Best Way to Defend Post Graduate Research Work in Nigerian Universities

Research is an integral part of academic institutions in Nigeria. Every student in any higher institution in Nigeria is expected to write and defend a research work before graduation. It could be a seminar paper, undergraduate project work, Masters Dissertation or Ph.D Thesis work. Most of these works are to be defended before examiners to show the students’ mastery of the work and contribution to knowledge.

Some students are often scared to defend their research works before a panel of examiners. They probably do not know how to start, what to say, which part of the work they should discuss or leave off, how to respond to questions, and generally, how to comport themselves before examiners. If you’re among such people then you need to read this article to get acquainted with unique tips on how to successfully present your seminar paper, project work, Masters or Ph.D dissertation/thesis before a panel of examiners. This article is unique because it explains how to overcome any form of hindrance to research work presentation before a panel of examiners in any Nigerian University. For instance, do you know that project defence begins and ends outside the defence venue? This means that successful presentation of your research work does not just start at the defence venue. It begins long before the date of the defence is even fixed. And how is that so? Checkout the tips presented here to understand how to successfully defend your project work before examiners.

Project defence comes in three phases – pre-presentation phase, on-presentation phase, post presentation phase. We will discuss the process of project defence in these three phases. We start with PART ONE which provides quick tips on what you should do before you present your work verbally; PART TWO tells you what you should say during verbal presentation; PART THREE tells you what you should do after verbal presentation. All these phases matter at various degrees in ensuring successful project or seminar defence in a Nigerian University. Don’t take any one for granted because it could play a salient role in ensuring your final grade. Here’s a list of tips on how to successfully defend your project work, seminar paper, Masters or Ph.D dissertation/thesis in any Nigerian University.

 

Part One: Pre-Presentation Phase

This part tells you what to do before you enter the venue of defence. There are things you should do to get yourself ready before you begin to tell the examiners what is inside project or seminar work about the study you did. That is what we classified here as the pre-presentation phase. You don’t just work into the venue of project or seminar defence and begin to talk. You get yourself prepared before presentation of the work. Here are the things you should do at this stage.

Defence begins before defence

This means that your project defence actually starts on the day you get your topic approved and begin the work. That is when you get close to the work, the content, the field (where you meet respondents), and the confidence required to defend the final work. If you actually understand your topic and the methodology, and you do the work effectively, it will not be difficult for you to defend. So start getting ready for your defence by making sure you understand the work you’re doing. Any move you make in terms of sharing questionnaire, using a specific methodology, or analysis of your findings should be clear to you. That is when you begin to ask questions to unravel any mystery you come across. This way you will be comfortable with the final work and confident to defend it before a panel of examiners. If you ignore the work during the time you’re supposed to be working on it, the work will ‘ignore’ you during the time of defence.

Overcome initial stage fright using unique techniques

It is not a crime to experience stage fright just before entering the defence hall. That’s natural, that’s what makes you human and this could happen to anybody. But you MUST find a way to shake that off while in the hall, before you begin your defence. Once you enter the venue of defence and see the panel of examiners you could feel a a bit jittery or kind of scared. But you should tell yourself that the examiners are also human and their job is not to make you fail but to assist you in doing well. Keep telling yourself you can do it until you’re called to speak. If you have any other technique to get confidence just do that. Don’t let the stage fright get hold of you throughout the defence. It could affect your presentation. I know that some in some Universities in Nigeria, when you walk into the project or seminar defence hall and take a first look at the faces of examiners in the panel, some of them look scary and mean, and you feel like running away. That’s a wrong impression that could lead to extended stage fright.

Stage fright is primarily caused by lack of self confidence. So think of what always gives you confidence and use that to get back your boldness to present your work. Being unprepared and forgetting the content of your work are good reasons for the anxiety that leads to stage fright. Some individuals fear that they look witless and that they would arouse the antagonism of the examiners due to poor presentation wrong choice of words. Several strategies have been suggested on how to overcome stage fright, including breathing in deeply, limiting your caffeine or sugar intake, and keeping your head straight. Most of these tips you read online don’t work for project or seminar defence. The best bet is to be prepared, shift the focus off of yourself and your fear to the fact that you have come to ‘enjoy’ yourself in the defence, don’t focus on what could go wrong, and avoid negative thoughts because they will always produce self-doubt. This might sound funny but you can even keep telling yourself “dem no go kill me here. Na defence I wan do, no be person I kill.” This could help remind you that what you came for is an academic exercise, that your examiners are human and eventually bring back your confidence.

Ensure your dressing gives you confidence

Smart dressing is an added advantage. You should dress smartly in corporate wears. Probably a jacket and tie, or any other smart dressing would do. If your department has a dress code and specific colours you’re expected to wear don’t disobey. Follow the instructions by dressing according to the code. Don’t over dress or ‘dress to kill’. Shabby dressing could give the impression that you don’t regard the project or seminar defence as a serious event.

