Preparing for a PhD Defense
Table of Contents
- Before Defense
- Preparing to Start
- Nominate a Faculty Member to Serve as Chair for Your Defense
- Selecting a Defense Date
- International Students and Work Visas
- Registration Categories for Defense
- Dissertation Writing and Guidelines
- Preparing Your Dissertation for Defense
- Registering Your Dissertation for the Final Oral Exam
- The Defense
- After the Defense
Before you can start your thesis you must:
- Complete all courses, exams, and research requirements
- Meet with your advisory committee to ensure that everyone agrees that the work is ready to defend
- Decide on a date for the defense
- Inform your graduate administrator that you have started the process to prepare for your defense
A chair is appointed for each PhD oral defense to monitor and promote fairness and rigor in the conduct of the defense. To help eliminate pre-established judgments on the candidate’s work, the chair should be from a different program/department than the student. For more information about chair responsibilities, read the instructions for the chair.
You must identify a faculty member to serve as chair for your defense. The chair must be:
- A current full-time faculty member at assistant professor rank or higher
- Outside the department offering the degree program, or outside your advisor's department (interdisciplinary degree programs only)
- Someone who has not had prior involvement in your research
The selection of the chair is subject to the approval of the department/program, th Arts, Sciences and Engineering dean of graduate education and postdoctoral affairs, and the University dean of graduate studies.
The chair must be physically present during the entire defense, including the public oral presentation (if applicable) and the questioning session. The chair is welcome to read and comment on the dissertation and/or the defense presentation, but this is not required. The chair does not need to be an expert in your research area.
It is your responsibility to get a copy of the final dissertation to the chair at least one week prior to the defense.
You should begin scheduling the actual defense date three months in advance to ensure that your advisor, committee members, and chair are able to be present and that rooms are available on the date and time selected.
Defenses can be held on any day the University’s Graduate Studies Office is open (not weekends, evenings, holidays, or the days between Christmas and New Year’s). Check the academic calendar for important dates and deadlines.
Use the PhD calendar to determine the deadline dates for getting your paperwork to the Office of Graduate Education and Postdoctral Affairs and department committee.
When all committee members and your chair agree to a specific date and time for the defense, inform your graduate administrator as soon as you possibly can, but no later than six weeks prior to your defense date. Your graduate administrator will advise you of any program-specific requirements for the defense as well as work with you to prepare for your thesis defense. They will also help you determine who will schedule the room for your thesis defense.
You should provide your committee members at least two weeks to read and comment on your dissertation before the date you need to register your dissertation.
Participating Via Video Conferencing
While you, your advisor, and the chair must all 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 so long as all committee members agree to the arrangement. This must also be approved by the AS&E dean of graduate education and postdoctoral affairs and the University dean of graduate studies before the dissertation is registered for defense.
Someone other than you and your committee must handle the IT setup and be on standby for any problems. If anyone involved finds that remote participation is interfering with the defense, he or she can request that the defense be rescheduled.
We strongly recommend that international students meet with an International Services Office (ISO) representative as soon as permission to start writing is granted. The ISO will provide information on visa options, documentation, and timelines for applying for a visa for employment in the United States.
You will register for one of the following categories while preparing your defense:
- 999: Dissertation—Indicates the PhD student has completed all of the requirements for the degree except the dissertation and is in residenceas a full-time student
- 995: Continuation of Enrollment—Indicates the PhD student has completed all of the requirements for the degree except the dissertation and is not in residenceas a full-time student
See the registration page for more information about these categories.
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. Before preparing the defense copy of your dissertation, check the contents of the manual carefully to help avoid mistakes that can be time-consuming and costly to correct.
Before beginning your dissertation, 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 dissertation 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.
The University requires that you provide copies of the dissertation to your committee members and exam chair. 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.
In order to register your dissertation, you or your graduate administrator will need to create a record on the Graduate Studies PhD Completion website. This record will include:
- Degree information
- Past degrees
- Contact information
- The defense version of your dissertation as a PDF
- Other relevant documents
The version of your dissertation attached to your online record is considered the registration copy.
