Possible PhD defence questions and some excerpts to give you some confidence before the oral

Preparing for a PhD defence can be challenging and also a bit stressful at times. You keep thinking what the examiners might ask and whether you’d be able to answer the questions convincingly. It’s your work, and by the end of the defence you’d realise that it wasn’t too bad after all, but here are some excepts from various sources that could help boost that confidence during the preparation stage. I have also included a list of possible questions that I put together based on various sources I read prior to my own defence (blogs/forums etc). I have combined the different versions of the same question as I saw fit into ‘themes’ or ‘questions’ with minor edits here and there to keep the flow. I didn’t come up with any of these and I’ve used TM: where I added my 2c worth. I just copy-pasted them into a Word document as I was reading the various resources..so it was just for my own sake at the beginning. Anyway, now that I have started this blog I thought I’d just share them in case someone else finds it useful. If you Google for each sentence I bet you’d be able to find the original source!

Lastly, you may have ended up on this post because you are almost done and looking at defending your work. However, if you still have a bit of time, and I were to select just one suggestion/tip/piece of advice for a successful PhD, it will be PUBLISH, PUBLISH, PUBLISH. This will help you in several ways:

  1. Makes defending your work a LOT easier since your work has already been accepted by international peers, showing a certain standard/quality. If you have 10 publications for instance, it’s not easy for one examiner to just come and say your work is not up to standard.  
  2. During the publication process you get reviewer feedback, helping you address potential weaknesses. Thesis examiners are not significantly different from good journal reviewers, so this process helps you improve your work, understand what others think about your work, as well as prepare for possible questions that may come up during the oral.
  3. Makes the writing process much much easier since you can convert the bulk of your papers into middle chapters with minimal effort (you would still need some edits to support the flow). For my own thesis, I think I only had to write ~30% from scratch (bulk of it was the Related Work chapter) since I could use most of the material from my papers. This significantly reduces the amount of time you need to write your final thesis – you publish over several years, so the effort is more spread out reducing the stress level in the last 6 months or so.
  4. This may not be directly relevant to passing the oral, but what are you going to do after your PhD? You spent a long time working on your thesis, but once you defend and have your title ‘PhD’, what’s next? Having a decent publication list can really help boost your CV and help you land that research job you always wanted!

Please post a comment if you found this post useful, and feel free to share your thoughts. Happy PhD defending and good luck! 🙂

What usually happens is that the examiners have read the work typically twice, and looked closely at some parts that interested them the most. These are usually the good bits. The examiners have standards to uphold, but they are not out to fail you (administratively, it is a lot more complicated to fail you than to pass you!). In general, they feel good about the idea of a new, fresh researcher coming into their area. You are no immediate threat to them. They have to show that they have read it and they have to give you the opportunity to show that you understand it (you do, of course). And they usually have a genuine interest in the work. Some of them may feel it is necessary to maintain their image as senior scholars and founts of wisdom. Judicious use of the “Good question”, “Yes, you’re right of course”, “Good idea..” and “Thanks for that” will allow that with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of time for champagne drinking.

The phrase “That’s a good question” is useful. It flatters the asker and may get him/her onside, or less offside; it gives you time to think; it implies that you have understood the question and assessed it already and that you have probably thought about it before. If absolutely necessary, it can be followed by a bit more stalling “Now the answer to that is not obvious/straightforward…” which has some of the same advantages.

Be ready for a ‘free kick’. It is relatively common that a panel will ask one (or more) questions that, whatever the actual wording may be, are essentially an invitation to you to tell them (briefly) what is important, new and good in your thesis. You ought not stumble at this stage, so you should rehearse this. You should be able to produce on demand (say) a one minute speech and a five minute speech, and be prepared to extend them if invited by further questions. Do not try to recite your abstract: written and spoken styles should be rather different. Rather, rehearse answers to the questions: “What is your thesis about, what are the major contributions and what have you done that merits a PhD?”. [TM:] In my case my supervisor had asked me to prepare a 20 minute ‘overview’ of my work and that’s exactly what the Chair asked me to do during the oral, but this may not be the case for everyone.

