Scared of your master thesis defense? I hear you. I have terrified myself. Fortunately, it didn’t turn out to be half as hard as I thought it would be. That’s because I got some really sound advice from some of my friends who went through it before me. And because I found that all so very useful, I thought I’d write some of the ideas out here so that you’ve got access to them too!
Sound good? Then let’s begin!
Know the format
There is no one fixed format for how to do your defense. Instead, it can change from country to country and state to state. For that reason, make sure you know how it will actually work. How many questions will people ask? Who will ask them? What kind of questions can you expect and which ones are off limit?
This is a very important thing to explore, as fear becomes a whole lot more manageable if you can define it.
Do a test run
Get together with a couple of other people who are going to go through the same thing, read each other’s paper and then actually go through the format. Make sure you don’t hold back. Yes, it might be annoying to get asked sharp questions by fellow classmates. Nonetheless, you’d rather they do it so that you’re prepared than have something come out of left field that you completely didn’t expect on the day of your actual defense.
Also, take notes of the questions asked and then do the research so that you know how to defend against them. This can give you the ammunition to come out from under a difficult query.
It’s okay to take a bit of time to answer a question. Learn to take a sip of water to collect your thoughts. Take a look at your papers (even if the answer isn’t to be found there). And then answer. Don’t worry, as long as it doesn’t turn into a dead pause where it’s clear to people that you don’t actually know the answer, nobody will mind. After all, everybody understands these aren’t the easiest of times for you.
As an extra bonus, often defenses are timed. That means that every pause brings you closer to surviving the ordeal!
There is a lot of research that shows that if you can avoid thinking highly negative thoughts, you’ll broaden your perspective and be able to take in more and think of more. For that reason, instead of furiously shuffling through your notes at the time of your defense, take a moment to look at something light-hearted. It doesn’t matter if it’s cat videos, or talking to your friends, or hugging your partner. Whatever makes you feel good is going to help you do better.
So focus on that and before you know, it will all be over and behind you.