committee! So it’s worth checking which style your university employs.
When does a thesis defense occur?
Generally, after your thesis has been submitted. They can’t talk about your thesis if you haven’t got one after all! In cases where a thesis defense is secondary or non-existent, your thesis is presented to two or more qualified evaluators, who then make the bulk of their judgement on the work. Not on your rhetoric! This should come as a relief if public speaking isn’t your forte. Even so, it’s worth practising up! It can’t hurt to make a solid impression. You’re a subject matter expert after all.
How do you succeed in a thesis defense?
No matter who’s evaluating you or what discipline you’re in, there are some general guidelines to follow. We recommend bolstering these by getting your supervisor’s advice and/ or the experiences of your peers.
- Do your prep work. You may have written your thesis, but you need to know it like the back of your hand to defend it adequately. It also pays to know exactly where the weaknesses are so you can address them.
- You’re not required to argue your case or anything as the name may imply. You’ll just be asked questions, so be as informed as possible about your work and iron out any objections and preempt uncomfortable questions with prepared answers.
- Practice possible questions ahead of time. This entails coming up with questions you might like to know if you were in the committee’s position. You can even get a friend to help and practice it like you would a job interview. If not, just practice answering while you’re in the car, with all emphasis or annunciation you intend.
- Practice speaking in front of a mirror. Notice your body language and whether or not you appear nervous, or have distracting habits like scratching your chin too much or swaying side-to-side. These might seem silly, but you’d be surprised how common these unconscious behaviours are! Practising in front of a mirror can help you associate how you appear to others with the way you’re feeling and adjust.
That’s about the gist of it! Remember: this is basically a formality. Going into your thesis defense doesn’t need to be daunting, as they’ve already made their decision. Just do your best to appear relaxed and comfortable. Let prep work carry you through and you’ll walk out with ‘Dr’ appended to your name!
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How to Effectively Prepare for Your Thesis Defense
You’ve completed your research study, written your thesis, and think you’re done! If only it were this easy. Before you finish with your thesis, there is one last hurdle to overcome: the thesis defense.
What is a thesis defense?
A thesis defense is an opportunity for you to present your research study before other academic professionals who will evaluate the quality of your academic work. While a thesis defense can sometimes feel like a cross-examination in a court of law, in reality, there is no need to fear your thesis defense as long as you are well-prepared. In this article, we’ll talk about how to prepare for a thesis defense, what to expect at the defense itself, and what comes after your defense.
Why do I have to defend my thesis?
At your thesis defense, you will discuss everything you’ve learned with a group of interested examiners who are eager to hear your thoughts.
The fundamental purpose of a thesis defense is to prove that you have mastered your subject and can be considered as a knowledgeable expert in your field, thereby allowing you to graduate successfully. For many students, a thesis is one of the first attempts at conducting original research and demonstrating that you are equipped to function as an independent expert in your field. If qualified academic professionals can assess your work, question your methods and results, and confirm that your study is sound and novel, then you meet the requirements.
The exact format and expectations for your thesis defense will differ depending on the region you study in and your institution’s rules for the thesis program. The thesis defense meeting may have just two or three examiners or may have a whole panel of examiners along with an audience.
If the thought of facing your professors, peers, and parents to present your research study makes you feel dizzy, you aren’t alone . Moreover, a thesis defense is a great opportunity for you to hone your public speaking skills as well as talk about your research study. At your thesis defense, you will discuss everything you’ve learned with a group of interested examiners who are eager to hear your thoughts.
While the format for a thesis defense will vary, as mentioned above, most thesis defenses consist of:
- Presenting your research study (using PowerPoint or other similar tools)
- Answering questions from your thesis committee
- Receiving feedback from your thesis committee
So how can you prepare for it? Let’s talk about some important tips.
Preparing: Before the defense
It is useful to attend multiple defenses and ask others who have gone through the process what it was like.
The best way to prepare for a thesis defense is to attend other defenses at your institution so that you know what to expect. It is useful to attend multiple defenses and ask others who have gone through the process what it was like. Senior students are often happy to provide advice and can give you specific insights about particular examiners as well as details of the administrative process at your institution.
