Defending Your Dissertation

I receive many questions when my clients prepare for their final defense.

  • How much detail should I give on the statistics?
  • What about the results section? Should I give only significant results?
  • Also, the results and discussion section are somewhat repetitive. Can I combine some parts of this?
  • Should I discuss limitations of the study?
  • How about future directions?

Here is my advice to them:

  • Keep the presentation to 20 minutes.
  • Use 30 or fewer PowerPoint slides.
  • The prospectus defense was the time to lay out the theory and methodology.
    • Therefore, spend 2‒3 minutes on the literature review (give the big picture and mention the seminal research).
    • Spend another 2 minutes reviewing the methodology.
  • Spend 5 minutes on the results.
    • Unless this is a methodological study‒spend no time defending why you used the statistical methods you did. You had to do that during the prospectus defense.
    • Restate the research question and summarize the result of the analysis for that research question (i.e., the null hypothesize was not rejected. The differences between the groups were not significant.)
    • Do not include tables from your results section. The results of the analyses are in excruciating detail in your results section. Refer your committee to the document if there are any questions.
  • Your results and discussion should not be repetitive in your dissertation.
  • The results section is where you report the results‒ “just the facts, ma’am.”
  • The discussion section is not the place to rehash the data‒no numbers, no more charts, figures, or tables.
  • Now, you have 10‒11 minutes to spend on the discussion and recommendations for research. That is what they are waiting for.
    • You are the expert on your dissertation. They want to know how you synthesized and evaluated the work you did and your suggestions for further research.
    • You should now be able to discuss your findings in light of current research. 
    • Tie your findings to your literature review, draw conclusions, and discuss the implications for practice.
    • Discuss the limitations of your study and how those guided your analysis and interpretation of the findings.

You want a defense to generate discussion (hopefully all positive!) among the committee and you. As you wrap up your 20 minutes, they should be chomping at the bit to jump in and begin a lively discussion. “Your point on X was excellently put, I’ve done recent research like that.” “I was just reading an article on Y, and I see your point about…”

By this time, they should be treating you more like a colleague. You would also like them to be discussing your results in light of things they are doing and talking among themselves.  You can sit back and bask in a job well done!

Good luck!