Completing a graduate degree in the United States often requires the creation of a thesis, and many schools also require that students go through a thesis defense. This gives you the chance to show that you know and fully understand your topic and all facts and ideas relating to your topic. Graduate schools often give students one year or more to write and work on their thesis paper or project. As you work on your thesis, you’ll also want to give some thought to what happens when you defend it in front of others.

What is a Thesis?

The completion of a thesis is one of the last things that you will do in graduate school. Though some schools offer a non-thesis degree program, these programs often require that you spend even more time in school or in an internship or residency program. A thesis is generally a large paper that you write based on a topic relating to your field of study. Some schools let you create a thesis project in lieu of a paper. History majors might write papers on the historical ramifications of World War II, while an education major might complete a project on new teaching methods.

The Defense Process

Once you finish your thesis, you may attend a thesis defense meeting. This usually consists of you and two or more professors working in your program. It may also include professionals from other nearby colleges or those currently working in the field. They will look at your research and ask you a series of questions about your paper or project. You must fully answer those questions and demonstrate what you learned while completing your work. Most schools require that you finish defending your thesis before leaving with your degree.

Who is on the Panel?

The school can select anyone to appear on the panel, but colleges will usually not allow any professor who worked closely with you to take part in the defense. The advisor who approved your thesis topic and any professors who helped you cannot generally take part. If your topic covers multiple subjects, the university may ask professors from other departments to attend the session. For example, if you wrote a paper on how certain fashions appeared as the result of stock market crashes, professors working in the economics, history and fashion departments may work on the panel.

Types of Questions

According to James Hayton, a PhD holder, those on the defense panel will often ask you questions about the core content in your paper. If your paper focuses on alternative teaching methods, they might ask you how one method may impact scores on standardized tests. You can prepare yourself for those questions when you read through your thesis multiple times, create a list of possible questions and practice answering those questions. If you aren’t sure how to respond to a specific question, think about how your research connects to the question and explain what you think is the right answer.

Your thesis is the culmination of your studies and should demonstrate some of the experience and skills you gained in that program. After writing your thesis, your college may require that you defend your work in front of a panel of experts and complete a thesis defense before graduating.