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Tis the season to defend your thesis

Monique at Palazzo Bo, July 2021

Firstly, congratulations on approaching the completion of an important milestone – writing and submitting your master’s degree thesis. In this article, I share my personal checklist and tips that can help you prepare for your thesis defense. Although I completed my defense in July 2021 at the University of Padua, I believe these tips are generalizable to other similar university systems.

Let us begin with a general definition of a thesis defense in the Italian university context. After submitting your thesis, you need to present it to a jury of professors. You are allocated a 10-minute time slot and could be asked to defend either in presence or online (depending on the applicable pandemic restrictions). This presentation should theoretically contribute to your final program grade, but it functions more like a self-assessment of your ability to convey the key points of your research. The thesis, at this point, would have already been evaluated, and the defense can only be deemed unsuccessful if it becomes apparent that you are unclear on what you’re talking about. This is nearly impossible, considering that you are the author of the thesis. It eases the process if you focus your thesis on a topic that you are passionate about. My thesis explored artificial intelligence and gender bias in business decision making processes, which is a subject that I am greatly interested in. The following are some of the Dos and Don’ts of thesis defense.

1) Using the internet to find resources, including videos, articles, and everything in between. For instance, this video that details the sequence of steps during a thesis defense is one among many resources that assisted me in refining my presentation skills.

DO use a PowerPoint presentation as an ally, not an enemy. Your masterpiece is the thesis not the “flashiness” of the PowerPoint. A good average speaking pace should be one slide per 40 seconds of talking to balance the distribution of information.

DO NOT treat the defense as a bragging session, rather as a conversation. This video explains ten mistakes to avoid including why you should not sound arrogant, just because the title is a “Defense”.

2) Ask for tips within the alumni network. Speak with friends who have already graduated to share their experiences and guidelines or PowerPoint presentations. I reached out to my friend, Clara Meyer, who shared the following tips:

INTRODUCTION: Your introduction should summarize the subject/topic, research question, goals/objectives, and expected results.

CONTENT: This portion of the presentation is dedicated towards explaining why you divided the thesis into “X” number of parts, then briefly talk about each part.

METHODOLOGY: Here you will explain the methodology you chose and why you chose it. In my case, I applied quantitative and qualitative methods, so I explained the goals and results from my interviews and their relevance to thesis. But be careful not to waste too much time explaining this part as they are not looking for you to list your sources.

CONCLUSION: Tie the presentation together by explaining the outcomes of your research, the results, and the differences between what you discovered and what you expected.

OUTREACH: Finally, state why your research is important and the next steps if any. I want to pursue a PhD, so I shared some ideas about my desired future project.

3) DO NOT underestimate the value of adequate preparation. Practicing my presentation made me feel more confident and sound fluid.

DO try to contemplate possible questions that may arise. During my work, I needed to clarify certain concepts to justify my choice of gender bias instead of gender stereotypes. I anticipated that such a question would come up, and I was right.

4) Having your friends’ support during the defense can calm your nerves. Since I defended while Covid 19 restrictions were still in place, I was only allowed to invite a few friends to the physical defense, while the rest watched online. At first I was extremely anxious, but speaking with my friends before the professors appeared made me feel connected and supported.

PRO TIP: Make sure you have a friend that is good at taking pictures. I do not have a single decent photo of my bachelor’s graduation, but this time I was lucky that my friends were able to send me amazing photographs. You will get old, and at some point, your memory will not be that helpful. Being able to have these photographic memories becomes even more important.

5) Check that everything works perfectly. I needed a better internet connection than what I get at home, so I requested access to the university facilities for a private room. I made sure to wear a comfortable outfit to handle the excessive sweating in the summer heat.

Listen! The worst part is over. You completed your exams and submitted the result of months of hard research. Now chill out. Defend your thesis and good luck in your next steps!

Written by Monique Munarini

Edited by Christine Nanteza

Picture courtesy of Monique Munarini's friends :)


Monique is an alumnus of the HRG program at the University of Padua. She is an avid traveler, trained lawyer, a recipient of a European Solidarity Corps volunteer grant, and a SET Padova contributor. Follow Monique's story on Instagram and LinkedIn.


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