Pointers to Defending a Ph.D. Thesis or Dissertation


A thesis defense! Everybody seems diffident of taking an oral examination. But how can you not be intimidated? After all, you are defending a topic in front of experts! In this situation, fear is more of a natural response than exception.

It turns out that the outcome of your thesis defense is largely dependent on how you manage your fears! Believe it or not, no matter the amount of stuff you know and your arduous rehash, you are bound to fail if you are not psychologically conditioned to face your challenge. Hence, focus on this aspect and put in mind its relative significance to your preparations: Actual preparations (30%) and execution (70%). At the onset, there might be a need to defend this percentage allocation.

Recall what a custom written thesis or dissertation means. It is usual for institutions to refer to the word thesis as some kind of an involved research work, usually done by an undergraduate student or a graduate pursuing a masteral degree. Certainly, a masteral thesis is relatively more comprehensive in scope and normally defended in front of an examining panel or a committee. A custom dissertation is a research paper or a thesis usually done by a candidate to a doctoral degree. However, it has become customary for many institutions to refer to a dissertation as a doctoral thesis. At any rate, a baccalaureate, masteral, or especially the doctoral thesis is a serious piece of original research work that requires considerable time to complete under the guidance of an advisor, usually a professor or expert in the field that the student is working on. Therefore, mastery of the thesis or its subject content is one that cannot be expected of a student simply in a matter of weeks; in fact, mastery is developed from the time of thesis conception to reproduction! This is just to say that understanding the subject matter during the relatively short time allotted to the preparation for a defense is too late a preparation - and, certainly, this is not leading to any mastery of subject matter. Currently, this is not what is meant also by preparations.

Accordingly, preparations for a thesis defense rest on one crucial assumption or requirement: Mastery of the topic and those matters relevant to it. Precisely, you must have built some considerable confidence on your knowledge about your subject matter through the years that you were working on it. Otherwise, there is no point scheduling for a defense- simply, you are not ready!

Suppose that you do have the required knowledge and confidence about it. Here are down-to-earth pointers that may help you through a successful defense, stated in suggested order of execution:

1. The Planning

Call it a "game plan," but there is nothing more assuring at the back of your mind than a well laid out plan. Begin by setting aside a comfortable amount of time for your preparation, say, a month or so. Make sure that the rest of the tasks that you must do must fit in this allotted time, plus some allowances. Yes, assume contingencies in your plan and strategize how to manage them. For instance, remember that you will need help from other people (classmates, colleagues, professors, etc.); hence, give leeway for their busy schedules.

2. Visitations

Visiting classmates, colleagues and members of your committee must be first in your plan. Ask about the business of defending a thesis. Some students are so organized and conscientious that they logged questions and responses of old examinations for the succeeding examinees to use. Take a preview, and try to comprehend the underlying scope and limitations. Further, it is likely that you will get a characteristic profile of your examining committee from older students. Use all these information to probe further: Visit your committee members. Thoughtful visitations, at the least, will help impress them of your seriousness. Most of the time, a good professor will not resist a curious, dedicated and thoughtful learner.

3. Refine Your Plan

Nobody says that you cannot go back to the drawing board and make changes to your plan in case of difficulties with your dissertation. In fact, you must do this as often as necessary. Were the advices by other students inaccurate? What imminent changes are possible? The end result must be a strategy for a defense that is most comfortable for you. Besides, you can only feel comfortable once you know you have already a fair handle of the situation.

4. Defense Materials

It is quite alright to bring important visual aids or extracts from your thesis (charts, drawings, quotations, tables, etc.) to help you elaborate on your responses to questions. It is not necessary to carry a heavy baggage inside the examination room, but it is certainly assuring to have with you "everything" that you might think will be helpful. Remember, as always, "pictures speak louder than words," and, when short of articulation, one visual aid may be ready for the rescue. Really, you may not have to say, "As you know" if I have only brought with me that particular diagram, you might know exactly what I mean." Do not underestimate the value of simple tools like colored pens. You might actually be asked to demonstrate certain details on a blank transparency, to support your arguments. Likewise, you may not have to say, "Is there a pen somewhere? I wish I can write it all out for you." Certainly, a lack of simple tools during your defense can be misinterpreted as some lack of seriousness or mastery on your part.

5. Practice

The old adage "Practice makes perfect" still holds. Gather some friends and classmates to do the "mock orals" for you. Allow any of them to depict the questioning style of your committee members, and do the practice as realistically as possible. Your final hints to your potential performance can be gauge from here. When permissible, request for two or three sessions and consider the suggestions and key improvements each time. To a large extent, your own group can best decide on whether or not you will eventually succeed.

From this point onward, you are on your own. After all, the decision to succeed or not still is your own. Now, it is the right time to work out on you psychological conditioning. The following pointers may serve as your inspiration to manage any remaining fear and ensure a smooth defense:

A. Do you have any reason to expect what can possibly go wrong? You had years of studying your subject. You have addressed many issues and queries along the way. And, you know you are still in command of your thesis. What then can be more assuring on your part?

B. Did you complete your preparations from planning to "mock orals"? Did you receive a final nod from your friends and classmates? Was your main advisor happy about this? If so, do you have further reasons to harbor any fear?

C. Remember what failure means. Your years of stay in school have been expensive. You will not like paying for the same real estate twice. You would rather like a job that earns you a better livelihood or push you to a higher degree or accomplishment. Simply, you cannot afford to be ruined by mere fear of one examination!

D. Finally, all humans fear- yes, your committee members included! At least you are a normal human being. Understand what is meant by failure- it is not the end of everything! Knowing this fall back position and your strong drive to succeed is your final defense against fear.

On your examination day, these are the remaining final preparations:

In sum, your prime pointer to defending your custom-written PhD thesis or dissertation is largely on your defense against irrational fears. Strive to manage these fears through strong psychological conditioning backed by your ready mastery of your thesis and some systematic preparations. "No guts, no glory." Remember: If gamblers can exploit courage to win by pure luck, certainly, you can succeed because you have the tangible ingredients to success.

Contributed by Rex Balena, PhD.

Multidisciplinary Scientist and Educator Consultant: Data processing, basic and advanced statistical analyses, PowerPoint/multimedia presentations, and custom essay writing on science and education topics.

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