My suggestion is that you try to publish at least 3 papers in international peer-reviewed and ISI-indexed [TM: or Pubmed indexed if you are in the medical field] journals while in the process of conducting your experiments. If you have done that, your impending viva voce will only be a formality as publications in high-impact and indexed journals would mean that your work has already been accepted by international academic peers (TM: and it becomes difficult for a single examiner, perhaps with some strong views on the subject, to fail you! Even if your oral doesn’t go well for some reason and examiners try to fail you, still you would have a strong case to backup an appeal).

Unless there’s something very wrong with your thesis, you should not be and should not feel under attack. A PhD thesis is a kind of apprentice piece. It’s meant to show that you’ve learned the essential skills of the discipline; and at the same time, have contributed something worthwhile and new (in some small way) to that discipline.

The viva, or viva voce, is an oral examination aimed at establishing that the content of a PhD thesis is the student’s own work and that it meets a minimum standard. Faced with a strong thesis, examiners will tend to approach the viva with a view to extending that work and publishing the results.

A good thesis will not be penalised even if the oral defence isn’t up to scratch. The key point to remember about vivas is that failure occurs rarely. Assuming that the thesis was properly supervised, passing a viva is a foregone conclusion.

Your examiners will not be expecting perfection and they will not be seeking to fail you. All they will be looking for is an appropriate level of originality and research competence.

Once you make it to the defence, there are practically only two reason that may stop the committee from giving a final pass:

  1. They discover that your data, experimental results, or references are fabricated; or
  2. They discover that you have plagiarized [a significant] portion of your dissertation.

So unless you are guilty of one of the above 2 item, there is really nothing to worry about. I knew all this before my defence, and I was still as intense the day before the defence as I ever was. [TM: My suggestion would be to submit your thesis to an electronic plagiarism detection software like TurnItIn.com to get an idea on this before you submit since you may have copy-pasted stuff, especially in your Background/Related Work/Discussion chapters where you talk about other people’s work. In my case I had plagiarized about 30% which is pretty bad (supposed to be under 5/10% I think), but most of the copy-pasted blocks were from my own publications, so that was ok. It’s always better that you find and correct any plagiarism than your examiner].

I do a lot of chemistry thesis vivas in the UK, as internal and external examiner, and they’re a fairly big deal. Failure is rare (particularly if I’m the external – I usually examine in viva as celebration mode), but I’ve been the internal with a few arsehole external examiners. I get quite annoyed if we’re examining a talented student with a strong thesis and the external is nitpicking and trying to trip the person up. You can only really fail someone IMO if both weak thesis and weak student are present. Most other combinations should pass.

Worst case was a guy who did a very solid natural product thesis but performed terribly in the viva, and the external was weighing up failing him. I talked him out of it as it would have been outrageous to fail the body of work, but had to re-examine the guy on my own at a later date because the external was so pissed off with the lad’s performance.

I’ve also done one as internal on a really weak student, with a garbage med chem thesis. Her supervisor was canny, though, and picked a pharmacologist as external. They just talked past one another for 2 hours and the external didn’t really clock how bad the student was. I would have had to have failed her if I was external – the experimental section was so bad as to have been irretrievable.

Focussing on the PhD, what examiners are looking for is what editors are looking for.  And so, what are examiners looking for?  Examiners are looking for publishable theses, acceptable approaches and research.  The PhD will be much more wordy and have appendices that don’t see the light of day in publication, but the phd should look like it will end up as publishable work.  As a phd candidate, paint the examiners into a corner to show that the work is publishable – and of course if the work has been published then it is easily shown to be publishable and that makes it easier for the examiner to pass the phd.