You should also talk to your thesis advisor well in advance of your defense about what to expect. Ask whether you need to shortlist your own committee, how long your presentation should be, and how long the thesis defense will be. The duration of a thesis defense varies by the degree level as well as the institution. On average, expect your defense to be at least an hour long, possibly longer for a Ph.D.
What should my presentation cover and how can I prepare it?
While preparing your presentation, also prepare a list of questions and answers that you think are likely to be asked by your committee.
You will need to prepare a presentation that will cover the details of your research study. It is wise to rehearse this presentation multiple times in advance of your thesis defense so that you will be comfortable when you actually present in front of your audience. While preparing your presentation, also prepare a list of questions and answers that you think are likely to be asked by your committee. If you can, enlist the help of a classmate or friend to be the examiner. They can ask you questions about your research study so you will be able to practice addressing these questions.
One mistake many students make is assuming that all members of their defense committee will thoroughly read their thesis prior to the defense. This is simply not always the case. For this reason, you should make sure your presentation makes sense to someone who has not actually read your thesis. A typical thesis defense presentation gives:
- An introduction to the topic
- Explains how the study is significant in the field
- Covers the main highlights of the methodology and results of the study
- Picks out the main points from the discussion and conclusion
What should I do the day before my defense?
Before your thesis defense, make sure you have backups of everything you need saved in multiple formats and multiple locations.
Before your thesis defense, make sure you have backups of everything you need to be saved in multiple formats and multiple locations. Put your presentation and your thesis on a USB drive, email it to yourself, upload it to the cloud, and print it out. Leave nothing to chance: you want to be absolutely prepared to defend your thesis short of an act of God obliterating the venue. In addition, make sure you prepare hard copies (printouts) of both your thesis and slideshow for the committee members. It need not be professionally bound at this stage, but they will appreciate having reference material on hand.
Finally, there are some practical steps to take in preparation for the thesis defense. Choose your outfit in advance (you should dress professionally) and practice presenting in it. You should also make sure you know the exact location of the thesis defense venue. Scope out the venue before your defense, if possible, so you can imagine yourself there while you rehearse. If you are presenting virtually, test all your equipment in advance and have a backup plan in case your internet goes out or your computer suddenly crashes. Most importantly, make sure that you eat well and get proper rest the night before. Don’t stay up late rehearsing last minute in the hopes of improving your chances of passing your defense. You will do much better if you are well-rested and alert.
Time to shine: At the defense
Try to stay calm and remember you are not on trial!
What can you expect on the day of the defense?
Typically, you will enter the room, set up, and begin your presentation once the committee indicates that they are ready. As mentioned above, it is always advisable to bring hard copies of both your thesis and slideshow for the committee. That way, they can easily refer to what you are talking about as you present. Make sure you also bring a pencil and notebook with you to take notes, and some water, because you will get thirsty as you talk.
After you are done with the presentation, the committee members will ask questions. Try to stay calm and remember you are not on trial! Your committee generally wants you to succeed, but they also want you to prove that you really know what you’re talking about. Do your best to answer their questions and never be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. It is much better, to be honest than to be caught lying or making something up during your thesis defense.
After the question and answer session, depending on your institution, you may be asked to leave the room while the committee deliberates. You may also be present while they discuss the merits of your defense and make suggestions for how to revise it. Alternatively, they might adjourn to another room if there is a large audience present. After they deliberate, they will usually thank you for your time, and your defense will be over. At some institutions, they will inform you if you passed right away, while at others, you will find out after a few days.
How does my committee decide if my work is good or not?
In general, you can expect your thesis defense and your thesis as a whole to be evaluated based on the below criteria:
- Whether the thesis meets the departmental requirements
- Whether the research study is logical and clear
- Whether the stated objectives are met in the study
- Use of primary and secondary literature
- Use of relevant and up-to-date sources
- Methodological rigor
- Your ability to critically analyze data, facts, relevant literature, and synthesize information into a coherent narrative
- Writing quality and flow
- The validity of your conclusions based on your data and analysis
- The relevance and importance of your research study in the field
- Your ability to clearly and coherently present what your thesis is about
- Your ability to answer questions about your work accurately and in-depth
- Your ability to acknowledge and consider other theories or perspectives and explain why you dismissed one theory in favor of another
In summary, the examining committee want to know:
- Did you meet the thesis criteria set by your institution?
