From Sustainability Methods

Type Team Size
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Submitting your thesis will probably have felt like a huge relief. But now there is still a hurdle to take: defending your work. A lot of students do not know what to expect from their defense and therefore are quite intimidated by this last step. But remember, you worked a long time on your thesis and familiarised yourself with the topic in depth. If you prepare well, there is really no need to worry. Below, you will find everything needed to prep your presentation and yourself, such as tips for your slides, questions you might get asked and some general advice.

Prepare & Practice

Starting to prepare for your defense ahead of time and doing it thoroughly will probably make you feel a lot more confident and less stressed going into the examination. The big part of writing your thesis is over, be happy about that and put that energy into preparing for the defense. Every defense usually follows this basic procedure:

  1. Presentation
  2. Questions/Discussion
  3. Feedback and grading

You will need to read/look trough your thesis again and there is a good chance you will find some mistakes doing this, try not to look for them and do not focus on them, there is nothing you can do to change them anymore. It is crucial that you practice your finished presentation until you feel comfortable with it and can deliver it confidently. This step can not be skipped if you want to do your best. You can present to your friends, peers from uni, parents, siblings, anyone (even though it would be great if they could also give you some more detailed feedback concerning the content). Time yourself when practicing, in order to make adjustments to your talking speed (it should not be too fast) and slides to stay within the given range.

The slides of the presentation should be organised clearly so that they can be understood quickly. Try to keep it simple and informative. Also include helpful, necessary and self-explanatory figures. The following questions could be addressed in the slides

  • Shortly and precisely summarize your thesis
  • Focus on particularly interesting aspects
  • What surprised you?
  • What difficulties did you encounter?
  • What is the added value of your work?
  • Reflect on your process

Question round

A focus of your preparation, besides preparing your presentation, should be on the questions you might get asked during the discussion. Brainstorm and note down any questions that comes to mind and try to answer these questions as precisely as possible. Also ask yourself what the examiners might find interesting and prepare some additional slides you can use to support your answer to these questions. In the question round, you should try to answer the questions as precisely as possible. Take a moment to think about your answers before you give them, it is totally fine to say “I quickly need to think about this”. Also try to be confident about your thesis and your answers, if you seem comfortable and energetic the examiners perception of you will be more positive. At the same time you should also be aware of the limitations of your work. If you don't know what a question is about at first, feel free to ask what it means. Try not to worry if you can't answer a question, it can happen. Possible question could be:

  • Can you explain term x in more detail?
  • To what extent can the result of x of your work be generalized?
  • What do your research findings contribute to this topic / topic x?
  • What is your position on the theory of x?
  • Why did you (not) focus on x?

Peer-to-Peer: It’s rehearsal time

Present each other your presentations and ask lots of questions and give honest and helpful feedback. Try to recreate the conditions of the actual defence as closely as possible. For example, book a room at the university, practise speaking the text freely and appearing confident. This will allow you to revise your presentation based on the feedback and you will probably be a little more relaxed in your defence.

Supervisor: Integrate expectations

Depending on your supervisor, university and faculty, the defence may be structured differently. Check the requirements of your programme and discuss expectations with your supervisor. For example, should you present the "big picture" and include a lot of your results, or should you focus on specific aspects of what you have done in the theis? If you have a precise schedule in mind, you should set a date for the defence early in the process. Particularly in the summer, you should bear in mind that your examiners may be away for longer periods.

Technical Challenges: Presentation Setup

When you create the presentation, you should make sure that the font and images are clearly recognisable. It is also helpful to save the presentation as a PDF in case you encounter problems with your presentation programme. Organise the technical equipment you need (adapters etc.). If possible, it is helpful to visit the room where your presentation will take place a few days before your defence. Then you can try out the presentation with the technical equipment and check, among other things, whether the projector is working.

Motivation and Organisation: Planning ahead

Ideally, you should think about the information you want to include in your defence while writing your paper. After you have handed in yout thesis, relax a little, but prepare everything sooner rather than later. While writing your thesis, create a document in which you can note down exciting aspects for the presentation and possible questions. If you have enough time to prepare, you will be more relaxed at the defence. Make sure that you arrange a date for the defence early enough so that it fits in with your schedule.