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Preparing for a Master's Defense

A guide for graduate students preparing for a master's defense in Arts, Sciences and Engineering.

Before Defense

Prepare for the Defense

After completing the research required for your thesis, you should inform your graduate administrator that you have started the process to prepare for your defense. A master’s thesis defense committee must include your advisor, a second faculty member from your program, and a faculty member from outside of your department. 

Please note: If the advisor is not in a student's program, the committee would consist of four members: the advisor, two faculty in the program, and one outside faculty member.

Selecting a Defense Date

When you and your advisor begin thinking about defending, check the academic calendar for deadlines. Defenses can be held on any day the Arts, Sciences and Engineering (AS&E) Graduate Studies Office is open for business (i.e., not weekends, evenings, or holidays, or the days between Christmas and New Year’s).

You must reserve a room for your oral presentation and for your closed exam. Check with your graduate administrator to determine who will schedule the room for your thesis defense.

Let your graduate administrator know as soon as all of the members of your committee have agreed to a specific date and time for the defense. Your graduate administrator will advise you of any program-specific requirements for the defense, as well as prepare your thesis defense paperwork. They will also help you determine who will schedule the room for your thesis defense and who will obtain the signatures for your paperwork. 

You should provide your committee members at least one week to read and comment on your thesis before the thesis defense.

Participating Via Video Conferencing

While you and your advisor must both be physically present in the room for the defense, other committee members are allowed to participate in the defense remotely via Skype or other video conferencing technology. This must be approved by the AS&E dean of graduate studies before the dissertation is registered for defense.

International Students and Work Visas

We strongly recommend that international students meet with an International Services Office (ISO) representative. The ISO will provide information on visa options, documentation, and timelines for applying for a visa for employment in the United States.

Registration Categories for Defense

In your final semester (the semester in which you defend), if you have completed all your credit requirements, you will register for one of the following registration categories:

899: Master’s Thesis—Non-credit bearing registration category for a master’s student who has completed all of the requirements for the degree except the thesis and is in residence as a full-time student.

895: Continuation of Enrollment—Non-credit bearing registration category for a master’s student who has completed all of the requirements for the degree except the thesis and is not in residence as a full-time student.

For more information about these categories, see the registration page.

Thesis Writing and Guidelines

The Preparing Your Thesis manual is a great resource to help you bring your dissertation up to the required standard of organization, appearance, and format for the University of Rochester. While this document is specifically for PhD Dissertations, the same formatting rules apply for master’s theses. Before preparing the defense copy of your thesis, check the contents of the manual carefully to help avoid mistakes that can be time-consuming and costly to correct.

Before beginning your thesis you should consult with your advisor for your department or program’s preferred style guide (APA, MLA, Chicago).

Including material produced by other authors in your thesis can serve a legitimate research purpose, but you want to avoid copyright infringement in the process. For detailed instructions on avoiding copyright infringement, please see ProQuest’s Copyright Guide.

Printing and Binding Your Thesis for Defense

You must provide copies of the thesis to your committee members. You should check with your committee members to see if they prefer printed or electronic copies (or both). Printed copies do not need to be printed on heavyweight, expensive paper unless there is the need to do so for figures and images. 

Printing and binding a thesis can be expensive. You can use the Copy Center or FedEx Office to print and bind your thesis.

Registering Your Thesis

“Registering” simply means that you have presented a thesis document, which you intend to defend, to the AS&E dean of graduate studies. Your thesis must be approved as ready to defend by your advisor, as noted by the advisor signature on the Master’s Thesis Defense Appointment Form (this form can only be accessed by staff).

Your defense must be at least five full working days after you register. When registering, you must present a bound defense copy of your thesis to the Graduate Studies Office.

The copy of your thesis that you register will be returned to you usually within a few days before or after the defense, with possible corrections that must be addressed in the final thesis.

The Defense

Below you will find suggestions to help you get ready for the defense and information to give you a sense of what to expect.

