Thesis Defense

For the official thesis guidelines page, follow this link.

For a thorough writeup of the process and dealing with LaTeX as a whole, follow this link.

Matt Walters was kind enough to write up how he thinks one should prepare for a thesis defense. Read on!

The thesis defense consists of two very different pieces: writing the thesis and preparing the defense presentation. While you have a lot of creative control in writing your thesis, in general the goal is to explain the work you’ve done in grad school and place it in the broader context of your field as a whole.

The details of the expected thesis structure and content obviously vary depending on your particular discipline. The average length seems to be in the low-to-mid 100’s, though I’ve seen theses as short as 60 pages and some longer than 300 pages. The best advice I can give about writing the thesis is to START EARLY. It’s always a good idea to keep notes as you progress through research, and you might as well include those notes in a thesis file, while it’s fresh in your mind.

As for the defense presentation, this is generally intended to be a 30-45 minute presentation on the content of your thesis (either an excerpt or an overview). The main point of the presentation is to highlight the specific contributions you’ve made to the field, rather than explain previous work done by others. Since the committee will ask questions during/after the presentation, the entire defense usually takes between 1-2 hours.

You are responsible for telling the front office (currently Kelley Key) to schedule your thesis defense, which you should try to do about a month in advance of the expected defense date. The committee consists of five members: your advisor (who is the chair of the committee), two other members of the Physics and Astronomy department, and two external members from other departments. Technically, your advisor is supposed to provide recommendations for committee members, though this doesn’t always happen in practice.

Once a committee is selected, you’ll coordinate amongst yourselves to select a date, then tell the front office. Your thesis should be completely written and submitted to your committee at least TWO WEEKS before the defense date. You don’t need to send your presentation slides to them in advance, though.

After you pass, two “readers” (your advisor and one other committee member) need to sign a form, indicating that they have read your thesis in full. You shouldn’t need to do anything for this, but occasionally professors aren’t aware of the exact protocol and forget to sign this form, so you have to hunt them down later.

Over the next week or so, you need make any edits requested by your committee, then submit your thesis to the library. All JHU theses are now required to be submitted electronically, in PDF/A format. This is NOT the same as a standard PDF, and must be specially formatted. The library provides a small amount of help for properly formatting your thesis, but they currently provide no support for LaTeX. I strongly recommend finding a copy of Adobe Acrobat Pro (there are public computers in the library and Krieger computer lab which have it installed) and using the “Preflight” tool to convert a standard PDF to PDF/A.

Once your thesis is in the proper format and accepted by the library, you’re done! There are a few administrative steps to sign up to graduate, but the front office can help you with that. Good luck!

-Matt Walters