A successful thesis defense


One of the best ways to identify faculty members to serve on your committee is to take a class with them. That’s a great way for faculty to get to know your effectiveness as a student. I got to know Holly Meade when she was a student in Mass Communication Teaching and then agreed to serve on her thesis committee.

It’s that time of year — the time for thesis and dissertation defenses. Those academic rites of passage happen throughout the year. But more defenses occur this time of year, as the deadline for turning in defended theses and dissertations for a May graduation is the end of March.

Today was Holly Meade’s defense, and I was on her committee. She did a study of 11- and 12-year-old girls’ perceptions of organic fruits and vegetables and how those perceptions are affected by the media and could be influenced by a media literacy curriculum.

In a nutshell, here’s the thesis process:

  • The student identifies a topic of research interest and a faculty member to serve as chair.
  • The student develops a thesis proposal.
  • The chair assists the student in selecting two other committee members.
  • The committee meets to review and approve the thesis proposal.
  • The student then works away — reading the literature, conducting the research (which may require the Institutional Review Board’s approval), writing and editing and writing some more.
  • The chair reads chapters and provides feedback.
  • The student keeps writing and editing.
  • When the chair agrees the thesis is ready for defense, the student sets up the meeting, books a room, and makes sure the committee members receive a copy of the thesis a week in advance.
  • For the defense, the student makes a concise presentation of the study and then each faculty member poses questions about the research.
  • The student then “defends” the decisions and results.
  • This usually is a lively and interesting discussion with the student and the committee members engaged in really thinking about that particular issue.
  • If all goes well (which usually it does), the committee “passes” the thesis, and the student leaves the meeting with a list of issues to resolve before turning in the thesis to the Graduate School.

So Holly successfully defended. She may have a few days off, and then it’s back to writing and and editing to make the deadline for graduating this semester.

Congratulations, Holly.

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