Top things to do while preparing for your dissertation defense

You’ve written the defining work of your academic career – and now it’s time to defend it. The prospect of explaining your research and answering questions about it in front of a committee of experts can certainly be daunting. Fortunately, you know the subject matter deeply, so success is mostly a matter of presentation and preparation.

With that in mind, here are eight of the top things to do when preparing for your dissertation defense – from the beginning of your program to the day of your defense.

Attend other people’s defenses: Within the first year or two of your program, start attending the dissertation defenses of other students.[i] This will help you better understand what to expect.

Read your department’s guidelines: Every department has slightly different guidelines for the timeline and preparation of a thesis defense. Read yours early and often, and discuss them with your advisor.

Start your dissertation: This should take between three and four months to write, and you’ll want to submit a completed draft a month before your defense. This means you should start writing your thesis at least five months ahead of time.

Schedule your defense: You should coordinate the date, time and place of your defense as soon as possible, long before your dissertation is completed.[ii]

Submit dissertation and any required paperwork: About a month before your defense, you should submit the final draft of your dissertation for faculty to read.[iii] Your committee members will need time to fully read it and come up with questions.

Research committee members: Talk to other people whose committees they’ve served on, and ask what types of questions they tend to ask, and what their experiences were like.[iv] Read members’ feedback to get an idea of possible questions.

Attend a pre-defense meeting: At the meeting, raise any issues or concerns you have, and ask what questions and issues might be raised during the defense.[v]

Prepare your presentation: Prepare a 15-30 minute PowerPoint presentation, and make it as polished and professional as possible.[vi] Practice giving the presentation, including to friends and family if possible.

Select comfortable, professional clothes: Select your outfit – including accessories – a couple of weeks in advance. You don’t want to worry about what to wear the day before your presentation.

Organize a small reception: If it’s considered appropriate in your department, organize a small celebration following your defense for committee members, friends and family.[vii]

Take a break for a few days: You’re an expert, and you’re prepared. Psychologists believe taking a short break can enhance memory, creativity and problem solving.[viii]

Review everything one last time: The day before your defense, go through your information one last time, and practice your presentation again.

Defend, and amend: Remember, you are an expert presenting your research findings. You likely know more about your topic at this point than the committee members. Do your requested revisions the next day.[ix]