Thesis writing 101 – The defence

It's that time of year when Facebook is blooming with successful medical students showing their white teeth and successful grins.

The time when we're happy for our friends and fellow colleagues, yet utterly envious of their jumping a hurdle all of us inevitably need to face at one point or another.

It's thesis defence season.

If you missed my first posts about the thesis writing project, you can read them here:

Thesis writing 101 - Part 1: Getting started

Thesis writing 101 - Part 2: To research or not to research?

Once your thesis is finalized and you get that glorious e-mail from your advisor where "she thinks [your thesis is] okay"  (true story, my advisor called my thesis 'okay' the night before I printed it....major confidence boost) it's time to print!

That moment might be better than finishing the defence itself. While the apprehension of "is this definitely at the point where I can print it" hinders the glorious feeling of completion, you have to take the plunge eventually and just accept that no matter how many times you proofread your thesis, there will be mistakes and type-o's.

Quick money saving tip: I used Microsoft Word and when using the 'heading' feature, the headings automatically came up in blue color. Since you will likely have headings in every page, this means you'll have to print every page in color, which is seven times more expensive then printing in black and white. So, I went into each and every heading like a frugal princess and changed each heading from blue to black.

Once all of your text is in black font, the only color pages you need to print are the ones including graphs, figures and diagrams. When you go to print your thesis, you ask to print it in black and white, except the pages with pictures. The next evening you can bathe in all those millions you've saved. You're welcome 😉

You can print your thesis either at the BD studio copy shop, or XPRESS Digital (near the roundabout next to Spar on Alkotmany). I personally went to XPRESS Digital because Lars printed his thesis at the BD studio copy shop and he didn't like the quality of the cover. The text on the cover at XPRESS Digital is indented, so a bit more durable compared to the superficial text at BD studio. Also, the binding is a bit sturdier at XPRESS Digital. A week after Lars's defence, the text on his cover was already smudged and messy. Mine on the other hand is still intact, so I'd definitely recommend XPRESS Digital!

While both print shops say they can print it in the same day, you should definitely reserve a full 24 hours to get your thesis back. In the rare event there's a type-o on the cover or something similar, you should leave time to correct it, if necessary.

Once those puppies are in your procession and you've handed two copies to your advisor, it's time to prepare your presentation!

We can thank Lars for the awkward-angle photos 🙂 Although let's be honest, the angle is definitely not the most awkward part of that photo....

Each department has their own specific guidelines for your presentation, but generally it's a 10-20 minute power point presentation highlighting the outline of your thesis. Mine went uninterrupted, but I've heard some students get questioned mid-presentation.

(Ps: using a smart board, laser pointer and clicker is just as fun as it seems... #weathergirlmoment)

I aimed to have as little text as possible and more figures and simple bullet points because I personally find these types of lectures more enjoyable to follow, but the layout of your presentation slides is completely up to you. If you have any research from the department that you could slyly throw in there, do so. My advisor conducted research a few years ago on atopic dermatitis that never went into publishing, so she asked me to include it in my thesis. I included her data briefly in my presentation, and her colleagues were happy to see some familiar work. Hungarians all love each other, make sure to credit them  😉

Tip 4: keep your eyes open during your presentation.

I printed some presentation notes to have in case of a complete brain-fart, but these are optional. Most people just read from their slides and free-style the rest, but I felt more comfortable having some text to rely on in case I completely forgot what I was supposed to talk about.

I nervously read these notes a few times through right before my presentation which helped me get into my atopic dermatitis-zone.

Once your presentation is finished, it's time to defend your work! The night before my defence, my brother comforted me by saying "No one knows your thesis better than you do." I liked hearing this because while my opponent was an expert in the field, he wasn't the one spending months researching this specific topic. So you should definitely feel prepared!

According to the Registrar's office's official document, you should get questions from your opponent one week in advance. I didn't get these, so I was unable to prepare for them, but I knew my opponent was an immunologist so I knew some immunological-related questions could be likely 😉 Don't freak out if you don't get questions in advance. I've heard people who have been unable to answer a single question and still pass with fine grades!

Sitting across from you is your opponent, the head of the department, and your advisor watching you like a proud parent. The opponent asks a few questions, and generally the head of the department will chime in with something as well, but not always.

At the end of the defence, your advisor will flood you with compliments and praise everything about you and your thesis and suggest a grade.  Then the opponent will do the same; read off of their prepared notes of all the praises and mistakes in your thesis, and offer a grade. Your advisor's grade counts for 50% of the final evaluation and your opponent decides the other half. Every thesis will have something to correct, so don't worry, you can have some mistakes and still get a 5. What matters of course is the actual content of your thesis.

Your advisor is the best help in the days prior. Ask them which parts of your thesis should be highlighted in your presentation and if they have any tips for the defence. This is when I found out my opponent is an immunologist, so my thoughts were completely geared towards immunology related themes while preparing for my defence!

Moral of the story: don't panic, because this should be fun! You should be presenting work you're proud of and if that doesn't give you a kick of confidence nothing will. How many times have you gone to an exam feeling like an expert in the field? Zero? Me too! But at your defence, it's like my brother said, "you know your topic better than anybody." Enjoy that feeling of immersing yourself into your topic and feeling well adept after months of preparation, because it probably will be the one of the first and only times in medical school 😉

And then go to Spain and share a huge jug of Sangaria with your family to celebrate. Cheers!

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