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Defending Your Dissertation: A Guide

A woman in front of a bookshelf speaking to a laptop

Written by Luke Wink-Moran | Photo by insta_photos

Dissertation defenses are daunting, and no wonder; it’s not a “dissertation discussion,” or a “dissertation dialogue.” The name alone implies that the dissertation you’ve spent the last x number of years working on is subject to attack. And if you don’t feel trepidation for semantic reasons, you might be nervous because you don’t know what to expect. Our imaginations are great at making The Unknown scarier than reality. The good news is that you’ll find in this newsletter article experts who can shed light on what dissertations defenses are really like, and what you can do to prepare for them.

The first thing you should know is that your defense has already begun. It started the minute you began working on your dissertation— maybe even in some of the classes you took beforehand that helped you formulate your ideas. This, according to Dr. Celeste Atkins, is why it’s so important to identify a good mentor early in graduate school.

“To me,” noted Dr. Atkins, who wrote her dissertation on how sociology faculty from traditionally marginalized backgrounds teach about privilege and inequality, “the most important part of the doctoral journey was finding an advisor who understood and supported what I wanted from my education and who was willing to challenge me and push me, while not delaying me.  I would encourage future PhDs to really take the time to get to know the faculty before choosing an advisor and to make sure that the members of their committee work well together.”

Your advisor will be the one who helps you refine arguments and strengthen your work so that by the time it reaches your dissertation committee, it’s ready. Next comes the writing process, which many students have said was the hardest part of their PhD. I’ve included this section on the writing process because this is where you’ll create all the material you’ll present during your defense, so it’s important to navigate it successfully. The writing process is intellectually grueling, it eats time and energy, and it’s where many students find themselves paddling frantically to avoid languishing in the “All-But-Dissertation” doldrums. The writing process is also likely to encroach on other parts of your life. For instance, Dr. Cynthia Trejo wrote her dissertation on college preparation for Latin American students while caring for a twelve-year-old, two adult children, and her aging parents—in the middle of a pandemic. When I asked Dr. Trejo how she did this, she replied:

“I don’t take the privilege of education for granted. My son knew I got up at 4:00 a.m. every morning, even on weekends, even on holidays; and it’s a blessing that he’s seen that work ethic and that dedication and the end result.”

Importantly, Dr. Trejo also exercised regularly and joined several online writing groups at UArizona. She mobilized her support network— her partner, parents, and even friends from high school to help care for her son.

The challenges you face during the writing process can vary by discipline. Jessika Iwanski is an MD/PhD student who in 2022 defended her dissertation on genetic mutations in sarcomeric proteins that lead to severe, neonatal dilated cardiomyopathy. She described her writing experience as “an intricate process of balancing many things at once with a deadline (defense day) that seems to be creeping up faster and faster— finishing up experiments, drafting the dissertation, preparing your presentation, filling out all the necessary documents for your defense and also, for MD/PhD students, beginning to reintegrate into the clinical world (reviewing your clinical knowledge and skill sets)!”

But no matter what your unique challenges are, writing a dissertation can take a toll on your mental health. Almost every student I spoke with said they saw a therapist and found their sessions enormously helpful. They also looked to the people in their lives for support. Dr. Betsy Labiner, who wrote her dissertation on Interiority, Truth, and Violence in Early Modern Drama, recommended, “Keep your loved ones close! This is so hard – the dissertation lends itself to isolation, especially in the final stages. Plus, a huge number of your family and friends simply won’t understand what you’re going through. But they love you and want to help and are great for getting you out of your head and into a space where you can enjoy life even when you feel like your dissertation is a flaming heap of trash.”

While you might sometimes feel like your dissertation is a flaming heap of trash, remember: a) no it’s not, you brilliant scholar, and b) the best dissertations aren’t necessarily perfect dissertations. According to Dr. Trejo, “The best dissertation is a done dissertation.” So don’t get hung up on perfecting every detail of your work. Think of your dissertation as a long-form assignment that you need to finish in order to move onto the next stage of your career. Many students continue revising after graduation and submit their work for publication or other professional objectives.

When you do finish writing your dissertation, it’s time to schedule your defense and invite friends and family to the part of the exam that’s open to the public. When that moment comes, how do you prepare to present your work and field questions about it?

“I reread my dissertation in full in one sitting,” said Dr. Labiner. “During all my time writing it, I’d never read more than one complete chapter at a time! It was a huge confidence boost to read my work in full and realize that I had produced a compelling, engaging, original argument.”

There are many other ways to prepare: create presentation slides and practice presenting them to friends or alone; think of questions you might be asked and answer them; think about what you want to wear or where you might want to sit (if you’re presenting on Zoom) that might give you a confidence boost. Iwanksi practiced presenting with her mentor and reviewed current papers to anticipate what questions her committee might ask.  If you want to really get in the zone, you can emulate Dr. Labiner and do a full dress rehearsal on Zoom the day before your defense.

But no matter what you do, you’ll still be nervous:

“I had a sense of the logistics, the timing, and so on, but I didn’t really have clear expectations outside of the structure. It was a sort of nebulous three hours in which I expected to be nauseatingly terrified,” recalled Dr. Labiner.

“I expected it to be terrifying, with lots of difficult questions and constructive criticism/comments given,” agreed Iwanski.

“I expected it to be very scary,” said Dr. Trejo.

“I expected it to be like I was on trial, and I’d have to defend myself and prove I deserved a PhD,” said Dr Atkins.

And, eventually, inexorably, it will be time to present.  

“It was actually very enjoyable” said Iwanski. “It was more of a celebration of years of work put into this project—not only by me but by my mentor, colleagues, lab members and collaborators! I felt very supported by all my committee members and, rather than it being a rapid fire of questions, it was more of a scientific discussion amongst colleagues who are passionate about heart disease and muscle biology.”

“I was anxious right when I logged on to the Zoom call for it,” said Dr. Labiner, “but I was blown away by the number of family and friends that showed up to support me. I had invited a lot of people who I didn’t at all think would come, but every single person I invited was there! Having about 40 guests – many of them joining from different states and several from different countries! – made me feel so loved and celebrated that my nerves were steadied very quickly. It also helped me go into ‘teaching mode’ about my work, so it felt like getting to lead a seminar on my most favorite literature.”

“In reality, my dissertation defense was similar to presenting at an academic conference,” said Dr. Atkins. “I went over my research in a practiced and organized way, and I fielded questions from the audience.

“It was a celebration and an important benchmark for me,” said Dr. Trejo. “It was a pretty happy day. Like the punctuation at the end of your sentence: this sentence is done; this journey is done. You can start the next sentence.”

If you want to learn more about dissertations in your own discipline, don’t hesitate to reach out to graduates from your program and ask them about their experiences. If you’d like to avail yourself of some of the resources that helped students in this article while they wrote and defended their dissertations, check out these links:

The Graduate Writing Lab

The Writing Skills Improvement Program

Campus Health Counseling and Psych Services

the defence of doctoral dissertation

Research Voyage

Research Tips and Infromation

PhD Defence Process: A Comprehensive Guide

PhD Defence

Embarking on the journey toward a PhD is an intellectual odyssey marked by tireless research, countless hours of contemplation, and a fervent commitment to contributing to the body of knowledge in one’s field. As the culmination of this formidable journey, the PhD defence stands as the final frontier, the proverbial bridge between student and scholar.

In this comprehensive guide, we unravel the intricacies of the PhD defence—a momentous occasion that is both a celebration of scholarly achievement and a rigorous evaluation of academic prowess. Join us as we explore the nuances of the defence process, addressing questions about its duration, contemplating the possibility of failure, and delving into the subtle distinctions of language that surround it.

Beyond the formalities, we aim to shed light on the significance of this rite of passage, dispelling misconceptions about its nature. Moreover, we’ll consider the impact of one’s attire on this critical day and share personal experiences and practical tips from those who have successfully navigated the defence journey.

Whether you are on the precipice of your own defence or are simply curious about the process, this guide seeks to demystify the PhD defence, providing a roadmap for success and a nuanced understanding of the pivotal event that marks the transition from student to scholar.


A. definition and purpose:, b. overview of the oral examination:, a. general duration of a typical defense, b. factors influencing the duration:, c. preparation and flexibility:, a. preparation and thorough understanding of the research:, b. handling questions effectively:, c. confidence and composure during the presentation:, d. posture of continuous improvement:, a. exploring the possibility of failure:, b. common reasons for failure:, c. steps to mitigate the risk of failure:, d. post-failure resilience:, a. addressing the language variation:, b. conforming to regional preferences:, c. consistency in usage:, d. flexibility and adaptability:, e. navigating language in a globalized academic landscape:, a. debunking myths around the formality of the defense:, b. significance in validating research contributions:, c. post-defense impact:, a. appropriate attire for different settings:, b. professionalism and the impact of appearance:, c. practical tips for dressing success:, b. practical tips for a successful defense:, c. post-defense reflections:, career options after phd.

Embarking on the doctoral journey is a formidable undertaking, where aspiring scholars immerse themselves in the pursuit of knowledge, contributing new insights to their respective fields. At the pinnacle of this academic odyssey lies the PhD defence—a culmination that transcends the boundaries of a mere formality, symbolizing the transformation from a student of a discipline to a recognized contributor to the academic tapestry.

The PhD defence, also known as the viva voce or oral examination, is a pivotal moment in the life of a doctoral candidate.

PhD defence is not merely a ritualistic ceremony; rather, it serves as a platform for scholars to present, defend, and elucidate the findings and implications of their research. The defence is the crucible where ideas are tested, hypotheses scrutinized, and the depth of scholarly understanding is laid bare.

The importance of the PhD defence reverberates throughout the academic landscape. It is not just a capstone event; it is the juncture where academic rigour meets real-world application. The defence is the litmus test of a researcher’s ability to articulate, defend, and contextualize their work—an evaluation that extends beyond the pages of a dissertation.

Beyond its evaluative nature, the defence serves as a rite of passage, validating the years of dedication, perseverance, and intellectual rigour invested in the research endeavour. Success in the defence is a testament to the candidate’s mastery of their subject matter and the originality and impact of their contributions to the academic community.

Furthermore, a successful defence paves the way for future contributions, positioning the scholar as a recognized authority in their field. The defence is not just an endpoint; it is a launchpad, propelling researchers into the next phase of their academic journey as they continue to shape and redefine the boundaries of knowledge.

In essence, the PhD defence is more than a ceremonial checkpoint—it is a transformative experience that validates the intellectual journey, underscores the significance of scholarly contributions, and sets the stage for a continued legacy of academic excellence. As we navigate the intricacies of this process, we invite you to explore the multifaceted dimensions that make the PhD defence an indispensable chapter in the narrative of academic achievement.

What is a PhD Defence?

At its core, a PhD defence is a rigorous and comprehensive examination that marks the culmination of a doctoral candidate’s research journey. It is an essential component of the doctoral process in which the candidate is required to defend their dissertation before a committee of experts in the field. The defence serves multiple purposes, acting as both a showcase of the candidate’s work and an evaluative measure of their understanding, critical thinking, and contributions to the academic domain.

The primary goals of a PhD defence include:

  • Presentation of Research: The candidate presents the key findings, methodology, and significance of their research.
  • Demonstration of Mastery: The defence assesses the candidate’s depth of understanding, mastery of the subject matter, and ability to engage in scholarly discourse.
  • Critical Examination: Committee members rigorously question the candidate, challenging assumptions, testing methodologies, and probing the boundaries of the research.
  • Validation of Originality: The defence validates the originality and contribution of the candidate’s work to the existing body of knowledge.

The PhD defence often takes the form of an oral examination, commonly referred to as the viva voce. This oral component adds a dynamic and interactive dimension to the evaluation process. Key elements of the oral examination include:

  • Presentation: The candidate typically begins with a formal presentation, summarizing the dissertation’s main components, methodology, and findings. This presentation is an opportunity to showcase the significance and novelty of the research.
  • Questioning and Discussion: Following the presentation, the candidate engages in a thorough questioning session with the examination committee. Committee members explore various aspects of the research, challenging the candidates to articulate their rationale, defend their conclusions, and respond to critiques.
  • Defence of Methodology: The candidate is often required to defend the chosen research methodology, demonstrating its appropriateness, rigour, and contribution to the field.
  • Evaluation of Contributions: Committee members assess the originality and impact of the candidate’s contributions to the academic discipline, seeking to understand how the research advances existing knowledge.

