Select to hear or see audio/video on this topicThe oral defense of your dissertation is, in essence, your formal introduction to your new colleagues—you are the expert on your subject. In the defense you’ll be expected to cogently and clearly explain your work and how it fits with other research and scholarship in your field. The exact nature of the oral defense varies by discipline and department, so it’s vital that you talk to your committee chair about what to expect and how to prepare. The defense is usually scheduled for two hours and is sometimes open to the public. You may or may not be expected to give a brief presentation at the beginning of the defense.

Preparing for your Defense

Besides talking to your dissertation advisory committee chair, you should also speak with the other members of your committee to assess their areas of interest and concern. This will help you anticipate the kinds of questions you’ll be asked. Be sure to bring a copy of the full dissertation with you for reference. Your committee members may have questions about your methodology; the validity, credibility, or relevance of your sources; how you interpret your results; or how your research relates to other work being done in your discipline, among other possibilities.

Presentation Tips

If you’re expected to make a presentation, find out how long it should be, although eight to ten minutes is typical.

During the Defense

The defense is a conversation. You will be asked questions, but you can also ask some, and you should not be surprised if committee members talk to each other, disagree with you or each other, or even challenge your ideas.

Common Questions

One way to prepare is to write out answers to the questions you anticipate and rehearse them out loud. Don’t memorize them—you need to be agile—but become familiar with them.

Following are some examples of the types of general questions often asked in a defense. Many questions will be more specific to your work, and they may even refer to specific pages of your dissertation.