What is dissertation defense or Viva voce? How to Succeed

author By Mary Boies

A dissertation defense is the oral examination of a dissertation in which the doctoral candidate discusses and defends their thesis before a committee of scholars. When you write a dissertation, you must develop a new theory or hypothesis; dissertation defense is the presentation and discussion of your new theory before a committee of scholars.

Many doctoral candidates dread dissertation defense because they expect it to be intimidating to discuss a subject in a specific field in front of experienced scholars. While it is true that dissertation defense can be intimidating, you can make the process easy on yourself through proper preparation. In this post, you are going to discover everything crucial there is to know about oral dissertation defense.

Let's get started.

What is the difference between a dissertation defense and a thesis defense?

There are three significant differences between a dissertation defense and a thesis defense. A dissertation defense is done by a doctoral candidate toward fulfilling a doctoral degree. In contrast, a thesis defense is done by a master's student toward fulfilling a master's degree. A dissertation defense is usually about two to three hours long, while a thesis is often about one hour long.

Lastly, a dissertation defense is often not graded, while a thesis defense is frequently graded. A dissertation defense is not graded because it is regarded as an advanced scholarly output; grading it adds no significance. In contrast, a thesis defense is usually graded because it helps to show the student's prowess in the subject matter.

What defines the length of a dissertation defense?

The oral summary is the main thing that defines the length of a dissertation defense. A typical dissertation defense oral summary will take one to two hours. In addition to the oral summary, a dissertation defense will include a Ph.D. defense PowerPoint presentation and a dissertation defense questions and answers session. So you should be well-prepared for your defense if you want to ace it because it will be a lot of work.

Related Read: How to write a good thesis for a research paper.

What happens during a dissertation defense?

A typical dissertation defense is done before a dissertation evaluation committee. The committee is usually made up of 4 to 5 members of the faculty. To do a dissertation defense, you are supposed to work closely with the committee to agree on an appropriate date and venue for the defense delivery.

Three things usually happen during defense delivery; an oral summary presentation, a Ph.D. defense PowerPoint presentation, and a questions and answers session. Therefore, once you agree on an appropriate date with the evaluation committee, you should prepare strongly for these three parts of dissertation defense delivery.

In addition to the three things that often happen during defense delivery, other things are expected of you during defense delivery. These include your dress code, who can accompany you, how much time you will spend on your dissertation defense presentation, what you are supposed to bring for your defense delivery, and so on.

These things are usually specific to graduate schools. So make sure you talk to your committee ahead to confirm these aspects of your defense delivery. Knowing these things ahead of time will help you to prepare adequately.

When actively planning for your dissertation defense, you should constantly communicate with the evaluation committee to ensure you are all on the same page. Constant communication with the committee will also help build rapport with the committee members and make your dissertation defense much easier.

A few days before your dissertation defense, you should gather everything you will need for it and do a dry run at the venue. Do it before a group of friends to create the audience effect. Ask them to ask you Ph.D. defense questions and answer them as you would answer in a real situation. Doing this will help to prepare you for the real situation.

On D-day, make sure you wear professional but comfortable clothes and shoes. Also, make sure you arrive at the venue early. Be there before everyone else. Once everybody has arrived and you are given the floor to go ahead, try enjoying yourself as much as possible. Remember, your defense is more likely to be a success than not if you've done everything right.

Steps to Prepare for a Successful Dissertation Defense

Now that you know every crucial thing about dissertation defense and the process, it is time to get to the meat and potatoes of this post. In this section, you will discover the steps you need to take to prepare for your dissertation defense presentation. By following the steps below, it is more likely than not that you will ace your defense session.

1. Prepare early

The most important thing to do if you want to ace your dissertation defense is to prepare early. A defense presentation you prepare for at the "last minute" is more likely to fail than succeed. Therefore, when you settle on a dissertation topic and start researching it, you should plan your defense in the back of your mind.

You should imagine the highlights of your oral summary and your presentation. Doing this will help to prepare you mentally for the presentation. Furthermore, you should start writing the dissertation early enough to ensure you finish it early and have enough time to prepare and practice for the presentation. Doing this will put you in an excellent place to succeed during your dissertation presentation.

