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How to prepare an excellent thesis defense
- What is a thesis defense?
If you're about to complete, or have ever completed a graduate degree, you have most likely come across the term "thesis defense". In many countries, to finish a graduate degree, you have to write a thesis. In general, a thesis is a large paper based on a topic relating to your field of study. Once you hand in your thesis, you will be assigned a date to defend your work.
Your thesis defense meeting usually consists of you and a committee, consisting of two or more professors working in your program. It may also include other people, like professionals from other colleges or those who are working in your field. During your thesis defense, you will be asked questions about your work. The main purpose of your thesis defense is for the committee to make sure that you actually understand your field and focus area.
The questions are usually open-ended and require the student to think critically about their work. Note that at the time of your thesis defense, your paper has already been evaluated. The questions asked are not designed so that you actually have to aggressively "defend" your work, often your thesis defense is more of a formality required so that you can get your degree.
- How long is a thesis defense?
How long your oral thesis defense is depends largely on the institution and requirements of your degree. It is best to consult your department or institution on this. In general, a thesis defense may take only 20 minutes, but it may also take two hours or more. This also depends on how much time is allocated to the presentation and questioning part. We will talk more about the different parts of a thesis defense below.
- What happens at a thesis defense?
First of all, be aware that a thesis defense varies from country to country. This is just a general overview, but a thesis defense can take many different formats in different countries. Some are closed, other are public defenses. Some take place with two, some with more examiners. The same goes for the length of your thesis defense, as mentioned above. So the most important first step for you is to clarify with your department what the structure of your thesis defense will look like. In general, this is what happens at a thesis defense:
You might have to give a presentation, often with Powerpoint, Google slides or Keynote slides. Make sure to prepare an appropriate amount of slides. A general rule is to use about 10 slides for a 20-minute presentation. But that also depends on your specific topic and the way you present. The good news is, there will be plenty of time ahead of your thesis defense to prepare your slides and practice your presentation alone and in front of friends or family.
You can prepare your slides by using information from your thesis' first chapter (the overview of your thesis) as a framework or outline. Substantive information in your thesis should correspond with your slides. Make sure your slides are of good quality - both as regards the integrity of the information, and the appearance of your slides. If you need more help with how to prepare your presentation slides, both the ASQ Higher Education Brief and James Hayton have good guidelines on the topic.
Questions from the committee
As mentioned earlier, the committee will ask questions about your work after you finished your presentation. The questions will most likely be about the core content of your thesis, like what you learned from the study you conducted, but also why you chose your topic or how it will contribute to the existing body of knowledge. You might also be asked to summarize certain findings. Read your full thesis in preparation of the questions, so you know what you have written about.
While you are reading in preparation, you can create a list of possible questions and try to answer them. You can foresee many of the questions you will get by simply spending some time rereading your thesis. In addition, this blog post from researchClue .com lists 25 common thesis/project defense questions and how you may approach to answer them.
- 6 tips to help you prepare for your thesis defense
When you start your graduate degree, the end of it seems so far away. But then it ends up coming faster than you thought. You hand in your thesis, which was a lot of work, and as a last step before you officially receive your degree, you have to master your thesis defense. Here are a few tips on how to prepare for your thesis defense.
1. Anticipate questions and prepare for them
We've mentioned it before but you can really prepare for most of the questions you will be asked. Read through your thesis and while you're reading it, create a list of possible questions. In addition, as you will know who will be on the committee, look at the academic expertise of the committee members. In what areas would they most likely be focused? If possible, sit at other thesis defenses with these committee members to get a feeling for how they ask and what they ask. As a graduate student, you should generally be adept at anticipating test questions, so use this advantage to gather as much information as possible before your thesis defense meeting.
2. Dress for success
Your thesis defense is a formal event, often the entire department or university is invited to participate. It signals a critical rite of passage for graduate students and faculty who have supported them throughout a long and challenging process. While most universities don't have specific rules on how to dress for that event, do regard it with dignity and respect. This one might be a no-brainer, but know that you should dress as if you were on a job interview or delivering a paper at a conference.
It might help you deal with your stress before your thesis defense to entrust someone with the smaller but important responsibilities of your thesis defense well ahead of schedule. This trusted person could be responsible for preparing the room of the day of defense, setting up equipment for the presentation or preparing and distributing handouts.
4. Have a backup plan
Technology is unpredictable. Life is too. There are no guarantees that your Powerpoint presentation will work at all or look the way it is supposed to do on the big screen. We've all been there. Make sure to have a plan B for these situations. Handouts can help when technology fails, or an additional fresh shirt for spilled coffee can save the day.
5. What to do when you don't know the answer
One of the scariest aspects of the defense is the possibility of being asked a question you can't answer. While you can prepare for some questions, you can never know exactly what the committee will ask. There will always be gaps in your knowledge. But your thesis defense is not about being perfect and knowing everything, it's about how you deal with challenging situations. You are not expected to know everything.
James Hayton writes on his blog that examiners will sometimes even ask questions they don't know the answer to, out of curiosity, or because they want to see how you think. While it is ok sometimes to just say "I don't know", he advises to try something like "I don't know, but I would think [...] because of x and y, but you would need to do [...] in order to find out". This shows that you have the ability to think as an academic.
