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It's a very long time ago since I defended mine, so I'm not sure how much good this advice will be.

Things I knew afterwards that I wish I had known before:

1. Relax. If it's got to this stage, they have already decided it's OK. All they are really doing is making sure it was you who wrote it, and not your supervisor, by asking you a few questions to see if you understand your own thesis.

2. Your presentation doesn't matter much. Just give big picture, main points, sit down, and let them question you.

3. They are trying to think of intelligent questions to ask to show they have read and understood your thesis. Also, if there's something they dislike, or find questionable, this is their chance to let you know. You don't have to counter or demolish all their critiques. You just need to show you understand the issue. You can either suggest how it could be resolved, or if it can't be resolved easily, you can always add a line or two to acknowledge the problem. No argument is watertight.

Have fun!

I concur with Nick. Relax. You'll know more about your thesis topic than anyone in the room. This may be the last time you get 3-5 people to carefully read a piece of your research, so enjoy it.

From the perspective of someone who just defended a dissertation last May (in political science, not economics, mind you) I'd just add to Nick's comments that if you trust your committee and you've made sure to address all of their concerns in your previous drafts, you'll ace it. The few cases of real drama in PhD and Master's defences I'm aware of seem to have been the result of either the student ignoring a supervisor's warnings that the dissertation isn't ready to defend, or where the external had expressed real concerns but the committee rushed the student to defence, with disastrous results.

Personally, I prepared for my defence by writing up a series of cheat sheets and responses on my dissertation's main points, the weakest areas of my argument, and those areas in which I knew there would be questions (methodology, theory, future research directions, areas of particular interest to individual committee members, etc.). Kind of like briefing notes. I think I also re-read the whole thing a couple of times in the preceding week or two as well.

The defence can be really fun. If you know your dissertation inside out, there's nothing like engaging in a high-level conversation about the stuff you've been obsessing over for the past five years. A successful defence has to be a top-five life experience. Good luck!

I defended my dissertation a year and a half ago. Here are my observations in reflection on my experience:

As other have already mentioned, you know the material probably better than anybody in the room, so questions about specific details are easy to answer.

Questions about why you took a certain approach are somewhat more difficult and took some preparation and foresight to answer.

Questions about how your research could apply to some other unrelated topic are even more difficult, and require you to provide an answer on the spot.

And the hardest of all questions ask you to explain how some basic economic concept relates to your research. For example, during a classmates' defence, the external examiner (Jim McGee) asked her to explain how the 2nd welfare theorem related to her thesis; the answer was not at all obvious.

My main advice:

Keep any extra slides when you trim down your presentation (just move them to the back). I found they came in handy when answering more specific questions.

Wear clinical strength anti-perspirant!

Good luck!

I can't really give you any advice on how to defend your thesis.

However if you find yourself looking for some comic relief to perhaps calm you down, might I suggest watching a video of one Canadian's Initiative that you may or may not find Worthwhile:

[note you will want to have some (not a lot) volume for this, so don't play it if someone needs some peace and quiet]


I also concur with Nick.


The day before reread your dissertation cover to cover. Someone on your committee will be charged with asking you about the background discussion in chapter 2 which you haven't thought about in 12 months.

Evolution has prepared you to fight a tiger. So you must
do everything normally to help you relax: your usual breakfast etc except...

Wearing a suit or a jacket and tie will help your posture and your physical confidence.

Your are a/theworld expert in your topic.

Good luck.

Nick's classic advice on how to present a paper is still worth reading.

I'm sure you're pro at working out the number of slides you can get through in a presentation, but it always surprises me how often people don't make those basic arithmetical calculations (20 minutes divided by 40 slides gives me 30 seconds per slide, can I explain this in 30 seconds?)

Nick sums it up well.

I never had to do an oral defence; MIT did away with them long before I arrived and legend for why goes something like this....

Prof. A, on his to a student's thesis defence, stops at the men's room, where he encounters Prof. B, also on the thesis committee, washing his hands. They greet, but are interrupted by a sound from one of stalls....someone is being violently ill. "Do you think they need help?" says Prof. A? "I'm sure it's nothing," says Prof. B., "Probably just the thesis candidate."

The legend goes on to say that at the next departmental meeting, they eliminated the oral defence. As Nick noted, if you've gotten to that stage, they've decided they're going to say yes, so they felt the stress they put people through wasn't worth it.

Everything previous commenters have said has been sound advice. In addition:

Don't suppose that just because your audience will be familiar with certain topics that they won't ask questions about them anyway. The questions are not necessarily for their information; sometimes they're to evaluate your understanding. Be prepared to explain the basics. Also, be prepared to explain any numerical or statistical techniques you have used.

When discussing a result, include a plain-language description of the finding and its significance. Make sure to describe how it fits into the larger context of what's going on in your field.

I found it helpful to think about how I would teach my results in a class on the subject. That may or may not work for you, depending on your topic.

Have fun. Never again will so many people be paying so much attention to your work. Milk it for all it's worth.

This is a bureaucratic hoop that you have to jump through (actually, walk through). Your main goal is not to get your thesis approved because, as others have said, that has pretty much been decided (Congratulations!). Your main goal is to avoid giving the committee ideas for non-trivial revisions. So, don't get caught up too much in the moment of discussing what you have obsessed about for years and start pointing out potential additional things that you might have done (e.g. additional but marginal econometric tests).

Thanks for your help, everyone! Really appreciate it.

I still have way too many slides. I still need to pare some down. Never realized how difficult it would be to reduce so many years of research into a 1 hour public lecture.

Mike: Just tell us the basic story in a blog post. When you've done that, your presentation will be easy. Hell, just pretend you are dictating a blog post!

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