Preparing for Your Defense

I’ve had a few friends reach out to me this fall asking about how I prepared for my MS defense. I won’t say I’m an expert on this (my defense was quite rough), but I did pass. Below are some resources that helped me feel prepared.

Most of my last semester was very focused on writing, and after I sent my thesis to my committee I felt a little lost. When I asked faculty members in my program about how best to prepare, they told me to read my thesis repeatedly in the week leading up to my defense. I won’t say that repeated reading wasn’t a good thing to do, but I didn’t feel like it was enough.

In my search for useful things to do, I stumbled upon two lists of prep questions. This is one from an economist, and it’s quite detailed. There are 25 main questions and some guiding thoughts for each. The questions are pretty specific, but can be adjusted to reflect your project appropriately. This list is much more general, but coming up with concise answers for each was useful practice for me.

I’d also suggest you check with your advisor about what to bring with you. A notebook, pen, water bottle, and laptop is a good starting point. I like having my thesis on my computer instead of hard copy because it’s easier to search for certain words as needed.

There are a few things that, in hindsight, I wish I had taken time to do. One is to prepare slides with each figure to project during my defense. It would have been much easier to discuss figures if everyone could see them simultaneously. I also wish I had spent more time reviewing definitions of common words. It’s shockingly hard to come up with a precise definition you use for words you use a lot.

I’ll leave you with the best advice I read (somewhere, I don’t remember where). If you need a second to think, you can always ask someone to rephrase their question. My committee would talk really fast, and they tended to talk over each other. Asking them to rephrase helped me get just one person to ask me a question at a time, and it gave me a moment to breathe.

You have been working on this project more than anyone else in that room. Come to your defense calm and prepared, and I’m sure you’ll do wonderfully!

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