6. Dealing with your nerves
You will be nervous. But the good news is - your examiners will expect you to be nervous. It is completely normal to be nervous. Being well prepared can help minimize your stress, but do know that your examiners have seen this many times before and are willing to help, by repeating questions for example if needed.
Two common symptoms of being nervous are talking really fast and nervous laughs. Try to slow yourself down, take a deep breath. Remember what feels like hours to you are just a few seconds in real life. Allow yourself to process the question, respond to it, and stop talking once you have responded. While a smile can often help dissolve a difficult situation, remember that nervous laughs can be irritating for your audience.
We all make mistakes and your thesis defense will most likely not be perfect. You are not expected to be perfect and the examiners already have plenty of experience with this and will guide you through it. Also remember that your thesis defense is often just a formality and the committee actually wants you to pass. If you are still nervous about your thesis defense, read this blog post by Dora Farkas at finishyourthesis.com . She debunks 5 common myths about thesis defenses and helps you see that your committee is not out to get you. 😉
- Frequently Asked Questions about preparing an excellent thesis defense
While most universities don't have specific rules on how to dress for that event, do regard it with dignity and respect. This one might be a no-brainer, but know that you should dress as if you were on a job interview or delivering a paper at a conference.
It is completely normal to be nervous. Being well prepared can help minimize your stress, but do know that your examiners have seen this many times before and are willing to help, by repeating questions for example if needed. Slow yourself down, and take a deep breath.
Your thesis defense is not about being perfect and knowing everything, it's about how you deal with challenging situations. James Hayton writes on his blog that it is ok sometimes to just say "I don't know", but he advises to try something like "I don't know, but I would think [...] because of x and y, you would need to do [...] in order to find out".
Your Powerpoint presentation can get stuck or not look the way it is supposed to do on the big screen. It can happen and your supervisors know it. In general, handouts can always save the day when technology fails.
Here are a few tips on how to prepare for your thesis defense:
- Anticipate questions and prepare for them
- Dress for success
- Have a backup plan (in case technology fails you)
- Deal with your nerves
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- Student Guide
Defending Your Thesis – Dissertation Defense Tips
Do you know what to wear to a dissertation defense meeting? Are you prepared to defend a thesis paper? Read our dissertation defense tips below!
What does it mean to write a thesis?
Thesis writing is one of the most important and challenging tasks you will encounter as a graduate student, and the thesis defense is the culmination of that process.
What is the thesis defense procedure?
The thesis defense procedure may vary from college to college but generally you will be expected to announce your thesis defense appointment in your graduate department, and your committee is likely to meet before and after your defense. By the time you are ready to present your defense, your thesis paper should be nearly complete, and some schools may require that your thesis paper be completely finished.
During your thesis defense, you will be expected to present and defend your thesis in front of your advisor, faculty thesis committee, and other audience members – and to do so in a cohesive manner. You can expect to be asked a number of questions after your presentation, and you need to be armed with the knowledge and skill necessary to answer the questions confidently.
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Thesis defense rehearsal
When preparing to defend your thesis, familiarize yourself with the guidelines and requirements your department has put into place. Speak with your advisor to be sure that you know exactly what is expected of you. Each of your committee members should have a copy of your thesis at least a couple of weeks before your defense, and your written defense should include an abstract and a summary. All your forms need to be filled out ahead of time, including any and all signatures you are required to obtain.
Speaking with people who have already defended their theses can be extremely helpful, as it can provide you with confidence as well as a stronger sense of the expectations you are facing. In addition, attending the defenses of others will afford you the opportunity to observe interactions between students and committee members, hear the types of questions you may face, and identify the characteristics of strong and weak thesis defenses; it will provide insight on what to do and what not to do.
When it comes to defending your thesis paper orally in front of your advisor and committee members, practice really can make perfect. Take any chance you can get to discuss your thesis with other people. If you can find someone to sit through a practice defense, take advantage of that. Your audience may ask some of the questions the committee is liable to ask, which can help you identify the portions of your defense that need to be honed.
At some point before you defend your thesis, you should 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 reactions to your thesis and heed any advice they give you – he or she has heard many defenses and knows what committees look for. Having your thesis defense structured well ahead of time will make you feel more comfortable and focused during your presentation.
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Know your thesis paper lines
The thesis defense is your opportunity to take the stage and to demonstrate the growth and progress you have experienced in your years as a graduate student. This is your chance to showcase your research abilities, as well as to finish your degree requirements. Defending your thesis statement can help you obtain helpful feedback and recommendations that you can incorporate into your final draft.
Make sure to get across the fundamentals while defending your thesis. First, state your thesis/research question. You need to describe the importance of your topic and detail how your research was conducted, including any methods of measurement you have used. The major findings of your thesis should be made clear, as well as how your thesis contributes to the body of knowledge in your field. Finally, you must state the conclusions and recommendations you have made based on your research.
You must expect, in some fashion, to be required to answer the crucial question “So what?” What has your research and writing accomplished, that may be of importance in your field? Professors will tell you that graduate students tend not to be bold enough, in making claims for what they have discovered or compiled, during the process of working on their thesis. If you don’t express confidence about your findings in the thesis, your committee may develop their own doubts about the value of your work.
