Thursday, October 18, 2018

PhD Defenses Around the World: a PhD Defense in Egypt

Today, I have the pleasure of inviting Marwa Hassan to talk about PhD defenses in Egypt. Marwa soon will be awarded the PhD from the University of Queensland, Australia. However, she is originally from Egypt and has a Master of Science from the American University in Cairo, Egypt. During her Master’s degree she learnt about the PhD system and defenses in her country and now feels that she needs to share it with everyone. She is passionate about microbiology, bacterial interactions, diagnostics, teaching and science communication.

To reach to the stage of the PhD defense in a developing country like Egypt is quite challenging. It takes a lot of efforts to overcome the hurdles of the system for a countless number of years. When you reach this stage you would have invested a lot of money on your research and spent a lot of long nights working hard either on the PhD or taking an extra shift to compensate for the income. It is definitely advantageous for students attaining their degrees in social sciences than in science, due to the nature of the research. It still won’t be easy or straight forward but you spend less money on the research itself. So, regardless of your field, you finally made it to the PhD defense stage, you feel like you are finally there at the end of the tunnel that everyone is talking about, you cannot see the light yet but you feel it. So, what are the stages of the PhD defense in Egypt?

1- The thesis document
This is an important stage to get all your supervisors to agree on the final version of your document. It gets a little complicated dealing with each one separately and resolving the conflicting opinions but remember that it is your PhD and you know your supervisors very well by now, so keep that in mind. Do not get frustrated or remain in that stage for long, try harder to convince your supervisors of what you think or arrange a meeting with all of them so they can discuss the conflicts together. You will need to check the style and formatting of your university and department. Also, you will need to know the number of copies they require and how many are bound. There will be so much details so the best strategy is to write down all these comments in your notebook.

2- Preparing the presentation
Usually the presentation is the most worrying part. You probably hardly presented your work to scientists and/or to the department; it was always to your supervisors. It can be a bit more worrying if you are presenting in a different university than where you work. Additionally, the presentation is about 45 min to 1 hour, so that lengthy talk could also be scary. However, you have to prepare really well, you need to remember that you know your work more than anyone in the room. Prepare your presentation ahead of time and practice it as much as you can. Invite colleagues and co-workers to your rehearsal talks, get their feedback and improve your narrative as well as the slides. Do not forget to tell a good story, you worked hard for it and no one will get bored of a nice story rich of data. The second part of the preparation is the confidence, which you partially gain with practicing, preparing possible questions and know that you have done your best. Ask your guests to challenge you with questions, write them down and keep thinking of the best answers. Do not forget to invite your supervisors for one of the last rehearsals; they need to approve your talk after all.

3- Food catering
It is a tradition in Egypt to always meet over food even if it is a formal PhD defense, but you also do not want your committee to be sleepy of full stomachs. The best strategy is to get some snacks so that they can nibble on it during your talk and leave the lunch for the end. Also, make sure to know the food preferences of your committee members. As you will be stressed to handle the catering on the day, make all the booking beforehand and assign the task to one of your friends, they will be free to sort any last minute disasters. One important point is to get all the wrapping off the snacks so they do not make much noise while you are presenting.

4- The defense
This is the day, finally. The PhD defense is a very formal event. So, prepare your suit or a formal outfit preferably with a jacket, think of the colours and try to keep it simple and plain. Make sure to go to your seminar location ahead of time, usually you will need your laptop and have the presentation saved everywhere. Stay calm, in few hours it will all be over and you will be a PhD holder. Be confident of what you have achieved, you worked hard to reach this stage and everyone knows it. You may quickly read the questions you prepared and/or important parts in your thesis document, which you have a copy of. Take a deep breath, focus and start your presentation with a nice smile on your face. Take another deep breath directly after you finish and just before the start of their questions. Do not forget to have a pen, some will give comments or edits in the documents and you need to write them down. After this stage, your heart may stop beating; it is the time they discuss if you pass, so just take a deep breath.

5- After the defense

Congratulations, you have attained your PhD. You need to make sure you get them all to sign the form stating that. After you enjoy the food and a good night sleep, you will have to go back to your thesis document and back to the first point, then sort a lot of paper work to be officially a PhD holder. The paper work may take months, but at this stage it does not matter, you have finished, congratulations!

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