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Surprisingly Easy Defense Questions

Surprisingly easy defense questions

Sometimes, doctoral candidates are taken aback when during their doctoral defense, a committee member asks a surprisingly easy question. There are, however, various reasons why a committee member may be asking you this question.

Before we get into the possible reasons for the easy question, let’s set something straight here: don’t rush into the answer of an easy question, and don’t brush it off as trivial. Treat the surprisingly easy question with the same rigor and respect as any other question. Show your understanding, show your expertise, and provide sufficient depth to your answer.

Most likely, your committee member does not want to ask you a trick question. Most likely, it’s an honest question. There are various reasons for surprisingly easy questions:

  1. To warm up for increasingly harder questions during a doctoral defense that serves as an examination;
  2. To check that you are the author of your thesis;
  3. To confirm a basic premise or assumption of your thesis;
  4. To clarify something that you may find trivial and that is not spelled out in full in your thesis, but that may not be trivial for the reader or an outsider;
  5. To understand what you did – what is easy and trivial to you, may not be so for a different person.

The first reason occurs in doctoral defense formats that serve the function of an examination, such as the British and Irish viva, and the interaction with the opponent in Northern Europe. The second reason is in line with the function of a confirmation of authorship of the doctoral defense – a requirement that is prevalent in the viva guidelines of a number of universities in the United Kingdom.

For similar advice, and much much more, check out my coauthored book on the defense “Planning and Passing your PhD Defence – A Global Toolkit for Success”.

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