I noticed that the Discussion chapter is one of the hardest to write, especially when you are so close to the results and your head is wrapped up in all the data. Writing the Discussion chapter requires taking a few big steps back and seeing the big picture. For that reason, I often write it with my eyes closed, without looking at the results. Or I ask students to imagine they ran into a friend or colleague at a coffee shop. They don’t have the manuscript or slides on them. X was rated as 4.61 and Y was rated as 3.93? This is the part where you sell your research. Think of the Discussion chapter as an executive summary. If it is the only thing I read, I should get a good understanding of what you found and why it matters. You should explain it to me clearly, in a narrative, without restating your results. And now that we are so close, I might as well address the Conclusion chapter. 1. Summary of the entire project – this can be an extended abstract. What you set out to do (purpose of research), what you did (methods) and what you found out (main results). 2. Directions for future research. I learned something great about this in a thesis defense yesterday. Think beyond replicating your study and overcoming your limitations. Think beyond better ways of addressing the same research questions. Now that we know what your research results are, what are other interesting questions we should address? What other issues and questions arise? I’ve said this so many times in the past few weeks that I felt writing a blog post I can refer students to might be helpful. Please feel free to add your advice or questions in the comments below.
Whether you are doing job interviews, applying to other jobs, or you want to “jump the gun” and finally start your post-PhD life, don’t give into temptation. Keep your guard up until your actual defense day. This is key to giving a good talk. You need to go in with the mindset that you will kill your presentation and give a long lasting impression to your audience. I have actually heard that some people who gave great thesis defense talks were offered a position shortly after (i.e. a postdoc). This might be the most difficult thing for anyone. I struggled with this the most while writing my thesis. Skipping meals, late nights, overloading your system with caffeine just to stay awake. You have to fight it the best that you can. A month before my defense talk, I hit the gym 3x a week (for the first time in months). Everyone handles the anxiety of their defense talk differently.
I am someone who thinks about it constantly. So it becomes hard to focus on other things, like taking care of yourself. Once your thesis is turned in to your committee members, during those final two weeks- sleep and a proper diet are KEY. The day of your defense, make sure you are well-rested (don’t stay up all night stressing about it) and eat well. Don’t sell yourself short. By taking care of yourself, you ensure that you have the highest probability for giving a great thesis defense talk and showing your committee members that you are confident about your project. When your defense day comes, you have to remember that you have put in a lot of HARD WORK to get to this point. You know your topic better than anyone. Because of this, you have no reason to be stressed out. When your committee pushes you and asks you questions, they again will push you to your limits.
You will meet a point where you won’t know the answer. Also, a question could simply be a future direction/experiment that you simply haven’t tested yet. Remember that they are simply trying to test your knowledge and humble you. You don’t have to know all the answers. Therefore, when you are answering questions, keep your cool and relax. Answer the questions the best that you can and you should have no problem passing. Who doesn’t want to spend their final two weeks planning the celebration? Although I did have an after-party, I did not go to great efforts to plan it like a wedding party. 5, prioritize and focus on your thesis defense talk and nothing else. Plan your after-party while you are on break from your practice talk/preparing for questions/working on slides but do not make it a number one priority. Once you have passed, then you can change your focus. A good thesis talk also has a good introduction before going on to the next idea or slide. It should flow in a logical manner and be smooth. 1 is important, because many people don’t spend enough time in the creation of good powerpoint slides.
Your slides and talk have to MATCH up, meaning you can’t have really good slides and a mediocre talk (or vice versa) if you want it to go well. This is why practice is important, and if you spend enough time on BOTH the talk/slides you will give a very good talk. A lot of times while I was actually practicing my talk, I had to go back and change the order/wording of slides or how I introduced certain slides (the wording) so that the flow would be better. Be formal in how you word things (i.e. say “our data show that”… vs. To give a good introduction, it might be wise to use slides that ask a question in between. This question slide (break) in-between your next idea allows for your general audience to CATCH UP and understand your logic. Why are you doing this experiment? If you just show a bunch of your published data with no introduction (and maybe a title that gives an interpretation/punchline), you will overwhelm and bore your audience.