More Tips to a Successful Defense

Related posts about PhDs, academic librarians, & research:

The best advice I received about defending my dissertation came from my former classmate Baaska (now Dr. Anderson!). She told me not to think of the defense as an exam, but as valuable feedback about your research. She was right! Not only was my defense enjoyable and interesting, it underscored to me that my committee was interested in my research and cared about helping me make it the best it could be. This makes sense–most faculty not only care about their students’ success, they also want to ensure that you reflect well on the program. All the revisions they suggested made my dissertation a stronger document–it was less a “dissertation defense” and more a brainstorming editory session.

The second best advice I received was from my chair, who continually reminded me that perfectionism is the enemy of completion. Yes, it’s important to be prepared and have a solid document to send to your committee. But your dissertation will never be perfect, and waiting to get it “just right” before submitting it to your committee is a recipe for remaining ABD (all but dissertation). My advisor’s advice was to send it to committee, take their helpful suggestions, make copy edits the Graduate Reader suggests, and when you find mistakes along the way and it’s too late to change them? Note those edits and save them for when you turn the dissertation into presentations and/or publishable articles.

In my post on prepping for the dissertation defense, I forgot to add a key preparation: attending other students’ defenses. These are open to the public, so I suggest attending them as early and as often as you can. I wasn’t in the country enough to attend any this year, so I was glad I’d already attended two doctoral defenses and one proposal defense in my first few years as a doctoral student. Another great reason to attend these early in your program is getting an inside look at how different faculty members work together, giving you an idea of who works well together and who makes a great dissertation chair / advisor.

The best last-minute preparation I did was re-reading my dissertation. I read the whole thing once, and the results and discussion chapters twice in the last two days before my defense. This kept the results fresh in my mind, and alerted me to potential weak areas so that I could anticipate questions. I also reviewed my statistical analyses to keep my methodology fresh in my mind.

The second-best preparation was practicing my presentation. I had just twenty minutes to present, so I had to be brief. Practicing made the presentation smoother and more to the point–plus I could go on auto-pilot when I got a little nervous. I practiced it alone twice and presented it to my ever-patient husband four times. I almost never practice presentations more than once–I love presenting, but I hate listening to myself practice–but for this, I made an exception! It paid off–I was calm, and I got to enjoy the presentation because I was relaxed and prepared.

I ordered custom regalia from Josten’s, complete with the upgraded PhD blue velvet (ooo!), light blue piping for Education (aaah!), and perhaps most importantly, POCKETS. Now at future commencement ceremonies, I’ll have a place to hold my keys and my phone–pretty swanky stuff. I also can’t wait to get my graduation announcements–after three graduations with the standard school-issued kind (yawn), I wanted something more meaningful and creative. So I collaborated on a design with my friend Scott–we were in the art program together at Hardin-Simmons as wee undergrads, isn’t that cool? Now he has a letterpress company, check out his awesome portfolio at Red Circle Letterpress. I’ll post a photo when I have them in-hand, but for now all I’ll say is: there may be a tiara and star involved in the design.

In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying these super-fancy cards that the wondrous Phillips-Diaz clan sent me! I keep a few in my wallet–ostensibly to hand out as a business card, but honestly I just pull them out and look at them to remind myself that, yes, I AM A DOCTOR. This is going to take some getting used to…

My next assignment: during NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) I’m writing a book chapter based on my dissertation (Scarecrow Press’s upcoming Leadership in Academic Libraries Today) and to crank out a novel that’s been percolating in my brain.

Posts about my doctoral journey:


4 thoughts on “More Tips to a Successful Defense

  1. Chris says:

    I’m so glad you like the cards! We had a fabulous time designing them. 😉 You are amazing Dr. Starr! Hehehe…

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