The oral examination is not a mere formality; it is a dynamic exchange that tests the candidate’s intellectual acumen, research skills, and capacity to contribute meaningfully to the scholarly community.

In essence, the PhD defence is a comprehensive and interactive evaluation that encapsulates the essence of a candidate’s research journey, demanding a synthesis of knowledge, clarity of expression, and the ability to navigate the complexities of academic inquiry. As we delve into the specifics of the defence process, we will unravel the layers of preparation and skill required to navigate this transformative academic milestone.

How Long is a PhD Defence?

The duration of a PhD defence can vary widely, but it typically ranges from two to three hours. This time frame encompasses the candidate’s presentation of their research, questioning and discussions with the examination committee, and any additional deliberations or decisions by the committee. However, it’s essential to note that this is a general guideline, and actual defence durations may vary based on numerous factors.

  • Sciences and Engineering: Defenses in these fields might lean towards the shorter end of the spectrum, often around two hours. The focus is often on the methodology, results, and technical aspects.
  • Humanities and Social Sciences: Given the theoretical and interpretive nature of research in these fields, defences might extend closer to three hours or more. Discussions may delve into philosophical underpinnings and nuanced interpretations.
  • Simple vs. Complex Studies: The complexity of the research itself plays a role. Elaborate experiments, extensive datasets, or intricate theoretical frameworks may necessitate a more extended defence.
  • Number of Committee Members: A larger committee or one with diverse expertise may lead to more extensive discussions and varied perspectives, potentially elongating the defence.
  • Committee Engagement: The level of engagement and probing by committee members can influence the overall duration. In-depth discussions or debates may extend the defence time.
  • Cultural Norms: In some countries, the oral defence might be more ceremonial, with less emphasis on intense questioning. In others, a rigorous and extended defence might be the norm.
  • Evaluation Practices: Different academic systems have varying evaluation criteria, which can impact the duration of the defence.
  • Institutional Guidelines: Some institutions may have specific guidelines on defence durations, influencing the overall time allotted for the process.

Candidates should be well-prepared for a defence of any duration. Adequate preparation not only involves a concise presentation of the research but also anticipates potential questions and engages in thoughtful discussions. Additionally, candidates should be flexible and responsive to the dynamics of the defense, adapting to the pace set by the committee.

Success Factors in a PhD Defence

  • Successful defence begins with a deep and comprehensive understanding of the research. Candidates should be well-versed in every aspect of their study, from the theoretical framework to the methodology and findings.
  • Thorough preparation involves anticipating potential questions from the examination committee. Candidates should consider the strengths and limitations of their research and be ready to address queries related to methodology, data analysis, and theoretical underpinnings.
  • Conducting mock defences with peers or mentors can be invaluable. It helps refine the presentation, exposes potential areas of weakness, and provides an opportunity to practice responding to challenging questions.
  • Actively listen to questions without interruption. Understanding the nuances of each question is crucial for providing precise and relevant responses.
  • Responses should be clear, concise, and directly address the question. Avoid unnecessary jargon, and strive to convey complex concepts in a manner that is accessible to the entire committee.
  • It’s acceptable not to have all the answers. If faced with a question that stumps you, acknowledge it honestly. Expressing a willingness to explore the topic further demonstrates intellectual humility.
  • Use questions as opportunities to reinforce key messages from the research. Skillfully link responses back to the core contributions of the study, emphasizing its significance.
  • Rehearse the presentation multiple times to build familiarity with the material. This enhances confidence, reduces nervousness, and ensures a smooth and engaging delivery.
  • Maintain confident and open body language. Stand tall, make eye contact, and use gestures judiciously. A composed demeanour contributes to a positive impression.
  • Acknowledge and manage nervousness. It’s natural to feel some anxiety, but channelling that energy into enthusiasm for presenting your research can turn nervousness into a positive force.
  • Engage with the committee through a dynamic and interactive presentation. Invite questions during the presentation to create a more conversational atmosphere.
  • Utilize visual aids effectively. Slides or other visual elements should complement the spoken presentation, reinforcing key points without overwhelming the audience.
  • View the defence not only as an evaluation but also as an opportunity for continuous improvement. Feedback received during the defence can inform future research endeavours and scholarly pursuits.

In essence, success in a PhD defence hinges on meticulous preparation, adept handling of questions, and projecting confidence and composure during the presentation. A well-prepared and resilient candidate is better positioned to navigate the challenges of the defence, transforming it from a moment of evaluation into an affirmation of scholarly achievement.

Failure in PhD Defence

  • While the prospect of failing a PhD defence is relatively rare, it’s essential for candidates to acknowledge that the possibility exists. Understanding this reality can motivate diligent preparation and a proactive approach to mitigate potential risks.
  • Failure, if it occurs, should be seen as a learning opportunity rather than a definitive endpoint. It may highlight areas for improvement and offer insights into refining the research and presentation.
  • Lack of thorough preparation, including a weak grasp of the research content, inadequate rehearsal, and failure to anticipate potential questions, can contribute to failure.
  • Inability to effectively defend the chosen research methodology, including justifying its appropriateness and demonstrating its rigour, can be a critical factor.
  • Failing to clearly articulate the original contributions of the research and its significance to the field may lead to a negative assessment.
  • Responding defensively to questions, exhibiting a lack of openness to critique, or being unwilling to acknowledge limitations can impact the overall impression.
  • Inability to address committee concerns or incorporate constructive feedback received during the defense may contribute to a negative outcome.
  • Comprehensive preparation is the cornerstone of success. Candidates should dedicate ample time to understanding every facet of their research, conducting mock defences, and seeking feedback.
  • Identify potential weaknesses in the research and address them proactively. Being aware of limitations and articulating plans for addressing them in future work demonstrates foresight.
  • Engage with mentors, peers, or advisors before the defence. Solicit constructive feedback on both the content and delivery of the presentation to refine and strengthen the defence.
  • Develop strategies to manage stress and nervousness. Techniques such as mindfulness, deep breathing, or visualization can be effective in maintaining composure during the defence.
  • Conduct a pre-defense review of all materials, ensuring that the presentation aligns with the dissertation and that visual aids are clear and supportive.
  • Approach the defence with an open and reflective attitude. Embrace critique as an opportunity for improvement rather than as a personal affront.
  • Clarify expectations with the examination committee beforehand. Understanding the committee’s focus areas and preferences can guide preparation efforts.
  • In the event of failure, candidates should approach the situation with resilience. Seek feedback from the committee, understand the reasons for the outcome, and use the experience as a springboard for improvement.

In summary, while the prospect of failing a PhD defence is uncommon, acknowledging its possibility and taking proactive steps to mitigate risks are crucial elements of a well-rounded defence strategy. By addressing common failure factors through thorough preparation, openness to critique, and a resilient attitude, candidates can increase their chances of a successful defence outcome.

PhD Defense or Defence?

  • The choice between “defense” and “defence” is primarily a matter of British English versus American English spelling conventions. “Defense” is the preferred spelling in American English, while “defence” is the British English spelling.
  • In the global academic community, both spellings are generally understood and accepted. However, the choice of spelling may be influenced by the academic institution’s language conventions or the preferences of individual scholars.
  • Academic institutions may have specific guidelines regarding language conventions, and candidates are often expected to adhere to the institution’s preferred spelling.
  • Candidates may also consider the preferences of their advisors or committee members. If there is a consistent spelling convention used within the academic department, it is advisable to align with those preferences.
  • Consideration should be given to the spelling conventions of scholarly journals in the candidate’s field. If intending to publish research stemming from the dissertation, aligning with the conventions of target journals is prudent.
  • If the defense presentation or dissertation will be shared with an international audience, using a more universally recognized spelling (such as “defense”) may be preferred to ensure clarity and accessibility.
  • Regardless of the chosen spelling, it’s crucial to maintain consistency throughout the document. Mixing spellings can distract from the content and may be perceived as an oversight.
  • In oral presentations and written correspondence related to the defence, including emails, it’s advisable to maintain consistency with the chosen spelling to present a professional and polished image.
  • Recognizing that language conventions can vary, candidates should approach the choice of spelling with flexibility. Being adaptable to the preferences of the academic context and demonstrating an awareness of regional variations reflects a nuanced understanding of language usage.
  • With the increasing globalization of academia, an awareness of language variations becomes essential. Scholars often collaborate across borders, and an inclusive approach to language conventions contributes to effective communication and collaboration.

In summary, the choice between “PhD defense” and “PhD defence” boils down to regional language conventions and institutional preferences. Maintaining consistency, being mindful of the target audience, and adapting to the expectations of the academic community contribute to a polished and professional presentation, whether in written documents or oral defences.

Is PhD Defense a Formality?

  • While the PhD defence is a structured and ritualistic event, it is far from being a mere formality. It is a critical and substantive part of the doctoral journey, designed to rigorously evaluate the candidate’s research contributions, understanding of the field, and ability to engage in scholarly discourse.
  • The defence is not a checkbox to be marked but rather a dynamic process where the candidate’s research is evaluated for its scholarly merit. The committee scrutinizes the originality, significance, and methodology of the research, aiming to ensure it meets the standards of advanced academic work.
  • Far from a passive or purely ceremonial event, the defence involves active engagement between the candidate and the examination committee. Questions, discussions, and debates are integral components that enrich the scholarly exchange during the defence.
  • The defence serves as a platform for the candidate to demonstrate the originality of their research. Committee members assess the novelty of the contributions, ensuring that the work adds value to the existing body of knowledge.
  • Beyond the content, the defence evaluates the methodological rigour of the research. Committee members assess whether the chosen methodology is appropriate, well-executed, and contributes to the validity of the findings.
  • Successful completion of the defence affirms the candidate’s ability to contribute meaningfully to the academic discourse in their field. It is an endorsement of the candidate’s position as a knowledgeable and respected scholar.
  • The defence process acts as a quality assurance mechanism in academia. It ensures that individuals awarded a doctoral degree have undergone a thorough and rigorous evaluation, upholding the standards of excellence in research and scholarly inquiry.
  • Institutions have specific criteria and standards for awarding a PhD. The defence process aligns with these institutional and academic standards, providing a consistent and transparent mechanism for evaluating candidates.
  • Successful completion of the defence is a pivotal moment that marks the transition from a doctoral candidate to a recognized scholar. It opens doors to further contributions, collaborations, and opportunities within the academic community.
  • Research presented during the defence often forms the basis for future publications. The validation received in the defence enhances the credibility of the research, facilitating its dissemination and impact within the academic community.
  • Beyond the academic realm, a successfully defended PhD is a key credential for professional advancement. It enhances one’s standing in the broader professional landscape, opening doors to research positions, teaching opportunities, and leadership roles.

In essence, the PhD defence is a rigorous and meaningful process that goes beyond formalities, playing a crucial role in affirming the academic merit of a candidate’s research and marking the culmination of their journey toward scholarly recognition.