Experienced Examiners Expect the Thesis to Pass
Of even more comfort to postgraduate students is the reluctance of examiners to fail a thesis. From our 30 experienced examiners (who had examined more than 300 theses over the last 10–15 years), there were only 10 reports of a failed thesis. There are several reasons given for this reluctance. Primarily, it is the examiners’ realisation that the thesis represents three to four years of effort by a talented student, and that its production has been an expensive process in terms of resources and other people’s time: ‘If the student is any good and the supervisor any good then you shouldn’t fail a PhD. There should be enough “nous” around to guide the student in a way that he/she wouldn’t fail’

Another reason examiners will do everything they possibly can to avoid failing a thesis, or asking for a substantial rewrite, is that they realise that this will require a substantial amount of work for the examiner, the student and often the supervisor: ‘A poor thesis causes me sleepless nights as I know how much work and effort is involved’. Most examiners looked for sufficient quantity as well as quality of work, with the frequent use of the word ‘substantial’. In the sciences, this was often defined in terms of the number of journal articles likely to arise from the work. This ranged from two to four good journal articles—not that the student had to have published these, but that there was sufficient material in the PhD to allow for these articles to be published. Linked with this concept was that of publishability; that is, the PhD was of a sufficient standard that parts of it, or the whole, could be published.

‘If there are two or three good publications you can put your feet up and go for an interesting drive.

For students, the most heartening information is that experienced examiners want them to be awarded the PhD and will go to extraordinary lengths to enable this to happen. The other information is that experienced examiners should be sought for the examination process, not avoided, because of their high degree of tolerance. These two factors arise from the examiners’ experience as supervisors and their ability to judge the standard of a thesis based on a wide range of other examples. As one commented, ‘As an examiner, you are not being a supervisor, but being aware of what students go through to get to that point makes one, hopefully, a wiser, less pedantic person and able to see what’s being achieved. Also, you are able to see the vulnerability of the student’. As another said, ‘I tend to be absolutely forensic when I mark a thesis and then I spend hours worrying about how harsh I’ve been and have to argue myself into a sympathetic and tolerant framework. If you don’t exercise tolerance it’s very easy to mark a thesis’. Students sometimes ignore the best advice of their supervisors and submit theses of inferior quality, yet their general view was that the quantity and quality of the work submitted reflected on the supervisor as well as on the student. They particularly held the supervisor responsible for helping students to deal with predictable difficulties, such as difficulties in writing in English.


1. Based on your findings, what will your next research project be? How would you build on this research? Where do you see this kind of research moving in the future? What are the openings? How could you improve your work?

2. How can your research be used in practice?

3. What would you change if you were to do the study again? If you did it again what would you do differently? What would you do differently if you were setting out to do it today? In hindsight, is there any aspect of the research that you would do differently? Looking back, what might you have done differently?

4. What are the main weaknesses with what you did and why are they there? What are the strongest/weakest parts of your work?

5. What is the main contribution of your thesis? What have been the significant contributions of your research? In what ways does this research make a significant contribution to your particular field of study? What have you done that merits a PhD? Summarise your key findings. What’s original about your work? Where is the novelty? What are the contributions (to knowledge) of your thesis? What is the implication of your work in your area? What does it change?

6. Why did you decide to undertake this specific project? What are the motivations for your research? Why is the problem you have tackled worth tackling? What are the main aims, questions, hypotheses? Where did your research-project come from? How did your research-questions emerge? Why are your research questions interesting or important?

7. Comment on and justify your research methodology. Why have you done it this way? What are the alternatives to your approach?

8. What are the principal findings of this research project? How do they compare the findings of other projects within the field? Who are your closest competitors?

9. How has your thinking changed as a result of this research project? What have you learned from the process of doing your PhD? Has your view of your research topic changed during the course of the research?

10. In one sentence, what is your thesis?

11. What are you most proud of, and why?

12. Where do current technologies fail such that you (could) make a contribution?

13. Where did you go wrong?

14. How have you evaluated your work?

15. How do your contributions generalise?

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80 Responses to Possible PhD defence questions and some excerpts to give you some confidence before the oral

  1. H.T. Nguyen says:

    Dear dr. Mabotuwana,

    Thank you very much for posting this very useful information since I am going to a public defense my PhD dissertation in this month.

    Wishing you all the best

  2. Mia says:

    I really appreciate your post. Thank you very much Dr. Mabotuwana for your wonderful article. I am slowly calming down. My viva-voce will be next week.

