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PhD Defenses Around the World: a Defense in Portugal

Today, Dr. Miguel Abambres shares his experiences of the PhD defense. Miguel is a passionate Portuguese scientist, born in Lisbon in 1984 (Leo), and also a cat guy who loves traveling and teaching. He received his degree in Civil/Structural engineering in 2007 from IST (University of Lisbon) after spending the final semester of his undergrad at TU Delft. He received his PhD in 2014 from IST (University of Lisbon) on the topic of computational mechanics (novel FE formulation) applied to thin-walled carbon/stainless steel structural members. He did a post-doc at FCT (University of Coimbra, Portugal) in 2017-2018 on the development of an AI-based software for nonlinear regression problems in any field of knowledge. He also has 1,5 years of experience as a structural engineer in national and international firms, has spend 1,5 years as a under/postgrad professor (in Spanish) in Lima, Peru, and has worked 9,5 years as a scientist in several countries. His research interests include: Applied Computational Intelligence, Artificial Neural Networks, Civil Engineering, Structural Engineering, and Steel Structures. Besides Portugal, he has lived in Holland, Australia, Norway, Perú, Colombia and Brazil. This post was written in August 2018.

In my case it was a remarkable period, i loved it, but not anything i wasn´t expecting. The exception was a “little stress” in the final semester (don’t forget a 0.5 mg XANAX pill in your pocket during moments like this LOL), when one night I realized I had to restart my last computer simulations because the results were not good – I got afraid not having time to apply for the 2013 Vinnakota Award, but thanks to God I managed and at the end I had the honor to receive my first, yet the only (apart from grants), research prize.

I got a 4 year PhD grant from the Portuguese Government, and in order to apply I had to write a research proposal with my supervisors. Around the 3rd year I realized we had proposed enough topics for 2 PhDs (LOL), but my supervisor soon told me that the research proposal didn´t have to be fully completed as long as there was a major innovation in my final PhD thesis. Talk to your “bosses” and make it clear from the beginning. Researching under stress and anxiety harms a lot your performance.

Concerning thesis writing, my strategy was to start writing the theoretical part since day 1.
I proposed a novel mathematical formulation. Every stage of it was first written in MS Word (in the “final” thesis format, including text – not just formulas), then coded in MATLAB. After 4 years of research (including 6 compulsory postgrad courses and 15 papers (10 to conferences)), the so desired final phase had come – 6 months to finish the 328 page thesis.

After delivering the manuscript, I waited 6 months for the public defense. In the meantime I prepared my .pptx and went for holidays with my best friend a few months before the D day. In that day it was a piece of cake ahahaha (seriously, no one in that room knows more about your work than yourself).
Be confident and do not rehearse too much your presentation. Speaking at several conferences before the defense might help increasing your confidence and decreasing your anxiety (don´t forget the XANAX “friend”, just in case).

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