Dressing for Success: PhD Defense Outfit

  • For Men: A well-fitted suit in neutral colours (black, navy, grey), a collared dress shirt, a tie, and formal dress shoes.
  • For Women: A tailored suit, a blouse or button-down shirt, and closed-toe dress shoes.
  • Dress codes can vary based on cultural expectations. It’s advisable to be aware of any cultural nuances within the academic institution and to adapt attire accordingly.
  • With the rise of virtual defenses, considerations for attire remain relevant. Even in online settings, dressing professionally contributes to a polished and serious demeanor. Virtual attire can mirror what one would wear in-person, focusing on the upper body visible on camera.
  • The attire chosen for a PhD defense contributes to the first impression that a candidate makes on the examination committee. A professional and polished appearance sets a positive tone for the defense.
  • Dressing appropriately reflects respect for the gravity of the occasion. It acknowledges the significance of the defense as a formal evaluation of one’s scholarly contributions.
  • Wearing professional attire can contribute to a boost in confidence. When individuals feel well-dressed and put-together, it can positively impact their mindset and overall presentation.
  • The PhD defense is a serious academic event, and dressing professionally fosters an atmosphere of seriousness and commitment to the scholarly process. It aligns with the respect one accords to academic traditions.
  • Institutional norms may influence dress expectations. Some academic institutions may have specific guidelines regarding attire for formal events, and candidates should be aware of and adhere to these norms.
  • While adhering to the formality expected in academic settings, individuals can also express their personal style within the bounds of professionalism. It’s about finding a balance between institutional expectations and personal comfort.
  • Select and prepare the outfit well in advance to avoid last-minute stress. Ensure that the attire is clean, well-ironed, and in good condition.
  • Accessories such as ties, scarves, or jewelry should complement the outfit. However, it’s advisable to keep accessories subtle to maintain a professional appearance.
  • While dressing professionally, prioritize comfort. PhD defenses can be mentally demanding, and comfortable attire can contribute to a more confident and composed demeanor.
  • Pay attention to grooming, including personal hygiene and haircare. A well-groomed appearance contributes to an overall polished look.
  • Start preparation well in advance of the defense date. Know your research inside out, anticipate potential questions, and be ready to discuss the nuances of your methodology, findings, and contributions.
  • Conduct mock defenses with peers, mentors, or colleagues. Mock defenses provide an opportunity to receive constructive feedback, practice responses to potential questions, and refine your presentation.
  • Strike a balance between confidence and humility. Confidence in presenting your research is essential, but being open to acknowledging limitations and areas for improvement demonstrates intellectual honesty.
  • Actively engage with the examination committee during the defense. Listen carefully to questions, respond thoughtfully, and view the defense as a scholarly exchange rather than a mere formality.
  • Understand the expertise and backgrounds of the committee members. Tailor your presentation and responses to align with the interests and expectations of your specific audience.
  • Practice time management during your presentation. Ensure that you allocate sufficient time to cover key aspects of your research, leaving ample time for questions and discussions.
  • It’s normal to feel nervous, but practicing mindfulness and staying calm under pressure is crucial. Take deep breaths, maintain eye contact, and focus on delivering a clear and composed presentation.
  • Have a plan for post-defense activities. Whether it’s revisions to the dissertation, publications, or future research endeavors, having a roadmap for what comes next demonstrates foresight and commitment to ongoing scholarly contributions.
  • After successfully defending, individuals often emphasize the importance of taking time to reflect on the entire doctoral journey. Acknowledge personal and academic growth, celebrate achievements, and use the experience to inform future scholarly pursuits.

In summary, learning from the experiences of others who have successfully defended offers a wealth of practical wisdom. These insights, combined with thoughtful preparation and a proactive approach, contribute to a successful and fulfilling defense experience.

You have plenty of career options after completing a PhD. For more details, visit my blog posts:

7 Essential Steps for Building a Robust Research Portfolio

Exciting Career Opportunities for PhD Researchers and Research Scholars

Freelance Writing or Editing Opportunities for Researchers A Comprehensive Guide

Research Consultancy: An Alternate Career for Researchers

The Insider’s Guide to Becoming a Patent Agent: Opportunities, Requirements, and Challenges

The journey from a curious researcher to a recognized scholar culminates in the PhD defence—an intellectual odyssey marked by dedication, resilience, and a relentless pursuit of knowledge. As we navigate the intricacies of this pivotal event, it becomes evident that the PhD defence is far more than a ceremonial rite; it is a substantive evaluation that validates the contributions of a researcher to the academic landscape.

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Preparing For Your Dissertation Defense

13 Key Questions To Expect In The Viva Voce

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) & David Phair (PhD) . Reviewed By: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | June 2021

Preparing for your dissertation or thesis defense (also called a “viva voce”) is a formidable task . All your hard work over the years leads you to this one point, and you’ll need to defend yourself against some of the most experienced researchers you’ve encountered so far.

It’s natural to feel a little nervous.

In this post, we’ll cover some of the most important questions you should be able to answer in your viva voce, whether it’s for a Masters or PhD degree. Naturally, they might not arise in exactly the same form (some may not come up at all), but if you can answer these questions well, it means you’re in a good position to tackle your oral defense.

Dissertation and thesis defense 101

Viva Voce Prep: 13 Essential Questions

  • What is your study about and why did you choose to research this in particular?
  • How did your research questions evolve during the research process?
  • How did you decide on which sources to include in your literature review?
  • How did you design your study and why did you take this approach?
  • How generalisable and valid are the findings?
  • What were the main shortcomings and limitations created by your research design?
  • How did your findings relate to the existing literature?
  • What were your key findings in relation to the research questions?
  • Were there any findings that surprised you?
  • What biases may exist in your research?
  • How can your findings be put into practice?
  • How has your research contributed to current thinking in the field?
  • If you could redo your research, how would you alter your approach?

#1: What is your study about and why did you choose to research this in particular?

This question, a classic party starter, is pretty straightforward.

What the dissertation or thesis committee is assessing here is your ability to clearly articulate your research aims, objectives and research questions in a concise manner. Concise is the keyword here – you need to clearly explain your research topic without rambling on for a half-hour. Don’t feel the need to go into the weeds here – you’ll have many opportunities to unpack the details later on.

In the second half of the question, they’re looking for a brief explanation of the justification of your research. In other words, why was this particular set of research aims, objectives and questions worth addressing? To address this question well in your oral defense, you need to make it clear what gap existed within the research and why that gap was worth filling.

#2: How did your research questions evolve during the research process?

Good research generally follows a long and winding path . It’s seldom a straight line (unless you got really lucky). What they’re assessing here is your ability to follow that path and let the research process unfold.

Specifically, they’ll want to hear about the impact that the literature review process had on you in terms of shaping the research aims, objectives and research questions . For example, you may have started with a certain set of aims, but then as you immersed yourself in the literature, you may have changed direction. Similarly, your initial fieldwork findings may have turned out some unexpected data that drove you to adjust or expand on your initial research questions.

Long story short – a good defense involves clearly describing your research journey , including all the twists and turns. Adjusting your direction based on findings in the literature or the fieldwork shows that you’re responsive , which is essential for high-quality research.

You will need to explain the impact of your literature review in the defense

#3: How did you decide on which sources to include in your literature review?

A comprehensive literature review is the foundation of any high-quality piece of research. With this question, your dissertation or thesis committee are trying to assess which quality criteria and approach you used to select the sources for your literature review.

Typically, good research draws on both the seminal work in the respective field and more recent sources . In other words, a combination of the older landmark studies and pivotal work, along with up-to-date sources that build on to those older studies. This combination ensures that the study has a rock-solid foundation but is not out of date.

So, make sure that your study draws on a mix of both the “classics” and new kids on the block, and take note of any major evolutions in the literature that you can use as an example when asked this question in your viva voce.

#4: How did you design your study and why did you take this approach?

This is a classic methodological question that you can almost certainly expect in some or other shape.

What they’re looking for here is a clear articulation of the research design and methodology, as well as a strong justification of each choice . So, you need to be able to walk through each methodological choice and clearly explain both what you did and why you did it. The why is particularly important – you need to be able to justify each choice you made by clearly linking your design back to your research aims, objectives and research questions, while also taking into account practical constraints.

To ensure you cover every base, check out our research methodology vlog post , as well as our post covering the Research Onion .

You have to justify every choice in your dissertation defence

#5: How generalizable and valid are the findings?

This question is aimed at specifically digging into your understanding of the sample and how that relates to the population, as well as potential validity issues in your methodology.

To answer question this well, you’ll need to critically assess your sample and findings and consider if they truly apply to the entire population, as well as whether they assessed what they set out to. Note that there are two components here – generalizability and validity . Generalizability is about how well the sample represents the population. Validity is about how accurately you’ve measured what you intended to measure .

To ace this part of your dissertation defense, make sure that you’re very familiar with the concepts of generalizability , validity and reliability , and how these apply to your research. Remember, you don’t need to achieve perfection – you just need to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of your research (and how the weaknesses could be improved upon).

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#6: What were the main shortcomings and limitations created by your research design?

This question picks up where the last one left off.

As I mentioned, it’s perfectly natural that your research will have shortcomings and limitations as a result of your chosen design and methodology. No piece of research is flawless. Therefore, a good dissertation defense is not about arguing that your work is perfect, but rather it’s about clearly articulating the strengths and weaknesses of your approach.

To address this question well, you need to think critically about all of the potential weaknesses your design may have, as well as potential responses to these (which could be adopted in future research) to ensure you’re well prepared for this question. For a list of common methodological limitations, check out our video about research limitations here .

#7: How did your findings relate to the existing literature?

This common dissertation defense question links directly to your discussion chapter , where you would have presented and discussed the findings in relation to your literature review.

What your dissertation or thesis committee is assessing here is your ability to compare your study’s findings to the findings of existing research . Specifically, you need to discuss which findings aligned with existing research and which findings did not. For those findings that contrasted against existing research, you should also explain what you believe to be the reasons for this.

As with many questions in a viva voce, it’s both the what and the why that matter here. So, you need to think deeply about what the underlying reasons may be for both the similarities and differences between your findings and those of similar studies.

Your dissertation defense needs to compare findings

#8: What were your key findings in relation to the research questions?

This question is similar to the last one in that it too focuses on your research findings. However, here the focus is specifically on the findings that directly relate to your research questions (as opposed to findings in general).

So, a good way to prepare for this question is to step back and revisit your research questions . Ask yourself the following:

  • What exactly were you asking in those questions, and what did your research uncover concerning them?
  • Which questions were well answered by your study and which ones were lacking?
  • Why were they lacking and what more could be done to address this in future research?

Conquering this part dissertation defense requires that you focus squarely on the research questions. Your study will have provided many findings (hopefully!), and not all of these will link directly to the research questions. Therefore, you need to clear your mind of all of the fascinating side paths your study may have lead you down and regain a clear focus on the research questions .

#9: Were there any findings that surprised you?

This question is two-pronged.

First, you should discuss the surprising findings that were directly related to the original research questions . Going into your research, you likely had some expectations in terms of what you would find, so this is your opportunity to discuss the outcomes that emerged as contrary to what you initially expected. You’ll also want to think about what the reasons for these contrasts may be.

Second, you should discuss the findings that weren’t directly related to the research questions, but that emerged from the data set . You may have a few or you may have none – although generally there are a handful of interesting musings that you can glean from the data set. Again, make sure you can articulate why you find these interesting and what it means for future research in the area.

What the committee is looking for in this type of question is your ability to interpret the findings holistically and comprehensively , and to respond to unexpected data. So, take the time to zoom out and reflect on your findings thoroughly.

Discuss the findings in your defense

#10: What biases may exist in your research?

Biases… we all have them.

For this question, you’ll need to think about potential biases in your research , in the data itself but also in your interpretation of the data. With this question, your committee is assessing whether you have considered your own potential biases and the biases inherent in your analysis approach (i.e. your methodology). So, think carefully about these research biases and be ready to explain how these may exist in your study.

In an oral defense, this question is often followed up with a question on how the biases were mitigated or could be mitigated in future research. So, give some thought not just to what biases may exist, but also the mitigation measures (in your own study and for future research).

#11: How can your findings be put into practice?

Another classic question in the typical viva voce.

With this question, your committee is assessing your ability to bring your findings back down to earth and demonstrate their practical value and application. Importantly, this question is not about the contribution to academia or the overall field of research (we’ll get to that next) – it is specifically asking about how this newly created knowledge can be used in the real world.

Naturally, the actionability of your findings will vary depending on the nature of your research topic. Some studies will produce many action points and some won’t. If you’re researching marketing strategies within an industry, for example, you should be able to make some very specific recommendations for marketing practitioners in that industry.

To help you flesh out points for this question, look back at your original justification for the research (i.e. in your introduction and literature review chapters). What were the driving forces that led you to research your specific topic? That justification should help you identify ways in which your findings can be put into practice.

#12: How has your research contributed to current thinking in the field?

While the previous question was aimed at practical contribution, this question is aimed at theoretical contribution . In other words, what is the significance of your study within the current body of research? How does it fit into the existing research and what does it add to it?

This question is often asked by a field specialist and is used to assess whether you’re able to place your findings into the research field to critically convey what your research contributed. This argument needs to be well justified – in other words, you can’t just discuss what your research contributed, you need to also back each proposition up with a strong why .