  3. Ajit de Silva says:

    Hi Doc,

    It is good to see a Sri Lankan Kiwi who has done well in research and writing up the thesis. Congrats! Whilst I was in Sri Lanka, I have closely followed your work and saved several of your papers for a re-read.

    I enjoyed reading your content on thesis defence and I think the content that you have organized is similar to what Phil Agre and David Chapman (not sure about this name, though) wrote on “How to do a PhD at MIT”. For someone who wanted to do postgraduate studies but haven’t done so, all of this is an incentive.

    May I know the reason for not providing a link to your full thesis in your web page?

    • Hi Ajit,

      Thanks for your comments and happy to hear that you’ve found my work interesting..always good to know that someone out there is actually reading what you write 🙂

      This post was merely a compilation of what I found useful during my own defence prep stage, so some of it may well have come from Agre’s and Chapman’s work.

      Well, my supervisor is currently extending the ChronoMedIt framework (look out for ‘The ChronoMedIt Temporal Medical Audit Framework: Progress and Agenda’ by Warren, J., Mabotuwana, T. and Yang, H.Y. soon), so thought I’d hold back on the online version of the thesis for a bit longer. Most of it is available online in the form of a publications anyway, and the full thesis will soon be available at http://hdl.handle.net/2292/6034 (the University ‘thesis repository’). Happy to email you a copy of my thesis if you’re interested though 🙂

      • Ajit de Silva says:

        Hi Doc,

        I hope you are not offended by the way I address you. Thanks for your reply.

        When I was in Sri Lanka, I worked at e-Channelling and managed the Hospital Information System project at Nawaloka Hospital. I managed a 20 strong development team and the software runs operations from Admissions to the Kitchen. To enhance the software for ICD-10 and HL7, I frequently looked at HINZ and thereby Prof. Jim Warrens page – as he has a US academic background just like me. That is how I found about you. I must say that you have done really well in studies; a feat I like to emulate if I were to study for a postgraduate degree at the Uni. I came to New Zealand on January 8th with my family as permanent residents. Now I am seeking employment in Auckland as a Project Manager with a specific focus on Healthcare software. I am trying to join a company like Orion Health or HealthAlliance but I haven’t had any success so far. Actually, I thought of going to the Uni to meet Dr. Warren to see if I could participate in any of his on-going research to maintain a level of interest even if I land a Project Manager role in an altogether different area like Utilities or Telecom.

        I would be more than happy to meet you in person at the Tamaki Campus and build some level of understanding with you too. No need to accept my request if you think (like other Sri Lankans) coming colors no good. Anyway, thankful if you could send a copy of your thesis in PDF to kar.desilva@yahoo.com.

      • Hi Ajit,

        I’m soo sorry for taking such a long time to get back to you. The last few weeks have been so hectic with us relocating and all from DC. What happened was soon after my internships I got this offer in LA. We flew over on the 29th of January, camped out at a motel in Calabasas (that’s where my new office is) and we were looking for accommodation kind of close to work. I replied to you earlier while staying at the motel, but then life got so busy (had to furnish our whole apartment since we didn’t have anything) and I didn’t even have an internet connection with a decent speed. Anyway, we have now settled down a bit, and I’m catching up with email and all.

        Great to hear that Nawaloka is actually computerised so much. I always thought there was a lot of potential in Sri Lanka, but at the same time wondered how doctors would react when such a system got implemented (cos from their point of view, it takes more time to see a patient!). Even primary care practices are usually owned by individual GPs, and unless something comes from the government level that mandates electronic prescribing, I’m a bit skeptical how keen GPs would be on investing in an electronic system. Anyway, congrats on getting NZ PR! 🙂 NZ is certainly a great place to live, and I still have all my friends and family there. I’m sure you and your family will definitely enjoy living there. Any particular reason you wanted to migrate though? Seems like you were doing pretty well at Nawaloka?

