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With the stress of submitting a senior thesis behind them, some students now face a new challenge of presenting and defending their findings to faculty and peers.
Although thesis defenses differ across departments, students are typically expected to elaborate on and address arguments developed in their thesis to a panel of faculty and advisors.
“It was definitely nerve wracking,” said Madi L. Taylor ’16, a Psychology concentrator who defended her thesis last week. “But I actually really enjoyed it because it’s a chance to talk to people who really knew what you’ve been spending so much time working on.”
According to Taylor, the Psychology department holds a two-hour poster session in which concentrators spend one hour viewing other students’ posters and presentations, and the second delivering a thesis defense, given that one’s own committee is available that day.
Within the Psychology department, the defense is worth 20 percent of the thesis grade, according to Elizabeth D. Mahon ’16.
“Your defense happens last, so they will be very influenced by it,” Mahon said. “They may have an idea of your grade, but after your defense, it could go up or down.”
According to Mahon, she had to present her thesis twice prior to her official defense: both in front of the graduate students at her lab, and at the open-floor poster session, at which her committee was not present. She considered the two presentations as practice for her defense.
“Presenting in the lab and on the open floor, I did feel nervous but I knew I would not get graded,” Mahon said. “Before I was defending, I was really nervous and I had to do some mental exercises before going in.”
Mason S. Barnard ’16, a Social Studies concentrator, also had the opportunity to present his thesis before his official defense.
Barnard, who presented his thesis to his peers in Quincy House—which he described as a “chill environment”—is defending his thesis next week. He said that unlike a defense, presentations are more geared toward people unfamiliar with the field, and when presenting, students are “trying to build a narrative.”
“Preparing for the defense is much more scary than the defense itself,” Barnard added.
Josh W. Bean ’16, a Music and East Asian Studies joint concentrator, presented his thesis at a senior thesis colloquium in February, several weeks before his thesis was due. At the colloquium, faculty posed questions, challenged arguments, and made suggestions.
“Usually the faculty ask more challenging questions,” Bean said. “But afterwards there was a reception where people could talk to each other about their topics.”
Taylor emphasized that although there can be tension surrounding the presentation, the defense is the climax of months of research and dedication that comes with writing a thesis.
“It’s really the culmination of all that hard work,” Taylor said.
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