When your PhD completion record is finalized, committee members will receive emails with links to access your record and approve your dissertation to progress to defense. You’ll need to provide copies of the dissertation identical to the registration copy to all members of your committee, including the chair, at least two weeks before the record is finalized. Everyone but the chair is required to comment or sign off on the dissertation before it is submitted.
There may be deadlines for registering your dissertation specific to your program. Consult with your graduate administrator to ascertain those deadlines and follow them carefully.
After all committee members have provided their approval, your thesis will be reviewed by your faculty director/department chair, the AS&E dean of graduate education and postdoctoral affairs, and the office of the University dean of graduate studies. When all of these officials have approved your committee and dissertation for defense, your dissertation is considered registered. You will be able to track these approvals in your online record and will receive a confirmation email when approvals are complete.
The GEPA Office and the AS&E dean of graduate education and postdoctoral affairs, as well as the University Graduate Studies Office, may make corrections to the PDF of your dissertation. This annotated copy of your dissertation, along with the original version, will be stored in the PhD completion website. You are not allow to distribute updated versions of your dissertation prior to the defense, but be sure to incorporate any corrections before uploading your final dissertation to ProQuest®.
After the defense, if the committee has required major revisions to be approved by one or more of its members, it is your responsibility to provide them with the corrected final version for their approval. They will be asked to submit written confirmation of that approval to the University Graduate Studies Office. Failure to do so could delay conferral of your degree.
After the defense, you will receive additional instructions by email for completion of all PhD degree requirements.
It is important to walk into the defense knowing that your committee wants you to pass. Even if criticism is harsh, it is meant to be constructive. The defense is not solely an opportunity for the committee to compliment and congratulate you for the work you have done. It is also meant to challenge you and force you to consider tough questions.
The best way to prepare for your defense is to regularly attend the defenses of your colleagues throughout your graduate program, not just several weeks prior to your own defense.
You can also talk to people in your department who already defended to find out what their defenses were like. You should also speak with your advisor to get a sense of his/her specific expectations of a defense.
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 read 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
If your defense includes a public lecture, we recommended that you do a trial run a day or two before in the room that has been booked for your 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.
Friends and family are welcome to attend your public lecture. Faculty and students in the audience are given the opportunity to ask questions.
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. You might want to keep this in mind when selecting the shoes you will wear for your defense.
Essentials for your public lecture include:
- Your presentation
- A laser pointer
- A copy of your dissertation
- A pen or pencil
- A note pad
- A bottle of water
You will be asked to leave the room while your committee reviews your program of study, and decides whether:
- The thesis is acceptable/not acceptable
- Whether members will ask sequential questions or whether each member will be allotted a specific time period for questioning
The person to start the questioning is designated. 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 by the chair of your exam committee.
- 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.
- 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!
Possible outcomes include:
- Acceptable with minor or no revisions (no further approval required)
- Acceptable with major revisions in content or format (in this case, one or more committee members must be responsible for overseeing and approving the major revisions before the final copies are submitted)
- Not acceptable
You can submit the final corrected copies of your dissertation as soon as you address any remaining comments that were brought up during the defense or noted in the registration copy of your dissertation, which will be returned to you usually within a few days before or after the defense. You can take up to one semester following the defense to address any comments, during which you can remain a full-time student. Your degree conferral date will depend on when you submit the final corrected copies of your dissertation.
The day after your defense, you will receive an email from the University dean of graduate studies that provides instructions on how to:
- Submit the final corrected copies of your dissertation through ProQuest
- Provide authorization for the release of your dissertation through UR Research
- Complete a mandatory online exit survey
- Verify to the University dean of graduate studies’ office that the dissertation has been submitted
The University of Rochester requires all doctoral candidates to deposit their dissertations for publication with ProQuest Dissertation Publishing and with the University libraries. Hard copies are not required. The library receives an electronic copy of the dissertation from ProQuest, but students must give the University permission to obtain it.
For questions regarding publishing through ProQuest, contact Author Relations at firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 521-0600 ext. 77020.
Check with your graduate administrator to see if your department wants a bound copy of your dissertation, and, if so, how the cost of binding is covered.
If you want a bound copy for yourself or your family, you can purchase one through ProQuest.