Be aware of the fact that you probably know your topic far better than most or all of the professors who form your thesis committee. You’ve likely been researching and contemplating your topic for well over a year, and the material will be fresher and more immediate for you than for them. If you pause to think about this, it should give you extra confidence going into the thesis defense.
At the same time, your thesis committee members will likely know your field in a much broader sense than you. They may well ask you to indicate where in the larger scheme of things, where in your field, your thesis will fit. That’s where the big “So What?” question will arise during your defense. You’ve been warned; prepare for it.
Additionally, one question you should anticipate from your thesis committee is, “What do you plan to do with the thesis, beyond graduate school?” Do you intend to revise it for publication as a book? Do you intend to do further research on your topic once you’ve gotten a job coming out of grad school? Do you intend to seek grants to help you further develop your project? Do you intend to collaborate with another scholar before you offer your work to a broader audience?
What to wear to your thesis defense?
When defending your thesis, you want to prove to your committee and advisor that you are capable of producing more broad-ranging, in-depth pieces of scholarly writing. With this in mind, you should look the part. You will want to wear professional attire that is comfortable – the last thing you want is to distract your audience from the masterpiece that is your thesis by tugging at clothing while you are presenting your defense or fielding questions. Nor do you want to disrupt your own ability to concentrate by squeezing into those cute shoes.
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No matter how nervous you are, be sure to focus and to listen with care to the questions posed to you. Take a moment to pause before you give your answer if you need to – they are not looking for quick responses, but they are looking for solid ones. You should expect to be asked to address the more controversial aspects of your thesis. Keep in mind that you don’t have to defend everything about your thesis. If you don’t have an answer to a question, don’t fake it or make any promises – reply that the question is interesting and that you will consider it in the future. Defending your thesis requires you to be political to a certain extent.
If you are having trouble with managing your fears while defending your thesis, you may find it helpful to use visual aids during your presentation. They can help you stay focused and confident, as well as help you pace yourself. Visual aids, if you use them, should clearly state the research problem, objectives, approaches, and the contributions of your thesis work.
You may also decide to videotape or audiotape your defense, as it can help you keep track of the reactions, suggestions, and criticisms that you receive. Often your thesis committee members will offer tips for revision. These could be crucial as you revise your work for later publication or development. But you will be so focused on what you need to say next during your thesis defense that you will very likely not remember much of what the professors said after the fact. If you document the session, you will later be able to retrieve and follow the expert advice your thesis committee offered during your defense.
One of the most crucial things to remember when defending your thesis is to maintain a level of passion about your research. If you are passionate about your work, your advisor and committee will take note of this, and it will underscore the importance of your thesis. After all, who isn’t passionate about the concluding event of a long and difficult journey?
After you have presented your defense, you will either be told that you have passed, that your thesis needs minor revisions, that your thesis needs to be resubmitted, or that it has not been approved. The last two possibilities are rare, especially if you have followed the thesis writing process properly, and if you have stayed in meaningful contact with your advisor. If you have been diligent, there really should be few surprises.
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Thesis Defense Success Stories
I’m defending my masters thesis next week and I am just a huge ball of anxiety. I’m not worried about the talk at all it’s just the questioning afterwards. I can barely eat I’m so nervous. I get choked up when I’m being questioned on the spot even though I know my project. I don’t think I will fail but I know I will be uncomfortable.
Can you all share your successful defense stories?
I defended my masters thesis 2 years ago. Pulled an allnighter to memorise the script of what I will be saying for each slide,drank 2 monsters during that allnighter. Took a sleeping pill before the defense to calm my nerves. Ended up reading half the script cause I didn't do a great job memorising.
Still passed! They addressed me as master afterwards /s
I also get extremely choked up when I'm being questioned. I would struggle to tell you my own birthday on the spot if I felt nervous.
Something that works really well for me is to make it humorous. Don't be a comedian, but your defense doesn't need to be a presidential address either. They know you're going to be nervous so you can own up to it and make fun of yourself a little bit. I like to shit talk myself and get a good laugh in at my own expense right before I do a talk so I'm more of a playful mood when I start.
Something else that works for some people is to pretend to be someone else. Make a persona of the really confident successful person you want to be in like 10 years and just be that person for your talk. Some people have said that when they do this enough eventually it's just their natural state and they don't have to pretend anymore.
i successfully defended my masters thesis like, two years ago maybe. i was also super super nervous, but really your advisor and committee would not have approved your defense if they thought you werent going to pass. my PI told me to read my thesis in full the night before the defense and i thought that was pretty good advice. youve made it this far, be gentle on yourself. youre gonna do great!!