To answer this question well, you need to humbly consider the quality and impact of your work and to be realistic in your response. You don’t want to come across as arrogant (“my work is groundbreaking”), nor do you want to undersell the impact of your work. So, it’s important to strike the right balance between realistic and pessimistic .

This question also opens the door to questions about potential future research . So, think about what future research opportunities your study has created and which of these you feel are of the highest priority.

Discuss your contribution in your thesis defence

#13: If you could redo your research, how would you alter your approach?

This question is often used to wrap up a viva voce as it brings the discussion full circle.

Here, your committee is again assessing your ability to clearly identify and articulate the limitations and shortcomings of your research, both in terms of research design and topic focus . Perhaps, in hindsight, it would have been better to use a different analysis method or data set. Perhaps the research questions should have leaned in a slightly different direction. And so on.

This question intends to assess whether you’re able to look at your work critically , assess where the weaknesses are and make recommendations for the future. This question often sets apart those who did the research purely because it was required, from those that genuinely engaged with their research. So, don’t hold back here – reflect on your entire research journey ask yourself how you’d do things differently if you were starting with a  blank canvas today.

Recap: The 13 Key Dissertation Defense Questions

To recap, here are the 13 questions you need to be ready for to ace your dissertation or thesis oral defense:

As I mentioned, this list of dissertation defense questions is certainly not exhaustive – don’t assume that we’ve covered every possible question here. However, these questions are quite likely to come up in some shape or form in a typical dissertation or thesis defense, whether it’s for a Master’s degree, PhD or any other research degree. So, you should take the time to make sure you can answer them well.

If you need assistance preparing for your dissertation defense or viva voce, get in touch with us to discuss 1-on-1 coaching. We can critically review your research and identify potential issues and responses, as well as undertake a mock oral defense to prepare you for the pressures and stresses on the day.

the defence of doctoral dissertation

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This post is part of our dissertation mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project. 

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Jalla Dullacha

Very interesting

Fumtchum JEFFREY

Interesting. I appreciate!

Dargo Haftu

Really appreciating

My field is International Trade

Abera Gezahegn


Peter Gumisiriza

This is a full course on defence. I was fabulously enlightened and I gained enough confidence for my upcoming Masters Defence.

There are many lessons to learn and the simplicity in presentationmakes thee reader say “YesI can”

Milly Nalugoti

This is so helping… it has Enlightened me on how to answer specific questions. I pray to make it through for my upcoming defense

Derek Jansen

Lovely to hear that 🙂


Really educative and beneficial

Tweheyo Charles

Interesting. On-point and elaborate. And comforting too! Thanks.

Ismailu Kulme Emmanuel

Thank you very much for the enlightening me, be blessed

Gladys Oyat

Thankyou so much. I am planning to defend my thesis soon and I found this very useful

Augustine Mtega

Very interesting and useful to all masters and PhD students

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Preparing for your dissertation defense, published by steve tippins on april 4, 2019 april 4, 2019.

Last Updated on: 30th August 2022, 04:43 am

Preparing for your dissertation defense is one of the most important things you’ll do as a doctoral candidate. Now that you’ve completed your dissertation, it’s up to you to present the results to your committee.

However, the results aren’t just about your study. Your committee wants to see what you learned through the process and whether you are ready to take on the responsibility of being a scholar.

What is a Dissertation Defense?

When you finish your dissertation and your committee has said you are ready to move forward, there is a formal meeting–your dissertation defense–where you have the opportunity to explain what you did and what you found.

Your committee then has the opportunity to ask questions related to your work, the implications of what you found, and your future. It is a chance for you to stand before your peers and be welcomed into the academy. Defending your dissertation is one of the great rites of passage into the world of academia.

How to Prepare for Your Dissertation Defense

Rather than write a quick list of dissertation defense tips, I thought I’d create a comprehensive guide to defending your dissertation. After chairing and sitting on countless dissertation committees, these are the steps I recommend you take.

Cultivate The Right Attitude

Perhaps the most important thing to have as you prepare to defend your dissertation is a revised view of your academic self. You’ve spent years gaining knowledge on your chosen subject, and now is your time to shine. While it’s natural to be nervous — after all, you’re jumping the highest hurdle in academia — keep in mind that this is your moment to shine and that you are now an expert on the topic.

One way to look at the dissertation defense is as a rite of passage. You are being tested, and just as with any rite of passage, the more rigorous the test, the prouder you will be of making it through.

During the process of your defense, keep this in mind: your committee tests you not only to ensure your worthiness but also to enable you to see just how much you know; to step into your new role as “expert.”

Prepare For Your Committee’s Questions

With this attitude in mind, you will want to prepare to demonstrate your expertise. That means anticipating questions the committee may have about your research.

black and white photography of a woman defending her dissertation

If your dissertation asserts the likelihood of a recession in the presence of particular economic indicators, your committee will want to know what socio-political conditions are linked to these indicators. If you found that high achieving students are more likely to have had parents who volunteered in their schools, your committee members will likely ask you to speculate about how to increase parent involvement in schools.

In other words, you’ll need to be able to participate in discourse beyond your results — questions that speak to the relevance and implications of your research.

This kind of preparation goes beyond creating a PowerPoint of your findings (though that is necessary too); it’s part of your stepping into your expert role.

One thing I always tell my students is “Be able to explain your topic to your grandparents,” because to elucidate someone who knows nothing about the topic (no offense to the grandparents!) you must know it inside and out.

Of course, you’ll also want to know your topic well enough to discuss the topic with the top researchers in the field, but at this stage, you’ll have read enough of their work that you’ll feel you know them personally. It’s usually more difficult for academics to simplify than to complicate.

To ready yourself for potential questions, give your abstract to a few friends outside your academic program and have them ask you questions about your study. The advantage is their “outsider” perspective; you’ll have fun answering their questions and will likely have to make a few new neuronal connections to do so. Practicing like this will also help you relax during the actual defense.

Here are some questions you may be asked during your dissertation defense :

  • “What are the strengths and weaknesses of your study?”
  • “What was the most surprising thing you found?”
  • “What will you do next with your results?”
  • “If you could do this over, what would you do differently?”

Organize Your Presentation

Keep in mind that your presentation to your committee can double as your presentation to the faculty at any university to which you apply; your preparation will serve a dual purpose. You’ll need, therefore:

  • a concise overview of the literature in which your study is grounded,
  • a clear description of your study’s purpose, methodology, and findings,
  • and a discussion of the implications of these findings.

Naturally, you will need to consult your department’s and college’s specific requirements, but every dissertation committee (and faculty search committee) will want to fully understand these basic elements of your work.

woman in a sleeveless shirt working on her laptop with a cup of coffee

I have provided a list of questions to help prepare your dissertation defense. If you have time restrictions I would put more emphasis upon your results and the implications of your work. Think of organizing your slides according to these questions:

1. Why did I choose to study this? Don’t be afraid to reveal something personal about your motivation, as long as you can do so with poise and dignity. Your committee members will appreciate this humanizing element but keep it brief!

2. What have other people interested in this topic found? If your study is the next clue in the hunt for answers about this topic, what were the clues that led you here? What paths have past researchers gone down — both fruitful and not? What solid theoretical foundation stands under your study?

This portion of your presentation is the easiest to overdo. You will likely need to edit it again and again to ensure it is both concise and comprehensive. Stick to the major themes in your presentation but be prepared to answer questions about less dominant streams of research.

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3. How did my research question evolve? Answering this question links your research to what has already been established, placing your study in the stream of knowledge. Keep it brief but don’t skip this step, as it is key to showing you as an academic, rather than a student.

4. How did I organize my study? This is a description of the basics of your study and the “whys” of these choices. You can expand a bit here, as the decisions you made at this stage demonstrate your ability to think critically about approaching a research question. Why did you choose your particular methodology? What was the benefit of this design over another option you might have chosen?

5. What did I find? You can begin this section with what you expected to find and why, then explain what you actually found. Keep this section simple and factual.

6. What do the findings mean in relation to the question? Whether or not your findings matched your expectations, they tell you and your colleagues something important about the topic. What is it? Can we speculate that this is a promising area of research, or is this a path we might think of as a dead end? What, exactly, does this study tell us?

7. What’s next for me and for the research? You’ll want to give your committee (and any faculty search committee) a preview of your prospective academic career. What new questions has your study sparked for you? What would you hope other researchers would look at next? How do you intend to fit into the academic conversation on this topic?

Depending on your committee and requirements, you may want to include potential grants you will consider applying for to fund your next study. (This inclusion becomes more important when applying for academic positions.)

Prepare Yourself Mentally

man in black suit and brown shoes waiting on the stairs

Going back to attitude, remind yourself that a dissertation defense is your opportunity to step into your new role. This is your domain now. Breathe deeply and feel the pride that comes with a job well done. Know that you belong in this realm and the dissertation defense is your chance to prove it. Be humble, too; after all, you stand on the shoulders of giants.

Getting enough rest the night before, drinking water and bringing some with you to drink when your mouth gets dry, and being wise about what you consume prior to the defense (maybe go easy on the carbs and caffeine) are all obvious but frequently overlooked pointers. Your committee members want to know you can handle the pressure and take care of yourself under duress .

You might want to give yourself a few minutes of silence and rest before heading in to defend. Take those moments to recognize whatever you’re feeling, then humbly begin your academic career by presenting your most important work to date. And then get ready to roll up your sleeves for the next one. Congratulations, Doctor!

Steve Tippins

Steve Tippins, PhD, has thrived in academia for over thirty years. He continues to love teaching in addition to coaching recent PhD graduates as well as students writing their dissertations. Learn more about his dissertation coaching and career coaching services. Book a Free Consultation with Steve Tippins

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Preparing for your PhD thesis defence

As you start thinking about the end stages of your PhD, it’s important to understand the processes and timelines related to the thesis defence so that your degree completion is not delayed. Even if your thesis defence seems far away, there are several planning considerations you can consider early on to help the end stages of your PhD go smoothly.

On this page you will find videos, tools, and information about what the PhD thesis defence is , timelines for the PhD thesis defence , and tips for a successful PhD thesis defence .

All PhD students should also ensure that they read the PhD thesis examination regulations and review the thesis preparation guidelines prior to their oral defence. If your thesis defence will be conducted remotely, you should also review the process for a remote thesis defence .

What is the PhD defence?

Understanding the purpose, processes and possible outcomes of the thesis defence can help you feel more prepared for the defence itself. In this video, you’ll learn about what the defence is, who’s there, what happens, and the deliberation and range of possible outcomes.

Transcript - Demystifying the thesis defence at University of Waterloo (PDF)

You may wish to learn more about some of the topics discussed in this video. Here are some helpful links to learn more:

Examination committee members (including the external examiner): Visit the PhD thesis examination regulations section on the  PhD thesis examining committee for more information about the committee members, including information about the external examiner and conflicts of interest.

  • Closed thesis defences and non-disclosure agreements: Visit the PhD thesis examination regulations section on guidelines for thesis examination without public disclosure for more information about closed thesis examinations.
  • Thesis defence decisions and outcomes: Visit the PhD thesis examination regulations section on  decisions for additional information about decisions and outcomes.
  • Thesis submission: Visit the thesis submission webpage for information about the thesis submission process, including approvals that must be obtained before submitting your thesis.
  • UWSpace: Visit the Library’s UWSpace webpage for information about what UWSpace is and how to submit, or deposit, your thesis to UWSpace.

Timeline to defence

Early planning considerations.

