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I am a 2nd year PhD student. My supervisor ask me to be a jury member in a Master's thesis defense presentation. This is a first for me, so I have some questions.

  • Any tips and guidelines I can follow?
  • What are the things I need to consider while reading the report?
  • What are the criteria I can use to evaluate their presentation?
  • I know I am the most junior person there, is it a good thing if I starte analyzing everything in detail?

I know sometimes it is frustrating when the student's work gets "judged" by how it is presented and not by the core of their contribution. I've experienced this feeling a lot every time I present, I don't want to make the same mistake. For example, I've seen presentations where each jury member talks only about the grammatical mistakes and doesn't ask a single question about the whole contribution.

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I suggest that your first presumption about the student and his/her work is that it is well done. After all, it was taken under the direction of the advisor. However, depending on your field, it may not be possible for you to understand everything in the thesis. That is natural in Mathematics, for example, as people with different specialties use somewhat different thought processes. But, for a Master's level thesis you should understand most of it, at least in general.

Read the thesis and do a mark-up as you go. Work from a paper copy if possible. Be sure to mark things that you don't understand unless that amounts to nearly everything. Marking grammar etc is also helpful. Write your name on this document and at the end of the presentation session give it to the candidate. They will find it very helpful.

During the presentation, see if the questions you marked in the thesis are answered or not. It is easy to check them off as you go.

As to the questions you ask, since you are new at this, stick to asking for clarification on things you didn't understand in the work or in the presentation. Ask for simple, not complex, explanations. Some candidates won't be very good at this and will be overly pedantic since they, too, are new to this.

An experienced person (senior professor) might want to ask a more complex question of the candidate to explore either deeper knowledge of the topic or even general knowledge of the field, but I'd stay away from that sort of thing as a newcomer to this process.

You probably work on different problems than the candidate did so you have a somewhat different perspective. One thing you might suggest is future directions for the candidate. I would prefer to to this by annotating the markup rather than bringing it up in the presentation, however. You can be helpful.

Assume it is fine. Ask for clarifications. Be as helpful as you can. As a beginner, keep negative comments "offline" unless something is essentially wrong. But if you think something is seriously wrong, you can, perhaps, communicate that before the presentation. Perhaps to the candidate's professor through your own, rather than directly.

  • Thank you very much. I agree with everything you said. One last thing though, I feel my that supervisor invited me because there is some similarities with student's work and the work I did during Master's level thesis. Especially when I read the report, I have found that I can give remarks that might be helpful to the student. So, according to your answer, I should give those remarks after the presentation, and not as question that needs to be answered, right ? – U. User Sep 2 '18 at 13:48
  • @U.User, that is probably a judgement call. Afterwards is purely helpful. I'll just note that some people are less "quick" on their feet until they get a lot of practice. So it is less helpful if your question startles them in any way. That can be done on occasion, but I'd leave that to more experienced reviewers until you get more used to it. But if your remarks would be in the form of suggesting future work, rather than suggesting it was a missed opportunity in this work it should be fine. – Buffy Sep 2 '18 at 13:59
  • I doubt that you are actually expected to say anything and if more experienced "players" are carrying the conversation forward, just let them. – Buffy Sep 2 '18 at 13:59
  • Okay, well noted, thank again for your time and answers! – U. User Sep 2 '18 at 16:18
  • @Buffy - In the juries I've been, every member has a turn to make questions. Thus, every one is expected to have at least one reasonably interesting question at least. – Pere Jul 13 at 16:55

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