Dissertation Defense Powerpoint Examples With References

© Paul T. P. Wong, Ph.D., C.Psych., Former Research Director, Graduate Program in Counselling Psychology, Trinity Western University, Langley, BC, Canada


Use the following steps when preparing for the oral defense of your thesis/dissertation.

1. Evaluation of oral examination is based on your presentation and your answers to questions from the examining committee.

2. Be well prepared for your presentation—academically, mentally and physically. Try to be well rested and focused before your oral defense.

3. In your preparation, don’t try to memorize all the studies cited in your thesis, but you do need to know the details of the few key studies that form the basis of your investigation.

4. You need to be familiar with larger issues, such as the basic assumptions, theoretical framework, paradigm, cross-cultural perspectives, Christian integration, etc.

5. More importantly, you need to have a deep understanding of the nature of your research problem and the major issues involved.

6. You may bring with you important materials for easy reference in the course of your defense; these may include key articles, computer print-outs of results, etc.

7. Your presentation is evaluated in terms of content and clarity as well as style.

8. Don’t speak too fast and don’t read from your notes.

9. Treat your presentation as a public address because there may be non-psychologists present at your defense. Therefore, don’t use too many jargons and don’t pack it with details. You need to tell people in simple, concise language:

  1. What you did,
  2. Why you did it,
  3. How you did it,
  4. What you found, and
  5. What the results mean.

10. Prepare handouts or power-points. Typically, they should include

  1. An overview or outline of your presentation,
  2. Introduction (including research question, rationale and hypothesis, if any, and definition of key constructs),
  3. Method (including design, methodology, sample, instruments or questionnaires, and procedure,
  4. Results (including tables or figures summarizing your findings), and
  5. Discussion (including reasons for new or unexpected findings, contributions and limitations, and practical implications).

11. Make sure that you space yourself well. Don’t spend too much time on one section. For example, you should not spend more than 5 minutes on introduction, since you are allowed only 20 minutes for your presentation.

12. Most of the questions are rather general and broad, dealing with substantial methodological, theoretical and application issues. However, some questions focus on specific points regarding sampling, statistical analysis, or some questionable conclusions.

13. Be prepared to clarify or elaborate on your assumptions, theoretical positions, methods, and conclusions. Often, an examiner plays the devil’s advocate to see how well you can think on your feet and defend yourself.

14. Occasionally, an examiner may ask a question which is unfair or cannot be adequately answered. After a few futile attempts, feel free to say that you don’t know the answer. You may even be bold enough to say, “Since none of my answers are acceptable, I would really appreciate it if you could give me some pointers or tell me what would be a correct answer.”

15. Here are some common questions:

  1. If you were to do it all over again, what changes would you make?
  2. What specific aspects of your findings can be utilized by counselors or psychologists in their practice?
  3. What is the most important contribution of your thesis? Can you say it in one or two sentences?
  4. What are some of the competing hypotheses? Could you think of an alternative interpretation of your findings?

16. Don’t rush to any answers. It is perfectly acceptable to think for a couple of seconds, or ask if you are on the right track. If you are not clear about the question, you are entitled to ask for clarification.

17. Try to be concise and to the point, but at the same time demonstrate that you have a good grasp of the complex issues involved. In other words, do not give superficial answers, but at the same time, do not go all over the map.

18. Put up a good defense without being defensive. Be confident without being cocky. A good defense means that you can provide strong logical arguments as well as empirical support o defend your position or conclusion. However, don’t be defensive when people criticize your study. If they are able to point out some real flaws or weaknesses in your study, accept their criticisms with humility, grace and gratitude.

19. Before the oral defense, talk to your advisor about areas of concerns based on external examiner’s comments. Then, discuss with your advisor how to best address these concerns. (Your advisor cannot tell you the specific questions the examiners will ask, but s/he can direct your attention to issues or areas that require some thinking or additional research.)

20. After the oral defense, meet with your advisor for debriefing and seek advice on how to revise your thesis.

Hints for PhD Defenses

At Columbia, PhD defenses are generally not public, although CS usually allows a student audience. Defenses consist of four parts: first, the candidate introduces themselves, then presents a summary of their work, interrupted and followed by questions from the committee. Finally, the committee meets in private to discuss the presentation and dissertation.

While most of the committee will have read most of your thesis, you cannot assume that everyone has read every chapter.

