So you’ve got a full draft of your thesis – congratulations! You’ve spent a few weeks teasing the words, rephrasing key sentences and rewording sub-headings to lead the reader through your all-important research story. What’s next? Depending on your university’s processes there might be a few more steps before you submit your manuscript. Perhaps you have to present to your supervisors, likely you’ll need to inform your department that you are close to submission, and there will certainly be more paperwork to complete at this stage.
Most doctoral candidates, though, will be required to present to the ‘academy’ of experts at your institution. In Australia, this is usually at an open forum to which your advisory panel and any other interested academics are invited. It might be called a Completion Seminar, an Examination Panel or perhaps a Viva. Whatever it’s called, you will need to prepare, and prepare well!
So what is this final, verbal presentation for? In the Australian context it’s held to celebrate your achievements and to review your progress. It’s one way that the academy can verify the quality and rigour of potential new members. Importantly, it’s also a place to share the findings of your unique research with a wider audience!
Preparing for this final seminar can be a peculiar challenge, not least because you will need to consider your varied audience – not only your academic support team, who are familiar with your work, but the other interested academics who have come along having read only a short blurb about your work. How do you ensure that you provide enough depth and breadth in your presentation?
In preparation for my Completion Seminar, I attended a number of others to gain some ideas, and having now completed mine successfully, I’m sharing the advice and ideas I received with you, to help as you enter the final stages of your Doctorate!
- Start by considering your digital presentation. This doesn’t have to mean PowerPoint, although that seems to be the most used! Look at alternative ways of presenting your research story. You might use Prezi to present a non-linear story, or Zeetings to ask questions of your audience that you can then present in comparison to your data. Be clear about the tool you use and the reasons underpinning that choice so that it best meets the needs of your research story.
- Next, consider the flow of your research. Often called the storyline or ‘thread’ this is what keeps people listening to you! Be sure to have clear connections between your rationale, your methodology, the research literature and your conclusions. You might have a number of themes or findings but remember your audience isn’t going to receive your entire thesis in this seminar – carefully frame your presentation to lead them through the main points of your research. This will lead them to see you as an academic who can coherently make sense of complex and challenging research topics.
- Use images wherever possible. The most positive feedback I received was on my use of images and charts. These told the story of my research and connected ideas together, while I spoke about the meaning and ideas behind the on-screen images. Similarly in other Completion Seminars, I have seen tables and charts that were pulled apart and simplified just for this presentation. This drew the audience’s attention to key points and didn’t overwhelm them with text. Read about excellent presentation strategies online – there is now neurological research that can help and a number of books that present easy ways to make your presentation engaging, meaningful and memorable!
- Finally, smile and celebrate! This is your time to share your research with the world! Yes, there might be a few questions that throw you through a loop, but reflect that your supervisors would not have let you get this far without believing you were ready. You are now the world expert on your niche research topic. Treat questions as invitations to inform others about the significance of your findings and, if in doubt, say ‘thank you, I will have to reflect on that further’ – and then move on!
Congratulations on getting to this stage of your Doctoral research. Plan now to celebrate, share your learning and start to think about next steps!
About the Author: Joanne Blannin is the Digital Learning Leader and an Educational Researcher at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne. She has recently completed her Doctorate investigating teacher’s choices to use, or not to use, digital technologies in primary school classrooms.