During the follow-up discussion during the PhD defense, would it be okay if I open up the thesis pdf file to answer some questions, for example to refer to a figure or equations? or should everything be already on the slides and prepared before?

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    It's ok. Don't worry, you are overthinking it. Just make sure that you don't have to browse through folders containing "files with unprofessional content" to get to it. – Federico Poloni Apr 12 '16 at 8:50
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    What you might want to do instead is to prepare an "Appendix" to your presentation which could contain some relevant figures that are not already in the main part. – PatW Apr 12 '16 at 14:27
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    @PatW That's standard practice in many if not all fields (in my case I may have had more supplementary slides than normal ones), but one can't expect to prepare slides for every part of the thesis a questioner might want to reference. – David Z Apr 12 '16 at 14:32
  • @DavidZ Yes of course. The point of my comment was just to emphasize on the possibility to add figures as appendices. Assuming that the presentation already includes some important figures, it's just a task of selecting some that could be interesting enough to have just in case. – PatW Apr 12 '16 at 14:36

While I agree that it would be OK to open a pdf of the thesis to show a specific part as an answer to a question I would like to add:

  • Opening up the thesis and show something in addition to the slides in the middle of the talk would show that the talk was not well prepared. So don't do that and prepare your talk such that this will not be necessary.

  • Having answers and arguments to questions ready without going to the thesis would appear better. Of course, nobody expects you to know every word from your thesis but it is expected that you know all results of your thesis and also all your arguments.

  • Opening the thesis when a question like "on page X in Theorem Y you state that…" comes is totally OK. Especially, since this gives the rest of the audience the chance to follow the discussion.

But finally: It's a thesis defense. It usually not an event where anybody fails terribly. If you know what you have written about and know what you are talking about nothing bad will happen.

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My committee members all showed up to my defense with the printed copies of my thesis that I had left for them for their comments, so if we needed to look something up, there were 5 hardcopies already in the room. It's fine.

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    Bonus points for books is that they don't fail in the same way as computers, and you can stick your fingers in as bookmarks when going around in them. – Lars Viklund Apr 12 '16 at 15:26

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