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In the humanities, you might find a colleague who is willing to share their script (or slides, if they had them). Another way you can set the terms of engagement for your defence is to have a say in where it happens. They are people with specific interests and biases.Because I worked in the Faculty of Graduate Studies at my university, I knew what rooms were typically used for defences, and I knew about ones that were available but rarely used and SO COOL. Happily, there’s lots of evidence out there–in the form of their scholarship and public writing–that can give you insight into what those are.
I was going to be happy and excited to be there and delighted to answer questions that were going to help me think about my project more deeply.
I also — as you should — figured out where the room was, got there early, got everything set up, and was calm, cool, and collected by the time the rest of the committee arrived. Have Fun All my preparation, practical and mental, totally worked. As my committee came into the room and we started talking, the atmosphere became more and more celebratory–a tone I set.
If an examiner is getting off on the power, then that’s their problem not yours.
It might seem like an eternity to you right now, but this is only a very short period out of your life. Prepare yourself as best you can for the questions and dare I say, try and enjoy it!
You know what the deal is in your discipline, so adapt as necessary.) 1.
Put it in Context We hear about this mysterious, terrifying thing called the dissertation defence all the way through our Ph Ds, but without real context. And what do people mean by defend–is that just a euphemism for poking holes and grilling me until I cry?
Read a bunch of stuff written by your external examiner, and refresh yourself on the work of your committee members.
Identify the places where their ideas conflict with yours, what is of significant interest to them that intersects with (or didn’t get much time in) your work, where your work significantly overlaps. Given the size of our academic networks, there’s a good likelihood that you or your supervisor knows someone who knows your external well–talk to them! Fill the Bank This one is both the easiest and the hardest: find a useful list of common defence questions for your discipline, and prepare answers to them.
The one I personally liked the best answered a challenging question from my supervisor about an unusual and often-denigrated approach I take in my research by pointing out, with specific examples, that her widely acclaimed work also sometimes takes the same approach, just without directly acknowledging it. You feel confident in your ability to defend the choices you made in conducting this research. The defence outfit is crucial, and it must meet three key standards: I defended in the still-steamy part of September, and my power outfits always blend femme and more masculine pieces, so I wore a skirt, a sleeveless blouse, and a blazer.
My preparation and knowledge of my committee paid off–I was sure she was going to ask me some version of that question, and I prepared a strong answer that directly referenced her own scholarship. (No piece of clothing makes me feel more powerful than a blazer, and I wear one just about every day despite my work dress-code being rather more casual than that.) It ended up being too warm to wear the blazer during the defence, but I had strategically chosen the rest of my outfit so that it didn’t matter whether I wore it or not.