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What happens at a Masters 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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  • 2 weeks later...
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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  • 3 weeks later...

I just finished making the powerpoint for my Masters defense happening in next few days, but what happens on the actual day?

  1. Do you thank people involved at the beginning or end of the presentation?

  2. What kind of questions will the committee ask?

  3. Is it appropriate to give thank you cards and flowers for the committee at the end of the presentation?

  4. Do I shake hands with people? Do I treat it as a business meeting??

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On 8/24/2018 at 12:28 PM, gradschoolprobs said:

I just finished making the powerpoint for my Masters defense happening in next few days, but what happens on the actual day?

  1. Do you thank people involved at the beginning or end of the presentation?

  2. What kind of questions will the committee ask?

  3. Is it appropriate to give thank you cards and flowers for the committee at the end of the presentation?

  4. Do I shake hands with people? Do I treat it as a business meeting??

 

Not sure if this answer will be in time before you defend but:

1. This is really a matter of preference. I've seen both done for a Master's defense.

2. Like I and others have said in this thread your committee will likely ask questions directly related to your thesis and probably will not ask you any off the wall questions (unless you have the oddball professor who likes to see if you truly are a Master of whatever degree you are getting). That's not to say they won't ask you about important concepts, ideas or terminology that is directly related to your thesis but they probably won't go beyond that.

3. I personally would think that if you want to do anything like that, that you should do that with them one-on-one after your defense at some point. But if you want to do it after the presentation you can do that but I'm not sure many people do.

4. Typically after a masters defense the student answers the questions posed to them and then in my case I was ask to leave the room while they talked about how I did and whether I passed. So no it was not business like and there were no shaking hands with people during my experience. But it could be different at different schools so if you have the opportunity to ask a student who has defended that might be your best option for some of your questions.

 

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