7

I am going do do my thesis defense next week. I am not nervous. On the contrary, I am so over-relaxed that my instincts tell me this will cause a problem during my defense.

I am not sure when to take questions, though:

  1. Should I accept the questions during the presentation or should I say that I will answer the questions at the end?
  2. I am thinking of going with the second option, answers at the end. However, what if a jury member asks me a question during the presentation?

Edit: My thesis is on computer science. I'm going to defend it in English.

  • 16
    You should answer questions whenever you are asked. Period – Alexandros Jan 18 '15 at 12:25
  • If you are in complete mastery of what you are going to talk about, there is no need to worry about dos and donts . :) But, certainly, etiquette is necessary. Not just because of the audience can grade your performance, but because of mutual respects. – Megadeth Jan 18 '15 at 12:59
  • 1
    In my experience questions are always asked during the presentation. – Anonymous Physicist Jan 18 '15 at 15:24
  • 2
    It also depends on where your are (which you didn't mention), and the rules and customs of your university. At my defence it was made clear at the beginning that questions should come after the presentation only. – Szabolcs Jan 18 '15 at 16:12
  • 1
    Unless you intend to annoy your committee/jury, answer questions when they ask (as @Alexandros already commented). – paul garrett Jan 18 '15 at 19:33
10

The following is written from my perspective and it reflects my biases.

If someone feels the need to ask a question during your presentation, chances are it is because you failed to explain something properly and they don't want to get lost. I, for one, hate it when a speaker just barrels through difficult material and I have to struggle to keep up (one time, the speaker pulled up a slide full of long lines of lambda calculi and went "as we can clearly see here..."; avoid that). Go through your talk plan carefully, identify the tricky issues, and make sure that you don't have hidden assumptions lurking anywhere. If in doubt, assume that the audience won't be able to follow you unless you explain things carefully. This much should ensure that all the questions come at the end and, more importantly, that they are substantial (i.e., none of this "I didn't quite catch your definition of blah, can you repeat it please?").

As for thanking your advisors, it's appropriate if you keep it short (like 20-seconds-tops short). You already have the acknowledgements of your dissertation to wax poetic all you want.

  • 1
    This is good advice. But even if things are explained with perfect clarity, people might still have questions that they don't want to save until the end! Not because they don't understand, but because they want more information. – Nate Eldredge Jan 19 '15 at 5:13
5

Do's and don't of a thesis defense is hard to answer, but you seem to have two specific questions.

Questions during or after: Adding to Koldito (and I've just seen that Szabolcs also mentioned it), what are the regulations of your defense? My defense was highly regulated -- 30 minutes presentation, 30-45 minutes (or an hour? no idea anymore) for discussion. Under these conditions we practiced to give the talk in 30 minutes and did not plan for many questions, as it was understood that the questions will be asked after the presentation. So if in doubt, go for what is already established in your discipline at your university. I think it's more important to focus on the issues that your talk is a) understandable and b) within the time-frame. If you are asked a question anyway you can either answer it directly if it is necessary for understanding, or -- if possible -- say that you'd like to answer the question in the question period (if you have one). Same with any presentation, some questions divert and are not central, and they're best answered later.

Thanking advisers: Unless an adviser is narcissistic, I think it's enough to say in the beginning who your advisers were. The focus is on your work -- not you, not your advisers -- but what you did. Also you are not doing the presentation for the advisers, but address everyone in the audience. But if in doubt, do what comes natural to you.

3

A thesis defense is really a type of oral examination, and your advisor and committee are the examiners. They can ask questions whenever they want! And it would behoove you to answer them as best you can. As such, it would be wise to prepare your talk with some flexibility, so that even if some time is taken up by questions you can still talk about everything essential, and if there are no questions you don't run out of things to say.

If local custom is that questions be saved until the end, that's fine - but let your advisor/committee enforce that on themselves. If they choose to ask questions in the middle anyway, answer them.

If a question (or line of questions) becomes long and involved, and you are becoming sidetracked, then you could politely suggest resuming the discussion at the end. But let your advisor/committee decide whether they want to do that, or continue discussing that question right then.

If people other than your advisor/committee are present, and you get questions from them, you can answer them briefly if possible; but I would avoid spending a lot of time on their questions. For those folks, you can offer to talk to them further afterwards.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.