Defended my masters thesis in June and I was really worried right up until I started talking and one of my supervisors smiled and nodded through the whole presentation and it really calmed my nerves, so maybe focus on the friendliest face in the audience? As for the questions, keep in mind that it’s okay and encouraged to take time to think about the question before you start your answer. You can say something like “that’s a good/interesting question” if you feel you need to react immediately, then take a pause to think. Also remember that it’s more than okay to say that you don’t know the answer to a question and that’s better than making up something incorrect. Your committee needs to test the limits of your knowledge, so they need to see what you don’t know as well as what you do know. Your supervisor should be able to redirect or ask clarifying questions later on if they think you should be able to answer a question that you said you didn’t know the answer to. That’s usually why your supervisor goes last in asking questions, and they’re on your side! Best of luck :)
Seconding this! You are allowed to not know things. I defended my dissertation last week and I was asked if a certain part could be extended and generalized, I basically said that it probably could be, but not directly the same way I did it, and that it would be an interesting area for future research. My committee members asked questions out of genuine curiosity, not to try and trip me up, and it ended up feeling more like a conversation than a test. Of course this will depend on your people. Good luck!!!
Defended my MSc about a year and a half ago. I’d already moved away to start an internship, but came back to defend. I grew up about 30 mins from the university, and was the first time I’d been back home since I’d moved 13 hours away (~4 months). It was really nice because I got to see my family and friends during that weekend, so I didn’t have time to worry about my defense the following Monday.
I was really close with my committee, so it was really nice to see them as well. We ended up just having a 3 hour long conversation about my research. My mom actually got worried because it wasn’t supposed to take that long, but we all got caught up discussing science. They asked questions about future directions I’d take, what I’d change, big takeaways, etc. I got asked a question I didn’t know the answer to, and it was okay. I still passed with just a few very minor thesis revisions.
Practicing definitely helped my nerves (I think I presented it 4-5 times in front of others prior to defending). One of my lab mates is a whiz at asking good questions (she also had 2 of my members on her PhD committee), so practicing on her questions definitely helped. If you have anyone like that, practice in front of them! It also helps give you time to formulate answers to questions that might come up so you’re not thinking on the spot.
Try to do things that make you happy for the next week - at least 1 thing a day. Practice a few times with your friends/lab mates. Don’t keep nitpicking your presentation/thesis. Bring water to your defense and something to write on to take notes. You’re going to do great!
I've not defended a master's thesis (only a senior thesis from undergrad), but my advice would be to go back through your presentation and think about key points professors would question you about further. If you were in the audience listening to your own talk, what would you want to know more about? Think about your panel's interests and things that they might find fascinating and would want more info. You might ask a friend for feedback too before you have the actual presentation.
You can anticipate all the questions in the world but odds are there'll be one question that kind of unnerves you, even though you know the topic, and that's OK. Just take your time and work through it. Not to make too much light of it but consider it the presentation equivalent of a job interview question "Tell me about a time when ...". As you're working through that in the moment, you might discuss past findings or something from the literature review, what you though could/should happen and your research analysis, and the end result or future implications of that.
Defended mine a year and a half ago. I over thought everything up until the day before the day of the presentation and couldn't get my presentation to fit into the allotted time in my practice sessions. The night before the presentation, I decided that I won't stress anymore and decided to wing it for the timing on the day of. Surprisingly during the actual presentation I was on point with timing and ended up getting one of the highest grades. It was a big weight lifted off of my shoulders but it wasn't as big of a deal as I thought it would be.
Stupid but fun tip - buy a cologne that you've never smelled before and wear it on the day of your defense. Everytime you smell that colone afterwards the memory will be imprinted (in a good way!).
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What is a Thesis Defense?
If you're researching a master's degree, you'll likely come across the phrase "thesis defense" among the list of requirements for earning an advanced degree. This formal-sounding requirement usually comes at the end of a graduate program. As a student seeking a master's degree, your thesis defines your educational experience at the university. Once you've completed all the necessary coursework and finished any internship or practicum experiences, you will be required to meet with a committee to defend your work. Details of a defense vary by college, but there are some general things to keep in mind as you embark on the graduate process.
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What is a Thesis?
In most schools, the thesis represents a student's collective understanding of his or her program and major. Students who major in English, for example, typically explore language, literary themes, a specific author's work or a similar topic when writing a thesis paper. Universities often require theses to consist of a prospectus, which outlines the intent of the paper, and a full-length paper treatment of a particular topic. In the natural sciences, theses might cover experiments or hypothetical situations in which a student researches certain elements of his or her field.
Theses projects demand full attention, and many schools require that students devote an entire semester to completing the research and resulting paper. Students work with a faculty committee or adviser on a close basis to make sure that the research stays on schedule. Depending on the level of degree, a thesis paper can be extremely complex.
Defending the Work
Once students submit their theses papers to the thesis committee, they will be assigned a date to defend their work. In this case, "defend" does not imply that a student will have to argue aggressively about his or her work. Rather, the thesis defense is designed so that faculty members can ask questions and make sure that students actually understand their field and focus area. Defending a thesis largely serves as a formality because the paper will already have been evaluated. During a defense, a student will be asked questions by members of the thesis committee. Questions are usually open-ended and require that the student think critically about his or her work. A defense might take only 20 minutes, or it might take an hour or more depending on the goal of the committee and the requirements of the program.
Preparation for Your Thesis Defense
Students have months to prepare for a defense . Schools want graduate candidates to be as prepared as possible when attending a defense, which means that neither the date nor faculty committee will be a surprise to the student. It's important to keep in mind that if you go into a defense with the right attitude and preparation, failing is nearly impossible. The committee wants to see how well you know your subject and your research. Nerves may get the better of you as you face unknown questions, but as with a job interview, practicing ahead of time will lead to a successful defense.
