How to Prepare for Your Dissertation Defense

December 14, 2021

Amy Vaughan-Roland, Ed.D.

Ed.D. in Leadership

If you’re in a doctoral program, there’s no doubt you are dreaming of the day where you’ll be announced as “doctor” for the first time. However, it’s a long road to get there with many steps along the way, the biggest of which is the defense of your dissertation.

The dissertation defense is often shrouded in mystery. I equate it to the scene in “The Wizard of Oz” with the mysterious man behind the green curtain. But it doesn’t have to be. I’m pulling back the curtain with tips on how to prepare for your dissertation defense.

Attend a Defense

American College of Education allows you to attend the defenses of your colleagues remotely. This gives you the unique opportunity to see the defense process and understand what to expect. Take it one step further by attending a defense where your dissertation chair is involved so you get a sense of what they’re looking for in the process. I recommend reaching out to your chair ahead of time, as they can even help find a defense that’s a good fit for you to observe.

To find a list of upcoming defenses, go to the Dissertation Calendar in Student Commons. Remember, of course, to be a respectful audience member when attending a defense. While they are open to viewing, it’s still an intimate process solely belonging to the doctoral candidate.

Know the Rituals

The oral defense is similar to a wedding in that there is prescribed way in which events take place. Fortunately, ACE provides doctoral candidates with a detailed dissertation template that you’ll work through with your chair to fine tune your presentation. You’ll likely find yourself with a dissertation of over 100 pages that you’re trying to summarize in a short period of time. Work closely with your course instructor and chair to make sure you’ve addressed everything the dissertation committee is looking for in the presentation. If available, use an oral dissertation rubric as your checklist and guide to ensure you’ve answered the demands of the defense.

Create a Timeline

You have a specific time limit for your dissertation defense. Create a timeline for your presentation. Schedule out every single key point of your dissertation to ensure it’s included. Then, to make sure you adhere to your timeline, practice, practice, practice.

Be the Expert

Remember, you are now the expert on this topic. This is your research and your findings. The committee is not there to dispute your findings. They are there to engage you in scholarly conversation about what you’ve found and celebrate this momentous occasion in your academic career with you.

When you get to your dissertation defense, you’ll have been through a lot with your committee members and chair. It will be the first opportunity for your whole team to celebrate your accomplishment and contribution to your field. Revel in the hard work it took to get to this moment and enjoy it!

American College of Education provides personalized support to doctoral candidates, from the first day of your program to the last minute of your dissertation defense. Explore our fully online doctoral programs.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of American College of Education.
Amy Vaughan-Roland, Ed.D.
Amy Vaughan-Roland, Ed.D., Ed.D. in Leadership

Amy has a strong passion for educating all learners and has over 12 years of experience in special education. She works on her family's dairy farm and is currently a doctoral candidate.

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