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Dissertation Presentations

For many students, the task of writing a lengthy dissertation is so big that they forget about the need for Dissertation Presentation! Amidst all the hard work of researching and writing, students in some courses still need to prepare for a high-quality presentation that will help them earn top marks. This article will help you prepare and give you some essential tips for success.

The Purpose of Dissertation Presentation

There are two main types of Dissertation Presentation that are normally encountered in UK universities:

Mid-Research Presentations

Students will often be asked to present their dissertation work at a mid-point in their research. These presentations are usually made to a panel comprised of various faculty members from your department. In addition, they are sometimes structured as a postgraduate seminar, in which fellow students also attend. Both faculty and students can pose questions. The purpose of these Mid-Research Dissertation Presentation is to provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate their progress and identify any weak areas that need to be addressed.

Assessment Presentations

Students are also sometimes required to make a Dissertation Presentation as part of their overall assessment. This is a much more formal presentation than the Mid-Research one, and it is usually open only to the student, examiners and the research supervisor. At an Assessment Dissertation Presentation, the student is required to present a summary of their research and results. They will then be asked questions by the examiners in a somewhat lengthy oral examination. The purpose of this Dissertation Presentation is to assess the student’s original research project and test its scholarly validity.

Differences in Undergraduate and Masters Presentations

Dissertation Presentations may be required at both Undergraduate (Bachelors) and Postgraduate (Masters) levels. The key difference between these levels is the length and degree of originality expected. Postgraduate Dissertation Presentations will normally be longer than Undergraduate Presentations, and they will demonstrate a greater degree of critical engagement with the subject matter. They will also demonstrate some degree of original thinking. By contrast, most Bachelors Dissertation Presentations will be shorter in length and will only require a through knowledge of the topic rather than an original scholarly contribution of any kind.

What to Include

Broad subject area – What subject area of your discipline does your work fall into?

Narrow topic area – Within this subject area, what is your specific topic? (This may be simply an expanded discussion of your research title).

Relevant Existing Studies – What studies have already been done on your specific topic, and what are their strengths and weaknesses? How does your work fit among them?

Methodology and Philosophy – What methodology have you chosen to conduct your research? Is there a specific philosophical context? Why is this a good approach?

Project Resources – If this is a Mid-Research Presentation, what resources do you require to complete the project? Have you identified likely sources of funding, or do you need any difficult-to-acquire materials?

Case Studies – If you’ve conducted practical field work or lab research, why did you choose these cases or projects? How are they the best choices for researching your topic?

Research Results – If this is a Dissertation Presentation for Assessment, note the results of your research in detail. Relate these back to your theoretical framework and discuss how the results support or contradict existing studies.

How to Prepare for your Dissertation Presentation

The best way to prepare for your Dissertation Presentation is to review your work carefully. Take notes of the key decisions you have made throughout your research, and the scholarly literature that supports these choices. Make sure that you have a thorough understanding of the scholarly context of your research, which should have been achieved in your early research stages.

Once your content has been written, you should create a PowerPoint presentation to use during your talk. The slides should be informative but not wordy – keep bullet points concise and use pictures sparingly. Make sure that you rehearse your presentation several times.

What Sort of Questions to Prepare For Dissertation Presentation

The questions you will face in a Dissertation Presentation are designed to test your knowledge of the subject area and your awareness of the context of your work. You will be asked questions to determine how well you understand the potential criticisms of your project, and how well you are able to defend this with reference to established scholars and existing research.

You might be asked about the specific choices you’re made with regard to methodology and case studies, and how you accounted for any possible inaccuracies in your resulting data. Along the same lines, examiners frequently ask students what they would do differently if they were starting the same project again.

You should also be prepared to answer questions about the ways your research might be applied within your field, and how it might be supplemented in future. This is an effective way for examiners to assess the originality of your research, and consider its potential impact on your subject area.