Facing a defense can be stressful, but think of it as an opportunity to share what you've learned. Remember that you aren't arguing points when you defend your work. Instead, a proper thesis defense gives you and your faculty advisers the chance to discuss your topic and research in greater detail.
5 Tips To Get Ready For A Successful Thesis Defense
I recently successfully defended my master’s thesis, so after several months of preparation which helped me a lot, I thought this would be an opportunity to write an article to detail what I have done to prepare for my thesis defense as part of my master’s degree!
The advice in this article can very well be applied also for doctoral students who are preparing to defend their dissertation, not only for master’s students.
What is a thesis defense?
The defense is one of the last steps before graduating for a master’s or doctoral student. This is an oral presentation in front of a jury made up of a few professors. Once the dissertation or thesis is completed, it is sent to the jury, who have about 1 month to read it. Then a defense date is determined.
The defense begins with a 30-40 minute presentation followed by a question period for the jury members and the public (some defenses are private). It can take +1 hour. After the question period, the jury withdraws and deliberates on the grade to be given to the student for the oral presentation and determines whether the student is suitable for graduation. Some modifications to be made to the thesis are always requested and sent to the student, who will have to make these modifications and proceed with the final submission of the thesis within a certain time limit: and voila, it’s over, the student- he has officially completed his master’s or doctorate!
Please note that how defense works vary from university to university and country to country. What I have shared here is my experience at the École de Technologie Supérieure in Montreal.
5 tips to get ready to defend your thesis
1- prepare a powerpoint in advance and of good quality.
As soon as you have finished writing your thesis, immediately start working on your PowerPoint. That’s what I did, and for a month and a half, I worked every day to improve my presentation! You really need to take the time to make a good, well-structured PowerPoint.
For the design of the slides, I always use SlidesCarnival to find a clean but professional theme (I used the Clean Minimal theme in my defense). Other sites offer themes for free, such as Slidesgo and SlidesMania .
Some general tips for creating a good PowerPoint for your thesis defense:
- Limit yourself to “bullet points.” No complete sentence!
- Write a few words as possible
- Use accent colors to make prettier slides
- Try to have one relevant image per slide, if possible
- Vary the presentation style of the slides
- Do not use unnecessary animation – try to use it to help the audience understand your message
- Show page numbers
Below are some examples of what I did in my PowerPoint to have a good structure and a quality presentation:
- Used the “highlight” to draw attention to certain words or a subtitle.
- Framed certain symptoms, added an animation to clarify an important point, and made the box appear as I talked.
- Wrote “10,000,000” in big characters to emphasize that Parkinson’s affects so many people (which means changing the style of the slides to convey my message).
- Played on the format and on the “highlight” to reduce the number of words and clarify my research questions.
- For the slide about the motivation for my research, I underlined a few important words I wanted to emphasize.
- When sharing tables, I start by presenting the full table. Then, while presenting the table and insisting on a particular row or column, I change the background to yellow to bring the audience’s attention.
2- Practice many times before your thesis defense
Practicing your presentation before your defense allows you to improve and gain confidence so that on D-Day, you are ready! Before the defense of my thesis, I practiced several times in different contexts to an academic audience, for example:
- Presentation in a reading group
- Presentation to my research laboratory
- Presentation to my master’s supervisors (maybe this is not allowed at your university)
Before each practice, take the time to specify that you are preparing to defend your thesis. Emphasize that you want to receive as many suggestions for improvement and questions as possible. Personally, the questions from my jury members stressed me a lot before the presentation, so I wanted to take advantage of the practices to answer as many questions as possible to work on my confidence. And that helped me a lot!
After each presentation, improve your slides based on the feedback received. So, after a few practices, you will feel 100% ready for your defense!
During my presentation with my supervisors, they especially mentioned points to remember to specify during the defense. So, I wrote in large red letters these points that I often forgot to mention while presenting. So during my defense, as I was in presentation view, I could see when a slide had a sentence in red, and I could make sure to mention it.
3- Prepare a list of questions
Another big part of my preparation was creating a long list of potential questions that my jury members might ask me. I wrote over 90 questions. I started by writing each chapter of my thesis:
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Literature Review
Then I wrote down all the potential questions in each of the sections. All the questions that people asked me during the practices, the things that I found more difficult to understand, all without exception. I also searched on Google. Several sites list typical questions often asked during defenses ( How to Ace the 25 Most Common Project Defense Questions , Top 20 Questions Asked , Oral Defense questions , etc.)
90 questions might sound like a lot, and it sure is! But, I used several different models in my thesis (SVR, KNN, PLDA, NN). Therefore, for each of them, I had multiple questions:
- What is an SVR / KNN / PLDA / NN?
- Why did I choose this model?
- What are the pros/cons of this model?
- What are the hyperparameters that we need to tune for this model?
So the number of questions grew quite quickly! However, I felt ready to answer. Being more ready than not enough has always made me feel more confident during oral presentations. It depends on everyone, maybe for you, it is not necessary to prepare so much.