- Did you perform high-quality research work?
- Do you know what you are talking about?
After the defense: What’s next?
After your thesis is approved, you will need to have it professionally bound and then submit copies to your university.
After your thesis defense, you should definitely celebrate and congratulate yourself for all your hard work! Unfortunately, you aren’t quite done yet. Although the committee may notify you about passing, it is also very likely that you will be asked to make some changes to your thesis before you are finally done. You should work with your advisor to finalize and incorporate any comments you received into your work as quickly as possible.
After your thesis is approved, you will need to have it professionally bound and then submit copies to your university. You will also get the chance to order copies for yourself. This process also differs by institution, so make sure you talk to the administration department to figure out what you need to do and when to complete this process.
All in all, while a thesis defense is a scary and overwhelming event, it is also an incredible achievement. Earning your degree is no small feat, and you should definitely feel proud of yourself once you have done it! Check out our site for more tips on how to write a good thesis, where to find the best thesis editing services , and more about thesis editing and proofreading services .
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To prepare for your thesis defense, make sure that you:
Find out your institutional requirements
Talk to your advisor well in advance about what to expect and prepare
Attend defenses of other students to see what they are like
Prepare your presentation early so you can rehearse it
Rehearse your presentation with a timer
Make a list of questions and answers about your research study
Enlist a friend to be the examiner and ask you questions
Prepare multiple backups of your materials (USB drive, Google Drive/Cloud storage, email, hard copy)
Have a plan for computer/internet problems if you are presenting virtually
Eat well and get a good night’s rest before the defense
Arrive at the defense venue early enough to test any IT equipment or internet connection
What should I do to prepare for my thesis defense? +
- Find out your institution’s requirements
- Attend other thesis defenses
- Speak to your advisor
- Prepare and practice your presentation
- Enlist a friend or classmate to act as the examiner and ask you questions while you practice
How long is a typical thesis defense? +
Every institution is different, but most thesis defenses are at least an hour long.
What should my thesis presentation actually contain? +
A typical thesis defense presentation introduces the thesis topic, explains how your study is significant in the field, and covers the main highlights of the methodology and results of the study. It finally picks out the main points from the discussion and conclusion section of your thesis.
What if I fail my thesis defense? +
The odds that you will fail are extremely low! Most advisors and committees do not let a candidate schedule a defense unless they feel the candidate is ready. So, don’t worry about it. However, if you do fail for some reason, your institution will have a process for you to apply to try again.
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Thesis Defense – a guide to prepare best
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- 1 Definition: Thesis Defense
- 2 In a Nutshell
- 3 Before the Thesis Defense
- 4 What happens in a Thesis Defense?
- 5 What to include?
- 6 Tools for Thesis Defense
- 7 Thesis Defense Anxiety
- 8 Manage Thesis Defense Anxiety
Definition: Thesis Defense
A thesis defense is an act of presenting your work to a panel of professors so they can grade your presentation abilities. In retrospect, the argument is essential to ascertain that you understood the topic. You have to hand in your paper first so that the lecturer can grade it before you appear for the defense.
As a university student, you need to hand in a high-quality thesis paper and defend it before a panel of professors. So what is this that takes place during a thesis defense? Read along to find out.
In a Nutshell
So, there you have it. These tips should help you present your thesis defense and ace it. Remember that:
- You should present facts that are in the paper. Do not add any new information
- Make the thesis defense as enjoyable as possible
- Arrive early enough
- Do not exceed your allocated time
- Confidence goes a long way
Before the Thesis Defense
Before the day of the thesis defense, the qualifying students receive a timetable that shows the chronology of how the day will be. You are required to keep time, or else you will have to wait until the next allocated defense to present your paper. To qualify as a defending student, you have to hand in your paper at least one month before the thesis defense date.
