How did you prepare for a dissertation proposal defense?

thesis proposal presentation reddit

I'm gearing up for my dissertation proposal defense with a 5 person committee (advisor + 4 faculty). I was wondering what people's strategies have been for preparing for theirs.

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Practice, practice, practice

They told me how long it had to be and I rehearsed the shit out of it to get it down to 20 minutes as requested. It was a 20 minute presentation, 10 minutes public Q&A, and then their Q&A. They all thanked me for not going over, which virtually never happens lol.

I cut so many slides out it hurt. The day before, I brought water and made sure our fridge was stocked with cold water for faculty.

I didn’t eat all morning out of fear of spilling food in my suit lol. On my way to campus, I bought donuts.

I practiced some more. My rule for every presentation is I can’t do it unless I can finish it without errors. I had it down, but I kept rehearsing.

The hour before, all the doctoral students helped me get the room ready. I spent the last 5 minutes printing stuff and later listening to hype music to get me pumped.

Next thing I remember, I was at a steak house with my advisor. She bought me my first meal all day lol. I then went home, texted everyone I cared about, and took a long ass nap lol

Wow, your last paragraph sounds so amazing! Just the feeling that you have it over with must be so good!

Thank you for the tips and for describing your process! Our proposal defenses are 2 hours, but we don't get any guidelines, just to make a presentation and that it will be Q+A from the committee.

I asked my committee members individually what they wanted to see, then I gave them whatever that was

I wish that was accepted in my program! We are told to anticipate what the committee will want to see and then be prepared to answer questions based on what we think they will ask.

It’s pretty generic in my university. They even have a presentation guide/template to work on for presenting and defending the dissertation.

Ah, I would love some structure! We get told we need to make presentation and then most of the 2 hours should be left for their questions.

You've received helpful feedback, but here is something that is unspoken about doctoral defenses:

This phase of your Ph.D. program involves not just carrying out your research project, but a demonstration that you are successfully transitioning from a student to a peer who is capable of contributing to scholarly research. Thus, it is important to remember the big picture and begin viewing your advisor and committee members as your academic colleagues rather than authority figures.

Your defense is an opportunity to show your committee that you are leaving any graduate student meekness behind and that you are capable of respectfully pushing back. In addition to scrutinizing your research, committee members may, in fact, say things specifically designed to provoke you into arguing like an academic in order to test whether you are where you need to be.

Picture academics receiving helpful and not-helpful feedback about their research at conferences, and handle questions as they do.

Other advice outside of this strategy:

Ask your committee if you can record the Q&A. Otherwise, you are dependent upon your advisor's notes. In a high-stress situation, it can be difficult to remember the nuances that will ultimately result in a stronger dissertation.

Send your advisor an outline of your presentation. Your advisor is your guide through the process of becoming an independent researcher so use them and ask them if the topics you intend to cover are appropriate for a proposal defense in your department. (I'd find it very hard to believe that an advisor would not provide you this feedback.)

Make your life easier by explicitly stating linkages during your presentation. Tell your committee the identified gap in the literature, tell them your research question(s), tell them your methods, tie your methods back to explain how they answer the research question(s), and conclude with what you think your study will add to the scholarly conversation. Many students don't include these in their presentations and then inevitably have to answer them as questions from the committee. Your committee will be impressed if you include them.

Good luck! You'll do great.

This is excellent advice! Thank you so much!

The idea of debating with them as if I am on their level sounds frightening tbh. It's hard for me not to see them as authority figures when they have many years doing this research and when ultimately I am subject to making the changes they require no matter what I think. But I totally appreciate what you are saying and think you are correct that that is how I should be approaching it. If only I could get over my own thinking patterns

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