You should schedule your defense by the deadline. Faculty are very busy at the end of the semesters, so contact your committee early in the semester to arrange a date and time for your defense.Make sure you will have time after your defense to make any requested changes and get the final copy to the Undergraduate Research Program. Your committee consists of your thesis director (i.e. 1st Reader), 2nd Reader, and 3rd Reader. Our office does not need to have a staff member present. Check with your thesis director regarding whether or not you are welcome to also invite friends, parents, etc… should you so desire. Then schedule a room through your department (you can contact the administrative assistant in your department for help with this) or give the information to Dr. Barsky at firstname.lastname@example.org so she can assist with scheduling.
Discuss with your committee members how much advance time they need to read your thesis, and send them your final draft at that time. This should be your most complete copy to date and should include a table of contents, lists of figures and tables, notes and bibliography. Your committee members cannot be expected to be prepared for your defense if your thesis is incomplete or they do not even have a copy of your thesis to read.
At your defense, you will give a presentation of your work. Your committee will have read your thesis and have prepared questions. Your thesis director will act as moderator and a discussion of your work should develop, and your committee members will provide suggestions for required revisions. After you make these revisions, your thesis will be officially complete.
Many thesis defenses follow this format:
- Your presentation of your work
- Length varies but are usually 20+ minutes.
- Question & Answer session
- Your committee will ask questions. More information below.
- Deliberation by your committee (2 – 5 minutes)
- Student will need to exit the room during this time.
- Re-Group for final discussion and discussion of revisions to your thesis (5 – 20 minutes)
Generally, defenses can last anywhere from 75 minutes to 2 hours with 90 minutes being the median time.
Remember! You know this material better than anyone else. At this point, you could probably defend in your sleep. So remember that when a question or moment gives you pause. You are the master!
Committees generally start with easy questions (ex. “I noticed here on pg. 30 that you mentioned *insert blah blah* … Could you talk a bit more about that?”) before moving on to “push” questions. Push questions are when they may try to get you to consider aspects about your thesis that you may not have thought of. Sometimes these push questions can throw you for a loop. The best thing to do is remain cool, calm, and collected. Remember to breathe and if you need a moment to think about it, kindly request a moment to think about it. Possible responses can be:
- “I hadn’t thought of that. That’s a great question!” Then you can try to answer it as best you can.
- “It’s not a direction I wanted to pursue because …” Then try to explain why or why not.
- “That’s interesting, and while I was listening to you, I thought of…” While this is a stalling technique, it allows you to think out loud and jumpstart your brain.
- “I don’t have an answer for that, but thank you very much.” Because sometimes you won’t, and that’s okay!
What to Bring
- A copy of your thesis for you to refer to.
- Your PowerPoint presentation (if you decide to use a visual; it is highly recommended).
- If needed, brief notes outlining what you’ll talk about. (Do NOT stand there and just read your thesis.)
Before Your Defense
Ask your thesis director what format the defense will follow. For example, will you give a presentation first? If so, for how long? Would a PowerPoint be appropriate? If so, great. If not, also great. Ask your thesis director for guidance.
Will your thesis defense be open to the public? The public can include peers/colleagues, friends, parents, etc. However, standard university policy for doctoral and master’s candidates is this: the public may attend a doctoral candidate’s defense and listen to their presentation, they may ask questions, and then they must leave when the committee begins asking questions. Thesis students follow this same format. Talk with your thesis director about how public your thesis presentation at your defense should be and what you’re comfortable with.
The Defense Report
Immediately after your Defense, your Third Reader will fill out your Defense Report and submit it to the Undergraduate Research Program. The Defense Report lets our office know whether you passed or failed your defense.
At the defense, find out when each committee member will be available to sign your final copy after you have made the final required revisions. Note: Immediately after your defense, your committee members may agree to sign the approval page of your thesis, except for your thesis director, who may wait until you make the final revisions and email it to her/him for their approval. Ask your thesis director what they prefer.