2. Attend the dissertation defense of other doctoral candidates

You should attend the presentations of other doctoral candidates both within and outside your university. Seeing other doctoral candidates do their presentations will help you calm down and prepare you mentally for the time to do a presentation. It will show you that you ultimately have nothing to fear.

It will also reveal to you how to dress and speak when doing a presentation. This information will be convenient, especially if you are not used to speaking in front of crowds. All you will need to do with this information and everything else you observe during the presentations is to copy the positive parts. This will make you look like a natural during your defense presentation.

3. Spend a good amount of time preparing your Ph.D. defense PowerPoint presentation

A significant part of your dissertation defense will be on a PowerPoint presentation. Therefore, you must spend a good amount of time preparing your PowerPoint presentation to ensure quality work is easy to read and understand when it is projected. A poor PowerPoint display will make your defense much more difficult.

One of the most important things you want to do when preparing your Ph.D. defense PowerPoint presentation is to ensure the information you put on it has a logical flow. This will make it easy for the committee and your audience to understand what you are saying. It will also indicate to the committee that you have a good mastery of the subject matter.

4. Take a notebook and create an outline for your presentation

The easiest way to ensure your essay is structured at the undergraduate degree level of education is to create an outline before you start writing it. Creating an essay outline is like creating a writing plan for your essay. Similarly, creating an outline is the easiest way to have a successful dissertation defense presentation.

The outline should include what you will do during your presentation from A to Z. Creating such an outline will ensure you know what exactly to do and when. You will never have an awkward pose when you do your defense dissertation following a well-written outline.

5. Practice, practice, practice

Once you have written your dissertation, prepared your slides, and created an outline, you should practice giving your presentation several times. Practice several times because practice makes perfect. Practice presenting your dissertation in your room or anywhere else you can.

If you have access to the dissertation defense venue, you should go there once or twice with your friends and practice your entire presentation in front of them. Do a dry run of everything you plan to do on the presentation day. If you find any errors or experience any issues, address them immediately. By practicing two or three times at the booked dissertation defense venue, you will feel at home at the venue when you will finally have to do the actual defense presentation. This will boost your confidence and your delivery.

6. Make sure your introduction stands out

You will do your presentation not only before a dissertation evaluation committee but also before an audience. Therefore, you need to ensure that your introduction is interesting enough to capture the imagination of both parties. The dissertation evaluation committee will have experts in your field. Thus, ensuring you impress them with your introduction and presentation is crucial. You could get a recommendation for an internship, fellowship, or employment if you do a great job with your intro and presentation.

The audience often includes friends or colleagues. Therefore, starting with a weak intro, you do not want to embarrass or make them feel sorry for you. So you should do your best to ensure your intro is impactful and the rest of your presentation is solid. This will ensure you save them from embarrassment and simultaneously make them proud.

7. Get your friends to listen to your presentation and ask questions

Doing this will make you aware of many questions or types of questions you can anticipate from your dissertation evaluation committee. During your presentation, they could ask questions for clarification, and at the end of your presentation, they will most likely ask questions to understand your work better. Sometimes people freeze when asked questions. This is usually a sign of non-preparation.

By preparing adequately and getting your friends to ask you questions, you will have the answers to most of the questions you will be asked. You will also know how to answer even the difficult questions posed by the dissertation evaluation committee evaluating you.

8. Learn how to ignore mistakes

When making your presentation, you could end up saying something wrong or incorrect or messing up when doing your presentation. If anything of such sought happens, ignore it quickly and carry on. If you dwell on it, you could freeze or make the rest of your presentation a train wreck.

9. Make sure you are well-rested

In the week preceding your dissertation defense, you should get plenty of rest every day. You should also practice your presentation once every other day. Ensuring you get plenty of rest for a week will give you the energy and focus you need for a successful dissertation presentation. And practicing every other day will ensure you have the content of your dissertation at your fingertips. This will give you plenty of confidence on the dissertation delivery day.