What happens in a Thesis Defense?
Once you get to the hall, you need to introduce yourself and your topic, then present your paper to the lecturers. The professors will allocate you ¾ of the allotted time for the thesis defense. The remaining time is used up in the question and answer forum. Prepare yourself to answer several questions, such as:
- Your plans after completing the research
- The limitations you faced
- Things that you would change if given a chance
- How you chose your target audience
- How you intend to further your study on the subject
- The reasons for choosing your topic
- The most significant deductions you learned from the survey
- Reasons for choosing your research methodology, etc.
In some cases, the board may ask you to summarize your deductions from the study. The questions asked are not standard, which means you have to be thoroughly prepared to answer whatever the panel throws your way during the thesis defense. Other things that take place during the thesis defense include:
- Deliberations – At this point, the board of lecturers will ask you to leave the room as they deliberate on your thesis defense performance. They will then decide whether you move to the next level or you will defend again.
- Verdict – Finally, the team will invite you back in and tell you how you performed in the thesis defense. These panel members may ask you to make a few corrections before you can go ahead and publish your paper. You have to present your corrections to your facilitator, who will then give you the go-ahead to publish.
- Signing – The members will then sign your document to ascertain that you were part of the thesis defense team on the selected date.
How much time does a Thesis Defense take and how many people should be in the room?
During a thesis defense, each student appears before the panel individually. The facilitators will ask you questions concerning your topic to see if you fully grasped the concept. Each thesis defense will vary from the other depending on the technicality of your paper and the kind of degree you are pursuing.
- Undergraduate degree – Your panel may include at least three lecturers from your faculty. Additionally, the defense may last up to one hour.
- Masters degree – You get to interact with four professors at this level, and each student is allotted 1½ hours to present and answer questions.
- Ph.D. degree – Considering that this is the highest education level, five professors avail themselves to vet you. More so, you may have to engage them for two hours.
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What to include?
A thesis defense follows a particular format, which cuts across all types of degrees, which is:
- Introduction – Explain the need for this study
- Literature review – Explain what other scholars have found on the subject
- Research methodology – What research method did you use, and why did you use it?
- Findings and discussions – In your research, what were the key deductions that you came upon?
- Implications, limitations, suggestions, and conclusion – Here, you have to exhaust the setbacks you encountered during the study, the consequences that your target audience will face if they do not follow the deductions, and then finally sum up the discussions.
Tools for Thesis Defense
Considering that a thesis defense may take you at least 45 minutes to present, it is essential to make the presentation lively. So, you can incorporate a slide show and use images to make it less wordy. Bullet points also make the text easier to digest as opposed to a block of text. So, a laptop and a projector will help you ace your presentation.
Thesis Defense Anxiety
Standing before a panel of people waiting to hear how you conducted your research can be intimidating. This is especially so considering that you will be standing before a group of professors, who you believe to be superior to you in regards to the topic knowledge. More so, if you are not familiar with public speaking, it is easy to develop stage fright while defending.
Manage Thesis Defense Anxiety
In case you find yourself fidgeting before you begin presenting, use the following tips to help you get your composure back.
- If you have a problem with eye-balling the lecturers, look at the tips of their foreheads instead.
- Take a few seconds to breathe in and out so you can stabilize your speech if you begin to stammer.
- Go into the room with a positive mind, knowing that you will do your best.
- Most importantly, rehearse your thesis defense severally before the D-day.
What is a thesis defense?
A scholarly thesis defense is a forum that allows students to present their paper’s contents and defend their thesis topic before a panel of professors. The student is then required to answer all questions asked by the lecturers. At the end, the student is required to leave the room whilst the professors decide whether the thesis is ready to be published, or if it needs corrections.
How long is a thesis defense?
There is no general length for a thesis defense. The defense of a master’s thesis will take longer than the defense of a bachelor’s thesis. You will need to fit in an introduction , a literature review, your findings and even more into the time frame for your thesis defense, so it’s important that you’re well prepared. All in all, it depends on your paper and your academic field. Usually the thesis defense will last between one and two hours, but it also could be less than one hour.
