Today we are going to share the top 7 mistakes to avoid when defending your thesis. I know it can be very frustrating to prepare for your thesis defense then one little mistake make you to lose the grade you truly deserve. I made one of the mistakes few years ago when I was defending my thesis but I was able to scale through because my supervisor was kind enough to give me a second chance.
7 Mistakes to Avoid When Defending Your Thesis
In no particular order, here are 7 mistakes to avoid when defending your thesis:
1. Not Asking for Clarifications when the Question is unclear.
This is a mistake most students make when defending their project. If you don’t understand or make sense of a question during your defense, don’t attempt it, politely ask for clarification. I know there is always a lot of tension during project defense but beyond the tension and nervousness lies the ticket to your grading.
One thing I will like to emphasize is that, all those in the panel asking you questions were once in your shoe so they understand the pressure, nervousness and the tension; their job is to confirm if you actually carried out your project, so fight off all tension by being focused. If a question is asked too fast and you don’t understand it, politely ask for clarification.
A sentence like “Can you please help me better understand what you meant when you said this or that.” will suffice.
2. Pretending to know the answer when you don’t
Another mistake most students make when defending their thesis is pretending to know the answers when they don’t. Let me tell you the truth, during your defense, some questions may come that will be unexpected, and something to which you can not come up with a good answer on the spot.
Please, be honest. Sometimes in a defense, honesty can be impressive. Because being honest shows courage. It is good to have something prepared for when you are confronted with a question you truly don’t know how to answer. I will say, have a polite response prepared, so that you know you have something to say, something to rely on.
Something like “To be honest, I didn’t expect such question, but I will try, based on the project I did….. (share something relevant to the question in your project)
3. Assuming that you know everything about your own thesis.
Before I defended my thesis, I had this vague arrogant that “I did this” so, I was the only authority on the subject. But during an interaction with my supervisor a week to my defense. I fumbled during the mock defense my supervisor organized for me. But he very quick to enlightened me more on the subject of assumption. Like he said “It is good to have confidence, but don’t let that confidence turn to arrogant”
Don’t think you know all, study, learn and prepare for your defense, they maybe some tiny details that will help you during the defense.
4. Cutting the question off.
I witnessed a student interrupting a panelist when a question was presented to her during her MSC defense about 2 years ago. She didn’t wait for the Professor to finish with his question, she just jumped in and provided an answer that was not relevant to what the Professor intended to ask.
Well, don’t cut off the question, don’t interrupt the questioner. Let them finish their question. Regardless whether or not you expected that question, regardless whether you know the answer to that question or not, at least let them finish asking their question.
It is rude and disrespectful to interrupt the panelist when they are trying to ask you question. Instead, listen to the question, take few seconds to digest the question, then provide the answers. Allow them to finish asking their question before providing your answers
5. Talking too fast without a clear structure.
One of the things you need to learn before your defense is the power of having a clear structure for all your answers and trying to present them in a way that the panelists will understand. A structure like:
“Thank you for the question, it’s a very interesting one. In response, there are three aspects that come to mind. Firstly, secondly, finally. Does that address your question? Thank you.
6. Not knowing the protocols, the format, and the panel.
So the point here is that we want to avoid surprises. We want to know what’s going to happen. Most universities publish some kind of protocol for thesis defenses, outlining and describing what’s going to happen in the defense, what the format or procedure will be used, and which professors will be on the panel.
It is a mistake, when these protocols are there, but we don’t familiarize ourselves with them. So, read the protocols, attend a few thesis defenses prior to your own, and research the background of the professors on your panel.
In this way, we are a bit better prepared for what might happen during the thesis defense.
7. Being arrogant
You want to be as confident as you possibly can, but you don’t want to be arrogant.
You don’t want to overdo it. What I often see is this — in trying to be confident, in trying to deal with one’s own nervousness, one over-does it. In trying to suppress one’s nervousness, they somehow become over-confident, to the point of being arrogant and unpleasant.
Look, this might depend a little bit on the culture. But in general, people know that a thesis defense is bit of a scary situation, especially if it is a good and reputable university that does things very seriously and very formally — with multiple professors on the panel and maybe even a public audience in the auditorium.
In such a situation it is understandable and even expected that the student or the candidate is a bit nervous, a bit tense, perhaps a little intimidated as well. So nobody’s gonna fail you just because you are a nervous, because you are supposed to be nervous.
Don’t let your nervousness somehow propel you into being arrogant, or disrespectful, or making too many silly jokes, or being over the top defensive and constantly disagreeing with whatever the questioner says.
It is a formal and serious situation, so be serious, and be formal. It’s natural and good to be a little nervous. Because it shows that you are taking this seriously. Don’t be arrogant. At least, I don’t quite like it.
Arrogance does not impress me. Most of the people that I know who are very arrogant are usually hiding some sort of insecurity or shortcoming.
Plan, prepare ahead for your thesis defense, and make sure you avoid the above listed mistakes, best of luck.