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Dissertation defense is one of the essential parts of your success. Learn what you should do to impress your committee members and get your degree.

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PhD Dissertation Defense: All Tools to Make a Great Impression on a Committee Board


Many years ago, when universities were quite new, a PhD was examined by means of the defense of an idea, the defense of a thesis; you would have an idea about something, let’s say theology, you would spend years reading this, and when you thought you had sufficient knowledge, you would request examination. Now, of course, the PhD is a written assignment, usually around 80,000 words. But, the defense, your ability to vocally defend the ideas of that thesis, is still a vital element, and in borderline cases the defense will determine a pass or a fail. So, what can you do to give the best impression to a PhD committee?

  • Know Your Work
  • The single most important tool in a thesis defense is knowledge of the paper; you must read the entire thesis through in the days before the examination, and never assume that you ‘remember’ what is in it! This is the paper that is the foundation of the exam, so know it.

  • Know Its Weaknesses
  • Knowing the paper means knowing its weak points. There will be several areas, in any thesis, that are not as convincing as the majority. Prepare defenses for these aspects, to show an awareness of them, and to show that you have considered them and their place in the thesis carefully.

  • Be Firm
  • This is a defense; be firm. Your examiners will be trying to see if you back down on any of your points, so try to calmly rebut any criticism that they put forward. They may challenge you on things that they themselves agree with, simply to hear your defense.

  • Be Flexible
  • If an examiner does have a good point, however, then be flexible and do not belligerently stick to your guns. Say that you had not considered it from that angle, and that it is helpful.

  • Be Confident
  • Be confident in your defense. You are, as a PhD candidate, an authority on the subject of your thesis, so make sure that you present yourself as a training academic, and as someone who can confidently handle criticism in a professional and confident manner.

Your PhD is your work, so you will know it better than anyone else. The only way to go wrong in a defense is to not re-read the work before examination!

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