        I would have loved to meet you in person, but as mentioned, I’m in LA now! Felt getting a bit of US experience would be good in the long-run, but we don’t have any plans to settle down here..but never know. Hey..the Sri Lankan community in NZ is not that bad, you know 🙂

        Thanks for the comments on my research btw. I’m flattered! I think a lot of credit should go to my supervisor as well, cos if not for him I couldn’t have managed all the publications I ended up having. His quick turn around times, availability and feedback definitely made a big difference. Have you met with Prof. Warren already, or not yet?

        I’ll send you my thesis right away..and sorry again for the long delay!

      • Hi Ajith,

        Just wondering if you got the email with a copy of my thesis (I sent it soon after replying to your post)? Tried to follow up with you cos sometimes emails with large attachments don’t go through, but my email got returned saying that the ‘user doesn’t have a yahoo.com account’!

  4. Ajit de Silva says:

    Just to let you know that I am being interviewed for a Software Development Manager role in a NZ Healthcare IT company. They also have a Clinical Audit Tool. I may be one of two people at the end of the tether.

    You may send me the Thesis to any of the following e-mail addresses:

    1) kardes@hotmail.com

    2) kardesilva@yahoo.com

    3) kar.desilva@gmail.com

    How is life in the US and in particular in LA?

    Wish you the very best and thanks for responding to my request.


  5. Maria Ishii says:

    hi doc,

    thank you for posting your experienced. it helps me a lot…
    please keep up your good job…
    you inspired not only me but also for the future researcher.

    Doc Ishii of Philippines, Cavite

  6. alex says:

    Thank you for these interesting notes and advices. I will have my PhD defense in 2 weeks and I am a little bit nervous. I decided to prepare answers for every question to reduce this stress and increase my selfconfidence. (:D)

  7. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this info! Will defend next Monday.

  8. Mina says:

    Dear Dr. Mabotuwana,
    I wish to thank you for this very useful post. I still did not start writing of my Thesis but those question that may research committee ask me, would help me in conducting my PhD thesis.

  9. Tigo Tjsen says:

    Thank you so much. I am preparing for my PhD thesis and your post really helps.

    Greetings from Belgium.

  10. Assan says:

    Thanks so much for your very positive summary. I have found it very usefull as I prepare for my defence!

  11. Purity Nguhiu says:

    Dear Kind Colleague,
    Thanks for your post.
    It is very educative and encouraging even as I attend my PhD Thesis defense next week Monday,

    Purity Nguhiu

  12. Anonymous says:

    What great information i am defending my master’s project in august and i think the info will help me.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Nana Appiah
    Thank you very much Doc. Your write up is just too good.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Fiona says
    Thanks very much for this helpful information. I am defending next month. One question I have which I can’t find a suitable answer for. Why did i decide on this research question? The research question was previously decided upon by my supervisor. A grant was given with this specific topic and questions. What would be the best answer in the viva?
    Really appreciate your answers

    • Hi Fiona; I think it’s extremely common for a student to start a PhD on a particular topic because there was some grant/funding available for a particular project. At the beginning you have a general sense of the direction/area you want to get into, but more often than not the specific direction is determine by supervisor interests because this is the domain supervisor has been working on for years. All thesis examiners understand this process very well since it’s so common. Anyway, to answer your specific question, I would think a good answer would be to mention why you are doing what you are doing; i.e., the gap you have identified. I would think something along the lines of “The main reason I decided on this research question is because..[you mention the gap you have identified]. A secondary reason was that Prof. xx already had some funding available for this, so it was a great opportunity for us to explore this topic”. You can probably mention the secondary reason in somewhat an informal/jovial tone. It’s the truth, and no one can fail you for mentioning it, but if you only say “oh..my supervisor had funding”, I don’t think it’ll be a good/convincing answer.
      Hope that helps. Good luck!

