25 Thesis/Dissertation Defense Questions

December 17, 2023

thesis defense questions, masters dissertation

When you’re considering going to graduate school , or you’re about to defend your master’s thesis or PhD dissertation, chances are you’ve come across something called the thesis defense. The thesis defense is arguably one of the most fundamental steps to take in order to attain your graduate degree. Each university will have its own tailored expectations of the thesis defense. Yet, as a whole, the thesis defense is an opportunity for you to demonstrate in front of the committee the extensive research you’ve completed and the critical skills you’ve developed. Due to the critical nature of the various thesis defense questions/dissertation defense questions you’ll be asked, it’s best to be prepared and practice with other students. Try to even attend a thesis defense if you can. Overall, consider the thesis defense as a chance to showcase how you’ll best contribute to that academic field of research.

The thesis defense can range from anywhere between one to two hours, depending on your program. As a whole, you’ll present how you decided to choose this topic of research, what you discovered, and what those findings led you to realize. The committee – those overseeing and critiquing your thesis defense – will then ask you a series of thesis defense questions, as well as your written thesis because they’ll have already read it by then. In most cases, by the end of the questioning, the committee will either decide to approve your thesis or give you possible suggestions on how to reapproach your research.

How to best prepare for thesis defense questions

Much like preparing for the GRE or deciding what graduate program you wanted to apply to at the beginning of your graduate academic journey, familiarizing yourself with what to expect on the day of your thesis defense will only lighten the burden. Whether you’re a new master’s student or considering how to pursue a PhD , it’s important to know ahead of time how to best prepare for the thesis defense questions. If you’re getting ready to defend the master’s thesis or prepare for dissertation defense questions, see how you can answer the following thesis defense questions that might come your way on the day of the presentation.

1)  What does your research focus on?

Be ready to state right away the synopsis of your research. Although it may seem like a simple, straightforward question, the committee will be looking to see the terminology you use when describing the focus of your research.

2) What influenced you to research this topic?

The committee will be interested in knowing what influenced you to choose this specific topic of research. What motivated you? Shape your answer in a way that reflects the field of study your topic of interest is in and the issues that stood out to you.

3) What does your study encompass and cover?

Consider the parameters and scope of your research for your thesis defense. By defining and delineating the grounds that you covered with your research, you will inform the committee with a better understanding of how you decided to focus on your topic of interest.

Thesis Defense Questions (Continued)

4) what was the goal of your research.

This question will surface often whether you are defending your master’s thesis or preparing for the dissertation defense questions. It’s important to state what your thesis meant to achieve. Think of what the core focus of your thesis is, and state how that was the driving factor in your research.

5) What were your expectations going into this research?

Describe how your hypothesis was formed. Were there any things you had expected or any preconceived notions you had on this topic before you pursued this research? Where did these expectations come from? Did any previous research affect the way you approached your thesis defense as a whole?

Defending a Thesis (Continued)

6) what did you study that made you want to conduct this research project.

This is a great opportunity for you to show what literature you reviewed that led you to pursue the research. Be ready to discuss the literary review of what has already been contributed to this field of study. Reflect on the realizations made when confronting certain data and if it was feasible for you to conduct your research given the existing contributions. Examining this type of literary review will serve you well during the following thesis defense questions.

7)  Who is the targeted audience for this research?

It will be important to state who the targeted audience is, or what types of people will be affected by your research. Will these particular parties benefit from your research? How will they be affected? Consider not just the targeted audience, but also those in parallel groups who may be impacted by your findings.

8)  Why did you choose this title for your research? – thesis defense questions

The way you have named and titled your research will convey what you consider most important to the committee. What does your research try to explain in the given title? Is there a reason you chose the specific words in your title to convey a main point? The committee will want to see the intentionality of every word here and how it relates back to your research.

9)  How did you conduct your research questions and did your approach change?

While you were preparing and conducting your research, you might have found that your research questions were changing, depending on the sample you were studying. Oftentimes, if you are utilizing qualitative research methodology, the types of qualitative questions may change based on the answer. How did that change affect your research process? Did you have to shift your approach to the subject matter or reconsider focus groups?

10)  What impact does your research have on the existing literature?

Reflect on how your research made a contribution to the overall understanding of the field at hand. Think of why this was necessary and state that concisely. This will trickle into other thesis defense questions.

11)  Did you address any gaps in the field of your research?

Answering this thesis defense question will show how significant the findings of your research are. The goal of anyone’s research is to fill in the gaps of a field. Why did the pre-existing literature not suffice to address the focus of your research?

12)  What did you come across during your research?

