Here's the way the defence works at Carleton (which may or may not line up with your own school's procedures):
- Your committee watches you give a twenty minute presentation summarizing what you did. The idea here is not to teach newcomers about your methods and results, since there's no way you could cram 100+ pages into twenty minutes; rather, you are just reminding the committee what they have already read.
- Each committee member gets an opportunity to ask you questions one on one. Nobody else is allowed to interrupt at this point.
- Then everyone is allowed to ask questions in a more random manner.
- When there are no more questions, anyone who is not part of the committee (i.e. you and your friends watching) leave the room while the committee decides your fate.
- Success! (hopefully)
This might sound weird, but my defence experience was actually pretty pleasant. To ensure I didn't get so nervous that all the important information I needed didn't fly out of my head, I simply didn't think about it. I attended the Ottawa Girl Geek Dinner the night before, and kept my mind off it during the big day. Then, while waiting for the last committee member, I chatted with the ones already there, since I knew them all. This small talk gave a bit of a casual atmosphere, which relaxed me before everyone had to get serious.
I also appreciated the comments given to me by the committee. The first person who had the floor for questions started out by complimenting my writing, saying it was a pleasure to read. I got a lot of good feedback about areas that I never realized weren't clear, so my revisions (hopefully) really improved the quality of the final product. It is so worth getting it right so you can be proud of your work years from now!
If you're interested in taking a look at the final document, you can download the PDF.
I'm really looking forward to having everything finalized so I can finally officially register for my PhD courses! I'm taking some good ones, so watch for future blog posts about computers and cognition and maybe some interesting advanced data structures...