If you’re researching a master’s degree, you’ll likely come across the phrase “thesis defense” among the list of requirements for earning an advanced degree. This formal-sounding requirement usually comes at the end of a graduate program. As a student seeking a master’s degree, your thesis defines your educational experience at the university. Once you’ve completed all the necessary coursework and finished any internship or practicum experiences, you will be required to meet with a committee to defend your work. Details of a defense vary by college, but there are some general things to keep in mind as you embark on the graduate process.
What is a Thesis?
In most schools, the thesis represents a student’s collective understanding of his or her program and major. Students who major in English, for example, typically explore language, literary themes, a specific author’s work or a similar topic when writing a thesis paper. Universities often require theses to consist of a prospectus, which outlines the intent of the paper, and a full-length paper treatment of a particular topic. In the natural sciences, theses might cover experiments or hypothetical situations in which a student researches certain elements of his or her field.
Theses projects demand full attention, and many schools require that students devote an entire semester to completing the research and resulting paper. Students work with a faculty committee or adviser on a close basis to make sure that the research stays on schedule. Depending on the level of degree, a thesis paper can be extremely complex.
Defending the Work
Once students submit their theses papers to the thesis committee, they will be assigned a date to defend their work. In this case, “defend” does not imply that a student will have to argue aggressively about his or her work. Rather, the thesis defense is designed so that faculty members can ask questions and make sure that students actually understand their field and focus area. Defending a thesis largely serves as a formality because the paper will already have been evaluated. During a defense, a student will be asked questions by members of the thesis committee. Questions are usually open-ended and require that the student think critically about his or her work. A defense might take only 20 minutes, or it might take an hour or more depending on the goal of the committee and the requirements of the program.
Preparation for Defense
Students have months to prepare for a defense. Schools want graduate candidates to be as prepared as possible when attending a defense, which means that neither the date nor faculty committee will be a surprise to the student. It’s important to keep in mind that if you go into a defense with the right attitude and preparation, failing is nearly impossible. The committee wants to see how well you know your subject and your research. Nerves may get the better of you as you face unknown questions, but as with a job interview, practicing ahead of time will lead to a successful defense.
Facing a defense can be stressful, but think of it as an opportunity to share what you’ve learned. Remember that you aren’t arguing points when you defend your work. Instead, a proper thesis defense gives you and your faculty advisers the chance to discuss your topic and research in greater detail.
Dissertation fellowships will be awarded in a national competition administered by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on behalf of the Ford Foundation. The awards will be made to individuals who, in the judgment of the review panels, have demonstrated superior academic achievement, are committed to a career in teaching and research at the college or university level, show promise of future achievement as scholars and teachers, and are well prepared to use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students.
Click on the links below to learn more about each aspect of the Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship
In addition to the other dissertation program level requirements, eligibility to apply for a dissertation fellowship is limited to:
- All U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and U.S. permanent residents (holders of a Permanent Resident Card), as well as individuals granted deferred action status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, political asylees, and refugees, regardless of race, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, or sexual orientation,
- Individuals with evidence of superior academic achievement (such as grade point average, class rank, honors, or other designations),
- Individuals committed to a career in teaching and research at the college or university level,
- Ph.D. or Sc.D. degree candidates studying in an eligible research-based discipline in a dissertation-required program at a non-proprietary (not for profit) U.S. institution of higher education who will complete the dissertation in a period of 9-12 months during the 2018-2019 academic year, and
- Individuals who have not earned a doctoral degree at any time, in any field.
Criteria for Selection
- Evidence of superior academic achievement
- Degree of promise of continuing achievement as scholars and teachers
- Capacity to respond in pedagogically productive ways to the learning needs of students from diverse backgrounds
- Sustained personal engagement with communities that are underrepresented in the academy and an ability to bring this asset to learning, teaching, and scholarship at the college and university level
- Likelihood of using the diversity of human experience as an educational resource in teaching and scholarship
- Membership in one or more of the following groups whose underrepresentation in the American professoriate has been severe and longstanding:
- Alaska Natives (Aleut, Eskimo, or other Indigenous People of Alaska)
- Black/African Americans
- Mexican Americans/Chicanas/Chicanos
- Native American Indians
- Native Pacific Islanders (Hawaiian/Polynesian/Micronesian)
- Puerto Ricans
Applications will be evaluated by panels of distinguished scholars selected by the National Academies. The panels will use academic records, essays, letters of recommendation, the application itself, and other appropriate materials as the basis for determining the extent to which candidates meet the eligibility requirements and the selection criteria. Review panels may also look at additional factors such as whether the applicant has advanced to dissertation candidacy and will fully utilize 9 to 12 months of fellowship support prior to receiving the Ph.D. or Sc.D.
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Eligible Fields of Study
Awards will be made for study in research-based Ph.D. or Sc.D. programs that include the following major disciplines and related interdisciplinary fields: American studies, anthropology, archaeology, art and theater history, astronomy, chemistry, communications, computer science, cultural studies, earth sciences, economics, education, engineering, ethnic studies, ethnomusicology, geography, history, international relations, language, life sciences, linguistics, literature, mathematics, performance study, philosophy, physics, political science, psychology, religious studies, sociology, urban planning, and women’s studies. Also eligible are interdisciplinary ethnic studies programs, such as African American studies and Native American studies, and other interdisciplinary programs, such as area studies, peace studies, and social justice. Research-based fields of education are eligible if the major field of study is listed above and is used to describe the Ph.D. or Sc.D. program of the applicant (e.g., sociology of education, anthropology and education).
The complete list of eligible fields of study supported at the dissertation level of the fellowship program is available here: Eligible Fields of Study List.
Individuals enrolled in the following practice-oriented programs will not be supported: administration, audiology, business, consumer studies, curriculum development, human resource management, exercise physiology, filmmaking, fine arts, guidance, kinesiology, leadership, library and information science, management, nursing, occupational health, performing arts, personnel, physical education, physical therapy, public health, rehabilitation science, social welfare, social work, speech pathology, and teacher education. In addition, awards will not be made for work leading to terminal master’s degrees, the Ed.D. degree, the degrees of Doctor of Fine Arts (D.F.A.) or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.), or professional degrees in such areas as medicine, law, and public health, or for study in joint degree programs such as the M.D./Ph.D., J.D./Ph.D., and M.F.A./Ph.D. This program does not support the Ph.D. portion of a dual-degree program. Interdisciplinary areas of study that have major content in ineligible fields listed above will not be included in the competition.
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Verification of Doctoral Degree Status
- In order to compete, applicants must have successfully achieved doctoral degree candidacy as defined by this program: applicants must have completed all departmental and institutional requirements for their degree, except for writing and defense of the dissertation. These requirements include, for example, required course work, language requirements, admission to doctoral candidacy, and approval of the dissertation proposal. A valid Academies Verification of Doctoral Degree Status Form, signed by the adviser or other authorized official, must be uploaded to the online fellowship application before 5:00 PM ET on January 9, 2018 to confirm that an applicant has advanced to doctoral candidacy.
- Applicants should expect to complete the dissertation during the 2018-2019 academic year.
Stipend and Benefits
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Conditions of the Fellowship
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