Tips for a Successful Dissertation Defense

2017-03-17 23.24.54Starting a doctoral program is fun, completing a dissertation can be stressful, and when it finally comes down to the defense, it can be an overwhelming experience for some! For others, the process is relatively smooth with the expected anxiety and stress that can come from completing any major project. Wherever you lie on that continuum, you learned something along the way that can benefit others, I know I did! So I am sharing some tips that I found very helpful for a successful dissertation defense.

  • Success doesn’t start at the defense! In order to complete your defense, you need to have a finished project to actually present to your committee. Therefore, a successful defense begins with a well designed dissertation study. After you complete your data collection and begin your write-up you want to start thinking critically about your data and the possible questions that may arise when you present your information. Think carefully about how you write up your results and discussion, think about your target audience (committee and others who may potentially read about your study), and always include some recommendations and/or implications.
  • Things to consider: When you prepare your defense presentation be sure to consider what other supplemental information you may need. Do you need to provide copies of assessments again? Will you make a handout of your results for your committee? Will you make a copy of your presentation as a handout? Also, think about small things like will you provide water and refreshments? Is the room set up in a way that you will be comfortable presenting?
  • Check technology: It’s easy to take little things for granted or forget some things during this busy time. However, one important thing to be sure you double or triple check is the technology you will use for your presentation. Get to the room either the day before and/or very early on the day of your presentation (at least an hour early) to check out the projector, lights, computer, internet connection (if needed), clickers, and flash drive.
  • List-makers get things done! Make a list of the things  you need to take with you on the day of the defense. If you’re anything like me, you write everything including “take your laptop!”  Prior to the defense, make a list of things you need to do, for example, do you have forms to submit to your graduate school office? do you need to make copies? did you schedule your room for your defense? did you ensure that all your committee members are aware of your defense date/time/location? 
  • Believe in yourself: I know you’ve heard this before, maybe several times, and it’s true: YOU GOT THIS! You know this study better than anyone else! You worked hard all year, you are familiar with the results, and you are capable of demonstrating your knowledge! Do what you need to do to take care of your physical and emotional well-being so you remain healthy and strong to give it your best shot!
  • Consider the next thing: One of my mentors gave me some advice that stuck with me during my proposal and defense – think ahead of your committee members. She advised me to think about 10 questions that my committee members may possibly ask me based on my study and have an answer prepared! For example, during the initial proposal of my study, I discussed two dependent variables. However, after data collection I had to discard one of my DVs due to insufficient data. Although I discussed this situation in my write-up, I ‘considered the next thing’ and figured my committee may want to know even more. So I thought about other possible questions and had answers ready. This helped me tremendously!
  • Buddy up: One thing that I did that was incredibly helpful and beneficial was to ask a friend to review my presentation. The key is that I didn’t just ask “any” friend, I asked the one person I knew would give me critical yet substantial feedback whether I wanted to hear it or not. Because of that, I was able to come up with extra potential questions, was able to re-arrange the content of my presentation, and included more information.

These are just some of the things that helped me to be successful during my defense. I hope that as you prepare for your defense, you too will discover what works for you and how you can pass it on to someone else!

“Success is not how high you have climbed, but how you make a positive difference to the world.”
― Roy T. Bennett

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