Know the Rituals

The best way to know what happens and the best way for you to prepare for your defense is to regularly attend the defenses of your colleagues. You should also speak with your advisor to get a sense of his/her specific expectations of a defense.

Guidelines for Presentations

Use PowerPoint or Other Software to Create Slides

You should prepare a presentation of the research that comprises the thesis. Your slides should encapsulate the work and focus on its most salient contributions. In preparing, ask yourself these questions: “What do I want people to know about my thesis? What is the most important information that I can present and talk about?” Here are some basic tips:

  • Use text large enough to be readable by the audience (especially text from figures)
  • Ensure graphics and tables are clear
  • Don’t clutter your slides—if necessary, have things come up on mouse clicks
  • Use spell check and proofread your slides
  • Practice your presentation with your peers
  • Work on pronunciation, if required
  • Time your presentation to ensure it will fit the allotted time while allowing time for questions

Public Lecture

If your defense includes a public lecture, we recommended that you do a trial run of your presentation a day or two before your defense in the room that has been booked for your public lecture. This will allow you to familiarize yourself with the space and the equipment and to address any problems that arise during the trial run.

Plan your public lecture to allow enough time for questions. Present enough information so that the audience understands what you did, why you did it, what the implications are, and what your suggestions are for future research.

The date/time/location of your defense and thesis topic are advertised to your program and beyond. Friends and family are welcome to attend the public lecture. Faculty and students in the audience are given the opportunity to ask questions.

Dress Professionally

Plan to dress professionally for the defense in the same way you would if presenting a paper at a conference or for a job interview. You will be standing for a long time on the day of your defense, which will be important to keep in mind when selecting shoes.

Items to Bring to the Defense

Essentials that you should bring include:

  • Your presentation
  • A laser pointer
  • A copy of your thesis document
  • A pen or pencil
  • Something to record comments
  • A bottle of water 

The Closed Examination

You will be asked to leave the room while your committee reviews your program of study, grades, and decides whether the thesis is acceptable/not acceptable. The committee decides whether members will ask sequential questions or whether each member will be allotted a specific time period for questioning.

You will be called back into the examining room and questioning will begin. After all questions have been addressed, you will be asked to leave the room while your committee decides the outcome of the exam. You will be asked to return to the room to be informed of the outcome.

Address Questions with Confidence

  • Listen to the entire question no matter how long it takes the faculty member or student to ask it (take notes if necessary).
  • Pause and think about the question before answering.
  • Rephrase the question succinctly.
  • Answer the question to the best of your ability. If you do not know the answer, remain calm and say so in a professional way.
  • Remember that no one will know the ins and outs of the thesis and your research materials as well as you. You are the foremost expert in the thesis topic and YOU know the research involved. Be positive!

Outcomes

At the conclusion of your defense, your committee will either determine that you have passed or failed the exam. In the event that the outcome is a failure of the exam, you may request reexamination after four months have passed. 

After the Defense

Final Corrected Copies of the Thesis

You can submit the final corrected copies of your thesis as soon as you address any remaining comments that were brought up during the defense or noted in the registration copy of your thesis, which will be returned to you usually within a few days before or after the defense.

You need to submit two unbound copies of your final thesis to the AS&E Graduate Studies Office.

Department/Program Requirements Prior to Termination of Student Status

Each department and program has its own process for students who are ending their student status. Be sure to check with your graduate administrator to determine if there is additional paperwork that you need to complete before your student status is terminated.

Publishing Your Final Thesis

The University of Rochester requires all master’s thesis candidates to deposit their theses for publication with the University libraries. Two hard copies of the thesis (unbound) are required by the Graduate Studies Office to provide to the University libraries.

Binding Your Final Master’s Thesis

Your department may want a bound copy of your thesis. Please check with your graduate administrator to determine this and how the cost of binding is covered. You may also want a bound copy for yourself and others.