November, 2005Volume 1, Issue 11

In This Issue:

I want to say a special hello to the graduate students I met in Atlanta at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) and at my TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished Workshop at the University of Maryland College Park.

Preparing for Your Defense

Congratulations, if you are getting ready to defend your thesis or dissertation you are almost finished. The thesis/dissertation defense represents one of the final hurdles you will face in completing your degree, and it is important to be prepared. Although the graduate handbook might describe this stage as an oral presentation of your research, the traditional defense is an oral exam that most graduate students are likely to pass. You can pass your defense with a grade of (1) “Pass As Is,” (2) “Pass With Minor Revisions,” (3) "Pass With Major Revisions,” or rarely (4) “Reject.”

Your defense is meant to be a useful exercise, though at times it might seem like a form of hazing. During the defense, you will be asked to present the main arguments of your thesis/dissertation, followed by a question and discussion period. You are responsible for clearly and succinctly presenting the arguments of your document and for responding to questions from faculty. In particular, you should be able to demonstrate not only your control over the discipline specific knowledge and theoretical arguments of your paper, but also your knowledge of counter-arguments and alternative interpretations which may arise in the questions. Shortly after the defense, the entire committee will meet to evaluate the quality of your document and the overall presentation.

Use the following strategies to help you prepare for your thesis or dissertation defense.

Research Your University’s Process

One of your first steps in preparing for this milestone is to familiarize yourself with how the process works at your university so you know exactly what to expect. Otherwise, you might be caught off guard! A Harvard friend who had been working almost 10 years on his dissertation and was now preparing his defense told me casually, “I think our defense takes 20 minutes.” I quickly informed him that, to the contrary, the defense can be a long, arduous process that lasts up to three hours. At some universities, the process takes place before writing the dissertation; at others, it is done after the document is complete. In either case, you must be prepared to defend, debate, conceptualize, synthesize, and explain your research in great detail.

Practice, Practice, Practice

It’s normal to be nervous at a defense. However, taking every opportunity to practice before “the real deal” can diffuse a great deal of stress and anxiety you might otherwise feel. Your defense should definitely not be the first time you publicly present your research for feedback. Take advantage of forums such as on-campus “brown bag” seminars or informal gatherings with friends and colleagues. Practicing in these kinds of informal settings allows you to hone your presentation skills in a relaxed atmosphere, and will increase your self-confidence. It will have the added benefit of establishing your expertise and enhancing your professional reputation, and will also help prepare you for key career events such as job interviews, teaching a class, or presenting at a regional or national conference.

If you are required to give a PowerPoint presentation, be sure to practice this with friends, as well. Avoid simply reading what is on the screen! PowerPoint is a tool to help you synthesize information; the screen should not include every word you want to say but, rather, concise bullet points that serve as “prompts” for the points you want to make. There is nothing more frustrating than having someone read off the screen. I have often felt like screaming at a presenter, “I have a Ph.D.; I know how to read for myself!”

Attend a Colleague’s Defense

Perhaps nothing better prepares you for a defense than actually seeing the process firsthand. Defense hearings are sometimes open to the public, and actually witnessing the event can give you tremendous insight regarding how to prepare for your own. Before doing so, however, be sure to ascertain what your own department or school believes is appropriate. If no one in your department has ever attended another student’s defense, it might not be wise to break this tradition, even if the graduate student handbook deems defense hearings as “open to the public.”

If you can’t attend other students’ defenses, gather information by asking your colleagues about their own experience. Questions should include:
• How did it begin?
• How did the advisor facilitate the process?
• How difficult were the questions?
• How did you know it was over?
• Did anyone other than committee members attend the hearing?

Know Your Document Inside and Out

During your defense, you are considered the expert in your discipline. Come prepared to answer details about every aspect of your thesis/dissertation … and then some!

Be sure to go through your thesis/dissertation with a fine-tooth comb a few hours before your defense. Although you have written every word, and are already intimately familiar with the contents, it’s still important to refresh your memory by reading the entire document before your defense. Your committee will bring a copy of the document with them and will be prepared to ask very specific, detailed questions about it. Be sure to bring a copy of your own, and that your draft/version is identical to the one your committee members have.

A good tip is to spiral bind ($2.50 at Kinko’s) your copy of the document. This will give you a psychological edge because you will be able to easily turn to the requested pages of the document when the committee begins firing questions at you.

Take time to repeat every question, and breathe before answering it. And, while an answer of “I don’t know” is not expected, if you find that you really don’t know the answer to a question, be sure to gracefully note the issue/point to consider for future research.

Prepare an Executive Summary

Be sure to prepare a one- to two-minute summary about why you came to graduate school, why you chose the topic you did, and what the overall findings of your research have been. This will not only get your defense off to a good start, it will also help you later in the job market, where you’ll have a ready answer for common questions such as, “What’s your research about?” or “What are you working on these days?

Come Well Rested And Dress For Success

Don’t stay up the night before your defense worrying. Get a good night’s sleep; your defense will be smoother and sharper if you are well rested, ready and alert. You will need to have your wits about you to answer the barrage of questions that will come your way.

