Guide on How to Deal with Stress During Dissertation Defense

One of the more difficult academic challenges you will experience is the dissertation defense. It is for most students a highly stressful situation. But with the right amount of preparation and the some stress-reducing techniques you should be able to survive the defense successfully:

Get to Know Your Dissertation Committee Members

The first thing you should do in preparation for your defense is getting to know your dissertation committee members. You know your graduate advisor will be there but others from your department – usually three or four others – will make up the remainder of the committee. You are usually provided a list and in most cases actually get to choose who those members will be beforehand. So spend as much time possible getting to know what each one specializes in as well as each one’s academic interests.

Adequately Prepare Yourself for Surprise Questions

Once you get a better sense of the likes and dislikes of your dissertation committee members you can develop some questions you can reasonably expect to hear. This exercise will decrease a tremendous amount of stress you might be feeling about the uncertainty. The more questions you prepare for the better off you will be.

Attend Your Classmates Dissertation Defenses

Dissertation defenses are open to the public – though they are rarely attended by anyone other than students and a few professors outside of the required participants. But while you know that you shouldn’t be nervous about having to present in front of a large audience you can always take advantage of attending some of your classmates’ defenses to get used the process and routine.

Write a Script and Practice it In Front of Others

Your dissertation defense will last about 25 to 30 minutes, including questions from the committee members. With this in mind you should start to write a script that covers all of the defense’s major components in even time blocks. Practice this script in front of a mirror, then in front of some classmates or friends. It would help to have people sit in a similar fashion to how the committee will be sitting.

Get Into a Regular Routine So You Will Be Ready

Finally, get into some kind of routine in the weeks leading up to your defense. You will have the time and date, so start eating meals at the same time just before your defense time. Also try to do your rehearsal at the same time so that you will be ready to “turn on” your mental switch and jump into your actual defense without much problem.