Comport yourself while waiting to be called up

While all students are seated in the defence hall before the examiners you are expected to behave yourself by keeping quiet and waiting your turn to resent your work. Some students get the examiners angry by discussing in low turns with their colleagues or even murmuring answers to the candidate presenting his or her paper. While in the hall waiting for your turn to present, be quiet and listen to other presentations. Don’t distract the examiners or the presenter by murmuring to a colleague or making any form of noise. When the examiner shouts at you to keep quiet or asks you to walk out of the hall this could destabilize you before your presentations. Don’t cause a situation where you have to beg to stay in the hall or stir negative and unnecessary attention. You could create a wrong impression which could affect the perception the examiners have about you when you stand to present your work.

You can do a mock presentation of your work to your colleagues

Some students use this to get used to their work. You could try resenting your work to your colleagues and ask them to ask you questions after such presentations. This could help build your confidence and expose loopholes you never saw even before the defence. This is a good way to get ready.

 

Part Two: on-presentation phase

Let’s look at what you should say. This stage is concerned with what you should say when you’re called up to speak. When you are told to present your work what should you say? Of course you cannot tell the examiners everything in the entire work. There are key things you should say that will capture the entire study within the few minutes you were given to present your work. What you say and how you say it matter a lot.

Your greeting matters

When you’re called up to present your paper greet the examiners appropriately. Early mistakes could throw you off balance even before you begin paper presentation. Wrong greeting could be an early mistake which is not helpful. You could say “Good morning my lecturers” or “Good afternoon the external examiner, my lecturers and my colleagues”. Some persons might want to start mentioning the titles of those present and this might not be a good idea. Instead of saying “good afternoon Profs, and other lecturers” just say “Good afternoon my lecturers” and sit in peace. The bottom line here is you should find a simple greeting and use that. If there are other people that presented before you, then use the greetings they used so as not to attempt to play to the gallery and get into trouble with any of the examiners. Someone might say this doesn’t matter but during project defence every step matters and every error you can avoid you should make sure you avoid. Just like in the game of Tennis, you should avoid unforced errors. Don’t make avoidable mistakes. The examiners are human and it could boil down to psychological disposition while grading.

The Great summary

You already know that what you present at the defence is a summary of your work. The big question is what should be contained in the summary? Some people just memorise the abstract and present that once they’re told to take the floor. That’s might seem okay but project or seminar defence is beyond presentation of abstract. It is about knowing what to say based on the time you’re given. If you’re given 15 minutes and you take five minutes to pour out the abstract what then happens to the remaining time? Even if you’re given less time and you read out the abstract, that might not show mastery of your work. The truth is that all that is contained in the abstract are essential parts of the great summary. Trying to memorize the abstract might be too mechanical so the best thing is to know what should be contained in the summarized version of your work which you should present and practice that before entering the hall. But here’s what you bear in mind; your presentation should practically include the following – introduction, statement of problem, objectives of study, methodology (population, sample size, sampling technique), findings, recommendations. You could see I didn’t add theoretical framework. If you have enough time you can just mention it with a line or two of what it means and its relevance to the work. But if you notice you’re under pressure to stick to time just go for the basics which I’ve just outlined. Then allow the examiners to ask you questions based on what you left out. Your introduction should be very short after which you go straight to statement of problem. This shouldn’t be more than three or four sentences. Just go straight to the point.

Don’t read your work

This is a terrible way to present a paper. Just practice your presentation before you enter the hall and you wouldn’t have to read from your project work. You can occasionally steal a glance into a summary you put down on a paper or on the power point slides just to remind you of the points you should discuss. Reading your work tells the examiners you are not in control of the content, probably someone did it for you. Don’t give them that impression. Prepare well and tell them what is contained in the work.

Power point makes your work easier

Power point slides contain points that remind you of what to say about each section of the work. If your department did not make provision for power point facilities or it failed to work due to any reason, don’t let that discourage you. Just make sure you print out the slides so you can look at them on paper while presenting your work. A good power point is one of the steps to successful presentation.

Try not to cram

Cramming could disappoint you. Once you forget a a word or get distracted by any examiner you forget the remaining part of what you wanted to say. Just practice your presentation with your colleagues before the defence, then make sure you understand the content of your work; that way you won’t need to cram. Let the presentation flow naturally.

Keep to time

This is very essential. It is better to finish your presentation before your time elapses than to have the examiners shouting at you to summarize your work or stop your presentation. This is why a good summary is very essential. Once you summarize your work and ensure the basics are there, you have ‘The Great Summary’ and wouldn’t need to exceed the time.

