The Dissertation Defense: The Final Hoop to Jump
You are almost there. You have completed your coursework. You have passed your comps. You have finished writing your dissertation. Now, the only obstacle between you and the prestigious title of Doctor is your dissertation defense. Many people often get really nervous about defending their dissertations, but in most cases, if your committee is allowing you to defend your dissertation, chances are that your committee will approve of your work.
When defending your dissertation, keep in mind that you have already proposed your project, so information that was found in the proposal (i.e., introduction, literature review, and methodology) has already been presented. Therefore, you do not need to spend much time going over these sections at your dissertation defense. Rather, you should briefly overview of the first three chapters of your dissertation and move on to the new information that you want to present (i.e., results and discussion).
When you discuss your results, you do not necessarily need to go into detail about every little outcome that you found; often, you will not have enough time to do this. Instead, you should discuss your results in terms of patterns that emerged in the data. Comparing patterns in your data to that of previous research is a natural way to flow into your discussion section and give a good presentation. When presenting your discussion section, be sure to present both the limitations and the strengths of your project. Remember, your goal for your dissertation defense is to prove to your committee that you have contributed new knowledge to your field.
You will probably have to answer questions from various committee members, so try your best to respond in a non-defensive manner. Additionally, keep your answers concise; you should not try to impress your committee by using complex responses. Lastly, if you do not know the answer to a question, that’s ok, but be upfront and admit that you do not know the answer. Committee members will likely respond better to your admitting that you do not know something as opposed to your faking an answer (yes, they will be able to tell if you are faking).
Though it may provoke anxiety, defending your dissertation is actually an exciting process because in some cases, the dissertation defense marks the end of a very long journey. At the same time, successfully defending your dissertation also marks the next stage of your professional life, so as much as you can, you should try to enjoy this moment.