What is it like defending a thesis? - PhDData

Access database of worldwide thesis

What is it like defending a thesis?

September 2022

As the conclusion of years of study, the Ph.D. defense, or viva, is not only an essential academic rite of passage but also a highly charged emotional occasion. A dissertation’s academic merits are usually the defense’s primary focus. Many people believe that defense is only an academic ceremony to mark and evaluate the conclusion of a study.

The defense is unlike a typical test in which a student is graded according to a predetermined set of criteria. The defense is more than just a test; it’s a confirmation, a party, and the climax to years of complex study and dedication to a topic.

Emotions are nebulous and hard to weigh accurately. For the applicant, the examiners, and the supervisor, the dissertation defense is a special occasion because of the emotions involved. Recognizing and discussing these emotions is crucial to understanding the defense and its function in a scientific career. However, even though every Ph.D. student, research project, and career path is different, certain universal feelings should be addressed  by students as well as supervisors. 

At first, perfectionism is common among candidates in the days or weeks before submitting their theses because they worry their work is not good enough. Getting out of bed might seem impossible for some other candidates since they are so over the thesis. Upon submitting, some people experience a sense of relief while others experience anxiety. The fear of failing is a genuine concern for many applicants.

During the defense, candidates feel the heat of the committee, their friends and family, and the public eye. Supervisors and examiners also need to be aware of the emotional component and the differences in how various applicant subsets perceive it.

The first step in overcoming anxiety is recognizing and accepting that you are experiencing it. Candidates who did not need significant revisions before the defense worry just as much about passing as those who did.

Relaxation practices, such as deep breathing and mindfulness meditation, may be helpful. As an additional resource, students might seek counseling services offered by the university. Candidates may have less anxiety and more confidence if they are adequately prepared for the day of the defense itself.

Anxiety on the day of the defense may be alleviated by taking a proactive step, such as stopping by coworkers to show thanks. Before and during the opening of their defense, many applicants experience increased anxiety. One might begin a response in a calm and collected manner by taking notes, repeating the question, or asking for clarification. Anxious anticipation of the committee’s decision might make the minutes after the defense seems like hours to the applicant.

Finally, after the decision, a slew of feelings (relief, pleasure, pride, or possibly disappointment, wrath, or fear over the thesis revision) might wash over the person. In the time preceding and during the doctorate defense, emotions may play a significant influence. Candidates would do well to reflect on the function of such feelings so that they may reassure themselves that their experiences are shared and in no way reflect on their qualifications for a Ph.D.

Supervisors’ and examiners’ awareness of the emotional component and familiarity with how various applicant subgroups perceive it, as this is the time of validation of a new scholar, so everyone takes this time as the most crucial point.

Read the last PhD tips