How to Prepare for your Thesis Defense

How to Prepare for your Thesis Defense

What is a Thesis Defense?

In many countries, to finish a graduate degree, you have to write a thesis. In general, a thesis is a written piece of scholarly research work that marks the end of a master's program. The purpose of a thesis is to allow students (candidates) to showcase their knowledge and expertise within the subject matter they have been studying as part of the program. Once you submit your theses papers to the committee (academic examiners), a date will be assigned for you to defend your research work.

A thesis defense (also called a “viva voce”) is an oral presentation and discussion of a thesis study. it is an opportunity for you to present your research work before academic examiners.

Thesis Defense Anxiety

Thesis defense can be stressful event for you, but think of it as an opportunity to share and discuss what you have learned during your research work. As with any other exam, you are more likely to pass if you prepare properly. The examiners are not there to make you fail. Their main purpose is to evaluate the quality of your academic work and to make sure that you actually understand your field and focus area. They will probably try to make the viva as enjoyable as possible both for you and for themselves. Therefore, no need to be scared or nervous.

How long is a thesis defense?

There is no general length for a thesis defense. It depends largely on the candidate research academic field and the institution and requirements of the degree. Usually the thesis defense will last between one and two hours.

What Happens during a Thesis Defense?

The most common practice is to begin with the chair (thesis advisor) welcoming the attendees, and then you need to introduce yourself and your topic and give a presentation (PowerPoint slides) that cover the details of your research work. The purpose of the presentation is not to substitute for the committee’s reading but rather to demonstrate that you are able to speak to what you did. The presentation should includes around 15 to 20 slides for a 15-minute presentation.

After the presentation, the committee will ask questions about your work. Keep in mind that the questions asked are not standard but they will most likely be about the core content of your thesis. The questions may range quite broadly, from very specific to very general. They may include open-ended questions, as well as closed questions about particular literature, theory, methods, or findings.

After the committee finishes with their questions, the committee excuses the candidate and any observers in order to discuss whether the candidate should pass and the thesis defense form should be signed.

  • If the entire committee approves with no changes, they all sign the signature page and the candidate proceeds final format approval.

  • If the entire committee approves with changes that are deemed editorial and/or cosmetic, they all sign the signature page and the candidate proceeds with final editing and subsequent format approval.

  • If the committee requests specific changes they will give the chair the responsibility of seeing that they are made; in this case, the committee members with the exception of the chair sign the signature page, and the chair waits until he or she is satisfied with the revisions before signing.

  • If the committee decides that the candidate’s defense was not of sufficient quality to merit passing and that he or she needed to repeat the defense, no one would sign the signature page.

Preparing for the Defense

As we previously mentioned, you will need to prepare a presentation. The content of the presentation is based on the thesis content. This means the your presentation must summarize or covers the key points of each chapter. While preparing your presentation, you should make sure that your presentation makes sense to someone who has not actually read your thesis. Generally, the presentation should contains the following:

  1. Title slide

  2. Introduction

  3. Methodology (Material and Methods)

  4. Results

  5. Conclusions and Recommendations

After preparing and revising your presentation, you need to practice it multiple times in advance of your thesis defense so that you will be comfortable when you actually present in front of your audience.

After presentation preparing process, you need to read your thesis carefully and while you are reading, put down possible questions that you think are likely to be asked by your committee. Personally, I prefer the old school method by printing a hard copy of the thesis and writing down anticipated question(s) nearby the section or paragraph related to the question(s) and find or formulate a well-structured answer for each question.

Remember that you are not expected to know everything. There will always be gaps in your knowledge and the examiners are professionals and understand that. Your thesis defense is about showing the quality of your academic work and you understand your field and focus area.

Last but not least, your thesis defense is a formal event, you should wear a suitable dress as if you were on a job interview or presenting a paper at a conference. Also, make sure that you arrive early enough to make sure that the equipment in the defense room are working well and every thing is set up properly. Be prepared for unpleasant situations; I recommend you to take a hard copy of your presentation and thesis in case of technological issues, and an extra shirt for spilled coffee can save the day.