4- Create flash cards to practice questions
I have been using Quizlet for years to study before an exam. It’s a website where you can create free memory aid sheets and practice independently. I really like the functionality that allows Quizlet to read out loud the flashcards that you create.
Sometimes, I go outside for a walk and listen to my flashcards. It makes it much more fun to study while walking! Before an artificial intelligence exam, I used this read-aloud feature to revise while falling asleep. I was too stressed out to fall asleep, so studying while trying to fall asleep fixed the problem!
There are different modes to study: classic flashcards, write the answers (my favorite), test (combine different learning methods), and two game modes to try.
5- Attend other thesis defense
Finally, my last tip is to attend some defenses from other students who have studied in a field similar to yours. Pay attention to how the defense goes, what kinds of questions are asked, etc. It was definitely helpful to me. I remembered that in one of them, professors had asked a lot of questions about hyper-parameters. So, during my preparation, I paid special attention to this subject.
I hope this article has helped prepare you to defend your master’s or doctoral thesis. Feel free to share in the comments if you have any other advice for future students!
Marie likes to push her limits and always keep learning new things. She shares her weekly learnings because "if you can't explain it simply, it means you didn't understand it well enough".
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Mar 10, 2021
Writing, Defending, and Celebrating My Master’s Thesis in a Pandemic
When I think back to March 2020, I remember that I was struggling with writing my Master’s thesis. I submitted my first chapter draft in December 2019, received feedback in January 2020, and then had almost no progress for a while.
Fast forward to December 4, 2020 — my (successful) thesis defense date.
But how did I get there?
Because of the stress of the pandemic, I had almost no motivation between April and June 2020, and no idea how to tackle my thesis again — especially from home.
I did little things to try to keep going without pushing myself too much. Losing access to the library motivated me to purchase a couple books that were major references for my research. Even if you can’t buy brand new ones, there are plenty of old book stores and buy/sell groups on Facebook where you might be able to find a gem or two.
By the end of May, I thought about what else I missed about Rutherford. There was something about sitting in front of a desktop computer that made it easier to focus on writing. I purchased a second monitor and keyboard to accompany my laptop and give me that old Rutherford feel. These items are often going for cheap on Edmonton buy/sell groups so no need to pull out the big bucks if you don’t want to. But, I do feel setting up a workspace at home that feels like the place you used to feel most productive is worth the investment!
I originally planned to go to L.A. in August to attend KCON and conduct interviews with Asian Americans who were either involved in the K-pop / Asian-American music field, or were simply fans of these artists. With those plans foiled, I pivoted to another form of evidence: podcasts. I listened to podcasts that interviewed Korean-American artists with careers in Korea in order to uncover important parts of music history that were relevant to my research.
Even if you can’t find something directly “citeable” from a podcast for your research, listening to podcasts by specialists or people who care about the same stuff as you might help you learn about other studies or pieces of evidence you haven’t come across yet. Though it’s not quite the same as grabbing dinner with new friends after a conference, it is a great, affordable alternative. It’s also low effort, which is important for days that you want to be able to do something but can’t push yourself too much.
Look out for other low-barrier virtual opportunities to keep your mind stimulated and stay up to date with new developments in your field. For example, online workshops and conferences are often more accessible and practical than in-person ones.
These actions helped me realize that what was in front of me was not a massive, impossibly tall mountain. This was a path on a hill well-travelled by many students before me — this year’s conditions were just a little bit tougher.
I prepared for my defense in a couple of different ways. I searched on Google for “common humanities thesis defense questions” and practiced answering every single question on every single link on the first and second pages of the results. I created a presentation and talking points and practiced in front of my younger siblings and my parents. Up until this point, my family had no idea what my research was about. I was so thankful and proud to be able to share this with them, and it was actually a good way to connect with them. My dad even took notes!
A lot of friends around the world were quite interested in reading and learning about my thesis. It wasn’t possible for them to attend my thesis defense, so I hosted a mock thesis defense presentation on Google Meet and invited about 10 friends. After the presentation, I let them ask whatever questions they might have. It was a huge success and another fun way to connect with friends and practice for the defense.
Take advantage of being able to bring together people into one virtual space — your friends and family are probably dying to hear what you’ve been up to in grad school.
The actual defense was a blur. I presented. The questions were very specific to my research, and at times felt more like a discussion rather than the “grilling” I prepared for. I waited in the Zoom meeting room as they decided on my fate — and was rewarded with good news: passed with no revisions!
The celebrations began immediately! I actually had to jump into a work meeting after the defense (another interesting part of defending remotely), and my team paused the meeting to congratulate me on the call. I shared the good news on Twitter and Instagram and messages began to pour in from all over the world.
My family got me a cake too!
Unexpectedly, my cousins dropped off food from my favourite restaurant, Hanjan. I then went to a planned virtual “watch K-pop videos together” date with a friend and was greeted with a surprise party! This was my first ever surprise party, and I’m glad I got to experience it with people all over the world I have met through the years.
Some ways to make your defense feel special is to share the news with others, plan a post-defense virtual party, or order in your favorite meal as a treat! You worked hard for this and you deserve it.
