If you are in the process of researching or writing a thesis, you are probably aware that defending a thesis will be an integral component of completing the process. While you may be familiar with the phrase “defend your thesis,” this does not mean that you fully understand what this process will entail. Below you will find a brief summation of what a thesis is as well as what it means to successfully defend a thesis.
The Thesis-A Brief Overview
Although broadly defined, a thesis is basically a brief summary of a theory or idea that is submitted in the form of a textual document, such as an academic paper. While research papers and argumentative essays will typically contain a thesis statement, the term “thesis” generally refers to a longer document that is prepared by a graduate-level student. In these cases, the thesis can be a precursor to graduation. Yet another factor you can consider to gain clarity regarding what constitutes a thesis is the difference between a thesis and a dissertation. The thesis is typically the final aspect of attaining a master’s degree while individuals who complete a dissertation do so to obtain a doctoral degree.
Defending a Thesis-The Basics
Individuals who write a graduate-level thesis will almost always be required to defend a thesis. While the requirements for this process will typically vary from institution to institution, defending the thesis generally incorporates presenting your main argument to an academic faculty and supporting your primary points with clear, convincing logic that lends credence to the fundamental concepts being advanced within the body of the work. For example, if an individual completes a thesis arguing that meat consumption is unethical, she or he might present arguments pertaining to the cruel abuse animals are subjected to in farms or factories to legitimate the claim.
Getting It Right-Components To Success
In order to make the process of defending your thesis as successful as possible, the following components of the endeavor are often emphasized:
In order to successfully defend a thesis, you need to be able to present your arguments effectively. To accomplish this objective, you should practice and attain feedback regarding your presentation strengths and weaknesses. In many cases, a learning institution will offer free workshops designed to help students enhance their presentation skills. These workshops can provide you with feedback on things such as the overuse of filler words like “um.”
The Dry Run
To ensure that your presentation skills can be objectively analyzed and critiqued by others, it’s a good idea to do a dry run. By delivering your thesis to colleagues or trusted friends, you can obtain feedback that helps you improve upon your presentation abilities. To accomplish this objective, the dry run audience needs to be proficient in:
• offering feedback regarding the effectiveness and coherence of your presentation
• asking questions you haven’t considered yet
• asking you questions which you think an examining committee might ask
• providing you with feedback regarding your presentation skills in terms of any ineffective physical or verbal behaviors you may be participating in
• offering feedback regarding which aspects of the presentation were strong, coherent, convincing, or otherwise effective
When you defend your thesis, examiners will ask questions based on the information you present. To ensure that you perform well during this portion of the presentation, it is important that you try to anticipate the types of questions that will be asked. For example, if you are defending a thesis regarding why meat consumption is unethical, an examiner might ask you whether the presence of humane factory farms delegitimate your primary arguments. By anticipating the questions that examiners are likely to ask, you gain the opportunity to formulate clear, articulate responses that will strengthen your presentation.
While there are several aspects of graduate-level learning that can facilitate personal growth and intellectual development, defending a thesis can be particularly effective in generating these outcomes. Now that you have a basic understanding of what defending a thesis involves and how to do it well, you can move forward with confidence in the completion of this academic project.
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What is a thesis defense?
What is a thesis defense?
A thesis defense has two parts: a thesis and a defense. The second mistake many students make is not knowing what their thesis is. The third mistake is not knowing how to defend it. (The first mistake is describe later.)
What is a thesis?
Your thesis is not your dissertation. Neither is it a one liner about what you are doing. Your thesis is "a position or proposition that a person (as a candidate for scholastic honors) advances and offers to maintain by argument." [Webster's 7th New Collegiate Dictionary]. "I looked at how people play chess" is not a thesis; " people adapt memories of old games to play new games" is. Similarly, "I wrote a program to play chess" is not a thesis; "playing chess requires a database of actual games" is. A thesis has to claim something.
There are many kinds of theses, especially in computer science, but most of them can be lumped into one of the following classes:
- process X is a feasible way to do task Y
- process X is a better way to do task Y than any previously known method
- task Y requires process X
- people use process X to do task Y
- process X is a terrible way to do Y
- people don't use process X
Feel free to substitute "process X" with "memory organization X" or what ever else might make one theory different from another. Make sure you clearly specify the class of tasks Y to which your thesis applies.
Besides being a proposition, a thesis has to have another property: it must say something new. "Understanding natural language requires context" is not a thesis (except maybe in a linguistics department); "process X is a feasible mechanism for adding context sensitivity to natural language understanders" is, as is "context is not required for visual understanding.
What is a defense?
A defense presents evidence for a thesis. What kind of evidence is apprpropriate depends on what kind of thesis is being defended.
Thesis: process X is a feasible way to do task Y
One defense for this kind of claim is an analysis of the complexity, or completeness, or whatever, of the theoretical algorithm. In computer science, the more common defense is based on empirical results from running an experiment. A good defense here means more than one example, and answers to questions such as the following. What are the capabilities and limits of your experiment? How often do the things that your experiment does come up in the real world? What's involved in extending it? If it's easy to extend, why haven't you? If your example is a piece of a larger system, how realistic are your assumptions about input and output?
Thesis: process X is a better way to do task Y than any previously known method
The same kind of defense applies here as in the previous case, but now serious comparisons with previous systems are required. Can your result do the same examples the previous results did, or can you make them do yours? Can you prove they couldn't do your examples? If you claim to be more efficient, what are you measuring?
Thesis: task Y requires process X
This is usually defended by a logical argument. It is usually very tough to do, even if the argument doesn't have to be formalized.
Thesis: people use process X to do task Y
Many students make the mistake of picking this kind of thesis to defend. It requires serious experimental evidence to defend, unless your real thesis is of the previous form, i.e., only process X is possible. Selected excerpts from protocols and surveys of your officemates are not psychological evidence, no matter how much they might have inspired your work.
Thesis: process X is a terrible way to do Y, or people don't use process X
This is a reasonable thesis if process X is a serious contender. The defense would be an analysis of the limits of process X, i.e., things it can't do, or things it does wrong, along with evidence that those things matter.
I have lots of theses in my dissertation. Which one should I pick for my defense?
Defending a real thesis is hard. If you think you have a lot of theses, you probably just have a bunch of undefended claims. One good thesis, or two so-so theses, with adequate description and defense, is more than enough to fill up a dissertation.
I have the opposite problem. I don't think I have any thesis by these standards.
Highly unlikely. If you're bright, educated, and have worked hard on a topic for more than a year, you must have learned something no one else knew before. The first mistake that students make is to think that a thesis has to be grander than the theory of relativity. A thesis should be new and interesting, but it doesn't have to change the foundations of all we believe and hold dear.
Don't try to come up with a thesis first, and then investigate it. Start by exploring some task domain. Take some initial ideas and push them hard for a year or so. Now, stop and think about what you've done and what you've learned. Among your accomplishments and experience, there will be several good candidate theses. Pick one. Test it out on your advisor and other faculty members. Test it out on other students. Is it a claim that you can describe clearly and briefly? Is it a claim that anyone cares about? Is it a claim that people don't find perfectly obvious, or if they do find it obvious, can you convince them that it could easily be false.
Once you've refined your claim into a good thesis, now you can determine what kind of defense is appropriate for it and what more you need to do. This is where the hard part comes, psychologically, because to create a defense for your thesis, you're going to have to attack it harder than anyone else. What happens if the thesis fails? Negate it and defend that! In a year or so of focused research, you should be ready for a real thesis defense.
See how easy it is, once you know how?