7 Steps to Defend Your Dissertation

Defending your dissertation can be nerve-wracking, especially for inexperienced students. However, it can also turn out to be one of the most satisfactory moments in your academic pursuit if you go in well prepared. For the first-timers, this piece will take you through some easy steps to defend your dissertation.

1. Contextualize it

Writing a dissertation and defending it is something no student can escape unless you want to obtain low grades. But is the process as scary as they put it? Are you going to be queried on every information added to your project? As a student, consider the defense process as a meeting with a publisher seeking to publish your work but then wants more information or clarifications. During the defense, you face a committee whose main objective is to enquire about your project and its relevance to your field of study. You may also have to explain some of your choices, including the methodology and theoretical framework.

2. Know the Boundaries

During the defense, you would only be subjected to questions related to your submitted work. As stated above, you may have to explain your choices leading to the conclusion or findings. Therefore, even if questions should come outside your project, it would be minimal. Such questions aim to extract more information on how your research contributes and expands existing ones. Therefore, stay within your dissertation and master it to avoid surprises. You can also learn a little about related works and how they link to yours.

3. Set the tone

In most fields, students are required to make an opening presentation at defense. If you fall in that category, then be prepared to set the tone for the discussion. The points you highlight during the presentation might be the main focus of the discussion. Therefore, grab this opportunity and make the best of it. Frame your presentation in a way that suits you. Although your examiners have already set questions for you, your presentation can sway them in your favor. They may be forced to frame new questions if you deliver a power presentation. Your focus should be on the viability of your research before coming down to the procedures.

4. Know the committee members

Knowing the composition of the defense panel serves various purposes. It helps you to know their personality and understand their temperament. You can also scrutinize research works they have published to know their ideologies, biases, and interest. Getting to know this helps you to identify areas where your ideologies depart from each panel member. That aside, you also get to know the places you share the same idea. This helps you to prepare very well to meet their expectations.

5. Have a break

Undoubtedly, you need to be well prepared before going in for your defense. You should study your dissertation by heart, and being cognizant of all the main points that can attract examiners’ attention is critical. Also, anticipating possible questions from the panel and preparing for them is required. That notwithstanding, you should still have some break. Don’t sacrifice your sleep or other daily routines just because you have a dissertation to defend. Having some good sleep and rest to refresh your mind for the day.

6. What to wear

How you present yourself to the defense committee is critical. Your dressing alone could determine how confident you are. What you wear or not wear can speak volumes as to your readiness for the job market. At this point, you need to dress like a professional going for a job interview and not as a student. You should be comfortable in your outfit and also look smart.

7. Be in the right mind frame

Being in the right frame of mind and the best of mood is critical when facing your dissertation defense committee. You need to keep your tolerance level high, be well-composed and calm. You can respectfully point out dissatisfactory comments. Some committee members may be irritating, hard, snobbish, or may try hard to make nonsense of your project, not because that’s how they are, but want to check your temperament. Whatever happens, your main business is to answer questions, keep hold of yourself, and don’t be distracted.

Why PhD Candidates Fail Their Program

Out of the total number of students who pursue a Ph.D. program in the UK, 19.5% fail. Out of that, about 16.2% drop from the program, while 3.3% of them fail their viva. This puts students who successfully earn a doctorate at 80.5%. Consequently, most doctoral students are more worried about the tendency of failing out the Ph.D.

Failing a Ph.D. could be every candidates’ worst academic nightmare. Imagine all the time used in learning, research, and lab work going to waste. In this piece, we take you through how you can fail your Ph.D. and ways to avoid that.

How Candidates Fail a PhD

There are two basic ways a Ph.D. candidate can fail a Ph.D. program: i.e., failing the oral defence (viva) and non-completion of the program.


This is when a student decides to quit the Ph.D. program before sitting for the viva examination. Viva is conducted at the final year of the program, i.e., the 3rd or 4th year, which is a disincentive for many students, hence, the dropout. This accounts for most of the numbers of non-completion of Ph.D. some students also leave the program early because:

  • Circumstances beyond control

Life is full of uncertainties, and a decision made today could be overturned by a happening tomorrow. No student would want to leave a program he/she has spent much on in the middle of nowhere. However, circumstances beyond control, including ill health, lack of funds, family issues, can shatter the dream. In some cases, the university may come to the student’s aid, especially for an extraordinary student.

Sometimes, a university may also decide to cut-short the program for nonperforming students. This is when a supervisor believes a student is making progress on their projects.

  • Decision

At a point in time, a student may feel incapable of undertaking a Ph.D. This may be due to the high-stress nature of the program, lack of initial assessment of it, or having an alternative.

Failing the Viva

Aside from a student deciding to quit, presenting a sub-standard dissertation, or failing a viva fail you.

At this level, universities expect students to know the nitty-gritty of writing a top-class dissertation. Therefore, anything below the university’s standard may end you being unqualified to graduate. A thesis may be regarded below average if it is plagiarised, insufficient data, and inconclusive findings. Your examiner may request a rework before conducting a viva examination for you if you are lucky enough. However, if you have already exceeded the allowable deadline without any valid reasons, then you may miss out on the viva exams, and that may account for your failure.

Another possible scenario is when you sit for the viva and fail. This is highly uncommon, but a contributing factor may be when your dissertation is not up to standard and may be very difficult to revise in the shortest possible time.

Ph.D. Failure Rate in the UK & EU

A data by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (now UK Research and Innovation) for 2010-11 show that out of the total number of students who enrol for Ph.D. in the UK or EU, 72.9% of them complete their program within seven years. For the remaining numbers, 80.5% of them complete within 25 years. This puts students who successfully complete their program at four out of five. Most of the students who fail are those who voluntarily exit the program.

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