  15. A. Tabassum says:

    Dear Dr. Mabotuwana,
    I highly appreciate your useful blog. I have my PhD defense next month and these questions will sure help me a great deal. I will post my experience on your blog once successfully done.
    Thanks so much,

  16. A. Tabassum says:

    Currently I am feeling very stressed about what will happen at the defense. Any advice to cope with this situation would be highly appreciated.
    Thanks much,

    • Well Tabassum, if you read up a bit about calming nerves I think almost every post will tell you that what’s important is to realize that you will be nervous before any big event. The solution is to realize this and try to control it..cos there’s no way to simply make the nerves completely go away. In fact, I was pretty nervous myself, and I’m sure almost all PhD students are before their big day, and this is exactly why I started collecting the snippets I have put together in this post! Reading those snippets gave me some confidence, and also helped me in thinking that as long as I don’t totally totally screw things up, I would be fine. Remember..pretty much all combinations except for (weak thesis + weak student) should pass!
      Anyway, only thing I can suggest is prepare the best you can, especially with your opening statements, and then stay confident. After all you’ve worked for so many years and your examiners are not there to fail you. Just because the students worked the University can’t pass you without some formal process, and that’s the whole purpose of the defense..which more often than not is a formality. One thing I would suggest is to take some good deep breaths a few minutes before the oral starts..that should help calm the nerves a bit.
      Good luck with the defense. I’m sure you’ll be just fine! 🙂

      • Tabassum says:

        Thanks so much Dr. Mabotauwana. I didn’t get a chance to see your post, but I must say, this will help me a lot. In a month I will be done with the defense. I will try to do my best.
        Thanks again

  17. Raza Ullah Khan says:

    Hi Dr. TM
    Thanks for these nice tips. These ‘r really amazing and to the point. My viva is in mid Nov. i would be in-touch to get some more info. if required.


  18. Tabassum says:

    Hello Dr.
    I highly appreciate the time you took to answer my concerns. Just wanted to follow up on the Mock that I had today, it went good and now hoping for the real day next week to be even better.
    Thanks a lot for all your support and advice.

  19. Hlanganiso Roy says:

    Hello Dr.
    I really appreaciate your defense guidance “how to ” It helped lower my adrenalin. I am defending tomorrow, 27th Novemeber. After reading your article, i really feel that i am on it, and cant wait any longer.

    • Happy to hear the post helped you feel more confident Hlanganiso. Was exactly the intent of the post..so thanks for the feedback. You’ll be carrying the ‘Dr’ title after tomorrow, so think about the good times ahead..:-) Good luck with your defense..just take a few good deep breaths before walking in, and I’m sure you’ll do just fine! 😀

  20. Tabassum says:

    Hello Dr. TM,
    Just wanted to let you know that I got the title of Dr. on November 29th and I must admit that your blog was one main factor (along many others) that contributed in the success.
    Thanks a lot for a very useful blog as well as your thoughtful replies.

    • Congrats Dr. Tabassum! You must be pretty relieved eh. I bet the defense wasn’t that bad after all?! 😉

      • Tabassum says:

        Thanks so much Dr. TM. I am relieved indeed. You are right, it was not that bad and before the presentation, I followed your advice and had a few deep breaths before I walked in and I was not stressed during the presentation or during the questions perioed.
        Thanks once again.

  21. Ms. Khalid says:

    Thanks so much Dr. TM. Your tips are really amazing…
    I have my m.phill defense on coming Tuesday… n em sure that these will be very helpful for me 🙂
    thank again for such a nice writing.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I was totally blank about viva. could not find the exact tools to judge myself. this is great to preplan viva. thanks sadia

  23. Mujahed Shraim says:

    Dear Thusitha,
    This is really useful! Thank you very much.
    Best wishes

  24. doctorvin says:

    Hello Dr Mabotuwana,
    I will be defending Tuesday – 4/23 – and must thank you for building this blog. Your posting did lower my stress level and allowed me prepare answers to potential questions … forewarned is forearmed…

  25. Anonymous says:

    Hi Dr TM,
    Thank you for sharing this. I’ll be defending mine tomorrow. I wont forget the “deep breath” first before going in to the battle ground. ! Hope to meet you.

  26. Xaivier says:

    Hi Dr TM,

    Thanks for compiling and sharing PhD viva related information. Your invaluable sharing and insight boost my confidence to my coming viva.

    Best wishes

  27. Chami says:

    Dear Dr. ,the post is really helpful, thanks a lot. 🙂
    Sri lankan ( reading a phD in germany)

  28. yasser says:

    My viva will be two weeks later and I think this is the best article I’ve read about passing the VIVA. So COOLING down.

