Here come the butterflies, or worse. Defense anticipation can be so anxiety-inducing, but why? You know your project. You’ve been living and breathing this material for ages, it seems! You did a good job in your dissertation editing. If you were thinking logically, you would know that no one knows your research better than you. You shouldn’t have to worry about content.
If you’re worried about that, you have a much bigger problem.
The butterflies are probably in anticipation of the questions. And you should worry about that a bit. Giving thoughtful and intelligent answers will show that you’re smart enough to do more than provide an outline of your project. Really, how hard is it to talk about something you already did? You know the professors in your department by now. You know their specialties and you know the questions they ask in colloquia. If you’re lucky, some of them aren’t very creative. You should be able to figure out exactly what they’ll ask.
Here are three ways to prepare:
1. Ask advice.
Before the defense, ask faculty members not on your committee for advice about topics within their areas of expertise. When it comes to the defense, you have your bases covered. If another professor has a problem with a certain area, you can defer. Can work like a charm, but be skillful. Your dissertation editing service should also be able to give you some advice.
Anticipate questions for each faculty member, and prepare answers specifically for them. Create extra PowerPoint slides that you know will address their questions. Additional data is ideal. A bar graph that magically appears can be a beautiful thing.
3. Use (some) scripted responses.
For those questions that are completely off-the-wall, prepare a couple of different responses. Use them in combination as needed. My favorites (in sequence) went something like this:
- “That’s an interesting question!” (I’m buying time because I have no idea where that question came from.)
- “ I really haven’t thought about that.” (Nor will I after we’re done here, other than to wonder what you’re talking about while I’m having a celebration beer. I can’t wait till this is over.)
- “That certainly might change X part of my project .” [Be detailed here to show how big your brain is.] “And I’ll go over the potential implications with my committee.” (Even though they’re rolling their eyes in the front row. Oh good, they think it’s a weird question, too.)
The more you prepare for the unknown, the smarter you’ll look. You need to think on your feet the rest of your career, so show your professors you can do it now.
Surprise them by knowing what they’ll ask before they even enter the room.
I think figures of speech are fascinating. I have done a significant amount of work with them in my research and work as a dissertation editor. My interest began when I worked with individuals who had right hemisphere brain injury. They often have difficulty interpreting certain figures, even though they once knew them. When asked to interpret what is meant by “Two heads are better than one,” a patient might say, “Well, I guess if you had two heads, it would be better than if you just had one.”
There are an overwhelming number of figures of speech and rhetorical devices. We are familiar with the names of some of them, such as metaphor, idiom, and hyperbole. We may use others often, but not know their names, such as circumlocution (describing an object rather than naming it) or anthypophora (asking a question and then answering it right away).
Figures of speech and rhetorical devices came about for a reason. They may be a more succinct or creative way to say what you mean. But do they ever belong in, say, a research paper? I have my own biases. I really dislike figures that have become clichés when they are strung together in succession, with the writer saying nothing in his own words. I don’t have a problem with the occasional use of metaphor, because the relationship between similar ideas can be very illustrative, particularly when the author is relating new concepts to familiar ones. If you use metaphor in every sentence, though, you can bet I will change some of them; redundancy in grammatical form is painful.
Of course, using figures and devices is a matter of personal preference, as well as the preference of your audience. If you use them, use them very sparingly. Even if you love how poetically you presented your results, you will be reducing your chances of getting published if the academic editors of your target journal happen to feel that your use of macrologia is unbearable. And trust me, it is.
–Dr. Sarah, www.edit911.com