Secrets of Successful Dissertation Defense

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There are people that your dissertation has to pass through before it will be accepted towards your degree. When you have written a dissertation that is the best you can do, it still has to go through a few hoops to be qualified. During the writing of your dissertation, you were probably prepared for you dissertation defense by your advisor. Since your advisor should have been through one for his or her dissertation, they will know how to prepare you for it. The writing of the thesis or dissertation is a lot of work on its own, and some students can be frightened about doing a defense for their work. It does differ from school to school what you will be up against, but for the most part you will pass your defense. Even though it may seem like a painful experience to some, failed defenses are very rare. The purpose of the defense is actually not just whether the committee approves or not.

Preparing for your defense might take some time and effort, but it is worth it to know what you are walking into. By the time you arrive at your scheduled defense, it will be all up to you. The practice of universities awarding doctorates has been an educational tradition and milestone for longer than the United States has been proclaimed its own nation. Despite that, only students of the past 200 or so years have had to write and defend dissertations. In 19th century Europe, there would often be crowds of people, both academic and public, who would come to listen to a dissertation defense. These days, it is limited to graduate students and faculty members in your department. Do not be surprised if you get there and it is only you and the committee.

What to Expect from a Defense

The style and format of a dissertation defense is different depending on your field of interest. For example, here are two of the main defense styles you might see:

  • For degrees in mathematics or sciences, you can expect to perform in a lecture style and present your findings. Afterward, there will be a question and answer format where it is basically a teaching display.
  • It differs with degrees in social sciences and humanities. This defense more appears to be an examination, because you will be closely questioned about your knowledge and your work that the committee has already read. It is not their plan to make you feel insecure or awkward; rather to encourage you to talk more about what you know.

These days, having a defense appropriated by a dissertation committee is more of a traditional form than a real exam. Most people – students and faculty alike – think that there are already enough barriers to candidates wanting a PhD and they do not want to add any more to your plate. Remember that you should not enter the defense room with the fear of failure. Your advisor and handlers would never let you walk into this if they thought you might fail, and it is very rarely that it is even a risk. While there are still problems that arise, remember that this is about your work – not you personally – and you should simply keep calm.

Another way to think of your defense is a formal welcome to the field and the community of your industry. Even if you do not desire to become a professor, this defense will give you full ‘membership’ into the world of academia that you have been working towards. You will have earned it and deserve it after passing your defense.