Well before your defence date, there are several considerations to think about that can help make the end stages of your degree go smoothly and ensure your defence date and degree completion are not delayed:

  • Being aware of formatting requirements will save you time on revisions later on – the last thing you want to be doing before submitting your thesis to UWSpace is updating page numbers or your table of contents! Consider using the Microsoft Word or LaTeX thesis template produced by Information Systems & Technology. 
  • The Dissertation Boot Camp can help you develop effective writing practices and strategies for completing your thesis, while the three-part Rock Your Thesis workshop series will provide practical guidance for planning, writing, revising, and submitting your thesis project. You can also book an individual appointment to do backwards planning with an advisor. They can help you utilize the planning tools most effectively, while providing hands-on guidance and feedback.  
  • If you are using third-party content, including your own previously published work in your thesis, or seeking intellectual property protection (for yourself or another involved party), there may be implications for your thesis or defence. Learn more about copyright for your thesis , and email [email protected] for help with copyright questions related to your thesis.
  • Depending on your departmental or discipline’s norms, you may require approval from your entire committee, or just your supervisor. Ensure you talk with your supervisor and/or committee early on to confirm processes and timelines, so you’re not surprised later.
  • Depending on your departmental or discipline’s norms, your supervisor may select an external examiner themselves, or they may seek your input. Talk to your supervisor early on about this process, as in some faculties the external examiner may need to be vetted and approved as early as the term before you wish to defend. Remember that there are conflict of interest guidelines around the appointment of the external examiner , and the PhD candidate should not be in communication with the external examiner prior to the defence.
  • A PhD thesis must be on display for a minimum of 4 weeks prior to the defence date. To accommodate, you may need to submit your thesis as early as 6-8 weeks prior to your defence. Review your faculty specific backwards planning tool for the thesis submission deadline in your faculty and learn more about the display period in the PhD thesis examination regulations.
  • After your successful thesis defence, you will likely have some required revisions to your thesis. It’s important to understand revision timelines , especially if you’re hoping to become “degree complete” before a tuition refund or convocation deadline. Find tuition refund and convocation deadlines in the important dates calendar .
  • Following your thesis defence, there are several steps to be taken before your final, approved thesis is accepted in UWSpace. Ensure that you’re aware of these thesis submission steps and timelines in advance.

Backwards planning tools

Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs, in collaboration with the Faculties, have prepared faculty specific backwards planning tools to help PhD candidates map out the timelines related to their thesis defence and degree completion.

Select your faculty below to download a PDF copy of the backwards planning tool. We encourage you to discuss your ideal timelines with your supervisor(s) and your department graduate program co-ordinator.

  • Faculty of Health backwards planning tool (PDF)
  • Faculty of Arts backwards planning tool (PDF)
  • Faculty of Engineering backwards planning tool (PDF)
  • Faculty of Environment backwards planning tool (PDF)
  • Faculty of Mathematics backwards planning tool (PDF)
  • Faculty of Science backwards planning tool (PDF)

Tips for success

The PhD thesis defence is the culmination of years of hard work! The tips outlined in this video, compiled from recent PhD graduates and experienced thesis defence chairs, cover tips for preparing for your defence, day-of logistics, and defending successfully.

Transcript - Your Thesis Defence: Tips for Success (PDF)

Will your PhD thesis defence be held remotely? We’ve compiled additional tips for success specifically related to the remote defence.

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the defence of doctoral dissertation

Dissertation Defense

the defence of doctoral dissertation

What is a dissertation defense?

The final oral examination for a doctoral candidate, commonly known as the dissertation defense, represents the conclusive formal stage prior to the submission of the dissertation manuscript and the conferral of the doctoral degree. This examination centers on the dissertation itself and its relevance within the candidate's area of academic specialization.

A successful defense is the peak of your academic career, so don’t treat it lightly. Make sure that you take enough time to learn everything there is to know about the topic and prepare well. If you look at your paper and it seems raw or unfinished, and especially if your academic advisor says so, it might be best to take another semester for prep. We don’t mean to scare you, but it truly is a responsible moment, and if you fail your defense, all the years of hard work will be wasted.

Defending doctoral dissertation is not going to be easy. If you don’t get to choose the members of your board and you will be met with unfamiliar faces, you might start to panic and feel lost. This is exactly why you need to be over-prepared. In fact, there’s no such thing as being overly prepared when it comes to your defense. Think of all the possible questions your dissertation committee members may have, even the most far-fetched ones, and then find the answers.

Doctoral dissertation defense process

During the dissertation defense, the candidate delivers an oral presentation of their dissertation to the Supervisory Committee (refer to the Supervisory Committee Policy) and to a public audience. The length of both the oral presentation and the subsequent question-and-answer session is determined through consultation between the Committee and the candidate, ensuring it meets the specific requirements and standards of the process.

The dissertation defense process, often the culmination of a doctoral program, is a critical step in the journey towards earning a PhD or similar advanced degree. This process involves several key stages designed to assess the quality, originality, and contribution of the candidate's research. Here's a general overview:

  • Completion of the Dissertation : Before the defense can be scheduled, the dissertation must be completed. This involves conducting original research, writing up the findings, and often, revising the document based on the advisor's feedback.
  • Submission of the Dissertation : Once the dissertation is completed and approved by the advisor, it must be submitted to the department or dissertation committee for review. This submission typically includes a written document detailing the candidate's research findings and conclusions.
  • Scheduling the Defense : After the dissertation is submitted, a defense date is scheduled. The timing of this can vary widely depending on the institution and the specific requirements of the department.
  • Preparation for the Defense : The candidate prepares a formal presentation of their research findings. This presentation is typically structured to highlight the research question, methodology, key findings, and the significance of the work.
  • The Defense Event : The defense itself is a public forum in which the candidate presents their research to the dissertation committee and often, an audience of peers, faculty, and sometimes the general public. Following the presentation, committee members and sometimes audience members ask questions related to the research and the findings.
  • Question and Answer Session : This session allows the committee to probe the candidate's understanding of the research area, methodology, and conclusions. The candidate must defend their research choices and conclusions, demonstrating deep knowledge of the subject.
  • Committee Deliberation : Following the Q&A, the committee deliberates in private to decide whether the candidate has successfully defended the dissertation. Criteria for success can include the originality of the research, the soundness of the methodology, and the significance of the contributions to the field.
  • Outcome Announcement : The committee then informs the candidate of the outcome. Possible outcomes can include pass, pass with minor revisions, pass with major revisions, or fail, although specifics can vary by institution.
  • Completion of Revisions (if required) : If the committee requires revisions, the candidate must complete these before the degree can be officially awarded. The scope of revisions can vary significantly.
  • Final Submission : After any required revisions are made and approved by the committee, the final version of the dissertation is submitted to the university. This often includes submitting bound copies of the dissertation and making it available through the university's library or institutional repository.
  • Graduation and Degree Conferral : Following successful defense and submission of the final dissertation, the candidate is eligible to graduate and receive their doctoral degree.

This process is a significant milestone in an academic career, representing the transition from student to scholar and contributing new knowledge to the field.

Even though it may seem horrible and nerve-racking, the process of defending your dissertation is pretty straightforward. And if you take your time to prepare for it well, you will not have any problems with the defense itself.

The scariest part is presenting your work to a group of professionals. You have to show your proficiency in the field, ability to think critically and withstand criticism. Most colleges and universities will allow you to choose your own committee. So, try to take your pick as early as possible so you’re not left with people the rest of your group didn’t want. 

How to defend dissertation?

Navigating your dissertation defense involves thorough prep, including understanding your institution's format, mastering your material, anticipating committee questions, and perfecting your presentation. During the defense, remain poised, address inquiries with depth, and interact professionally. Post-defense, be ready for revisions. Ensure professional attire, early arrival, and confidence in your expertise. Embrace feedback as growth. Celebrate this significant academic milestone, as it's not only an examination but a showcase of your scholarly journey.

Defending your dissertation is a pivotal moment in your academic career. Here's a step-by-step guide to prepare for and successfully defend your dissertation:

Let’s assume that your dissertation paper is done and approved. The next step after choosing your committee would be preparation. In one of the committee meetings, you will discuss how much time you have for your defense and the Q&A session afterward. Normally, the whole defense lasts about an hour, but it can vary depending on the number of doctoral students defending on the same day. 

Preparing for your defense means getting thoroughly acquainted with your paper. It might seem like a ridiculous piece of advice if you’ve written it yourself, yet, with a paper of that size, it’s easy to get lost. If you’ve used a dissertation writing service , you need to take special care in learning the contents of your paper. 

Prepare a presentation that you will be showing to the committee. Make sure the slides are clear and easy to understand, with most information placed in the speaker notes. You don’t want to overload the slides with text. 

Analyze your dissertation and think of all the possible questions the defense board members may have afterward. It’s hard to anticipate what a professional may ask about your ‘rookie’ paper, so it might help to speak to your academic advisor before the PhD defense . They might shed some light on the inconsistencies and possible lack of analysis in some areas. 

How to prepare for defense day?

When the day of defending dissertation finally comes, no matter how prepared you are, it will still be stressful. So, it makes sense to come over-prepared. Learn your dissertation text by hard.

Find every grammatical mistake and fix it. Get acquainted with every letter and word and really make sure it’s perfect. If you are convinced your paper is perfect, it will be hard for the defense board to convince you otherwise. 

How do I know I’m ready for my PhD dissertation defense?

Your academic advisor is your best friend in this situation. They have lots of experience in the matter, and they will be the first person to tell you if your paper is defense-proof. If you see them doubting or if they are asking lots of questions, use those questions as learning points. 

Most likely, they criticize you not because they hate you. But because they want to show you your gaps in knowledge. This is a powerful tool to help you find blank spots and fill them

What should I bring to my PhD thesis defense?

  • Presentation Materials : This includes any slides or visual aids you'll use to support your talk. Ensure they are ready and compatible with the equipment available.
  • Laser Pointer : Useful for highlighting specific areas or data on your slides during the presentation.
  • Copy of Your Dissertation : Have at least one printed copy for your own reference. It's helpful for addressing specific questions or sections during the Q&A.
  • Pen or Pencil : For making quick notes or annotations based on feedback or questions you may receive.
  • Notepad : To jot down notes, questions, or reminders during the defense.
  • Bottle of Water : Keeping hydrated is important, especially since you'll be speaking for an extended period.
  • Backup of Your Presentation : Have a backup on a USB drive or accessible online in case of technical difficulties.
  • Any Necessary Forms : Sometimes, there are forms that committee members need to sign post-defense. Check with your department for any such requirements.
  • Questions for Your Committee : Have a list of questions or clarifications you might want to ask your committee after your defense.
  • A Watch or Timer : To keep track of your presentation time and ensure you cover all points within the allotted duration.

Depending on how long is a PhD defense, you will need a different supply. If you are planning to sit through your whole class’ defense, you will need lots of water, some snacks to eat during the breaks, and your presentation materials.

However, if you are allowed to only show up to your defense and not listen to the entire class defend their dissertations, the most important thing you need to have is your dissertation and presentation. And don’t forget to bring some water, it can help you calm down if you get stressed.

Why does the dissertation length vary?

Various elements, such as institutional standards, the research's complexity, the extent of analysis, and the presence of supplementary materials, can determine a dissertation's length.

The length of your defense may also depend on how long is a dissertation . If your dissertation is 70 pages, your defense will definitely run shorter than if it is 300 pages long. The length of your paper will also influence the length of your PowerPoint presentation and the number of questions you get.

But how do you defend a dissertation? Defense is just an academic word for presenting your findings. You do your research, you present it to the board, and they ask you questions. By answering these questions, you defend the legitimacy and academic value of your doctoral defense research.

The key here is preparedness. Being well-acquainted with the contents of your paper and being able to defend it is your key to success. If you’re not sure about some parts of your dissertation, consult your academic advisor. They will be willing to help and advise you on whether you should take another semester to prepare.

Of course, it’s a great thing that ‘ write my dissertation ’ services exist. You can address a service like Studyfy and rely on it completely in the dissertation writing process. If you do, you can order your dissertation chapter by chapter and bring each draft to the professor for their notes and critiques.

What else do I need to know?

The most important part is you need to be prepared to defend dissertation meaning, and you need to know your dissertation by heart and be ready to justify every word in it. Sure, it may sound terrifying but thinking that millions of people have done that before you might give you some ease. 

How long is a dissertation defense?

Normally, defending my dissertation shouldn’t take more than an hour and a half. It usually lasts anywhere between 30 minutes and 1,5 hours.

It depends on your academic level, the number of people defending, and your preparedness. If the committee members sense you’re ill-prepared, they will ask you more questions.

It’s not because they want to thank you, but actually because they want to give you more chances. Asking more questions is usually an attempt to find an area that you’re very good at to give you a chance to redeem yourself.Your doctoral defense ia an important part of your doctoral journey, and it's bound to be more intense than a bachelor’s one. That’s only natural. Since your doctoral dissertation will be more in-depth, show a deeper understanding of the subject and better proficiency. 