What is the oral defense of a thesis?
Oral defense is simply another name for your thesis defense. If you’ve completed your thesis, you are required to defend it in front of a panel of professors. It is designed so that the committee can ensure that the students completely understand their thesis topic . The oral thesis defense is an examination of a completed body of work. Students will be assigned a date to defend their thesis.
What happens after the thesis defense?
After your thesis defense, you will be told to leave the room whilst the panel discusses your results. There are normally 2 outcomes. You may need to make changes to your thesis’ formatting or content. If this is the case, don’t stress! You’re able to try the thesis defense again once you’ve incorporated any required changes. The preferred outcome is that the panel is happy with your thesis and it’s then ready to be signed and published.
What defines a good thesis defense?
The thesis defense is the final step for your academic work. It’s important that you’re prepared and you’ve outlined what you’re going to say in each section of the defense. You need to know your thesis statement better than the back of your hand, otherwise you risk being sidetracked. Just like your thesis itself, your thesis defense has a specific structure. You can read more about this further on in the article. Try and prepare yourself for the potential types of questions that the professors will ask you so that you don’t have to think about your answers on the spot.
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Thesis defense: tips and know-how
If you are preparing to defend your thesis, you’ve come to the right place! This guide explains some pointers to consider when preparing for your thesis defense, both prior and during the thesis presentation. Before we can begin discussing some tips and best practices for preparing a thesis defense, we first need to define and differentiate between the different types of defenses that exist. Doctoral defenses (PhD defenses) follow a different format than bachelor or master thesis defenses. The format tends to vary greatly, depending on the country, so there are is no one size fit all policy with regards to the structure. There are however some general guideliens that are important to consider, regardless of the format.
What is a thesis defense?
The thesis defense, also known as thesis presentation or disputation in certain countries, signifies what is often the last and final part of your thesis journey. This is your moment to shine, where you are the center of the stage, to promote your thesis and discuss your results and your research. To some, this event is stressfull, particularly those who prefer not to speak in front of others (see our guide on public speaking) and for others, it’s an opportunity to finally be able to let the world know what you have been up to for the last few months (for master/bachelor theses) or for the last few years for PhD/doctoral theses work.
So how do we learn how to deliver a good thesis defense?
Learn from the mistakes of others…
Many years ago, when I was still in the early phases of my PhD, one of my academic supervisors, a late Professor of Civil Engineering, suggested that I enroll in a dissertation analysis course. The “course” was comprised of me sitting through several thesis / dissertation defenses and jotting down anything that I could learn from them. This included, how well the PhD candidate defended their thesis, what kind of criticism or points were reoccurring, and any other observations that I had regarding the thesis defense. This proved to be a very valuable exercise. This is an exercise that you can (and perhaps should) undertake yourself, not in a formal “course” setting, but rather by listening in and taking part in other peoples’ public thesis defenses. Although not all thesis defenses are public, most tend to be, and there is a lot that you can learn by observing the defense from the point of view of the audience.
So how do you find a thesis defense to listen in on?
The best case scenario would be to listen to theses defenses delivered by students in the same research area and university, if that’s not possible, a different thesis topic but still fairly tangential to your research area would also be useful. These days (I am writing this guide during the covid pandemic of 2020/2021), it is extremely easy to take part in thesis defenses online via Zoom as they are often publicized in advance and can be found by browsing your universities’ online events calendar.
So what did I learn through the numerous theses that I listened to?
The first thing I noticed that was a recurring theme, a question that seemed to appear in all the theses defenses that I attended, had to do with how the student’s work contributed to their research field. What is special with your research? What new findings have you been able to lay forth; or which previously known findings have you been able to amend? This is the the central point that all of your research enquires revolve around, the raison d’être of your research, what are the contributions that you are bringing, and why should we care?