It helps to have options of how you’ll convey this. Try to be prepared to summarize in detail, within a minute, what your findings were. Then see what you can paraphrase in 5 minutes. How about in 10 minutes? Doing so will assist you in identifying the most relevant piece of information based on how the committee asks you this thesis defense question.

13)  Did you find anything unexpected or surprising during your research process? – thesis defense questions

This would be a good opportunity for you to state how any surprises you came across helped you make certain decisions about your research. While you defend the master’s thesis and think of how you’ll prepare for the PhD dissertation defense questions, this is a “curveball” moment that demonstrates how you took charge of the challenge presented and continued your research despite what you had confronted.

14)  Under what parameters is your research valid?

Parameters were mentioned in question 3 above, but consider the specific conditions that would need to be in place for your findings to be valid. What are the elements that would have to be in place? Be ready to identify these during this thesis defense question.

15)  What were the challenges when conducting your research?

Were there any roadblocks you faced when gathering your data? Did you have to reconsider your research methodology at all? Identifying this will help the committee understand the direction and trajectory of your research.

16)  What were the challenges when working with your subject matter?

If you were interviewing people, did the focus groups not adhere to what you had asked them to do? Why? Walk the committee through your approach here.

17)  Why did you choose the research methodology that you chose?

While you’re defending the master’s thesis or answering dissertation defense questions, you’ll be asked specific questions about your research methodology. Was it qualitative? Quantitative? Why? What made you believe that this would be the most effective way to conduct your research?

18)  How did you form your hypothesis?

Tie back in your expectations for your research and consider what you thought the expected results would be for this thesis defense question. Were there any factors, both past or recent, that had helped shape your hypothesis?

19)  How did you gather the data to conduct your research and what sources did you use?

Recount what steps you took to decide how to access the data. Did certain libraries offer more resources? Was there any censorship that you came across that posed as a roadblock to collecting data?

20)  What are the practical implications of your research?

For both master’s and PhD students, this is always an important thesis defense question to keep in mind. In life outside of the academic institution, how will your research be of practical use to society? It’s a question that most graduate students ask about themselves before graduating, so it’s best to know how to answer this one about your research!

21)  How did you decide what samples to study in the research you found? What was your approach in using sample groups?

For example, if you used sample or focus groups, how did you go about selecting these groups? How did you get access to the data here? Don’t be hesitant to state the challenges you might have faced while doing so. As long as you frame it in a way that helps provide a more intricate portrait of the trajectory of your research, you’re on the right path.

22)  What are the independent and dependent variables in your research?

Use this thesis defense question to show how balanced your research methodology was by naming the different factors. How did the independent variables affect how the dependent variables changed?

Dissertation Defense Questions (Continued)

23)  considering your contribution to this field of research, where else would require further research what more needs to be done in this field.

As a master’s student defending your master’s thesis or as a PhD candidate preparing for your dissertation defense questions, you are already a researcher. And as a researcher, you must present what else must be done in your field of research on top of what you’ve accomplished. What does your research further suggest?

24)  What did you ultimately gather from your research? What did you learn during and after the process? – thesis defense questions 

Aside from stating your findings as a whole, this would be a good moment to express if you found anything significant outside of your thesis that you hadn’t expected. Was there something you learned while gathering your data or writing up your text that you never thought you’d come across?

25)  After you complete your degree, what do you want to pursue professionally?

It’s not uncommon for master’s or PhD students to not know exactly what they want to do once they graduate. But for this last thesis defense question, it’s good to have a solid answer that will tie back into the research you’ve done. Do you have further research plans in this field? Do you want to pursue a profession that would enable this and strengthen the practical reality of it?

Thesis Defense Questions – Additional Resources

We hope you found this list of common thesis defense questions useful as you prepare for defending your thesis. Other articles that you may find relevant include:

  • Top Feeders to PhD Programs
  • Do You Need a Master’s to get a PhD?
  • How to Write a Grad School Statement of Purpose
  • Graduate School Admissions

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Joanna Hong

With a BA from Pitzer College and an MA from University College London, Joanna has worked in London, Berlin, and Los Angeles covering many cultural and political issues with organizations such as Byline Media, NK News, and Free Turkey Media. A freelancer for The New York Times, her work has also appeared in Newsweek, Dazed and Confused Magazine, and The Guardian, among others. In addition, Joanna was the recipient of the 2021 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship in Fiction and is currently completing her first novel.

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COMMENTS

  1. 25 Thesis/Dissertation Defense Questions

    In addition, Joanna was the recipient of the 2021 PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship in Fiction and is currently completing her first novel. Thesis Defense Questions - the 25 most common questions that grad students will hear while defending their master's thesis or dissertation.