The length of your defense will depend on many factors. But the most important one is your preparedness and confidence. If you are not prepared well, the dissertation committee will ask you lots of questions. They do that to find an area of study that you are good at, but at that moment, it might make you even more stressed. So, coming prepared is the best thing you can do for your defense to be successful. 

Using services like Studyfy is also an option. Yet, you must understand that if you show up with a perfectly written paper, yet you have no idea what it’s about, it will raise even more questions. That’s why you must prepare very well, regardless if you write your paper yourself or outsource it. If you still have some questions about how to write a dissertation , make sure to read our guide.

What is the key to dissertation defense?

Comprehensive Preparation: Familiarize yourself with your institution's defense protocols and engage in extensive practice. Segment your thesis for easier presentation, manage timing, highlight essential arguments, and anticipate likely inquiries. Organize a practice defense session to gain comfort with the procedure.

The most important thing you need to do to defend my dissertation is to start your prep early enough. What does it mean to defend your dissertation? Your defense is the pinnacle of all the hard work you've put in your studies throughout the years. Every time you write a paper, you must understand that you may use that research for your dissertation. So, your prep for dissertation defense starts as soon as you enter college.

What is defending a dissertation? Are there dissertation committee members?

Defending dissertation meaning is the process of presenting your research and findings to the board. Regardless if you buy dissertation or write it yourself, you will need to defend it. This is why you need to prepare carefully for your defense - study your paper through and through, think about all the possible questions you may be asked and think of the answers.

The dissertation committee or the dissertation chair are faculty members that will simply ask dissertation defense questions - some about research methodology, and some about the primary role of your work. Before the actual oral defense, try setting up a mock defense with your friend and go over the important topics.

How long is a thesis defense?

It depends on the length of your paper. Since your master’s thesis will probably be a bit shorter than a doctorate dissertation, you can count on your oral defense lasting up to an hour. Again, the length of the doctorate defense depends on how well you are prepared and how you handle the professors’ questions. 

Defense and Dissertation Overview

Once a student’s box is checked, the BPH student should set up a one-on-one “Defense Packet Meeting” with the BPH Associate Director to review the Defense and Dissertation Process, which includes reviewing all required materials, logistics, timing, FAS/Harvard Griffin GSAS Form of the Dissertation, sample forms, and to answer student questions related to these processes.

the defence of doctoral dissertation

  • Defense Committee Chair: One member of the student’s DAC, often the DAC chair, is required to chair the oral defense. This required holdover from the DAC serves the purpose of providing insight to the examiners regarding the path the student has taken in completing the dissertation research. Their primary role is to assess committee satisfaction with the written dissertation, administer the exam, arbitrate any problems that may arise, and make final recommendations for completion of necessary corrections and additions to the dissertation. No other DAC members can serve on the defense committee .
  • At least one member must be a BPH faculty member, often from the same academic department.
  • One member of the examination committee must be from outside of Harvard University.
  • The fourth member may be from either BPH or another Harvard-affiliated program.
  • Co-authors and collaborators cannot be members of the Defense committee
  • Students should notify the BPH Program as far in advance as possible with the details of the exam. 
  • The student is required to notify the BPH office no later than 3 weeks in advance of the defense with the final dissertation title.
  • At least two weeks before the date of exam, defense members should be sent copies of the dissertation for review. A copy of the dissertation should also be sent to the BPH program.
  • If any defense committee member foresees problems with the exam, they should contact the chair of the defense committee in advance of the meeting. If major problems are found with the written document, the Committee can decide to postpone the oral defense until satisfactory changes are made. While rare in our program, these occasions can involve the insufficient or improper use of statistical methods, grossly overstated conclusions, insufficient background or discussion, or evidence of plagiarism.
  • More details about the timing and format are provided in the “Defense Packet Meeting” held with each student.


If a student successfully defends the dissertation before the 15th of the month, the stipend will be terminated at the end of that month. If the student successfully defends on or after the 15th, the next month’s stipend will be the final month the student is paid, at the discretion of their advisor.

Students are encouraged to speak to their advisors directly about how they should be paid as they complete their graduate work. If an advisor wishes to pay the student for one additional month, beyond what has been explained above, the advisor must notify the department’s financial administrator. For administrative reasons, a stipend cannot be issued to a student after their graduation/degree conferral date.


Part 1: Public Seminar As part of the exam, the PhD candidate will present a public seminar followed by a private oral examination.  The public presentation lasts no longer than 1 hour, which includes time for the advisor’s introduction, the student’s oral presentation and acknowledgements, and time for audience questions and answers.  The Defense Committee is required to attend the public seminar; however, it is customary for members of the defense committee to hold their questions until the private oral exam.

Part 2: Private Oral Examination A private oral examination follows the public seminar.  Initially, the student will be asked to leave the room for several minutes, along with the dissertation advisor if the dissertation advisor has decided to remain for the private exam.  During this time, the committee will discuss the merits of the dissertation, any issues with the dissertation, and areas they may want to focus on during the oral exam.  The student (and advisor if present) is then asked back into the room for the exam.

Each member of the defense committee will direct questions to the candidate based on their review of the dissertation and presentation of the seminar. The Defense Chair will moderate the discussion between the panel and the student.  The closed defense takes up to two hours and involves detailed technical questions as well as broader questions on the conclusions, impact, and limitations of the research.  Dissertation advisors may be present, but they must not participate in the exam (e.g., answer questions posed by the committee).

At the end of the examination, the student (and advisor if present) is once again asked to step out of the room for several minutes.  The Committee will discuss any revisions needed for the thesis and whether these revisions need to be reviewed and by whom.  Once the committee determines the outcomes, the student will be asked back into the room and the Committee provides the student with any [minor] changes needed to the dissertation. While it is extremely rare for the student to fail at this stage, the committee will provide recommendations to the student on their research, communication skills, and development as a scientist, as well as delineating the required changes to the dissertation.


Students preparing to write and defend their dissertation must review University requirements as outlined in “ Dissertations ” with guidelines published at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Students are also welcome to visit the BPH Student Lounge (Building 2, Room 113) to look at copies of previous BPH bound dissertations.

Writing the Dissertation Each student must write a comprehensive PhD dissertation on their research topic and the original results of their research. There are a variety of ways a dissertation can be composed, but the core elements described below must be included. The dissertation must show original treatment of the subject, contain a scholarly review of the pertinent literature, provide evidence of independent research of publishable quality, and be clearly, logically, and carefully written. In addition to a compendium of the student’s research, including detailed methods and results, the dissertation must contain a thoughtful discussion of the conclusions, impact, and limitations of the research. The completed work should be critically reviewed by the dissertation advisor before being submitted to the Dissertation Defense Committee.

In some cases, the student has done all of the work in the dissertation; more often portions of the dissertation result from collaborative research. In all dissertations containing collaborative results, the dissertation should indicate concisely who contributed to the work and how.  For example, a chapter containing multi-authored, published work must include a complete reference of the publication and a brief description of the candidate’s and the colleagues’ contributions. For work that is not published but which resulted from multiple researchers, the contributors must be named and respective attributions made clear. This policy allows stylistic flexibility; depending on the amount of collaborative work in the dissertation and the status of publication(s), the attributions can be, preferably, on or accompanying the cover page for each chapter or within an extended acknowledgements section at the end of each chapter. It is recommended that if figures or figure panels are included that are the work of others that the figure panels be clearly identified and the work properly attributed. It is permissible for more than one student to include work from the same collaboration or publication as long as the required attributions are clear, justified, and complete.

Individual chapters can be that of published articles as long as there are also comprehensive Introduction and Conclusion chapters written by the student. While the text can be the same, use of journal reprints as a chapter is not permissible. A word document of the published article must be used, and the pages in the dissertation must be consecutively numbered. Furthermore, the figures and accompanying figure legends must be integrated into the main body of each chapter, preferably following the first mention of the given figure, not clustered at the end of the chapter. Any dissertation that varies significantly from the Graduate School or FAS guidelines, or is not neat and readable, is subject to required stylistic revision before acceptance by the University. (For further information, please visit ).


Dissertation Acceptance Certificate Before the examination, the BPH Program Office will provide the Defense Committee Chair with a copy of the official Dissertation Acceptance Certificate. This certificate must be signed by all readers of the dissertation at the end of the examination and returned to the BPH Program Office. This certificate will be scanned and sent to the student so it can be inserted as page one of the dissertation prior to the online submission. The student must submit the one original, official copy to the Registrar’s in Cambridge by the appropriate deadline.

If extensive corrections are to be made, the BPH Program Office will hold the certificate until the Defense Committee Chair, and/or assigned reviewer(s) provide a written notification to the BPH Program to confirm that the corrected work has been reviewed and approved.

Dissertation Defense Exam Report The Dissertation Defense Exam Report is completed by the members of the Dissertation Defense Committee to provide a record of any comments or recommendations they may have. The report must be signed by all members immediately after the private exam. The completed report must be submitted to the BPH Program Office at the same time as the Dissertation Acceptance Certificate.

Sample Dissertation Title Page Please click here to see a sample BPH Dissertation Title Page.  Again, please refer to the Dissertation website for guidelines about how to format your dissertation.

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Dissertation Defense: Steps To Follow To Succeed

dissertation defense

A dissertation defense is arguably one of the most important milestones in every student’s career. While it signals that your tenure as a student is soon about to close, it validates all your efforts towards your thesis.

Being cautious about including all the necessary details is very important to successfully complete your dissertation proposal defense. This article tells you everything that you need to know about writing a defense that can add great credibility to you as a student.

What is A Dissertation Defense?

The first thing that you need to learn is what is a dissertation defense and what is its purpose. In simple terms, it is a presentation made by a student to defend all the ideas and views that are presented in a dissertation.

The presenter must include details like what is the reason for choosing specific research methods, the theory that has been selected for the paper, and other such points. This presentation is made before an audience that comprises of the university committee, professors and even fellow-students. It is met with questions and answers that gives the student an opportunity to provide more clarity on the dissertation in order to convince the committee to approve it.

Stages of a Dissertation Defense

One of the most important dissertation defense tips provided by several professors is to breakdown the process into three steps:

  • Preparation : This stage involves collection of all the necessary information that must be included in the defense dissertation and making all the arrangements for the actual meeting.
  • The defense meeting : This is where you decide how you will present the defense. The actual meeting is hugely reliant on the performance, body language and the confidence in your oral defense.
  • After the defense meeting : This stage, also known as the follow up, requires you to make the necessary revisions suggested by the university committee. You can even provide bound copies of the whole dissertation to distribute among different members of your departments. In the follow up stage, one must also think about expense that are related to publishing the Ph.D. dissertation defense as well as printing additional copies of the manuscript, if required.

How Long is a Dissertation Defense?

The first thing that a student should know is how long does a dissertation defense last? The length has to be carefully calculated to make the impact that you want. One of the most important steps in the dissertation preparation is to understand how much time each department allocates to the closing oral defense. When you plan in the early stages of your dissertation itself, you can write it in a manner that allows you to defend it in the allocated time.

Usually these meetings including the presentation, the oral defense and the question and answer session last for about two hours. In most cases, these two hours also encompass the time needed by members of the committee to deliberate.

How to Prepare for the Dissertation Defense

Now that you know how long is a dissertation defense, the next step is to prepare well enough to make your presentation impressive.

Here are some tips on how to prepare for a dissertation defense:

  • Watch other students in action to learn about different presentation styles. You can attend defenses of different colleagues in your department as well as other departments in your university.
  • Get all the details about the deadlines and the rules of your college or university about scheduling your defense.
  • Scheduling is also a very important part of your preparation. It is important to note that members of the committee and University chairs need to make time for these defences in a very packed schedule. Coordinate the date, venue and time of your defense as early as possible.
  • Prepare a manuscript adhering to the necessary formatting rules. Review your manuscript thoroughly before you hand it in. During your PH.D, your faculty will also assist you with the defense. For this, they must have a crisp and polished copy of your manuscript.
  • Most colleges have the facility for a pre-defense meeting. This is the best opportunity to sort out any concerns that you may have about the actual meeting. It is a good idea to ask the chairs what types of questions may be put forward and if there are any problems with the defense that need to be resolved. When you prepare for a pre-defense meeting, think of it as the final one and give it your all.
  • Put together all the material that you need for the defense. A detailed, yet to-the-point presentation must be prepared.
  • The final stage of preparation is practicing your presentation over and over again. It is not just the presentation but also the approach towards the questions that you must practice.