If you’re pondering how it could be possible to write and defend a thesis during such an unpredictable time, my advice is this: Do what you can. You’re physically, mentally, and spiritually processing so much collective trauma right now — it’s okay if the only thing you can do is passively listen to podcasts or a semi-related YouTube video right now. Or if you need a complete break, take it. You need that energy for the day when things slowly start to click into place and the words start flowing out of you. You don’t have to organize a huge mock thesis presentation if you don’t want to or can’t do it. Start with explaining it to yourself. Start with explaining it to the pre-grad school version of you in your head. And when you successfully defend, share the news with the people you care about and allow yourself to be proud of yourself and enjoy the congrats you receive! If I can do it, I swear you can do it too.
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How would one fail a master thesis defense?
So I have to defend my master thesis in computer science in two weeks. It's in Germany and the thesis is 30 credits. I'm wondering what could make someone fail his defense? In my thesis I mainly compare different approaches and algorithms and did experiments on them to answer some research questions. Would I fail if, for example, during the discussion a mistake in my comparison and evaluation approach is discovered which makes my results meaningless? Although I discussed my approach and everything I did with my advisor (postdoc not the prof), yet I still fear that I might have done something wrong and then everything collaps.
I still remember reading a question on this site where someone mentioned that he discovered a vital mistake in his PhD thesis after two years of the defense which made almost his entire thesis useless. Yet of course he didn't lose his PhD degree. So if something like this happens, but during the defense, what could happen?
So how would one fail his master thesis defense? Just to calm down a bit and feel safe and secure!
Edit: I passed with an excellent grade :D.
- 16 Your advisor should not let you defend if you are not ready. Ergo, your advisor thinks you are ready. Stop worrying and go for it! – Bob Brown Mar 15, 2015 at 18:24
- 1 Ideally, an advisor should not let you defend if you are not ready; unfortunately, some advisors still do let not-quite-there-yet advisees defend anyway. – Mad Jack Jun 1, 2016 at 17:27
3 Answers 3
Would I fail if, for example, during the discussion a mistake in my comparison and evaluation approach is discovered which makes my results meaningless? Although I discussed my approach and everything I did with my advisor (postdoc not the prof), yet I still fear that I might have done something wrong and then everything collaps.
This should not happen unless:
- The mistake is blatantly obvious and something you should have really known better. And with blatantly obvious, I mean something that somebody who has not even studied computer science or a related field could easily spot. Even then you may have chances, if the rest of your work is appropriate – almost everybody brainfarts now and then.
- You made not only one mistake but a lot of big mistakes.
- It becomes obvious that you deliberately ignored that mistake, to avoid being stuck or to get “nicer” results.
(In the first two cases, your advisor is in big trouble, too.) The point of the master thesis is that you should demonstrate that you can investigate a scientific question under supervision (or something similar – check the regulations, if you wish to know). One mistake does not change this.
Moreover, in some examination regulations I am aware of, there is a procedure for the case that some important but localised flaw is detected in your thesis. For example, you could be given a month to amend your thesis.
I have not experienced or heard of such a case but from what I have gathered, you pass if you:
- Give a talk about your thesis.
- Be able to answer questions about it.
- Are not detected to have been cheating.
Even if you suffer from a mental breakdown due to nervousness or similar, you probably can repeat the defense – at least with any reasonable examination regulation and examination committee. I am aware of one case where somebody had a nervous breakdown for understandable reasons¹ and the examination board let him repeat the exam. If you look into your examination regulations, there are probably some clauses that allow the examination board to do some things at their own discretion in exceptional cases.
Be aware though that being very difficult to fail does not make the defense unimportant. A bad defense may seriously (and in particular more than nominally) affect your thesis degree, which in turn has a huge impact on your total degree. In particular having passed a thesis with the lowest possible degree (or something close to it) is something you definetely do not want to have in your vita².
¹ It’s very complicated, but you might compare it to the following: In the middle of the defense, somebody who was the defender’s girlfriend until six months ago enters the room being obviously pregnant in her ninth month. ² Unless you are in one of those few disciplines where this is the norm.
- You really calmed me down. A nervous breakdown means crying or what do "you" mean by it? – Jack Twain Mar 14, 2015 at 22:06
- 3 Why are you putting you in quotation marks? It’s not my story; if that’s what you were thinking. Nervous or mental breakdown here can mean all sorts of symptoms that make you psychologically incapable of holding your defense. – Wrzlprmft ♦ Mar 14, 2015 at 22:16
- 2 @JackTwain: 1) I am perfectly calm and what you describe is not a good explanation to use quotation marks at all. 2) About 40 % of the final exams in law in Germany are passed with the lowest grade – though there is no thesis involved in this. Also, obtaining a doctor of law with the lowest degree (rite) is not unusual (though I have no numbers for this). – Wrzlprmft ♦ Mar 15, 2015 at 10:00
- 1 Great answer, however note that grading of the thesis or the thesis defense is no globally applicable. – posdef Mar 15, 2015 at 12:07
- 1 The only person I've ever heard of to fail his thesis defense (Austria) in CS was a guy that started an answer to "What is object oriented programming?" with "Umm.. good question!" and everyone wondered ever after how the hell he cheated his way through all the exams leading up to the defense. It's pretty much impossible to fail your exam. I'd say it's more something to look forward to: Discussing a topic you're intimately familiar with some colleagues should be fun. – Voo Mar 15, 2015 at 14:07
Evaluation criteria varies vastly, not only across different countries and cultures but even amongst different institutions within a country.
