Three Steps In Preparing for Your Dissertation Defense

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.

Questions, Questions!

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.

2. Anticipate.

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.