The committee needs to be able to assess impact and depth. Usually, the committee has some idea of this before the defense, but whatever the student can say to make this assessment easier, perhaps just through emphasis, is likely to make the defense go much more smoothly.

Generally, the whole defense will not take more than two hours, but should take considerably less time. Part of the challenge of a defense is to convince the committee that you can summarize the important points of your work in a very limited time.

  • Your presentation (and thesis) needs to address the following:
    • What is the problem you are studying?
    • Why is it important?
    • What results have you achieved?
  • Some committee members will want to know if the works has been published and where and how it was received. For example, if you have written software, indicate where it is being used, either for follow-on work or in some production or test environment.
  • Have a list of your thesis-related publications as a slide. Indicate any awards that a paper may have received. For most people, it's easier to list some honor than "brag" about it in person.
  • If you have presented your work in a conference or at job talks, be sure to anticipate and address the most common questions asked there.
  • The committee should be handed a copy of your slides.
  • Be prepared to briefly summarize your background (undergraduate degree, how long at the university, etc.)
  • No more than 30 slides, plus "back up" slides with additional material in case of questions. The most effective way of making your committee members mad is to come unprepared with a stack of 80 slides and then madly skip through them.
  • Number your slides, particularly if one of your committee members is linked in via speakerphone. Consider using some kind of remote presentation software.
  • List your contributions early.
  • When presenting your contributions, be sure to use "I" and not "we" so that the committee will know what aspects of the work where yours, and which were group projects.
  • Keep discussions of related work very brief, but be prepared to answer questions of the "how does this differ from so-and-so's work" succinctly.
  • You will not be asked to prove results again.
  • Be prepared to back up any comparative statement with facts, in particular statements like "works better", "faster", "scalable" or "optimal". If you are presenting a protocol, how do you know that it works correctly?
  • If you have multiple parts in your dissertation, consult with the committee ahead of time as to whether it makes sense to omit some of them for the presentation.

Hints for Dissertations

  • It is better to focus deeply on a single area then to work on several topics, each of which is pursued to a moderate depth.
  • Systems work must be coupled with implementation and some kind of numerical comparitive analysis to demonstrate the improvements from existing or alternate approaches.
  • Your thesis needs a one page executive summary that a layperson should be able to understand. Test: give it to a relative of yours that does not have an engineering degree...

Miscellaneous Hints

  • You are likely only to defend a PhD thesis only once; your defense is a special occasion, so consider dressing appropriately, at least business casual, but a suit is not inappropriate.
  • It is customary to provide refreshments for the audience, such as coffee, bagels, cookies and fruit, depending on the time of day.

The Role of PhD Committee Members

  • Committee members (should) read the draft thesis (and provide feedback). Obviously, students appreciate an in-depth reading, but it is common for committee members to focus on chapters closest to their expertise. Reading depths varies - some provide line edits, others just suggest larger issues that should be addressed ("Your related work section in Chapter 10 is a bit sparse and ends in 2005."). While this is probably not the place to suggest "do another year of research", filling in gaps is ok and I'd rather postpone a defense by a month if needed. Before the committee gets the thesis, I've done a first or sometimes second reading, but the whole point of the committee is to keep the advisor honest (and complement his or her knowledge or taste).
  • Committee members attend the PhD defense, usually in person. Typically, this lasts about 90 minutes. Take notes on any editorial improvements (e.g., "make clear that the throughput graph is measured in gallons/minute"). Vote on the outcome and sign the form.
  • If the student is given a set of changes to implement, the advisor asks students to detail on how they implemented the changes, similar to how an author may respond to reviewer comments for a journal. The committee informally signs off, or not, on these changes. There is no need to re-read the thesis.

Checklist for Dissertation

Before you submit your draft to the committee, be sure to verify that you have done the following checks:
  • Spell check;
  • Check for missing chapter or figure references;
  • Section, Chapter, Figure are capitalized;
  • All references converted from [1][2][3] to [1,2,3];
  • Consistent capitalization in captions;
  • Verify expansion of all abbreviations at first instance;
  • Avoid "tremendous", "huge" and other similar adjectives;
  • End to end -> end-to-end;
  • Check references for capitalization of abbreviations and missing data such as page numbers.

(Contributions by Ed Coffman, Jonathan Rosenberg and Sal Stolfo.)


[Hints for PhD proposal defenses]   [Writing style]   [Writing bugs]  

Translations: Polish

"So long, and thanks for the Ph.D.!"

How to be a programmer


Last updated by Henning Schulzrinne

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