The only way I can imagine anyone failing a thesis defense here in Sweden is if you have a mental breakdown during presentation or questioning.
Alternatively if the defending student has plagiarised parts his/her work, that would also be a likely fail but otherwise, if you are allowed to defend, then you have practically passed already.
- I believe the academia atmosphere in Sweden is similar to that in Germany. What does 'mental breakdown' mean? Gone mad?! – Jack Twain Mar 14, 2015 at 12:47
- 9 Mental breakdown would stand for a blackout where you transiently forget everything you know due to being overly nervous. Likewise, in Ireland, where I did my PhD, if your supervisor allows you to defend your thesis it would take unlikely catastrophic circumstances to fail the actual examination. – Miguel Mar 14, 2015 at 14:01
- @Miguel thank you. That gave me some kind of relief and security. – Jack Twain Mar 14, 2015 at 15:13
- 1 @JackTwain The possibility of being wrong is always present in research, and is a fundamental part of doing new stuff. You are exploring uncharted territory. Until your ideas have over the years been tested by others or applied to different problems you cannot be certain of the relevance or even correctness of your results. Only a tiny fraction of the original research literature enters the textbooks. You have done what you must: make sure that to the best of your knowledge and ability your thesis is a sincere record of your research. – Miguel Mar 14, 2015 at 19:29
- 2 Just to add: there is a grade associated with a Master's defense, so it is possible to get a low grade, if you don't present or answer questions well. But actually failing is very unlikely, as this answer explains. – Lubo Antonov Mar 14, 2015 at 21:00
It's pretty rare for a student to fail the defense of a master thesis in the Swedish systems, but I have seen a few over the years. The three most common reasons include:
- Did not show up to defend the thesis (AKA: Lose on walkover)
- Doesn't know the material of the thesis (AKA: Didn't write it)
- Unable to hold a discussion about the thesis (AKA: hid in a corner)
Note that unlike a PhD thesis the professor does not have lot of skin in the game. Having a PhD student fail a defense is extremely embarrassing and can end the career of a professor. Having a master student fail a defense isn't considered such a big deal.
- 12 "can end the career of a professor"? Haven't heard of that, ever. – Dirk Mar 14, 2015 at 15:35
- 3 @Dirk good. Now you know so you can make sure that doesn't happen with your PhDs :D – Jack Twain Mar 14, 2015 at 15:36
- 1 Actually I still doubt that this really has ever happened. – Dirk Mar 14, 2015 at 15:38
- @Dirk would you fail a master student in his defense if turns out that he did a mistake and the results of the thesis are as a result useless because of this mistake? Suppose that this gets discovered only during the defense, and it was an honest mistake. – Jack Twain Mar 14, 2015 at 15:40
- 3 Dirk: I know of two cases, one in nursing and one in molecular biology over the last decades where a PhD student was recommended to defend and failed. In both cases this ended the research careers of several people involved. – pehrs Mar 14, 2015 at 15:49
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During your thesis defense, you will be asked questions about your work. The main purpose of your thesis defense is for the committee to make sure that you actually understand your field and focus area. The questions are usually open-ended and require the student to think critically about their work.
When it comes to defending your thesis paper orally in front of your advisor and committee members, practice really can make perfect. Take any chance you can get to discuss your thesis with other people. If you can find someone to sit through a practice defense, take advantage of that.
A Guide for Graduate Students Preparing for a Master’s Thesis Defense in Arts, Sciences and Engineering . I. BEFORE DEFENSE Prepare for the Defense After completing the research required for your thesis, you must decide on a date for the master’s thesis defense . You should also inform your Graduate Administrator that you have started the
I defended my masters thesis 2 years ago. Pulled an allnighter to memorise the script of what I will be saying for each slide,drank 2 monsters during that allnighter. Took a sleeping pill before the defense to calm my nerves. Ended up reading half the script cause I didn't do a great job memorising. Still passed!
Defending a thesis largely serves as a formality because the paper will already have been evaluated. During a defense, a student will be asked questions by members of the thesis committee. Questions are usually open-ended and require that the student think critically about his or her work.
What is a thesis defense? The defense is one of the last steps before graduating for a master’s or doctoral student. This is an oral presentation in front of a jury made up of a few professors. Once the dissertation or thesis is completed, it is sent to the jury, who have about 1 month to read it. Then a defense date is determined.
Writing, Defending, and Celebrating My Master’s Thesis in a Pandemic | by YouAlberta | YouAlberta | Medium 500 Apologies, but something went wrong on our end. Refresh the page, check Medium ’s...
It's pretty rare for a student to fail the defense of a master thesis in the Swedish systems, but I have seen a few over the years. The three most common reasons include: Did not show up to defend the thesis (AKA: Lose on walkover) Doesn't know the material of the thesis (AKA: Didn't write it)
On April the 26th, I successfully defended my master thesis “Damping in high-rise: Verification of the Energy Flow Analysis as identification tool for damping in high-rise buildings” at...