Of course, the bar is much set much higher for doctoral theses work compared to bachelor and master thesis, but the point still stands. This does not mean that each and every thesis that is published needs to be groundbreaking and ignite a paradigm shift. In fact, most thesis work do not lead to any revolutionary contributions. This point is perhaps best illustrated by satirical web sites such as lolmythesis where students submit their real thesis titles alongside a more comical title in plain English. This gives rise to titles such as this one from Yale University with the plain title “UAV deployment for fine-scale CO2 estimation in a mid-size city” which the author claims could also be titled as “I collected all my data then realized I didn’t record the variables needed for the one thing I promised to do in the title of my thesis”.
Do not stress over the significance of your research contributions, but do be prepared to defend them publicly.
What concrete contributions can you claim came about as a result of you having done this study of yours? If you can not answer that question (or at least explain why why your results were or were not remarkable), then you are out on dangerous water. There is an expectation that these contributions that we bring should actually have some form of substance, which they unfortunately do not always have. The site lolmythesis is a testimony to that, it perfectly encapsulates what it means to publish theses. Here are some more examples to put your mind at ease:
Keeping a strong mind set
The table above reminds us not to take things too seriously. If you feel that your results are underwhelming, you may consider yourself a member of the academic club, everyone tends to produce results at one point in their research career that they themselves consider underwhelming. For the defense however, the key here is not to focus on the results themselves, but rather on the overall arguments and the overarching discussion that surrounds your results and provides a context to your key points. Be ready to defend and explain anomalies in data, or the specific choices that you made with respect to why you chose a specific research method instead of another. The thesis defense should be viewed as an exercise for you to be able to explain your overall argument and show why it is consistent. Remember that the thesis defense does not exist for you to be criticized with regards to other peoples data or research. As long as you have a strong grasp of your own research topic, you should be able to breeze through the defense. You can feel assured that (for most cases) no external expert or review committee will know more about your specific thesis than you do. As long as this disparity in knowledge holds true, it doesn’t matter how much more they know about the overall research field, if you are more knowledgeable of your specific research inquiries and their underlying assumptions.
The second point that I want to highlight is that all of your conclusions should follow from the results that has been presented (which in turn come from the data that you collected, depending on research area). With other words, all of the conclusions that are mentioned should follow logically from the underlying premises. I remember once attending a thesis defense where it was clear that the doctoral student highlighted certain conclusions that had no basis in the person’s data, and that sort of things tends to get highlighted real fast. So you need to be careful about that.
The third point concerns quality. The work must of course be of high quality, this is understood by all, but it also means that the data was gathered properly and that the sources that you cite are relevant and authoritative. Make sure that the image/story that you are presenting during your defense is internally consistent. Thus, even if an opponent has issues with a specific method that you chose, they cannot claim that your research contradicts itself. Apparent contradictions can be very problematic, and if you suspect that there might be a contradiction somewhere in your thesis, you need to be ready to explain that paragraph if asked to.
The last thing I want to mention has to do with the mental state of the one who is presenting. There is no doubt that public speaking is stressfull for a lot of people, and it is therefore extra important to remember to not place to much weight on the matter. It is after all only a speech. You know the topic, why worry, you literally wrote a book on it! As one says in swahili, hakuna matata is an appropriate attitude to have towards the thesis defense. It is important to remember that studies, specifically doctoral studies, are more than just a written dissertation. Instead, it encapsulates the whole process where you gradually learn more about your specific research work. Regardless of whether you achieve a undergraduate, postgraduate or doctoral degree at the end of your research, that degree only symbolizes the start of a learning journey, and not the end. Unlike the common conception, PhD studies shouldn’t be viewed as a dreadful and draining undertaking that finally culminates in this large-scale orgasmic metamorphosis where you are transformed from this lowly caterpillar to become a fully-feathered and competent butterfly.
The list below contains a few links to real examples of theses defenses. Do check out the presentation by Dr. Ben Conrad which is really good example of a thesis defense done right, it manages to be informative, to the point as well as engaging the audience and the material.
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Hints for PhD Defenses
At Columbia, PhD defenses are generally not public, although CS usually allows a student audience. Defenses consist of four parts: first, the candidate introduces themselves, then presents a summary of their work, interrupted and followed by questions from the committee. Finally, the committee meets in private to discuss the presentation and dissertation.
While most of the committee will have read most of your thesis, you cannot assume that everyone has read every chapter.
