Top 10 Suggestions To Defend Your PhD Successfully
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Top 10 Suggestions To Defend Your Ph.D. Successfully

One of the most common concerns raised by those who are pursuing a Ph.D. is, how they can prepare themselves for their defense? True enough, how does really one keep the stress levels low and still make sure that everything is on order and that they get the highest chance of success?

One thing is for sure: No two defenses are the same. Every person’s journey is different, especially when we’re talking about a defense done by a Ph.D. student. It is unique and unpredictable, and everything is depending on your talk or presentation. To add, no matter how prepared you think you are, there is still that pool of endless questions, and sometimes, you’re left dumbfounded with no answer in mind. You just have to feel some bit of comfort in the fact that you did your best and gave it your best shot.

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Nonetheless, here are ten ways on making sure you ace that defense and it is a success. Note however that this comes after making sure that you wrote a good quality Ph.D. thesis. No defense will happen if your thesis is not good enough. Only you can write that awesome thesis because you are the expert in that field and that chosen topic.

Never underestimate the time spend on preparing your talk/presentation.

Do not fall into the last-minute trap and the mentality that you can prepare better when under pressure. So don’t even consider doing this. Give enough time to prepare and practice your presentation and talk. You just can’t let your guard down when it comes to this very important milestone. Even if you think you have everything ready, don’t be so complacent. Review a few days before your Ph.D. presentation and double check everything. As much as you can, make sure it slide is relevant and that it contains vital information and that that information is accurate. Do not let even the tiniest detail be obtained at the last minute.

On the other hand, if you are looking forward to a perfect talk (or at least close to perfect), practice multiple times. There’s no room for cramming it all in a day or two. You’ve really got to commit at least a couple of days, if not weeks, for it. The best way to rehearse is to gather your friends and give your talks. But this too is not enough. You need to practice on your own.

Practicing is not equal to memorizing your presentation word per word. You just need to familiarize every itsy-bitsy part of it, no awkwardness and no unusual dead air in-between. You can even go as far as recording yourself and listening to how you sound. If you sound nervous and unprepared, practice some more. You’d be surprised at how doing this can help you. It’s also important to time your talk.

The bottom line? Do not procrastinate.

Listen to others’ defenses

For mental preparation purposes, it would be best and actually encouraged that you go ahead and listen to your colleagues, or say, classmates, give either defense. Doing so will give you an idea of how defenses flow. It will also serve as another training ground for you, especially if they have the same or similar topics as you. Take notes and observe well. Note down the pros and cons of each defense and then make sure you correct them when your time comes. Observe their gestures and the way they talk. Were they passionate and genuine? Were they consistent with the energy they show throughout the entire presentation? What were the rough areas they had?

Remember that you might get nervous before your presentation, and this may affect the way you deliver it. So be sure to show up well-prepared. If you are, the thesis defense talk is just a formality.

On the other hand, if you don’t have the time or if your time won’t permit you to attend these defenses, try to at least secure some DVDs or online presentations just so you’ll have something to base your talk on. Doing so will give you an idea of how to tie the whole story together. Don’t use jargons and difficult words because you will be talking to a general audience. Make sure it is clear and understandable. The simpler, the better. If you can even make it a bit animated by using cartoons or model slides, it would be great.

Ask for help from your friends, lab mates, and other people

What kind of help, you might ask. Let them drill you with questions. Give them the practice talk and then also allow them to ask as many questions as they can be related to your presentation. This way, you can also prepare for all possible questions that your audience and panel will ask. It will also help build your confidence.

Reread and ask questions yourself.

Another thing you can do is to ask questions yourself. As you rehearse the talk on your own, you might discover some questions too. List them down and answer them as well. Questions can be related to your thesis or it could be the data on your presentation that seems unclear. It’s normal to feel a bit sick of re-reading your entire thesis so many times, but just remember that it is necessary if you want a smooth-sailing defense. If you cannot come up with a list of good questions, then you are not trying hard enough. Doing this will give you a better understanding of your entire project.

Don’t be distracted

Being successful not only in your defense but also in your thesis writing is a milestone you don’t want to take for granted and take lightly. The last few days or weeks before you give your defense might be stressful, so it is vital that you keep your focus. Keep your guard up until your actual defense day, and don’t let other outside events tempt you. You have to train your mind to focus only on that presentation because it will give you a long-lasting impression on your audience and maybe to your future employers. There are instances that these professional employers would be present on your defense day, and if they like your talk, they might just have the job for you.

Sleep, eat and take care of yourself.

We know this seems impossible as the date of your defense nears. It could be a struggle to sleep, eat on time, and stay hydrated while writing your thesis. The anxiety isn’t getting worse as each day passes by. Make sure it doesn’t get the best of you. Just take care of yourself. You need it.

Also, it is important to have enough sleep the day before your defense. You don’t want to give a talk with floating mind. Eat well too. Never sell yourself short. A well-rested you mean higher chances of giving a smooth talk.

Keep your cool and relax

There’s no use in stressing out. If you know for yourself that you have done your best, then there’s no need to worry. Plus, no one knows your topic better than yourself.

Just give it your best shot and answer the questions the best that you can. You don’t have to give them all the answers to every question, especially if you are unsure of its accuracy.

Don’t focus on the after-party before your defense

We all want to celebrate after reaching a milestone, and we want it to be perfect. But focusing on the celebration will just distract you from your goal – to give a well-though-of presentation. As pointed on the previous points, prioritize and focus on your thesis defense talk and nothing else. It’s better to plan the after-party after making sure your defense is a good one. The satisfaction is greater.

Plan the flow of your presentation

Plan on your introduction and presentation flow. The flow needs to be connected and smooth, and the slides should match your talk too! This is why practice is crucial too. It gives you the opportunity to make sure both your presentation and your planned talk are in sync.

Visualize yourself after your defense

To keep it short and simple, the feeling of being able to give a good presentation is just unimaginable. When all is said and done, a huge weight on your shoulders will be lifted. You will feel great and satisfied. It’s going to be an emotional one too since you’d finally feel that all those years of studying, researching, and working hard have finally paid off.

Remember: Your defense day is your moment. No one will do it for you. This is something you have to do on your own, and you have to give it your best. Shine on this very day and show everyone just how good you are in your field. The more you keep this mentality, the better your talk will be. Just remember these points and you’ll have nothing to worry about.


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Shekhar Suman is the CEO & Managing Director of BioTecNika Info Labs Pvt Ltd, An avid reader who is passionate about Bio Sciences and has gifted us BioTecNika