I recently published another paper on the topic of the doctoral defense. In this paper, I analyzed how different choices for the building blocks of the doctoral defense influence the perception of the doctoral candidate. To my surprise, I found that the major differences between defense formats don’t have that much of an influence, but that the elements which I thought were of lesser importance, actually tend to have more of an impact on student perception. The devil is in the details!
Here’s the abstract:
The doctoral defense is an important step in the doctoral journey and an essential requirement for obtaining a doctoral degree. Past research on the doctoral defense has focused solely on national practices. In this work, I investigate the potential link between the doctoral defense format based on its major and minor elements and the perception of the defense by the student. For this purpose, I first reviewed the different defense formats used internationally to extract the different elements of the doctoral defense, and the literature on students’ perceptions of the doctoral defense. Then, I carried out an international survey which received 297 responses, of which 204 were completed surveys which I used for the analysis in this article. I first analyzed the outcomes of the survey using qualitative and quantitative methods, and then cross-correlated the outcomes of defense format with the outcomes of student perception. From this analysis, I observed that the defense elements that positively impact the student’s perception are: publication of the thesis before the defense, receiving committee feedback before the defense, knowing the recommendations of one or more committee member in advance, having the supervisor present in the audience or as part of the committee, using a dress code, and including a laudatio. The final conclusion of this work is threefold. The first conclusion is that the details of the defense format impact most the students’ perception. The second conclusion is that doctoral students, on average, value the defense as a positive experience. The third conclusion is that the defense format cannot influence two important aspects of how a student perceives the defense: the student’s inner life and experience during the defense, and the behavior of the committee members.