Medical Biophysics Graduate Student Association

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Preparing For Your Thesis or Dissertation Defense

GRADupdate (from UWO)  has always had very useful tips for the everyday graduate student. Even though  some of the tips may not be groundbreaking discoveries, they act as reminders and they are always welcome. This past issue was dedicated on the dreadful final step: the thesis and defense preparation.  I remember when I started writing my Master's thesis; I must have read tens of 'how to...' articles. But the most useful tips of all I applied at that time  was to "start writing early and to write for an hour or 30 minutes every single day". Writing for blocks of hours can be very exhausting, but writing in small stints may actually be more productive. But here's the GRADupdate article....

Hello Graduate Student,

Your thesis or dissertation defense represents the final leg on your long journey to a graduate degree. You may sometimes wonder if you will successfully reach that point, but perseverance, optimism and a good support system will get you there. If this academic milestone is almost in reach, congratulations!

If you are beginning to plan and prepare your thesis/dissertation defense, feelings of excitement and pride for getting this far may be mixed with feelings of stress and anxiety. Anxiety is very normal as you embark on this major scholarly achievement, yet with effective planning and preparation, you can make the experience a positive one.

Below are some suggestions for how to prepare and deal with your thesis or dissertation defense.

Preparing for your thesis or dissertation defense

  • When preparing for your defense, become aware of the guidelines and requirements your department has put in place. Speak with your advisor to be sure that you know what is expected of you.
  • It can be extremely helpful to speak with others who have already defended their thesis or dissertation, as this can provide you with a stronger sense of the expectations you are facing. Ask them what kinds of questions they were given and prepare answers to those questions. While you cannot know for sure what your committee will say, anticipating possible questions and preparing answers will help you feel more confident.
  • Before your defense, sit down with your advisor for a strategy session. Use this time to organize and plan your defense. Pay close attention to your advisor’s advice as he or she has heard many defenses and knows what committees are looking for.
  • Remember that you are an expert!  You probably know your topic far better than most of the faculty who form your thesis/dissertation committee.  You have been researching, contemplating and writing your thesis or dissertation for a long time and the material is fresher and more immediate for you. Acknowledging your expertise may give you some extra confidence as you prepare for your defense.
  • Visualize your most successful moments in the past. What did you feel like? Recall that experience using all of your senses. Imagine and visualize the kind of atmosphere you want to create. Think of your strengths (e.g., creativity, sense of humor, curiosity) and how you will use them in the room. Pick a few "trigger words" to describe how you intend to be (e.g., confident, expert, flexible, powerful). Set aside 15-30 minutes every day to practice. The more you practice getting yourself into this state of mind, the easier it will be for you to go there when the big day comes. (Schweiger Levy, J., Ph.D.)
  • If you are imagining your committee as an intimidating group of people who will be aiming to find fault with your thesis or dissertation, try reframing these images into something positive. The committee’s aim is not to intimidate you. They want to learn more about your findings and achievements, and to see you succeed.
  • Be passionate! If the committee members see how much you care about your subject they will be engaged and more likely to believe in what you're saying.
  • Rest, eat well, and get enough sleep the night before your defense. Practice relaxation techniques and deep breathing.

Resources

Schweiger Levy, J.,” Perform your Best at your Orals” from All-But Dissertation Survival Guide website: http://www.abdsurvivalguide.com

“Defending Your Thesis While in Graduate School” from GradSchools.com website: http://www.gradschools.com/Article/defending-your-thesis/1577.html

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GRADUpdATE@uwo.ca is a twice-monthly e-mailout dedicated to helping students succeed in graduate school