The committee needs to be able to assess impact and depth. Usually, the committee has some idea of this before the defense, but whatever the student can say to make this assessment easier, perhaps just through emphasis, is likely to make the defense go much more smoothly.
Generally, the whole defense will not take more than two hours, but should take considerably less time. Part of the challenge of a defense is to convince the committee that you can summarize the important points of your work in a very limited time.
- What is the problem you are studying?
- Why is it important ?
- What results have you achieved?
- Some committee members will want to know if the works has been published and where and how it was received. For example, if you have written software, indicate where it is being used, either for follow-on work or in some production or test environment.
- Have a list of your thesis-related publications as a slide. Indicate any awards that a paper may have received. For most people, it's easier to list some honor than "brag" about it in person.
- If you have presented your work in a conference or at job talks, be sure to anticipate and address the most common questions asked there.
- The committee should be handed a copy of your slides.
- Be prepared to briefly summarize your background (undergraduate degree, how long at the university, etc.)
- No more than 30 slides, plus "back up" slides with additional material in case of questions. The most effective way of making your committee members mad is to come unprepared with a stack of 80 slides and then madly skip through them.
- Number your slides, particularly if one of your committee members is linked in via speakerphone. Consider using some kind of remote presentation software.
- List your contributions early.
- When presenting your contributions, be sure to use "I" and not "we" so that the committee will know what aspects of the work where yours, and which were group projects.
- Keep discussions of related work very brief, but be prepared to answer questions of the "how does this differ from so-and-so's work" succinctly.
- You will not be asked to prove results again.
- Be prepared to back up any comparative statement with facts, in particular statements like "works better", "faster", "scalable" or "optimal". If you are presenting a protocol, how do you know that it works correctly?
- If you have multiple parts in your dissertation, consult with the committee ahead of time as to whether it makes sense to omit some of them for the presentation.
Hints for Dissertations
- It is better to focus deeply on a single area then to work on several topics, each of which is pursued to a moderate depth.
- Systems work must be coupled with implementation and some kind of numerical comparitive analysis to demonstrate the improvements from existing or alternate approaches.
- Your thesis needs a one page executive summary that a layperson should be able to understand. Test: give it to a relative of yours that does not have an engineering degree...
- You are likely only to defend a PhD thesis only once; your defense is a special occasion, so consider dressing appropriately, at least business casual, but a suit is not inappropriate.
- It is customary to provide refreshments for the audience, such as coffee, bagels, cookies and fruit, depending on the time of day.
The Role of PhD Committee Members
- Committee members (should) read the draft thesis (and provide feedback). Obviously, students appreciate an in-depth reading, but it is common for committee members to focus on chapters closest to their expertise. Reading depths varies - some provide line edits, others just suggest larger issues that should be addressed ("Your related work section in Chapter 10 is a bit sparse and ends in 2005."). While this is probably not the place to suggest "do another year of research", filling in gaps is ok and I'd rather postpone a defense by a month if needed. Before the committee gets the thesis, I've done a first or sometimes second reading, but the whole point of the committee is to keep the advisor honest (and complement his or her knowledge or taste).
- Committee members attend the PhD defense, usually in person. Typically, this lasts about 90 minutes. Take notes on any editorial improvements (e.g., "make clear that the throughput graph is measured in gallons/minute"). Vote on the outcome and sign the form.
- If the student is given a set of changes to implement, the advisor asks students to detail on how they implemented the changes, similar to how an author may respond to reviewer comments for a journal. The committee informally signs off, or not, on these changes. There is no need to re-read the thesis.
Checklist for Dissertation
- Spell check;
- Check for missing chapter or figure references;
- Section, Chapter, Figure are capitalized;
- All references converted from  to [1,2,3];
- Consistent capitalization in captions;
- Verify expansion of all abbreviations at first instance;
- Avoid "tremendous", "huge" and other similar adjectives;
- End to end -> end-to-end;
- Check references for capitalization of abbreviations and missing data such as page numbers.
(Contributions by Ed Coffman, Jonathan Rosenberg and Sal Stolfo.)