Tips To Nail Your Actual Meeting

With these tips you will be one step closer towards a successful defense that will help your dissertation pass and be approved:

  • All meetings should begin by addressing the chair. Make sure you thank all the committee members and the advisors for the efforts that they have put it. This gives you a professional start to the presentation.
  • The presentation should cover the following subjects in brief:
  • The research topic
  • Literature review
  • The methods used for analysis
  • The primary findings of the research
  • Recommendations of additional research on the subject in the focus.
  • Do not get rattled by any discussions among the chairs. They will deliberate on any disagreements or topics of interest. This is a part of the process and is not a reflection of the presentation itself.
  • There are two questions that are commonly asked that you should be prepared for. This includes the weaknesses of the dissertation and the research plans that you have made post-dissertation.
  • Use subtle gestures when you are talking. Do not overuse your hands when doing so. The whole meeting including the question and answer session should have a very formal appeal.
  • The tone of your voice must be assertive without making it seem like you are trying to hard. Be clear and enunciate when you speak.

Once the questions have been answered, the committee will leave the room. Then, after the deliberation, you will be informed if your dissertation has passed or not.

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PhD Dissertation Defense Slides Design: Start

  • Tips for designing the slides
  • Presentation checklist
  • Example slides
  • Additional Resources

Purpose of the Guide

This guide was created to help ph.d. students in engineering fields to design dissertation defense presentations. the guide provides 1) tips on how to effectively communicate research, and 2) full presentation examples from ph.d. graduates. the tips on designing effective slides are not restricted to dissertation defense presentations; they can be used in designing other types of presentations such as conference talks, qualification and proposal exams, and technical seminars., the tips and examples are used to help students to design effective presentation. the technical contents in all examples are subject to copyright, please do not replicate. , if you need help in designing your presentation, please contact julie chen ([email protected]) for individual consultation. .

  • Example Slides Repository
  • Defense slides examples Link to examples dissertation defense slides.

Useful Links

  • CIT Thesis and dissertation standards
  • Dissertations and Theses @ Carnegie Mellon This link opens in a new window Covers 1920-present. Full text of some dissertations may be available 1997-present. Citations and abstracts of dissertations and theses CMU graduate students have published through UMI Dissertation Publishing. In addition to citations and abstracts, the service provides free access to 24 page previews and the full text in PDF format, when available. In most cases, this will be works published in 1997 forward.
  • Communicate your research data Data visualization is very important in communicating your data effectively. Check out these do's and don'ts for designing figures.

Power Point Template and other Resources

  • CEE Powerpoint Slide Presentation Template 1
  • CEE Powerpoint Slide Presentation Template 2

Source: CEE Department Resources

  • CMU Powerpoint Slide Template

Source: CMU Marketing and Communications

  • Use of CMU logos, marks, and Unitmarks

Email me for questions and schedule an appointment

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Top 7 tips for your defense presentation

1. show why your study is important, remember, your audience is your committee members, researchers in other fields, and even the general public. you want to convince all of them why you deserve a ph.d. degree. you need to talk about why your study is important to the world. in the engineering field, you also need to talk about how your study is useful. try to discuss why current practice is problematic or not good enough, what needs to be solved, and what the potential benefits will be. , see how dr. posen and dr. malings explained the importance of their studies..

  • Carl Malings Defense Slides with Notes
  • I. Daniel Posen Defense Slides with Notes

2. Emphasize YOUR contribution 

Having a ph.d. means that you have made some novel contributions to the grand field. this is about you and your research. you need to keep emphasizing your contributions throughout your presentation. after talking about what needs to be solved, try to focus on emphasizing the novelty of your work. what problems can be solved using your research outcomes what breakthroughs have you made to the field why are your methods and outcomes outstanding you need to incorporate answers to these questions in your presentation. , be clear what your contributions are in the introduction section; separate what was done by others and what was done by you. , 3. connect your projects into a whole piece of work, you might have been doing multiple projects that are not strongly connected. to figure out how to connect them into a whole piece, use visualizations such as flow charts to convince your audience. the two slides below are two examples. in the first slide, which was presented in the introduction section, the presenter used a flow diagram to show the connection between the three projects. in the second slide, the presenter used key figures and a unique color for each project to show the connection..

the defence of doctoral dissertation

  • Xiaoju Chen Defense Slides with Notes

4. Tell a good story 

The committee members do not necessarily have the same background knowledge as you. plus, there could be researchers from other fields and even the general public in the room. you want to make sure all of your audience can understand as much as possible. focus on the big picture rather than technical details; make sure you use simple language to explain your methods and results. your committee has read your dissertation before your defense, but others have not. , dr. cook and dr. velibeyoglu did a good job explaining their research to everyone. the introduction sessions in their presentations are well designed for this purpose. .

  • Laren M. Cook Defense Slides with Notes
  • Irem Velibeyoglu Defense with Notes

5. Transition, transition, transition

Use transition slides to connect projects , it's a long presentation with different research projects. you want to use some sort of transition to remind your audience what you have been talking about and what is next. you may use a slide that is designed for this purpose throughout your presentation. , below are two examples. these slides were presented after the introduction section. the presenters used the same slides and highlighted the items for project one to indicate that they were moving on to the first project. throughout the presentation, they used these slides and highlighted different sections to indicate how these projects fit into the whole dissertation. .

the defence of doctoral dissertation

You can also use some other indications on your slides, but remember not to make your slides too busy.  Below are two examples. In the first example, the presenter used chapter numbers to indicate what he was talking about. In the second example, the presenter used a progress bar with keywords for each chapter as the indicator. 

the defence of doctoral dissertation

Use transition sentences to connect slides 

Remember transition sentences are also important; use them to summarize what you have said and tell your audience what they will expect next. if you keep forgetting the transition sentence, write a note on your presentation. you can either write down a full sentence of what you want to say or some keywords., 6. be brief, put details in backup slides , you won't have time to explain all of the details. if your defense presentation is scheduled for 45 minutes, you can only spend around 10 minutes for each project - that's shorter than a normal research conference presentation focus on the big picture and leave details behind. you can put the details in your backup slides, so you might find them useful when your committee (and other members of the audience) ask questions regarding these details., 7. show your presentation to your advisor and colleagues, make sure to ask your advisor(s) for their comments. they might have a different view on what should be emphasized and what should be elaborated. , you also want to practice at least once in front of your colleagues. they can be your lab mates, people who work in your research group, and/or your friends. they do not have to be experts in your field. ask them to give you some feedback - their comments can be extremely helpful to improve your presentation. , below are some other tips and resources to design your defense presentation. .

  • Tips for designing your defense presentation

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Evaluation Decisions for Doctoral Defense

Doctoral students are required to review the degree plans for their program, along with information about specific degree requirements and estimated timelines to reach various benchmarks for the different degree plan specializations.

There are three possible evaluation decisions for the doctoral defense.  All decisions—with the exception of “fail”—must be unanimous.

“Pass” requires that both the defense and the document (dissertation or treatise) are acceptable. In some cases, the committee may require revisions, which will be checked by the entire committee or by the supervising professor only. This should be agreed upon at the time of the defense and communicated with the student.

While the supervisor should wait to sign the Report of Dissertation Committee until all revisions have been reviewed, the other committee members may choose to sign at the defense. The committee should agree upon the length of time allowed for submission of the revised dissertation; this must be communicated clearly to the student.

The completed Report of Dissertation Committee should be returned to the Graduate School only after the final revisions to the dissertation have been approved and the GSC designee has signed.

If the dissertation and/or defense are not acceptable to all members of the committee, the decision will change to either "re-defend" or "fail" as discussed below:

“Re-defend” indicates that the committee is not satisfied with the dissertation or with the oral examination, but believes that rewriting may make it acceptable. In this case, the fully signed Report of Dissertation Committee should be returned to the Graduate School by the Supervisor, with each member of the committee indicating their decision. Another scheduled defense will be required and a new report will be generated.

Report on Doctoral Dissertation forms

Committee members should submit their individual Report on Doctoral Dissertation forms indicating their dissatisfaction.

“Fail” indicates that at least one member of the committee has decided that the dissertation is unsatisfactory and may not be rewritten. The fully signed Report of Dissertation Committee should be returned to the Graduate School by the supervisor, with each member of the committee indicating their decision.

Committee members should also submit their individual Report on Doctoral Dissertation forms indicating their dissatisfaction. This decision normally results in the termination of a doctoral student’s program.


Document a dissertation defense as follows:

The supervisor should bring the Report of Dissertation Committee to the defense.

The scheduling information on the Report must be correct; if the time or location changes, the Graduate School must be informed.

All committee members sign the Report of Dissertation Committee, even if the member was not present at the defense.

Scanned or electronic signatures will be accepted as long as they are legible and dark enough to be imaged. Typed names as a signature are not allowed. Electronic and digitally authorized signatures may be accepted in any font format so long as they include the insignia or logo of the e-signature software used showing authorization.

Once all members have signed the report the Graduate Studies Committee chair or designee should provide the final signature.

The final signature indicates that all coursework and other departmental requirements have been completed. All signatures should be on a single page.

The Report of Dissertation Committee should be submitted to the Graduate School by the student.

The report should be submitted along with the student's final paperwork.

/images/cornell/logo35pt_cornell_white.svg" alt="the defence of doctoral dissertation"> Cornell University --> Graduate School

Defending your thesis or dissertation.

Certain special exams are required to earn an advanced degree in the research-based programs at Cornell. Often, these exams need to be taken with consideration of anticipated completion dates.  Enrollment in future semesters after the date a student passes their M or B exam is not permitted. See Taking Exams for more information.

All exam forms are available on our Forms  page.

Exams Required for M.A. and M.S. Degree Defense

If you are enrolled in an M.A. or M.S. degree program, you must pass the final examination for the master’s degree. You can take this after all degree requirements have been fulfilled, but no earlier than one month before completing the minimum number of enrolled semesters.

To pass the exam unconditionally and receive a degree, all regular, proxy, and field-appointed members of the examining committee must assent that the exam was passed unconditionally. If you are enrolled in an M.S./Ph.D. degree program where the M.A. or M.S. degree is a prerequisite for your Ph.D., you may petition your special committee to approve combining the final examination for the master’s degree with the examination for the admission to candidacy.

Exam forms required for the master’s degree include “Schedule Master’s Examination” and “Master’s Exam Results Form and Instructions.”

Exams Required for Ph.D. Degree Defense

The B exam is an oral defense of your thesis or dissertation. This exam can be taken after completing all degree requirements, but not earlier than one month before completing the minimum number of enrolled semesters. At least two semesters of successful registration must be completed between the passing of the A exam and the scheduling of the B exam.

Exam forms required for the Ph.D. degree include “Schedule A Examination and Research Compliance Form,” “Schedule B Examination,” “A Exam Results Form,” and “B Exam Results Form.”

The qualifying exam, or Q exam, is required in some fields for Ph.D. applicants. This exam helps the special committee determine your ability to pursue doctoral studies, continue in a program, and tailor an appropriate program of study.

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Graduate College

Doctoral dissertation defense, registration requirements heading link copy link, registration requirements.

Students must be registered from the term in which the Preliminary Examination is taken through the term of a successful defense of the dissertation, excluding summers, unless the Preliminary Examination or defense occur in a Summer term. If the defense will occur on or before the last day of registration for the term (first ten days in Fall and Spring Semesters, first five days in the eight-week Summer session) and the student was registered the previous term (e.g. Summer term for a Fall defense), registration is not required.  A defense after the last day of registration for the term requires registration that term.

If the student has a fellowship, assistantship and/or tuition waiver for the term, the student must be registered for the required hours or resign the award or assistantship.  If the student is on a student visa, consult with the Office of International Services.  Students should also consult with their program to determine if the program requires registration.

Students may petition for zero (0) hours once the preliminary exam is passed, assuming all requirements are completed except for the dissertation.

Registration for terms after the term of a successful defense is not required if official graduation does not occur the term of the defense, unless the student is the recipient of a fellowship, assistantship and/or tuition and service-fee waiver, or is on a student visa.

