So, you’ve finished your dissertation.
The final full stop is already put, you’ve revised and edited ruthlessly and even managed to submit the whole thing on time.
What a great feeling, right?
But wait, what is this little annoying voice in your head trying to say? “You still have to defend it”? Well, don’t roll your eyes now. That’s true, you’ll need to go through this stage. We’ve composed a list of tips, that are going to help you defend your dissertation in the best way possible.
A dissertation is obviously a large-scope paper. Thus, when you finish the project and leave it aside for a while, you may forget about certain little, yet significant details. Re-read the dissertation again and again: this way you won’t get lost neither doing your talk nor answering the questions, posed by your committee.
Be the Opponent of Your Own
Having gone through the contents of your work, jot down the list of questions, you think you might be asked. Then, outline the answers you would give. Try to think as your audience: a lot of people will not be professionals in your sphere. Thus, the moments that might be unclear will probably be connected to the details, which are specific to your particular topic. At the same time, don’t get paranoid – you won’t be able to predict everything, and putting yourself into the tight corner is just useless.
Have a Q&A Session
So, you’ve interrogated yourself. Now, why not have other people do it? Get your friends, lab-mates or fellow post-graduate students to listen to your defense talk and drill you with their questions. It would be great if your team of interviewers contained people with different level of awareness in your topic: this way you’d be ready to all kinds of inquiries.
Preparing for defense, your thoughts may wander to the evening of the after-party, you’ve been waiting for so long, or the trip, you’ve arranged to finally forget about all the dissertation-related stress. Either way – concentrate on planning and practicing your defense talk. Letting yourself relax too soon may deteriorate the final outcome. And you definitely want it to be great, right?
Allocate the Time Wisely
Creating a proper presentation takes time. Don’t underestimate the amount you’ll need to prepare slides, synchronize them with your speech and practice your talk altogether. So, better give yourself a week or so, to get comfortable in a position of a public speaker (if you aren’t yet). Don’t learn all the words by heart. Try to sound as natural as possible. Usually, this goal is more difficult to achieve, thus more time-consuming.
Set the Scene
Prepare the room, where you’re going to give the talk, in advance. Check all the equipment you’ll need, get comfortable in the space and, maybe, get some refreshments for the committee. It’s also a good idea to bring a bottle of water in case you need to clear the throat during your talk or between the questions. That, actually, brings us to the next point.
Take a Breath
This one is related both to the defense talk itself and the following questions. When nervous, some people tend to talk faster. That’s not a good thing. First, you’re letting people know you’re nervous. Second, the perfectly synchronized presentation may get out of control. Thus, try to watch the tempo of your speech and keep it close to the way you normally talk.
When someone asks you a question you aren’t quite sure about, the first reaction might be panic. However, if you take your time to inhale slowly, the ideas might actually pop in your head. This wat you’ll give more sensible and relevant answer.
That’s a really pro tip. When you really don’t know what to say to the question, just say so. However, it would be really great, if you didn’t limit yourself to that phrase. You may answer something like: “I don’t know, but I would suggest…” and then offer you ideas to the audience. That will demonstrate your critical thinking and resourcefulness.
This one is to help you cope with pre-defense nerves. Visualize yourself having successfully defended your dissertation. Imagine the round of applause you’re going to get in the end. Think of the feeling of accomplishment that’s going to rush through your veins, once you answer the last question from the audience. Got it? Don’t let this state go. Remember: you’ll nail it!
Have Fun Defending A Dissertation
How many dissertations are you going to write in your entire life? Probably, not so many. If you think about, dissertation defense is quite an exciting opportunity. You’re going to have the hall of people, ready to listen to all your ideas. Enjoy this occasion and own the moment.
Good luck! You’re going to do great.