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What happens during an oral defense

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I'm completing my Masters in North America and at my school, the first 10 minutes will be providing a summary of my paper, and then opening up to discussion/questions. What type of questions will professors ask? Also, is it ok or wrong to ask my supervisor for a mock defense in advance of the actual one?

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4 hours ago, gradschoolprobs said:

I'm completing my Masters in North America and at my school, the first 10 minutes will be providing a summary of my paper, and then opening up to discussion/questions. What type of questions will professors ask? Also, is it ok or wrong to ask my supervisor for a mock defense in advance of the actual one?

In my experience, professors tend to ask questions related to your study, especially on the rationale and limitations. As long as you know your study well and can justify it, you should be fine. You may come across questions that you have not thought about/no answers for. Don't panic. Just thanks for the question/suggestion and indicate that you will look into that in future. This tactic should get you through most of the time. Occasionally, you may then be asked for your thoughts on these difficult questions. In this case, the professor is more like determining whether you can think broader based on your findings/knowledge than giving you a difficult time. Something like, "Based on what we know so far, it might be such and such, which we need to look into further." 

It is of course okay to ask for a practice defense, preferably one in front of your department, if possible. This way, you get to present in front of others and get some questions. 

Good luck!

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In the event that you feel defensive, keep in mind that you're probably not being attacked. Instead, you're being asked questions as described in @Hope.for.the.best's posts, or you're being given "notes" on how to comport yourself as a professional academic, committee members are thinking aloud, and/or they're raising the bar on you incrementally to see how high you can jump.

A tactic that is available (but you should not use too often), is to say "I don't know" when you don't. I don't recommend saying "I never thought of that" with a sense of flat footed wonder. Instead, if you're presented with a concept that you did not anticipate, I recommend a nod and a measured response.

IRT asking your supervisor for a mock defense, I suggest that you don't make that request. You should have friends/peers who can perform that function for you.

In the event that you're a worrier or prone towards excessive attention to detail, you might benefit from not looking at your work too closely the day or two or three before the defense.

When you go to your defense, make sure you bring a physical copy of your work (thesis? report?) for reference. 

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I believe the some oral defenses are public, so maybe you could attend one from another student (either at the master's level or phD level) just to get an idea of what it is like? 

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On 7/22/2018 at 2:49 AM, Hope.for.the.best said:

In my experience, professors tend to ask questions related to your study, especially on the rationale and limitations. As long as you know your study well and can justify it, you should be fine. You may come across questions that you have not thought about/no answers for. Don't panic. Just thanks for the question/suggestion and indicate that you will look into that in future. This tactic should get you through most of the time. Occasionally, you may then be asked for your thoughts on these difficult questions. In this case, the professor is more like determining whether you can think broader based on your findings/knowledge than giving you a difficult time. Something like, "Based on what we know so far, it might be such and such, which we need to look into further." 

When I had my defense for my masters back in April this is exactly how my defense went and I passed it just fine so this is great advice.

I will say though that other people in my department had professors on their committee that were more old school and would also ask you general biology questions (outline the Krebs cycle or tell us the steps of mitosis - apparently they really took the title Masters of Biology seriously and wanted you to be able to regurgitate all kinds of general biology knowledge) so it might not be a bad idea to ask around in the department to see if there are any professors like that that may do that to you.

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