Note for Student Visa Holders:  Current SEVIS (federal immigration) regulations do not allow an international student on a student visa to register for more than zero (0) hours in a subsequent term, if the student was registered for zero (0) hours previously, unless the student is admitted into a different program.  This  precludes accepting an assistantship or tuition waiver for future terms after a zero-hour registration occurs.  The rationale for the regulation is that zero-hour registration is allowed for students on a visa only if all requirements other than the thesis or master’s project are completed, and registration for more than zero hours indicates that they did not originally qualify, and, are thus out of status.  Unfortunately, flexibility to take a course for intellectual development or to register for hours to qualify for an assistantship or tuition waiver after zero hour registration does not exist currently.

Dissertation Advisor Heading link Copy link

Dissertation advisor.

All candidates for the Ph.D. degree must have an advisor who is a full member of the UIC graduate faculty. The advisor is considered the primary reader of the dissertation.

Defense Heading link Copy link

The defense must be open to the academic community of the University and be publicly announced one week prior to its occurrence.

Committee Composition Heading link Copy link

Committee composition.

The dissertation committee is appointed by the Dean of the Graduate College on the recommendation of the student’s department or program. The defense committee consists of at least five persons, of whom one must be from outside their program. The chair of the committee must be a full member of the UIC graduate faculty. At least two members of the committee must be tenured faculty at UIC; at least one must be from outside the degree-granting program, which may include graduate faculty from other UIC departments or colleges. The outside member can also be from outside the University in which case the member must demonstrate equivalent academic standards; the member’s curriculum vitae must accompany the Committee Recommendation form.

A Committee Recommendation Form must be submitted to the Graduate College at least three (3) weeks prior to the dissertation defense.  The staff in the Graduate College reviews the Committee Recommendation form and, if the recommended committee meets Graduate College guidelines, approval is given by the Dean. The academic status of the student is checked to ensure that s/he is in good academic standing. A letter is then prepared by the Graduate College to each member of the committee asking him or her to serve on the committee. The letter is sent to the graduate program for distribution to each committee member.

The Examination Report form is sent to the graduate program support person after the committee is approved by the Graduate College Dean. It should be filed in the student’s folder so it is available when the examination is held and all committee members may sign. This form cannot be duplicated and changes cannot be made without prior approval of the Graduate College.

Changes to the student name as submitted, thesis title, or committee may be requested before the exam occurs using the Request Change of Student Name on Thesis, Thesis Title, or Committee Member(s) Form .

  • Graduate College Faculty Listings

Grading Heading link Copy link

The committee vote is “pass” or “fail”. A candidate cannot be passed if more than one vote of “fail” is reported. After the candidate’s defense, the Examination Report form signed by all members of the committee must be submitted to the Graduate College immediately. Once the examination report is returned to the Graduate College, the results are posted to the student’s record in the Graduate College. If the vote is “pass”, that degree requirement is now satisfied and the student may take the next step toward graduation. If the vote is “fail”, the committee may recommend that the Dean permit a second defense. This second examination must be initiated by submission of a new Committee Recommendation form, even if there is no change in membership. A third defense will not be permitted.

A committee may recommend “pass – with specified conditions”. If this does occur, the conditions must be specified on the Examination Report Form along with the name of a committee member who will monitor the fulfillment of any such conditions. This named person must then report to the Graduate College in a memo when conditions have been satisfied.

Exams & Defense Forms Heading link Copy link

  • Exams & Defense Forms

Doctor of Philosophy in Chemistry

Get your phd in chemistry.

Thank you for your interest in the graduate program at the University of Iowa Department of Chemistry. The Department has had a chemistry PhD program for over 75 years and currently consists of over 25 research faculty, over 130 graduate students, and over 20 postdoctoral associates, research scientists and visiting scholars. Our graduates and postdocs have accepted positions at leading academic and industrial institutions and national laboratories.

State-of-the-art research labs, support facilities, and classrooms are located in the Chemistry Building and the Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratory. Extensive resources are readily accessible such as NMR, mass spectrometry, and X-ray analysis facilities, advanced computational resources, and complete machine, electronics, and glass shops. In addition to strong programs in the core areas of analytical, inorganic, organic, and physical chemistry, we offer unique research opportunities in emerging interdisciplinary areas such as biocatalysis, natural products, materials, surface science, bioinorganic, chemical sensors, chemical education research, and environmental and atmospheric chemistry.

The Department of Chemistry funds the tuition for all of our graduate students in good standing. In addition, we offer teaching and research assistantships that pay an annual stipend and provide employee benefits such as health insurance. Additional funding from a variety of sources is also available. 

For more information, contact the graduate program by e-mail at [email protected]

Student resources

  • First year student guide
  • Annual review resources
  • Teaching assistant resources
  • Postdoctoral scholar resources
  • Thesis and dissertation
  • General catalog
  • Current courses

Degree requirements

Competency requirement.

Students must demonstrate basic competency in three chosen sub-disciplines of chemistry (analytical, biochemistry, inorganic, organic, physical). Competency is established in one of the following ways: Scoring at the 50th percentile level (national norm) on the proficiency exam, completing a one-semester review course with a grade of C or better (courses specified below), or completing a one-semester graduate-level/advanced course in that sub-discipline of chemistry with a grade of B or better. The competency requirement must be fulfilled before the beginning of the student's third semester in the graduate program.

Review courses

Courses currently designated as review courses are:

  • CHEM:4171 (formerly 4:171): Advanced Analytical Chemistry
  • BIOC:3120 (formerly 99:120): Biochemistry and Molecular Biology I
  • CHEM:4270 (formerly 4:170): Advanced Inorganic Chemistry
  • CHEM:4372 (formerly 4:172): Advanced Organic Chemistry
  • CHEM:4431 (formerly 4:131): Physical Chemistry I

Advanced course requirement

Beyond the competency requirements, a minimum of four additional courses that total at least 11 semester hours of graduate credit must be completed by the end of the fourth semester in residence. Grades of "B" or higher must be attained in all of these advanced courses. A grade of "B-" does not meet this requirement. Research, seminar, and pedagogy credits, courses that are doubly listed with sub-100 level numbers, courses taken with the S/U grade option, and courses with grades of "B-" or lower cannot be used to fulfill this requirement. The student is strongly encouraged to develop a detailed course plan that is reviewed and approved by the research advisor.

Comprehensive examination

The oral comprehensive examination is designed to assess the student's overall progress, knowledge of fundamental chemical principles and chosen area of specialization, and general competency for PhD research.

Before the beginning of the second semester after a permanent advisor has been appointed, a Graduate Academic Committee (GAC) of five faculty, at least four from Chemistry, will be formed for each student with a PhD degree objective. The committee will consist of the research advisor and four additional members invited by the student subject to the advisor’s approval.

The five member committee for the comprehensive examination is the same as the student's Graduate Academic Committee (GAC). Additional faculty members may be invited to attend the oral comprehensive examination and may be consulted in judging the presentation when it bears upon their areas of expertise.

To be eligible to take the Comprehensive Examination, the student must have a cumulative average of 3.00 or greater on appropriate graduate coursework at The University of Iowa. Appropriate graduate coursework includes review courses (Section II.B.), graded seminar presentations (Section III.F.), courses that satisfy the advanced course requirement (Section III.A.), and additional courses in chemistry or related disciplines that are judged appropriate by the student’s GAC. Graduate Chemistry Orientation (CHEM:5091, formerly 4:191), Ethics in Chemical Sciences (CHEM:5092, formerly 4;192), Research in Chemistry (CHEM:7999, formerly 4:290) and Research Seminar (CHEM:6990, formerly 4:291) shall be graded on an S/U basis and therefore are not included in the computation of the cumulative average.

The general comprehensive examination requirements set by the Graduate College must be completed by the end of the fourth semester in residence, unless written consent is received from the GAC and is approved by the Departmental Graduate Review Committee (DGRC). A student who fails to meet this requirement may be dropped from the PhD program. A student on academic probation is not eligible to take the comprehensive exam. Students entering with a Master's degree and those exempted from review courses are strongly encouraged to take the comprehensive examination during the second or third semester in residence.

The comprehensive examination is a two-part oral examination. The first part consists of an oral defense of the student's research problem and progress, and will be based upon a written Research Report submitted by the student. The second part consists of an oral defense of an original Research Proposal submitted by the student. The Research Report and the Research Proposal must be submitted (together) prior to five weeks before the last day of classes in the semester during which the examination is to be taken (or, for a spring semester examination, by the last Friday prior to Spring Break, whichever is earlier). It is strongly recommended that the examination be held at the earliest possible date in the semester to facilitate scheduling.

If the GAC approves both the Research Report and the Research Proposal, the oral examination may be scheduled. The student should then complete a Formal Plan of Study and a Request to the Graduate College for the PhD Comprehensive Examination. At the examination, the student will be asked to present a short (20 minute) summary of their research project. During or following this presentation, the committee will ask questions designed to probe the student's understanding of the research topic and important background material, the experimental methods and techniques which are important in the particular area, and the goals and significance of the research. The committee next will examine the candidate's understanding of areas related to the Research Proposal. The student will be asked to give a short (30 minute) presentation of the Research Proposal. The committee will ask questions designed to probe the quality and the student's understanding of the proposal. Typically, however, this discussion will evolve into a wide-ranging examination of the student's general competency in the chemical sciences.

Seminar requirements

Each student is expected to give a minimum of two acceptable seminars. One seminar must cover the student's research. The other may also deal with the student's research, or can be an extensive literature report. The student may register for the appropriate divisional seminar course and receive letter grade credit during those semesters in which the seminars are presented. The final PhD defense cannot be used to meet this requirement.

The research conference/three-month seminar

At least three months before the anticipated final defense, the PhD candidate must meet with their graduate academic committee. If scheduling permits, the research work can be reported as a research seminar during a regularly scheduled divisional seminar, with a subsequent committee meeting for questions and advice.

Final defense of the PhD dissertation

The Dean of the Graduate College will make a public announcement of a candidate’s final defense three weeks prior to the exam date. This final oral examination is open to the public. Dissertation copies must be made available to all members of the examining committee not later than two weeks before the examination date.

Milestones toward the PhD

The milestones on the path toward earning your PhD in chemistry at the University of Iowa are described below. These are illustrative of a typical student; most students follow this path, but some variations are possible.

Typical timelines for PhD completion

Create your academic path.

You'll find degree overviews, requirements, course lists, academic plans, and more to help you plan your education and explore your possibilities.

Current course list

The MyUI Schedule displays registered courses for a particular session and is available to enrolled students. The list view includes course instructors, time and location, and features to drop courses or change sections.

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Successful Final Dissertation Defense - Congratulations to Raymond Loverso!

Successful Final Dissertation Defense - Congratulations to Raymond Loverso!

Doctoral Program | Student Spotlights

Study outcomes show that effective professional development has statistically significant and meaningful effect sizes on different dimensions on science teaching self-efficacy, with the greatest effect on disciplinary core ideas, e.g., science content. The findings and implications of Ray’s study are important for both researchers and practitioners; they reinforce previous findings about the positive influence of effective professional development and now apply this to elementary science teaching. Moreover, study findings and recommendations can inform decision making at the federal, state, and local school district levels, ultimately improving the quality of science education in our elementary schools.


DISSERTATION COMMITTEE MEMBER(S): Dr. Joseph Phillips Dr. Robert Monson

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Trevor Carter Ph.D. Degree Thesis Defense

Ph.D. Student Trevor Carter

Trevor Carter

Ph.D. Degree Candidate

Dr. Brian Buma's Lab

CU Denver Department of Integrative Biology

When: Friday, April 19th, 2024, 12:00pm Where: Science Building, Room 2001

Carbon dynamics in the pacific coastal temperate rainforest: an ecosystem science approach.

Quantifying forest carbon stocks is crucial for policy decisions and the management of forests in the face of global climate change. Investigation of forest carbon stocks at the regional scale provides insight into the fine-scale variability that is not captured by global models. In my dissertation, I investigated the spatial relationships of forest carbon stocks and plant biodiversity across the perhumid region of the Pacific Coastal Temperate Rainforest of North America – the largest temperate rainforest on the globe. Join me for my dissertation defense to learn about the spatial patterns of forest carbon in this region, its relative contribution to the global carbon budget, and how other management objectives such as managing for biodiversity may interact with forest carbon.  

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