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I have to defend my master's thesis in the field of computer science in about one week.

Of course I will put the main focus of the presentation on the thesis itself, i.e. the research question, the methodology and the results.

But besides the evident results, I also feel that writing the thesis thought me some really important personal lessons. For the first time in my student career I think I got a feeling about what research really is about to be - Spending long hours in front of a problem, constantly discarding and revising ideas while trying to stay positive when coping with setbacks and self-doubt. That I eventually finished the thesis despite all struggles was a very positive experience for me and somehow I'd like to mention that in the defense.

I know from other answers on this site that such things seem to depend a lot on the faculty. However, the guidelines of my faculty only specify the hard facts of the defense such as number of senate members, the schedule and the like.

So I wondered, if I sum up my personal lessons and experiences in 1 or 2 slides, would you as a senate member feel that this is appropriate or something that totally is out of place within the context of a defense?

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    These all sound like great things to tell your advisor/mentors privately. But a defense is (at least primarily) a public professional lecture about your research, not about you. – JeffE Jan 3 '15 at 14:35
  • Who is in the defense? (Only you and the committee or more audience; it varies by country.) – Piotr Migdal Jan 4 '15 at 11:47
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That you have made these experiences is probably nothing new for most people who have ever worked in science. Esp. in a thesis -- you do learn a lot. So I think that general issues like:

I got a feeling about what research really is about to be - Spending long hours in front of a problem, constantly discarding and revising ideas while trying to stay positive when coping with setbacks and self-doubt. That I eventually finished the thesis despite all struggles was a very positive experience for me and somehow I'd like to mention that in the defense.

are personally highly relevant, but not really interesting for the members. To be honest, I think they are expected (in a finished thesis).

However, there are a few things you can do, e.g.,

  • thank your supervisor in the beginning/end for the support (e.g., during setbacks and self-doubt) but take care not to damage your credibility or to give the impression that the supervisor did the hard work for you.
  • move from a personal level to a more factual one. For example, what have you tried/discarded and why? But make sure you have a clear structure and focus on the work that you have done,
  • you can show your enthusiasm in your presentation, e.g., in your voice when you present the solution that worked,
  • mention some personal notes as side-note during the presentation.
  • if there's a question period, you'll likely also have the opportunity to provide some context.
  • Perhaps most importantly: Many disciplines want a critical look/reflection on one's own work during the discussion (near the end of your presentation). How do you evaluate your work? Can you take a critical look at it? This does not mean to destroy/sabotage your work bluntly, but to point out that -- while it did the job and was really good, it could have done better given what you have learned while doing the work.

Just make sure that the focus is on the thesis (which usually has a clear structure) and if in doubt, show the hard facts and what you have achieved. And if you got the chance, do a test run with people who have experience with a defense presentation in your discipline.

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A bachelor's or master's degree is about the knowledge that you have gained. A Ph.D., on the other hand, is about the knowledge that you have contributed to humanity. As such, the defense is not really about you: it's about your work, and you need to treat it as such. Think about the other high-level scientific talks that you have seen (or given), and treat your defense in exactly the same way.

That's not to say that you can't weave in personal experiences or anecdotes if they make sense as part of the presentation of the technical content. Some of the best talks that I have ever seen have a component of the personal in them. The important distinction is that any use of the personal should serve to illuminate and illustrate the scientific point, rather than standing apart and distracting from it.

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