- Reduce Your Stress! I find that the more defenses I go to, the less stressed I feel about my own upcoming oral thesis defense. I think repeated exposure to what a defense is like in our department can help us prepare for our own and feel less stressed about it as we see others like us defend successfully.
- Get Used to Procedures. Each department has their own process for an oral defense and I found that going to a number of defenses in my department has helped me get an idea of how the day will go for me. For example, leaving the room for committee discussions could have been unnerving if I hadn’t learned to expect it from attending previous defenses in my department (some departments hold them in a separate room).
- Understanding Expectations. While this should be supplemented by discussions with your thesis supervisor, going to oral defenses in your department can be very helpful in understanding what is generally expected in terms of a thesis (e.g., methodologies, types of analyses used, number of studies, sample sizes, etc.). It’s a good idea to go to a few oral defenses early on in your program since it will likely be too late to change some of these decisions in your final year.
- Hear Potential Questions of Committee Members. It was a huge help for me to go to oral defenses with topics similar to my own because I learned what types of questions to expect. Even finding research studies with different subject areas but similar methodologies can be helpful in hearing questions and responses that are likely to come up during your own defense.
- Decide on Potential Committee Members for Your Defense. Selecting an oral defense committee should be done collaboratively with your thesis supervisor, and one way for you select potential members is to see how they are in other defenses. What types of questions do they ask and how? Are there certain issues for some that are a part of your research?
- Learn Strategies for Handling Difficult Questions and Combating Nervousness. Whether you walk away with good strategies to add to your own toolkit or a list of things NOT to do, watching others handle tough questions will likely give you some ideas of what to do when yours come up.
- See How Others Present Their Research. Again, this one may end with good and bad examples, but giving yourself an opportunity to expand your options for presenting your research both in oral and written form (e.g. PowerPoint slides) is a good idea.
- Get New Ideas and Perspectives in Relation to Your Own Research. I usually walk away from an oral defense with at least a page of scribbled notes, thoughts, ideas, checklists to go back to, etc. — all specific to my own thesis project.
- Learn About Current and Upcoming Research. Keeping up to date on research is an integral part of what we do and attending oral defenses is a great way to see what some of the soon to be top researchers in our field are up to and what they have planned for the future.
- Take a Break! Focusing on something else other than your own project will give you a much-needed break. No need to feel guilty, preparing for your oral defense definitely counts as work 😉
Overall, talking the time to go to others’ oral thesis defenses can help you prepare for your own by helping you to set expectations and having some examples to follow.
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