How to Give a Good Dissertation Defense

Follow the steps below to give a good dissertation delivery

1. Know it is a serious task

A dissertation defense is a serious task; it is not something you approach lightly as many people do. This means you must give it the respect it deserves when preparing for it. Once you have written and completed your dissertation, you must prepare a presentation. You need to do this are professional as possible. Ensuring you create an excellent presentation will make your presentation work easier during your dissertation delivery. So take dissertation defense seriously to prepare adequately for a successful dissertation delivery.

2. Know your dissertation inside out

A lawyer cannot successfully defend a defendant if they do not understand the subject matter. Similarly, you (a doctoral candidate) cannot successfully defend your dissertation if you do not understand what you've written in it. Therefore, once you develop a thesis statement, do thorough research to understand everything there is to understand about it.

And once you write your dissertation, read it repeatedly to understand its essential aspects. When you have a good mastery of your dissertation thesis statement and the rest of your dissertation, it will reflect in your presentation. This will help to make sure you get a good evaluation of it. It will also help you to answer all the questions you are asked effortlessly.

3. Do presentation practice

If you want to feel confident when you are delivering your dissertation defense, make sure you do presentation practice. Practice regularly delivering different parts of your dissertation presentation. When you get the time and opportunity, present your entire dissertation defense to an audience of classmates or friends. If you do this twice or thrice, you will be thoroughly familiar with your presentation, which will help you deliver it perfectly.

Furthermore, regular presentation practice will help you discover errors in your presentation and/or dissertation. So when practicing, pay keen attention to what you have written in your slides and to the logical progression of arguments or ideas. If anything is erroneous or amiss, correct it and continue practicing to ensure your delivery will look like that of an experienced public speaker.

4. Expect questions from your presentation

No matter how good your presentation is, you should expect Ph.D. defense questions after you are done doing it. The questions are typically related to your thesis statement and dissertation. So research as many questions as possible related to your thesis and dissertation. Identify the most relevant ones and try to answer each on your own.

If you answer such practice questions correctly, you will have lots of confidence to answer the questions posed by the evaluation committee.

Typical dissertation defense questions to expect during your presentation include:

5. Write down a plan to follow during your presentation

Most people who deliver powerful speeches usually do so with the aid of a plan or a guide. This is because referencing your plan makes it easy to remember what you want to say. The case is the same for those doing dissertation defense. The ones who do it the best usually do so with a plan or a guide. So, to ace your presentation delivery, you should create a good plan explaining what you need to do from A to Z.

6. Have fun

You should know that a dissertation defense is something to enjoy, not fear. It is something to enjoy because it is an essential scholarly exercise that allows you to present your new theory or hypothesis to a committee of experienced scholars in your field. Therefore, you do not need to be fearful of it. What you need to do is to approach it with reasonable happiness, and you will be just fine. Your happiness will reflect in your presentation, making you more likely to ace it.

Likely questions during a dissertation defense

Check out the dissertation defense questions below for a rough idea of what evaluation committee members usually ask during a dissertation defense. By knowing what evaluation committee members often ask, you can ask yourself the same Ph.D. defense questions and prepare for them adequately.

  1. Can you provide an explanation on . . . ?
  2. Can you provide an explanation on why your research suggests . . . ?
  3. Why do you present the argument that . . . this way?
  4. How does your research contribute to the existing body of knowledge?
  5. Why should the scholarly community in your field of study care about your research?
  6. What made you choose your dissertation topic?
  7. What could you have done differently in your paper if you started all over again?
  8. How can you build on this research?
  9. In what ways can your research be used in real world?
  10. What were the main weaknesses of your research?
  11. Can you provide a summary of your significant findings?
  12. What surprises did you discover in your essay?
  13. Will your research be a game changer in its field? If so, how?
  14. What was the most challenging thing about the dissertation writing process?
  15. How do your scholarly contributions generalize?

Parting words

You now know everything about dissertation defense. You know the meaning, how it is done, how to prepare for one, and how to complete one successfully.

In short, you are now an expert on dissertation defense. If you have a dissertation that needs to be quickly done, you should send it to us.

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