Preparing for a Thesis Proposal defense

At Texas Tech, the Thesis Proposal (TP) is a required step in progress toward authoring and then defending the MM thesis or FADP dissertation. It is an opportunity for the candidate to concretize her/his thinking, articulate ideas and intentions, and share conversation with supervisor and mentors regarding possibilities and potential pitfalls. Here is a rough timetable and suggested strategy for the MM degree (typically, the FADP dissertation will take longer—perhaps 12 rather than 5 months—but most of these strategies apply likewise with that doctoral degree):
  • You should seek to author the TP and to defend it well before the end of the Fall semester, both in order to have time to complete the MM thesis itself prior to March 28 deadline, and because the TP is a very useful tool for focusing your research agenda and rendering it more efficient.
  • Drawing upon the template for the MM Musicology thesis in the TTU SOM Graduate Music handbook, you work with your thesis supervisor to author a draft which follows the template and which addresses all required areas.
  • Approximately 3 weeks prior to your agreed-upon deadline for the TP defense, you should have the draft TP completed to your supervisor’s satisfaction; s/he should work closely with you on structure, format, writing style, completeness, and so forth. Once you are both satisfied, you should contact the other two members of your MM thesis committee, in order to ascertain available meeting times and set a specific defense day/date/time/location.
  • Approximately 2 weeks prior to the scheduled TP defense date, you should send the final draft to the committee members. NB: it is the responsibility of your thesis supervisor to do a complete line-edit of the document, reading for style, grammar, usage, spelling, organization, and so forth: do not expect or presume that the other committee members should do this (it’s time-consuming and not their responsibility). Be prepared to supply the other two committee members a copy of the TP in the format (hard-copy or digital) each prefers. Once you have supplied this final draft to the committee members, do not continue revising—they are assessing and preparing to question you on the basis of the version they have received, not a “more recent revision.”
  • At the same time, schedule a meeting room for the defense at the agreed day/date/time. Allow at least 90 minutes.
  • In advance of the scheduled defense date, construct a short, 5-7 minute presentation, using PPT or a handout if you wish, which summarizes the following:

  1. The topic, and what draws you to it;
  2. The type of evidence you will employ and the reasons for the specific methodology you will use to analyze that evidence;
  3. The conclusions you anticipate you will reach (recognizing that it is OK if those conclusions evolve or shift over the course of the research);
  4. The potential relevance of your work to research which focuses upon either related topics or related methodologies (or both).

At the defense, you are actually assessed on the basis of two metrics: (1) the document as it is written, and (2) the quality of your interaction and insight in the discussion about the document. So you are actually receiving two grades (of “Pass,” “Pass with required revisions,” or “No pass”) on each of those two metrics: the TP document, and your defense of that document.
  • At the meeting, your supervisor convenes the defense and then turns it over to you. You give the above 5-7 minute presentation and then your supervisor opens up the discussion for questions and responses.
  • Typically—and especially if your presentation, which is a kind of “oral mini-topic proposal,” is effective—the conversation is mostly very positive and is dedicated to teasing out ideas, suggesting useful refinements or limitations, and so forth.
  • After the discussion is completed, your supervisor will ask you to temporarily excuse yourself from the room (don’t wander off!) while the committee confers about your performance. Then your supervisor will bring you back into the room, and inform you of what needs to happen next.

It is important to understand the TP defense not as an adversarial or “scary” pass/fail event, but rather as an opportunity for your supervisor and other mentors to help you focus, concretize, make-specific, and improve the quality and efficiency of the work that you do in writing the document itself. It’s tense, but it should also—if everyone has done their respective job in advance—positive and useful.

Good luck!