College of Science

Thesis Defense

Suggestions / Guidelines

You may view/download a one page Suggestions/Guidelines for the Thesis Defense (pdf; 12 KB). This document discusses some of the topics and expectations that may be part of your thesis defense.

When should the thesis defense be scheduled?

The department requires an oral defense of the Master's thesis in order to graduate. You may schedule your thesis defense when your major professor and thesis committee have reviewed your thesis, and they indicate it is ready for defense. Do NOT announce your defense date when you first provide the committee with your thesis. It is a rather severe breach of academic etiquette to announce a defense before receiving permission to do so from the thesis committee. This could be a major embarrassment for your major professor.

When is the last day to defend?

It varies from quarter to quarter. The date is usually around finals week, but varies from quarter to quarter. Be sure to review the Thesis/Project Guidelines provided by the University Office of Graduate Studies. The Thesis/Project Guidelines page has deadlines and much additional critical information. The University Graduate Studies Office is located at 1 - 229; the phone number is 909-869-3331. This is where you submit the copies to be bound.The Academic Calendar found in the University Catalog (click Catalog) usually has the due date for each quarter. It is not a good idea to wait until the very last second. Allow time for changes to be made to the thesis; or you may have to allow for some additional discussion with your committee. If changes are necessary and there's no time to do them, it may delay your graduation into the next quarter. Defending two weeks prior to the deadline is a better idea.

What is the format of the defense?

As always, do things the way your major professor wants them done. The defense typically consists of you giving a public presentation of your thesis research. This talk usually lasts about 30-40 minutes, and is followed by questions from the floor. Then, you meet privately with your thesis committee to discuss and answer questions about your thesis, as well as any general biological knowledge that your committee feels should be possessed by someone earning an advanced degree in the Biological Sciences.

Who schedules the time and place of the defense?

You do. Once your committee indicates your thesis is ready for defense, it is your responsibility to work with them to find a suitable time for the defense. You must allow at least two hours for the defense, and allowing for three hours is desirable. You may reserve one of the conference rooms in Bldg. 4 through the Dean's Office (8-3). Lecture rooms may also be reserved through the Dean's office. Laboratory rooms are controlled by the department. You are also responsible to make sure that you have the necessary audio-visual materials; for example, computer projector; overhead for transparencies; slide projector.

Who is responsible for publicizing the thesis defense?

You are. At least one week prior to your thesis defense presentation, you must (a) post notices in public places (including the Graduate Program Bulletin Board located outside of the Department mail room) and (b) have your announcement distributed to all Department personnel via email as listed below:

Send an email to Dr. Questad ( including all of the following:

  1. The subject of the email should be stated as: Thesis Defense Announcement - Student Name
  2. The body of the email should include the following: 

Thesis Defense Announcement

Thesis Title
Student Name

Date, Time, Location

Thesis Committee Members:
Professor 1 (Committee Chair)
Professor 2
Professor 3

Lastly, your Thesis Defense Abstract (preferably as a pdf) must be attached to the email to Dr. Questad.

What forms are needed for the defense?

There are two forms entitled "Report of Thesis Defense and Acceptance of Thesis" and "Report of Culminating Experience". There are also some assessment forms that need to be completed by you and your committee. All of these forms are availble at the forms page in a single pdf file. Read the instructions that are included in the packet, and follow them.

What should I do to prepare?

Obviously, you need to be very familiar with all aspects of your thesis. Since you just wrote it, this shouldn't be too much of a problem. Be ready to discuss the literature you've cited in the thesis, especially critical papers. Be familiar with the literature in your area of study, even if not cited in the thesis. Know the journals and important people in your field. Know the journals and important people in biology and science. For example, if you're not familiar with the American Association for the Advancement of Science or the journal Science, then now is the time to become familiar.

Will my committee ask me about basic biology?

They might. It's certainly reasonable to expect that anyone with an advanced degree should be conversant with basic biology. If you've been a TA in a basic biology course, then you should be in good shape. A good way to review is to get a basic biology text - a book for a non majors class actually works better - and review the chapter summaries and important topics. Don't panic - no one expects you to know everything, but you should be conversant. If your thesis is on membrane transport in neurological cells, then you won't know all the details of photosynthesis. But you should be able to provide an overview of the basics of photosynthesis. A good idea is to discuss with your major professor what might be expected at your defense.

Any suggestions on strategy for the defense?

Be prepared and willing to talk about things. Don't adopt the "undergraduate strategy" of refusing to answer questions, in hopes that it will just go away. If you've been a TA, then you probably know that the undergrads in your classes aren't willing to acknowledge that they know anything - they think it will only raise expectations and get them into trouble. So, they won't respond even to simple questions. While this may be "cute" in an undergrad, it is very much unacceptable in a grad student. It reflects serious academic immaturity. You do know things - don't be afraid to talk about them.

Answer a simple question with a simple answer. Allow the dialogue to develop. For example, if you're asked "What happens in photosynthesis?", don't launch into a giant lecture on all the details of enzymes, reaction centers, light/dark reactions, Calvin cycle, etc. Just say something like, "Using energy from the sun, water and carbon dioxide are converted into glucose and oxygen." Your committee will probably then begin asking more detailed questions, and you'll be giving more detailed answers. Almost certainly you'll get to the point where you'll have to say "I don't know." The only way the committee can determine what you do know is to take you to the limits of your knowledge.

Everybody is nervous at their thesis defense. Just try not to get yourself so worked up that it affects your performance. Nobody is "out to get you." Your thesis committee and major professor want you to succeed - they have made a major investment of time, energy, and money in you - and they want that investment to pay dividends!