10 TIPS FOR YOUR THESIS DEFENSE: How to prepare + What to expect

I recorded my Thesis Defense so you know what to expect!

Most people don't record their Thesis defense and make it available publicly to view. Live-streaming or video calling is one thing, but recording it for all to see??? Why is that? It's a huge risk.
Here, I give you REAL tips to help you plan towards your defense, rock your defense, + wrap up post-defense with MY OWN REAL DEFENSE VIDEO SHARED AT THE BOTTOM! :-O

Different from planned lectures or talks, a defense has high stakes--it's what's between you and your degree, and you can't control all of the factors. First, you have to prove that you are an expert in your field. You have the knowledge and your work checks all the boxes. That part you can control, but the "Open Questions" part that follows is what most people fear, because it varies on a case-by-case basis. You'll be tested by unpredictable questions from anyone in attendance, and everyone is watching to see how well you can handle yourself under immense pressure when the stakes are high.

As I prepped for my own Defense, there were limited resources available to me because it really depends on your research, advisor, committee, etc. You can see some in action if you are able to attend in person, but not everyone has that option.

Being the weirdo that I am (and being optimistically confident), what did I do?

I recorded my Defense. That's right. I did it for you! :)
Head to the end of this post to see the video!

I worked with our IT Dept to test out Tegrity Software for recording a defense for the first time ever with the intention of making it available for anyone to view should the video and sound transfer. And guess what? IT DID! :D

Everything that I do, I always want to make sure I'm providing meaningful help to someone else. If I make a fool of myself, so be it! But I was confident in my abilities and I knew my material, so I felt really good going in.

My Defense was literally a couple of days before graduation at the very end of July 2016. In order to walk at graduation, you have to successfully defend before that date. I put easily put in 100 hours/week in lab to make sure that was going to happen.

What I've done is taken the original Defense video and broken it into parts to make it easier to watch. You couldn't really hear my Advisor's intro in the beginning because I was the only one wearing the mic, and at the end were kind professors (each impressive experts in their fields!) coming up to me to tell me what a good job I did…so I cut those parts out because you don't really need to see that haha!

Specifically, my field is Biomedicine / Biotech (Cancer Therapeutics / Biopharmaceuticals), but anyone can benefit from reading about how I prepared and successfully defended no matter what field you're in.

Ready for these rockin' tips?
5 Tips to keep you on track TOWARDS your Defense, 
10 Tips to prepare FOR your Defense,
+ 3 Tips POST Defense!

5 Tips to Implement if you want to Defend:

Tweet: TIP #1: If you wanna get something done, you have to Do It Yourself. #ThesisDefense #RealTalk via @jackypostgrad & https://ctt.ec/8Djf3+TIP #1: If you wanna get something done, you have to do it yourself.
Sometimes, you may have to be the one to make first contact with your committee and take the initiative on asking for meetings so that you can benchmark your progress towards your Defense.

TIP #2: Make sure you ask all of your committee members for their input on what they want to see.
Every committee member has a different "thing" that they'd like to see in order to determine if you'll be ready enough.
Make sure you listen to what each person says, ask for clarifications until you understand exactly what they want, and get to work to make it happen! Some will want you to repeat your experiments to compare values, some will want images, some will want data visualizations, some will want more quantifications--make sure you deliver the goods!

TIP #3: There will be hard times. Plenty. #Academia.
You want to defend, but there are so many hurdles, and sometimes, it seems like not everyone is on the same page. No excuses. You can do this! Plan your materials ahead of time and factor in some contingency plans. For example, if you lab runs out of materials you need, hustle and barter with other labs to let you borrow what you need until your supplies come in and you can repay them.

Tip #4: Take DETAILED notes. Lots of them. I can't emphasize this enough.
I even took pictures to keep track of everything just in case.

For your Research Project, it's better to have too much material you could use than not enough. You can always decide to not include something later on because it doesn't change your overall results. That's much better than realizing you need something that you can't remember and so you have to do everything over again.

TIP #5: No shortcuts to success, my precious. Think of it as lab karma.
Some processes may have appeared to take me longer, but I didn't rush through them.
And you know what? It ended up SAVING me more time in the long run because I was so accurate and diligent the first time around that I didn't have to keep redoing things over and over because the results weren't reliable (saving the lab $$$). Because I was so careful and detail-oriented, it was easier to narrow down experimental errors. 

Once you can convince your Advisor and Committee that you're ready…

10 Tips for your Thesis Defense:

How to prepare + what to expect

TIP #1: 1 WEEK BEFORE: Practiceeeee! Record yourself, watch it, critique yourself.

TIP #2: Practice in front of different volunteers like it's the real thing. Let them ask questions at the end, answer the questions, get feedback. You want your work to be clear.

TIP #3: ON THE DAY OF: Make sure you're there early, everything is set up, your pointer works, the screen works, your mic works (has batteries), you have water (trust me).

TIP #4: Make sure you have the right presentation version opened & you fixed everything. You're going to have sooo many versions of your presentation by now that it's easy to forget to fix 1 word (hey, even detail-oriented people make that error when so much is going on--we're humans, too!).

TIP #5: People will fill the room. Advisor will introduce you. It's GO TIME! :D

TIP #6: Pace yourself. You got this. Go through your presentation as practiced.
My advisor + I planned for my Defense to be 25-30 minutes with 15-20 minutes for Questions.

TIP #7: YAY! You concluded. *Applause* Now, it's time for questions!

TIP #8: You'll get grilled. Stay positive! There's so much you know & want to say but you may not have the time. Answer the questions as best as you can in that moment.

TIP #9: If you get LOTS of ?s, that's a good thing! It means people are engaged & interested!

TIP #10: It's okay if some questions are OOS (out of scope). If you have time to address them, great. If not, it's okay to acknowledge them & move on. You can always clarify with the person after.

YAY! GREAT JOB! The hardest part is over! YOU DID IT!
But you're not finished yet…

3 TIPS for POST Defense to Remember:

Tip #1: At the end of the day, everyone is rooting for you!
They wouldn't let you defend if they didn't think you were ready.

Tip #2: DON'T FORGET: There's a Post Defense Meeting with your Committee after the room clears out!
They know your work better than some of the audience members, so be prepared to be grilled more specifically (but don't take it personally!). They know you can handle it. They'll give you some constructive criticism so that you can continue improving as a professional! They'll sign off on your Defense Form so that you can turn it in.

Tip #3: SUBMIT YOUR THESIS! Click here to see mine.
At your "After" meeting, your committee members will probably give you more feedback on your work, which means more editing on your Thesis until it's finalized. Make the edits until both you and your Advisor are satisfied, print it on that pretty, special thesis paper per your institution's rules, get your Committee to sign off on the FINAL THESIS, submit payment for your own bound copy (if you want one), and monitor the status of your Thesis until it's officially accepted!

In my case, I was on my Honeymoon when I found out I needed to draw my own diagram to replace another one (also, on the other coast). I did that, reprinted that page of my Thesis on the fancy paper, and FedEx mailed it back. We also needed to make an electronic version of the Thesis available. If you want to see it: https://goo.gl/xLpOa5

For my Defense, there's so much I wanted to say to one question in particular, but I already discussed with my Advisor that I wouldn't. If you don't know the answer to something, it's okay to say that you don't know. For me, I read SOOOO many papers that there was always something I thought of, but it depends on how much time you have to discuss it. The extra info may confuse the audience more and you don't have a lot of time left. Keep in mind, you're trying to make your work approachable and clear for people who may not be in your field.

If you wanna watch the Public Thesis Defense video to get an idea of what to realistically expect…here it is for you!


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