Thank you all who have sent suggestions and wishes of good luck. It's much
appreciated, and I received a lot of good ideas. To help others who may be in
a similar situation, I'll summarize them here. These points were very, very
helpful to me, partly to give me the perspective that *many* other people have
survived this experience! (and I'm at an experiment station where there are
very few students, about 4 in our dept.).
The overriding idea seemed to be: you know the most about what you did for you
project, don't be condescending but have self-confidence.
1) Be prepared for "general knowledge" questions in the pet area of the
members of the committee
2) be prepared to get back on track after interruptions
3) be prepared to defend "fluffy" statements [as opposed to profound, I
4) don't let them confuse you about what you know; try to remain confident
5) "don't worry if you couldn't answer a few questions. Part of a defense is
designed to show you that even if you don't have a ph.d. you don't know
6) try to put yourself in your committee's shoes; given their specialties, try
to figure out the types of questions they are likely to ask
7) figure out the weaknesses of your work and have a strategy to answer
questions on them (ie, what additional experiments would clarify your theories)
8) don't be afraid to say "I don't know"; a committee member may hone in on a
subject (not necessarily related to your work) and keep asking more and more
detailed questions until you finally are willing to say "I don't know".
9) Don't be terrified; your own fear can prevent you from taking advantage of
this as a learning experience
10) Once the questions about basic biology and the thesis work are covered;
the discussion may turn to more speculative topics and this can be fun
11) Bring cookies and soft drinks for the committee
12) If you did good work and believe in it, then have confidence in it and be
13) Don't let committee members provoke you; be positive but firm
14) Don't be afraid to tell them what is positive about what you've done and
yourself; blow your own horn!
15) If you start feeling sunk, look for a life preserver; a committee member
may toss you a line, an easy question, to let you catch your breath and pull
you up to solid ground before they go on.
16) You committee wants you to pass, but won't make it easy!
17) Don't worry about the length of time when they send you in the hall;
they're telling jokes and signing your papers.
Any new suggestions, corrections, clarifications, further discussion welcome!
Thanks to Bharathi J., Muriel L., Susan C., JuneKK, Mary C., Susan F. and
Marcy Grebus, graduate research assistant, Dept. Plant Pathology, OARDC-OSU
p.s. For those interested, my field is Plant Pathology, and my thesis has 3
diverse chapters covering biological control of ornamental and turf using
biocontrol agents and organic amendments, and also development of a RAPD probe
for tracing a particular biocontrol agent. one last note: My defense is
scheduled for 10am-noon, so I'm not too worried about them taking loads of
time to sign [*if* I pass, of course!], since they'll want to hurry off to
lunch! The worst part of my m.s. defense [with 2 committee members of my
current committee] was shaking hands at the end--talk about cold & clammy!