You should be proud of the hard work that has gotten you to this point, but it’s understandable if you’re feeling a little nervous too. Defending your dissertation is a big deal! It’s the culmination of five years or so of work and the last major step in earning your doctorate. However, thinking of it as a test will only add to the pressure and increase your stress. Your defence is a formality that you must go through to earn your degree. One of the best things you can do today to prepare for your defence is to spend some time getting into a good mindset.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take it seriously. However, rather than thinking of your defence as an exam, think of it as an in-depth conversation about your research achievements during your degree. When is the next time you’ll be in a room with multiple who have read your thesis and want to discuss it in-depth? You probably won’t have an opportunity like this again. Your defence is an opportunity to spend a couple hours talking about your research with an engaged and captive audience.
One of the most reassuring things you can tell yourself going into your defence is that you know more about your dissertation than anyone else, including your committee. You committee members may be experts in the field, but they are not experts in your thoughts or research. You are. Their role in the defence is to ask questions and challenge your thinking in a way that allows you to show them that you are the expert. You committee members already know that you’re a qualified expert because they’ve read your dissertation. Your defence is a formality where you’re expected to perform your knowledge so the committee sees this.
Finally, if you have any feelings of inadequacy or concern about what you perceive to be weaker parts of your dissertation, try not to dwell on them today. A lot of people feel like this before they defend. Remember that you’re defence wouldn’t have been scheduled if your advisor didn’t truly believe that you were ready. Your committee wants you to pass; it’s the best outcome for them and you.
Try to go to bed early tonight and rest up for the big day tomorrow. You got this!