  29. Frances says:

    Hi Dr. TM,

    Thank you SO much for sharing this! I will be defending mine on Nov. 18.

  30. zanna says:

    How do i answer why do you think your thesis is original

    • Well, don’t think there is one way to answer this question. but I would probably approach it by giving a quick overview of the state of the art and highlighting the existing gap(s) you are trying to address with your research. This background should set the scene, and then you could briefly mention how you have addressed this gap, and perhaps also highlight one or two key results. I would think this question most likely won’t come up if your exam is structured in a manner where you have to give a 15mts or so presentation of your work at the very beginning (where you would have addressed this). Hope that helps!

  31. Prachi says:

    I defend my PhD tomorrow afternoon and this was a great read 🙂

  32. VT says:

    Hi Dr. TM,
    Thanks so much for your awesome post! Do you have any guides for preparing the 15 minute presentation at the very beginning? Thanks!

    • Well, before spending the time preparing a presentation, try to find out what sort of a presentation or format your university has. Each university has its own guidelines, some may allow a PPT presentation, some may require you to give a verbal overview of your work without any slides. Could be a 10mts or 15mts, so talk to your adviser and find out the format first. Either way, the presentation should take the standard format where you give a brief intro explaining the background and why you are doing your research, the approach you took, key results and then conclusions where you will highlight the potential of your work, and perhaps indicate where it can go. I strongly suggest Googling “phd oral presentation ppt” which gives you some recommended formats. Eg:

      Background (1-2 slides)
      Aim of the study (1 slide – essential!)
      Brief methods (1 slide)
      Results (4-8 slides)
      Summary (1 slide)
      Conclusions (1 slide)

      Hope that helps. Good luck!

    • Anonymous says:

      for the thesis that is based on different papers that are not continuous is not possible to prepare the presentation in this way, and 20 minutes is so short to repeat all this process for each paper, what would be the best way to manage this kind of thesis?
      Thank you

  33. Don Samarasinghe says:

    Awesome work. I just went through your blog as a preparation for my PhD oral examination at AUT Uni New Zealand. Thanks heaps for this.

  34. mereem says:

    Dear dr. Mabotuwana,

    Thank you very much for posting this very useful information since I am going to defense my PhD dissertation next month. I would like to have answers to the following questions, please.
    1. Justify your researchb methodology. Why you done it in this way?
    2. What are you most proud of, and why?
    3. How do findings realte to literature in your area?
    4. What have you learned fromn doing PhD?
    5. How have you evaluated work?

    • Well, unfortunately you are the only one who can answer those questions, since you are the one who knows the most about your work. I suggest you have a chat with your supervisor if needed, but given that you have written your thesis already, it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with some decent answers to those questions. Very unlikely you’ll get asked all those questions, but would be good to think about some answers beforehand. Good luck with the defense!

  35. Anonymous says:

    Hello professor, thanks for your usefull post, Im going to my PhD defense next week, my field is economy, my thesis is based on 9 papers, that already 4 of them are published in ISI peer reviewed journals with high impact factors, and the rest are under review…Im too much stressed as the last paper that I did, I did it very fast and in short time and its not a good work in my opinion, Im mean it has nothing wrong and there is no mistake on that but it is not in a PhD level I think, thats why Im so much scared, is it possible it makes a problem for me during the defense?

    • It doesn’t sound like you have anything to worry about. None of the examiners expect the thesis to have only top-tier material with ground breaking results. If you have 4 journals already, I think you have more than enough right there. The consensus in most forums etc is that having 3 published papers in decent-good journals (not necessarily in top-tier journal) is enough to pass. It may not get you the most competitive postdoc position, but passing the oral shouldn’t be an issue. Since you are defending, I believe the advisor approved the draft already, which indicates that he/she felt it met the required standard..so I wouldn’t worry about it. Just make sure you know what the limitations of that work are, and why you did things the way you did..in case it comes up. Good luck!

