You are almost there. You have completed your coursework. You have passed your comps. You have finished writing your dissertation. Now, the only obstacle between you and the prestigious title of Doctor is your dissertation defense. Many people often get really nervous about defending their dissertations, but in most cases, if your committee is allowing you to defend your dissertation, chances are that your committee will approve of your work.
When defending your dissertation, keep in mind that you have already proposed your project, so information that was found in the proposal (i.e., introduction, literature review, and methodology) has already been presented. Therefore, you do not need to spend much time going over these sections at your dissertation defense. Rather, you should briefly overview of the first three chapters of your dissertation and move on to the new information that you want to present (i.e., results and discussion).
When you discuss your results, you do not necessarily need to go into detail about every little outcome that you found; often, you will not have enough time to do this. Instead, you should discuss your results in terms of patterns that emerged in the data. Comparing patterns in your data to that of previous research is a natural way to flow into your discussion section and give a good presentation. When presenting your discussion section, be sure to present both the limitations and the strengths of your project. Remember, your goal for your dissertation defense is to prove to your committee that you have contributed new knowledge to your field.
You will probably have to answer questions from various committee members, so try your best to respond in a non-defensive manner. Additionally, keep your answers concise; you should not try to impress your committee by using complex responses. Lastly, if you do not know the answer to a question, that’s ok, but be upfront and admit that you do not know the answer. Committee members will likely respond better to your admitting that you do not know something as opposed to your faking an answer (yes, they will be able to tell if you are faking).
Though it may provoke anxiety, defending your dissertation is actually an exciting process because in some cases, the dissertation defense marks the end of a very long journey. At the same time, successfully defending your dissertation also marks the next stage of your professional life, so as much as you can, you should try to enjoy this moment.
Post-defense reality check: What should you do after defending your PhD
|Celebrating in style, after the defense|
The first month after my PhD was mostly spent on moving things, preparing for shipping a container to our new base and then trying to tie up all loose ends in Europe.
Now that the dust has settled, it is time to look back on those weeks that came after finishing the PhD (hint: they are equally messy as the final months of the PhD itself, and maybe a fore-bearer of what I should expect from academia from now on).
Yes, after you defend your PhD, you find some time to actually breathe.
No, that doesn't mean I've spent the entire summer on a tropical beach, reading books and sipping cocktails.
I've been busy as always, and I'm here to share with you what I felt were the best decisions I made upon finishing my PhD.
What could you do right after finishing, and before the regular humdrum of life takes over again?
Here's a list of what I felt was necessary, useful and productive to do:
Take some time to clean out your clutter and free some space in your office. Even though you might stay at the institution where you were awarded your PhD, this might be the right time to decide what you can discard. If you want to make the switch to a paperless office, the time is now. Scan paper from folders you gathered. Clear out everything you won't need anymore. All those prints of the drafts of your dissertation? Paper recycling!
Homeworks of courses that you were assisting? If the students have graduated, you can get rid of that!
And, now that we're at it - get a wipe with some disinfecting product and clean your desk - and try to keep it a little more empty.
2. Send copies of your dissertation
I ordered 250 copies of my dissertation from the printer, and I've distributed more than half of all these copies by now. Either in between printing and defending, or after defending, take some time to mail copies of your dissertation. I took the stack of business cards that I collected at conferences, and sent a copy to everyone who might be interested, and I also sent it to professors in my field.
Don't wait too long after finishing to send out your copies - in the months after finishing, you'll become increasingly critical of the work you produced.
3. Rekindle your network
You might have been engrossed in writing while you were preparing your dissertation. Right after finishing is the right time to schedule appointments to catch up with friends (for the love of the flying spaghetti monster, do go and celebrate) and former colleagues. Write some emails to people in your network to catch up with them.
4. Go on a tour
Look for events where you can speak about your work. These events might be conferences, but try to take it a step further. How about bringing your message to an audience from the industry, speaking in a local school about the value of your science, or giving a TEDx talk? Come out of your musty dusty lab and take your work into the broad lights of the world. The baby is born and it's ready to be shown to the world!
5. Celebrate in style
Is there something you always wanted to do? How about learning to surf, go on a long trip, visit a place you always wanted to see? In my case, I always wanted to go to Wacken Open Air, but never got tickets, time nor transport to get there. I planned this trip about a year in advance (or better: my best friend made it happen!), and it felt like a great celebration of finishing, and 4 days away from it all.
6. Update your CV
You got the degree, so make sure you update your CV. Don't forget to change your profiles all over the web, on the social media platforms you use, and certainly on LinkedIn, Academia.edu and ResearchGate.
7. Update your list of publications
Along the same lines as updating your CV goes updating your list of publications. Keep track of your publications, and add them online as well. From now on, you publications will be more important than ever.
8. Take some time off
Even if you can't get your dream holiday, take some time off. I tried getting back to writing about 1,5 weeks after my defense, and it was just too early. I couldn't get motivated to do anything, and I didn't get more done than a paragraph a day. Allow yourself enough time to fully relax.
9. Make a planning for publishing
If your thesis is a big book-style thesis and not a set of papers, then start to identify which papers you could write from your dissertation. Who would you invite as coauthors? Where would you submit? Make a table with this information, and plan when you want to write your first draft, by when you need to revisions of your coauthors and when you plan to submit. Do this earlier rather than later, and make writing these papers your priority for the next year. Don't let this sink to the bottom - writing is what counts.
10. Start something new
To get away from the research you've been working on for 3 or 4 years, bring the bubbles back into your brain by starting something new. If possible, work on a new project to keep things interesting. Otherwise, take on a small side project for your own interest, and start playing around with something new. Learn a new subject. Code in another language. Teach a course.
What were your priorities after finishing your PhD, or how are you planning to spend the months after finishing?