How to Earn a High Mark

Much of your dissertation mark will come from the written work and the research project it represents. However, a good Dissertation Presentation will help make a strong case for a good overall mark, whereas a weak Presentation will confirm any doubts in the examiners’ minds. Here are a few key areas for success:

Good Presentation Skills. As with any Presentation, it is important to speak clearly and concisely. Stand still and look your audience in the eye, and try not to rely too much on notes. Be sure to keep breathing and don’t rush your words!

Knowledge of the Topic. If you truly have a good understanding of your topic you will be likely to do very well. Much of the Dissertation Presentation is designed simply to test your knowledge, so if you’ve kept pace with your reading assignments and practical work you should have no problem answering any questions that are posed to you.

Professional Behaviour. Stay calm and focused during your Presentation, and answer any questions with objectivity and professionalism. Don’t be drawn into debates, but instead offer references to other scholars whose work supports your own agenda.

Take Your Time. Many students make the mistake of rushing through their material and answering questions too quickly. This doesn’t give the audience a chance to thoroughly understand the quality of your work. Furthermore, it risks leaving out essential information and neglecting to demonstrate the depth of your research.

Good luck with your Dissertation Presentation!


Kjell Erik Rudestam, 2007. Surviving Your Dissertation: A Comprehensive Guide to Content and Process. 3rd Edition. SAGE Publications, Inc.

University of Reading, 2013. Study Advice: Vivas. Available: http://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/studyadvice/postgraduates/sta-vivas.aspx Last Accessed 10 May, 2013.

University of Exeter, 2013. Guidelines for Dissertations. Available: http://intranet.exeter.ac.uk/humanities/studying/subjecthandbooks/theology/dissertations/ Last Accessed 10 May, 2013.

Outline for presentations at final exams ("defenses") of doctoral dissertations


Neil C. Rowe, 6/09


General comments:


(a) Defenses usually consist of a presentation no longer than 45 minutes, followed by questioning from one to two hours.  Expect to be interrupted for short clarification questions during the presentation. Questions after the presentation typically explore the assumptions, limitations, extensions, and applications of the dissertation work.


(b) The defense is intended to be a "public" presentation.  That means you should design it not for your doctoral committee but for intelligent listeners in the field in which you are getting the Ph.D. Avoid acronyms and other jargon as much as possible. Your committee's vote on your performance will put significant weight on how you handled questions from nonmembers of the committee.


(c) As with presentations at science and engineering conferences, you should rehearse your talk in advance.  It is best to give a practice run for your entire dissertation committee, but at least you should present it orally to your dissertation supervisor.  The practice run should help both with judging the length of the talk and finding things that can be improved.


(e) The core of your presentation should be a set of novel claims from your work and the validation of your claims.  This is supplemented with how these claims relate to prior work and what is different about them, plus speculations about future implications of what you have done.




NOTE: Slide counts recommended below are for 28 point font.  Do not use font smaller than this for exams with videoconferencing, and less than 20 point otherwise, with the possible exception of important figures and tables that cannot be compressed.


1. What problem are you addressing (1-2 slides).  Focus on the primary problem if there is more than one.


2. Why this problem is important (1 slide).


3. What contributions you have made that no one previously has done (1-2 slides).  The contributions must be to the field of the degree. State them as claims.  Most of the remainder of your presentation will be the validation of your claims.


4. Previous work addressing the same problem with different methods than yours (1-3 slides, depending on the topic).  Give names of researchers and summarize succinctly what they did.  Explain why previous work didn't solve your problem completely.


5. Previous work addressing different problems with similar techniques to those you used in the dissertation work (2-5 slides, depending on the topic).  This can be short if you used well-known techniques.


6. Design of the validation for each of your claims (5-15 slides). The validation can include experiments, tests, and proofs.  If you built something, this is where you describe it.  Note that validation can be of design as well as of implementation, although validation of an implementation is more convincing.  Thorough validation is the key feature distinguishing Ph.D. dissertations from Master's theses.


7. Results of the validation of each of your claims (2-10 slides). Usually this is presented in the form of statistics and some analysis of data that has been collected.


8. Conclusions: How your validated claims have contributed to the solution of the original problem (1-2 slides).


9. Broader implications: Why your work is useful to society (1-2 slides).


Total: 15-42 slides


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