      • Anonymous says:

        Thank you so much for your reply, I would do the things that you advised, I already have a postdoc offer in another university and if I cant pass the defence in just one meeting I will lose the postdoc also and this issue now put me in more stress, such a horrible days 😦 again thank you

      • Don’t worry about it..seriously. With 4 journals already, it’ll be pretty hard for the examiners to fail you anyway..so you should pass even with a pretty average performance at the oral I’d think. Lot of posts around on how to calm your nerves, so read a few of those, and do your best. You’ll be fine!

      • Anonymous says:

        Hi Prof, My defence was great…I received lots of good comments from jury and my final classification was “Excellent”. Thank you very much for the positive energy that you gave me 🙂

      • Congrats “Dr”! You must be so relieved now eh. Thanks for taking the time to post some feedback. Feel free to share your experience as well.

  36. D.S. says:

    Dear Dr. TM,

    I thought you’d like to know that your list of prep points and, esp., the questions helped me to prepare, calm the nerves and (very) successfully defend.

    If not on the list already, I have two points to add:
    1) prepare by dropping the possible questions into a word doc and write your answers ahead of time.
    2) during the def, write the question down, paraphrase the question back to the questioner (to confirm the question – sometimes they change the question a bit), think for a moment, and then respond (just) to question. Not only does this help make sure to correctly got the question but it engages for in the moment prep a bit more and keeps the answer in line /scope with the question.

    Thanks for having the list on your blog.

    Dr. D.S. 5/2014

  37. Anonymous says:

    Thanx alot Sir, for your useful post. But I had one question actually. Can i give some matter of my thesis for publication…as my thesis has not been completed yet…but within month or two it would be completed..And would this publication be affecting my thesis during approval time.
    Thanx alot

    • Yes, you can certainly publish parts of your thesis and that’s actually encouraged. As I discuss in this post, having parts of your thesis already published will make your thesis stronger and make it difficult for the thesis examiner(s) to fail you! My recommendation would be to publish as many parts of your thesis as possible. Good luck!

      • Anonymous says:

        Happy Friendship Day… 🙂
        Thanx alot..Sir…for your suggestion.
        But Sir, wont that publication would affect my thesis as plagiarized..
        And one of my friend asked me that..can one whole chapter of the thesis be published before thesis submission.

      • No, copying from your own material is not considered plagiarism. In my case I had actually copy-pasted about 30% of my own published material. Using turnitin.com (there may be others too) is a good idea to know how much you have plagiarized, but you should be fine as long as its from your own work. Better to double check your university policy on self-plagiarism to be sure though.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Your likely questions in Phd defense is really appreciable work.

  39. Dear Dr Mabotuwana,
    Your blog is such a guide and counsel to lean on. I strayed onto it coz I am preparing to defend in a month. I liked your idea of publish, publish. Might you have suggestions on appropriate journals on economics of adaptation, climate change? Thanks a million. Mwaura, Kenya

  40. Maheshi says:

    Dear Dr. Mabotuwana,
    I am a Sri Lankan. Have to defend my PhD April 23rd. Your post made me strong. Thanks.

  41. Janice Nichilas says:

    Helping a friend prepare to defend her PhD. I truly appreciate this.

  42. Anonymous says:

    Thank you very much. It helped me a lot and the defense went great. Youre really a big help.

  43. Anonymous says:

    Thanks so much for this post!~ I will be defending April 11, 2016 and wondered about potential questions the public and/or the committee could pose! I sincerely appreciate your willingness to share.

    • Hope your oral went well..’Dr’? Sorry, I was out of town last week, so couldn’t get to reply earlier. I defended in NZ where the process is a bit different, so wouldn’t have been able to tell you much anyway. Hope you managed to find some material online. Feel free to share your experience..others might find it useful 🙂

  44. Sydney says:

    Wow. I am encouraged by your blog. Thank you. I have authored/coauthored three papers. Can i expect to be examined on the content of these papers in addition to the content of my thesis during my viva or is the focus mainly on the thesis itself. PS- I attached my papers as an appendix

  45. Anonymous says:

    thank you so much for your time here. thinking , writing and posting this valuable post. Best wishes for u

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