Planning a Presentation for Your Thesis or Dissertation Examination
Long before you walk into the final examination of your thesis or dissertation, you should know exactly what is expected of you during that examination. Ignorance of your responsibilities will not relieve you of them, and discovering at the last moment that you are required to start the process by giving a presentation about your work to your examining committee – a presentation for which you are not at all prepared – can trigger panic, especially when nerves are already on edge. Even if you are the sort of person who deals with stressful situations well, it is unlikely that you will be able to produce an insightful presentation of an impressive scholarly quality. It is therefore imperative to learn all you can about what is required of you in the examination, discuss your precise plans for meeting those requirements with your thesis or dissertation supervisor and carefully prepare yourself for success well in advance.
Although a presentation is not required of every thesis or dissertation student, it is usually a necessary aspect of the final examination for doctoral candidates and for many students working on a master’s degree as well. This presentation tends to be quite brief – aiming for about fifteen minutes is a good idea in most cases – but it can vary considerably among universities, departments and disciplines, so do find out exactly how long your presentation should be before you begin planning it. It is also essential to know precisely what is expected in terms of formality. Your department or supervisor may prefer, for instance, that you give the presentation without reading it from a written version; even if this is not required, it is often a good idea to keep the atmosphere somewhat informal by doing so. This does not mean, however, that you should not prepare your presentation very carefully either in a formal written version of what you plan to say or in clear and organised notes that you can resort to if necessary. In fact, planning and writing your presentation are excellent ways in which to work through your thoughts and plant them firmly in your memory.
The content of your presentation is still more important, and it can often be tricky to decide what to say. Your supervisor may have some helpful suggestions, but your examiners will probably want to know what you think of the research and writing you have done for your thesis or dissertation, so the decisions about content will usually be your own to make. In most cases, however, introducing the research project and reflecting on its significance are sound strategies. Briefly describing the topic, problem or phenomenon you have investigated is therefore an excellent start, and this can be followed by outlining your most important research questions, hypotheses and objectives, explaining any particularly innovative methodologies you may have used, emphasising the reliability and acknowledging the limitations of your approach, and highlighting your most significant results and discoveries along with their implications.
It is very likely that you will not have time for everything that you might like to bring to your examiners’ attention, so you will need to be selective as you choose the content for your presentation. Remember that your audience has already read your thesis or dissertation, so you are providing an informative introduction and a brief summary that demonstrate your understanding of that document’s contents and significance. This means that you can leave a good deal that is obvious unsaid, and you may also wish to leave untouched or only hint at certain important or particularly provocative aspects of your work on the basis that they will certainly be addressed, especially with a little nudging from you, in the questions and discussion that follow your presentation.
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