Thesis defence tips

I would like to share with you that I passed my viva a.k.a thesis defence. It was probably the most nerve wrecking  60 minutes of my life.

I wont deny that i was nervous, but it was until 1 hour before i enter the viva room that i started to feel the tension growing in me.

Only because I was told that both of my examiners already have their own decision before I come in to defend my thesis. The decison is not final until I have presented my research and argue my point in doing the research. For those who is not familiar with the thesis defence process, it goes something like this

  1. Examiners discuss with the committee their decision based on the candidate thesis they have examined
  2. Candidate (me) enters the room and present their research for about 15 minutes
  3. Examiners ask questions about the candidate research and answer their queries
  4. Examiners discuss again their decision if they change their mind for final decision
  5. The chairperson announce the final decision either they pass or had to reviva (Re-defend your thesis at another period of time with improvements on our thesis) or fail based on the University requirements.

Note: this procedure differs between schools (faculty) and university itself.

*This only apply to master candidate, there will be one internal examiner (from other school/faculty) & one external examiner (from other university). Both examiners usually are those who is expert in the research topic you are researching on.

* If the candidate passed their viva, candidate must send in the corrected thesis within the length of time given by the examiner based on the list of corrections that needs to be done in their thesis.

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So what happens in the viva room? No it didn’t go like this:

But here’s a little tips….

1.  Defend your thesis but do not be defensive 

Though we do have the right to defend our argument, why we did certain things , and choose certain methods in our research. However, I would recommend not to be too defensive about our research for in the end, examiners are there to help us make our thesis better and how to strengthen it based on their expertise that we may have overlooked if they didn’t examine it.

2. Be courteous

Always remain humble and respectful of the expertise of the examiners because we don’t know everything, so their suggestion on how to improve our thesis is actually a valuable information to strengthen our thesis. A viva,should always be seen as a platform to make our thesis better and not like a court where people judge your work. Because in the end, only we know our research, so we are also supposed to be an expert of our own research.

This means, the examiners may be the expert in their own expertise but at the end of the viva, we are supposed to be the expert of our research title because the examiners may or may not have done the research that you are researching on.

In my case, my research was rather new unexplored field. I apologize I cannot share with you what my research are about due to confidentiality. But what i can share with you is that, since my research is still new area of study, it gives me the advantage to share about my research more to the examiners rather than them giving their expertise advice on my research. They did give crucial advice on how to strengthen my thesis and restructure it but the research itself i was working on, goes back to me to rewrite it in a way that is more clear and better version.

3. Replace ‘uhhmm’ with ‘silence’ 

One thing I did not realize I was doing was that, I replace my ‘uhmm’ with ‘silence’ , by slowly taking the time to think of what I was going to answer. Though I admit that I was nervous, but pausing to silence and taking time to flip my notes helped me to get my thoughts together and recall the things I did in my research before giving my answer. This is not a race against time, do apply that when you present your slides if you can. Though I am still learning how to not rely on my slide too much, it is important to make a clear but simple slides that can jog back your memory of how you did your research. My way would be highlighlting certain keyword or point in the slides.

4. Take your time

Many people tend to talk really fast just because they have a limited time to present, when it is actually more important to get the message out than getting the slide to finish (slide presentation is optional, you can do without it if you want). Talking fast will not get the message into the examiners head fast. Take your time, the examiners have all the time they need to hear you out. They can wait.

5. Relate and emphasize

Tips from my supervisor: always relate back what you do with your research objective and research questions so they can see the links between one and another. Emphasize certain keywords, phrase or facts that is important for the audience to understand so that they can keep up with what you were trying to say.

Eg: Previous studies focused only on  1)___ , 2) ___ ,  3)___ , but they have not explored on 4) __________ . My research focuses on  5) ____ .

So what you do is pause for one second for each point you want to stress out and say it in a lower tone but clear to emphasize your point.

6.  Thank everyone.

Whatever the decision made are for the best for our research, no matter what it is thank the examiner for their suggestions and discuss with your supervisor afterwards. Afterall, they have spent their time and expertise looking into your thesis amidst their busy schedule. So don’t take it too hard on yourself if it didn’t go the way we want, because our research does not end even if we have passed our viva. There is still corrections to be made. So whatever happens, you have passed one more stage of your research journey.

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For this, I thank my examiner for helping me to calm down, I did not realize my anxiety was showing. The examiner helped me to make me feel welcomed to share my research rather than making me feel judged, so it did help me to losen up a bit and calm myself down before presenting my research. Thesis defence is a medium for candidate to share their research and what they have done through out the entire years spent working on it. In my case, the examiner was very curious of the research topic I was working on, so they were rather keen to know how I did my research and what I was trying to say in my thesis. Sometimes, the things you wrote in your thesis can only make sense when you explain it to the examiners so, be brave to share with them how you did your research….it is afterall YOUR research. How you do that, its up to your own creativity. Good luck!!

p/s: also, thanks to my supervisor…if you are reading this😛

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