How you're dressed sets the tone of the defense. You don’t need to run out and spend a lot of money on clothes for the defense, but you should make sure your attire is professional. Dressing conservatively is always the safest route; your attire will give you a competitive edge and make a positive impression. Make sure that there is no gum or candy in your mouth when the defense hearing begins.

Be Confident: You’re Ready For This!!!

Go into this process with the self-confidence of knowing that you know more about your thesis/dissertation topic than anyone else in the room; after all, you’ve been working on this document for months … if not years! YOU are the expert. Work from that point of reference.

And, finally, reassure yourself that your advisor would not have scheduled the defense unless he/she thought you would pass. If your advisor has agreed to a defense date, he/she believes that you are ready!!!

If you haven’t already purchased the TADA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished CD, I encourage you to do so; it will keep you organized, and advise you what to expect and how to prepare for all aspects of your thesis/dissertation, including the defense.

Email Question of the Month:


My advisor is a new assistant professor and is very busy, how do I get his attention?


Often I urge students not to select an assistant professor to chair their thesis or dissertation committee. An assistant professor is often busy trying to get tenure.  Nonetheless, trying to get some attention, advice, or feedback from your advisor is a common problem for many graduate students like yourself.  If your advisor is teaching a course, I suggest that you try to attend his office hours.  Many students do not regularly attend office hours unless they need help with an assignment.  Thus, when students do not show up, many professors spend this time catching up on their own work.  Be the first one to get to his/her office...i.e before any of his/her other students arrive. Make the best use of your advisor's time by coming to every meeting prepared with written questions. And by all means — take notes during every meeting!

Professors often post their office hours on their door or in their syllabus.  If his/her office hours are not posted ask the staff when this professor hold his/her office hours.  If attending your advisor's regularly scheduled office hours does not work, send him/her an email to schedule an alternative time to regularly meet.

What TA-DA!™ Users Have to Say...

If you're still wondering whether or not TA-DA! Thesis and Dissertation Accomplished™ can help you — don’t take our word for it. Take a few moments to read what some of our customers have told us.
See how TA-DA!™ helped them...

Ph.D. Doctoral Students…

  •   TA-DA gave me the incentive to "get the lead out" and finish. The 12 minutes a day has lead to approximately two to three hours. I have really got a lot done, just knowing that the twelve minutes does wonders for the psyche.
Maryjane, Fayetteville, NC

  •   The commitment to a deadline and to working 12 minutes a day actually reduces stress. I can always do 12 minutes--even if I'm tired, sick, uninspired or grumpy. Facing a deadline makes it feel like I will actually get done! "I have to do my 12 minutes" we say in our house these days. I've been progressing steadily on my dissertation by committing to 12 minutes, and my husband has covered huge amounts of material for an upcoming professional exam. My friend has committed to completing the annulment papers she has procrastinated on for 10 years, and my father-in-law has started studying Spanish 12 minutes a day. Thanks!
Christine, Seattle, WA

  •   It helped me to set goals for my chapters and give me some practical strategies for finishing. Also I believe it's good to list your finish date. It gives you something to strive for rather than letting the thesis become nebulous.
Martha; Albany, CA

  •   TA-DA explains the dissertation process and lifts the curtain to a process that seems impossible to accomplish. It provides strategy for selecting the committee and provides timelines that enable accomplishment of the dissertation within a specific time frame.
Randall; USMC Jacksonville, NC

  •   The program helped me to understand the dissertation concept much better. I am a visual individual; the tutorial was a great help.
Deborah; U.S. Army

  •   Provides helpful suggestions for how to proceed as well as suggesting disciplined and reasonable timelines for completion.
Lawrence; Philadelphia, PA

Master’s Thesis Students…

  •   It has helped with the fact that my graduate school does not have a formal format for the proposal. The Journal has helped a lot.
Talia; Naranjito, Puerto Rico

  •   This is a great tool for those who will be starting either their Master's Degree or Dissertation. I highly recommend it.
Teresa; Naguabo, Puerto Rico

  •   Requesting that I set a goal date for finishing, kept me focused and it was the first step in accomplishing the task. Also, I kept remembering the words; a good thesis is a done thesis.
Gladys; NY, NY

  •   It guided me to a fair start. Gracias!
Jess; San Francisco, CA



Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D.

About the Author: As a single mother, professor Wendy Y. Carter, Ph.D., completed three masters' degrees and a PhD. Her motto is a Good Thesis/Dissertation is a Done Thesis/Dissertation. She is the creator of a new innovative interactive resource tool on CD—TADA! Thesis and Accomplished. To learn more and sign up for her FREE tips and teleclasses, contact us at Privacy is our policy. TADA™ Finishline does not give out or sell our subscribers' names or e-mail addresses.

Published monthly.
To subscribe to FinishLine, see below.
To manage your account, see the end of this message

Inside This Issue:

Making a Plan and Staying Motivated

Email Q & A of the Month

What TA-DA!™
Users Say

Next FinishLine Features:

Navigating the Academic
Job Market...

Sign Me Up to receive my free subscription to
TA-DA! FinishLIne
monthly newsletter!


Want to Advertise in this newsletter? Contact us at