It is no doubt if you are a PhD research student that you are going to have one of the most important days of your life. You have set an alarming home preparation emergency and being alert for a month or maybe more trying to prepare yourself for your PhD dissertation. You have digested dozens of scientific articles and vacuumed the literature, you might even have practiced your presentation a thousand times and above all this, you still very stressed and not sure how you are going to deal with the opponent and the review committee questions and discussion!
If you are going through all these PhD student-horrified series, then you are typically normal! However, there are few tips if you follow them I can assure you that your dissertation would go super smooth with no need to have all the exaggerated preparation and uncontrolled overreacted response.
1. Trust yourself
When you go to your dissertation you must know that no one in the entire world knows as much as you know in your thesis work. This is basically because you have done it yourself and you know the deepest and most complex details in your performed art. All the attendees of your public PhD defense including your opponent and the review committee are coming to hear you, to discuss the knowledge you have gained during your PhD studies and they are expecting that you will add something valuable to them and simply this is your major findings in your research work which no one has better understanding than you on the most critical technical aspect of it. In this context, you should realize that you are not going to a battle or an exam that you have to pass. Instead think of how and what is the best way to give a mini-lecture on newly existing science sourced from your research work to a scientific community.
2. Get to know your opponent in advance
It is not necessary to book a fancy table in a good restaurant and buy a ticket to travel to your opponent to get to know him/her neither spoiling the opponent with weird phone calls or a massive number of emails. Just to have it straight forward, google your opponent and read about his/her field of interest. Your opponent most likely will be interested in how to translate your findings to fit his/her own interests. How he/she will utilize the results for a better understanding of his/her work. Now you have a very well-defined strategy to orient your preparation towards expecting discussion goals. Try to enrich your knowledge of the opponent’s work and how this could be linked to yours. Try to search for similarities and differences, for instance, in techniques used and why you have chosen yours over the existing techniques including opponent’s ones. How your research would be beneficial to your opponent. Try to give some examples where you cite some of his/her research and give credits for it.
3. Focus on the weak points of your thesis work
As I mentioned earlier, no one knows more than you do in your research work. Thus you know what are the strength and weak points of your work and therefore they are worth focusing on. Try to point them out and start a search for what others have made to overcome and what alternatives you would choose to solve. How others discussed such points or something similar. Any pieces of evidence that support your clause or at least an indirect stand of your basis. Focusing on the weak points means that you have 50% control over the bullet-criticized questions and full coverage of your dissertation sorrows. The remained 50% is just distributed on questions and discussion that you already expected where your most powerful knowledge will exist. I had before only one week to prepare for my PhD half-time review where my supervisor just called and told me “your half-time review is the next week!” I had to go through two of my big published papers. It was very narrow time, however, I dug directly to my drawbacks and weak points and tried to prepare for these because I know that I have enough knowledge to control the rest even in short time and believe me, The opponents actually tried to nail me on those but I was already prepared and had my review discussion went super smooth.
4. Exercise the day before your dissertation
I know it might sound crazy but believe me this is the most practical way to release all your negative thoughts and washout your stress. You don’t have to go to the gym if you don’t want however, some outdoor running exercises would be more than enough to get your muscles stretched and have extra tissue oxygenation. The Cortisol, a major stress hormone, will be recycled during exercise and your heart will circulate precious blood-containing high amounts of oxygen to your brain getting it ready and fresh and I bet you need it clear. Your neck muscles will relax and the tension of your body is now baseline. there are also some breathing exercises where you can master them at home or even right before your dissertation. Now physically, you are well prepared to face your challenge.
5. Set your presentation materials as early as possible
Being early at the location of your presentation gives you enough time to make final decisions on how the flow of the presentation would look like. try to play your slides before the public defense started to avoid any surprises during the presentation. taking control over the location; where to stand, how and where your movement will be, space to interact, light and technical aspects, etc.. all these give you the required confidence for performance. The more you get used to the place the better your act towards a perfect presentation. don’t forget to trap your opponents in well-expected questions for the presentation, for example, make some slides very clear to understand while others have them sort of ambiguous but understandably so your audience or opponents will ask about while in fact, it’s your kind gifted-trap to expose your knowledge in broader spectra.
Finally, always remember the key to succeed your PhD dissertation; No one knows as much as you know in your research work!!