Today, I will talk about an important topic for graduate students, which is how to prepare for your thesis defense. I will explain what should be done to prepare yourself well., and also talk about my experience as student and currently as professor and judge for thesis defenses.
Before the thesis defense
- If you have a chance, attend some thesis defenses by other graduate students to get familiar with the process.
- Ask about how the thesis defense are done at your institution and who will be the judges. Especially, you need to know about the amount of time that you will have to give your presentation.
- Start to prepare early and talk to your thesis supervisor about your preparation. Your supervisor may give you some good advices, especially with respect to how defenses are conducted at your school.
- Spend a good amount of time to prepare your presentation. Preferably, prepare your slides a week earlier and show them to your supervisor and friends for comments. You may read my advices about how to give a good talk. In particular, avoid putting too many slides and too many details., and make sure there are no errors or typos.
- Rehearse your presentation several times to make sure you are comfortable giving it, and that you can present whitin the time limit. You may ask some friends to listen to your presentation.
- Eat well and have a good sleep before the talk. This can make a big difference. For example, in the past, I was judge for a thesis defense where a student felt down and almost loose consciousness due to the high stress, fatigue and not eating breakfast. To be able to sleep well and be at your best, you need to finish your preparation at least one day before the defense.
- Prepare a list of questions that you think judges may ask you and a list of corresponding answers. This will help you to better answer questions.
If you prepare yourself well, you will not be stressful and you will perform better.
During the defense
- Wear some suitable clothing. Be polite.
- Don’t talk too fast. A common mistake is that some students will try to talk very fast to say more things. But this is not necessary. Instead, summarize and talk about what is important at normal speed.
- Look at your audience. Another common mistake is to look at your screen instead of looking at your audience. A presentation is much more interesting when the presenter look at attendees.
- Keep track of the time. This is one of the most important thing. You need to make sure that you will not exceed the time limit. Thus, keep an eye on the clock, cellphone or your watch to know how much time is left.
- Listen carefully to the questions from judges before answering. If you did not understand, ask to clarify the questions or repeat the question in your own words, before answering. This is important because If you did not understand a question, you may give an unrelated answer.
- When answering a question, remember that the judge may not be an expert on your topic. Thus, try to give an answer that is easy to understand if you think the judge may not be familiar with your research area.
In this blog post, I gave some advices about how to prepare for your thesis defense. Hope it will be useful. If you think I missed something or would like to talk about your experience, please leave a comment below!
Philippe Fournier-Viger is a full professor working in China and founder of the SPMF open source data mining software.