Mine is in linguistics and education, so I had to establish a correlation on whether kids would learn vocabulary words faster with my methodology versus the traditional methodology.
For me, the hardest things to (both write and defend) where : a) How is my investigation an agent of social change,
b) In what ways my investigation will make an impact on other educators, and c) why did I choose my method of scientific inquiry versus another i.e., quantitative vs. qualitative and quasi experimental/case study.
Those are backbone questions. Once you have them down, you will exude self confidence and they will notice that you did this for a bigger purpose than to just be called "doctor"
With regard to remaining calm, I would offer two suggestions. Have faith in your work, and practice. Practice asking and answering any questions you think that could be thrown at you. Practice looking in the mirror, as you are trying to fall asleep at night, in the shower, have friends and family ask you the tough questions, etc. These two things should provide you with the confidence you need to know your work is well done and you can handle anything they throw at you. Good luck.
The first time I did an appellate argument before my state's supreme court, I decided the best way to approach the situation was to frame it as a conversation with the judges. Certainly, I was prepared to discuss the issues, and I did anticipate questions that exposed potential weaknesses in my case, but nevertheless, this was still going to be just a conversation. I found framing the situation this way to be quite helpful, and I hope you find it helpful, too.
Do you have a chance to watch any others defend in your department before yours comes up? Even another department would help, if you have never been present at one. It would at least give you an idea of the procedure. You might want to anticipate what will come up--where did you have the most trouble when you were working on the project? They will ask tough questions--it is the job of the panal to do so. Practice in front of others in your field, and tell them to be rough on you; you'll be ready!
Be prepared to defend your data collection process and the validity of your data. Also be confident in your conclusions that you have made, there will surely be someone that will challenge you, mainly just to see how you are able to defend it, not that they actually think it is wrong. As far as keeping your composure, just relax and talk about your work, at this point you know it inside and out and are the expert in the room!
I don't know how it is in your subject -- what questions they ask.
At my defense, they asked mainly about the methods I had used (mine was in political history) and the conclusions I drew. So they focused on the dissertation. But I was lucky -- my committee didn't know much about my subject!
The way to maintain your composure is to expect the negative comments and to realize it is part of the process. They have to ask you some seemingly negative questions to be sure that you are able to defend and explain your thinking. So don't look at these as actual criticisms. Instead, think of them as attempts to get you to explain your thinking.
Good luck! Do you defend soon?
When I did mine years ago, I remembered people asking about other references I made, what I thought of other research arguments, why i didn't use theirs, and about my math section as whether all variables were valid. I just stood my ground and told them that it was my work, my perceptions and it was how I wanted to be remembered.
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