Facial expression and body language are essential

Your facial expression and body language could be used to support your presentation and make your work convincing to an extent. Facial expression could tell that you even trust what you’ve done and you did the work yourself. Learning the appropriate gestures while presenting your work could help keep the audience captivated and make your presentation worth listening to. Facial expression sometimes is as important as the content of the work. Also, body language affects the way listeners perceive what you say about your research work; it also helps to engage the audience, shows how confident and persuasive you are, and it helps to highlight the idea you are projecting in your work. When wrongly used or not used at all, it can nullify all efforts put into presentation. You have to combine facial expression and body language to make your presentation interesting. A boring presentation might affect understanding of the content of the work, no matter how good it is.

Meanwhile you also need to be careful with facial expression and body language during the defence. Don’t laugh too much while presenting the work or if one of the examiners cracks a joke to his colleagues. You came for a serious business. A smile will do. Some students might feel like enjoying jokes cracked by an examiner and laugh to a fall. Don’t look unserious before your examiners. Don’t ‘over frown’ your face so you won’t look as if you’re quarrelling with the examiners or you came for a big fight. Remember, a smile will always do the job.

Eyesight during presentation shows confidence and mastery of the work

Some students are scared to look at the faces of their lecturers or external examiner during project defence. This is not a crime but positive eye contact with your listeners is a good way to present your work. Positive eye contact helps you build some kind of relationship with your audience and keeps them engaged with your presentation. It also gives them a sense of involvement and conveys your message on a personal level. So you see it won’t be a bad idea if you summon courage to look at your examiners while presenting your paper. But please do that intermittently. Don’t focus a deadly gaze on just one examiner so he won’t think you’re into witchcraft. Positive eye contact helps you overcome stage fright and gives you the confidence you need to show you’re in charge of your work.

 

Part Three: post presentation phase

After presenting your paper you also have work to do. The question time comes up and this could be the most important part of the presentation. The examiners need to be sure you did the work or they might require some clarifications on what you presented, may be with the methodology or something. You just have to get ready for the questions and do your best. This is the point you tell you did the work, that the work is interesting, and that you should have a high great.

Understand the questions before responding

Be sure you understood any question you are asked before responding. Don’t be scared to ask an examiner to repeat the question. If you know the answer just give it to them in a polite but convincing manner.

No idea could be a good idea

If you don’t know the answer to a question you could just say “I have no idea” instead of pretending to know it and answering complete off point. No one will penalize you for saying you have no idea of the answer to a question. After all it is an examination and you must not have 100 percent to pass. Just make sure you respond intelligently to the ones you know and leave off the ones you don’t know. Examiners always want students to attempt questions but where you are sure you don’t know it don’t worsen the matter by answering total nonsense.

Be modest with your response

Respond to questions politely and intelligently. Don’t try to play to the gallery or attempt to deliberately embarrass an examiner because you think you know a question very well. Just respond to the question. Go straight to the point. Your interest should be to pass the defence not to show you are an authority in the field. There is humility in scholarship.

Be polite with your request for a repeat of questions

When a question is not clear to you ask the examiner to repeat the question but do that politely. You could say “please could you repeat your question sir”. It is not always nice to say “can you say that again” or “I don’t understand you, can you make your question clear sir”? Always be polite in what you do.

Try as much as possible not to argue with the examiner

Just stick to your point if you’re sure what you’re saying is correct. Try not to engage the examiner in a heated argument. Insist on your point if you’re asked a question again and again. It could be a way to find out if you’re sure of what you’re saying.

Keep your answers short

Don’t start another project defence when asked a question. Just go straight to the point. Don’t take the whole day to respond to a question just because you think you know it very well. That could put off the examiners and make them ask you to keep quiet even when you’ve not made your point.

Don’t get emotional

Some students might get angry with an examiner and have the impression that he or she is wicked. They might frown their face may be because of questions they felt were difficult or murmur in anger. This is one of the major ways to fail the defence. You could even be walked out of the hall for showing disrespect to the examiner. Some students even shed tears when they find it difficult to respond to questions. Getting emotional will not help you. Just answer the questions or say “no idea” where you have to. No one will harm you physically.

Be careful with what you say outside the hall

After your presentation you are asked to leave the hall so another set of students could come in for theirs. Mind what you say outside. You find some students telling their colleagues which lecturer in the panel is wicked and which is kind. That’s not a good thing to do. The person you’re telling that could use it to blackmail you before the lecturer you talked about just to get some favour. Just tell those who cared to ask you about your defence that all went well. The defence actually ends with what you say outside. That could send a wrong signal about your performance in the hall. You could create an impression that you didn’t do well only for your result to come out and you see a very high grade. People could think something sinister went wrong. After your presentation just relax and wait for your result.

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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