Alumni Chronicle: Master thesis defense experience from abroad

Mohammad Abul Kawser (Hedda alumni)

Mohammad Abul Kawser
(Hedda alumni)

As spring is coming up and a lot of Master students are soon delivering their thesis and soon having defenses coming up, we have collected some insights from students who have experienced a defense. So what is it all about? In this post, a recent graduate Mohammad Abul Kawser writes about his experience.

Remember, these are the experiences at the Hedda master programme in Higher Education at the University of Oslo. If you are studying in another higher education, be sure to check the formal requirements at your institution!

It’s very exciting to have finished the thesis and oral defense successfully, and good preparation can lead to this end. Usually, oral defense is held face to face where examiners and the student meet in a close environment. But in my case it was different as I attended the defense using electronic media form Bangladesh which is thousands of kilometers away from Oslo.

I conducted my field study in Bangladesh and wrote my thesis from here, this allowed me to avoid commuting to Oslo for the defense, with the permission of the university. Then the whole arrangement was done through Skype. This online thesis writing experience did not deprive me of expert advices in the process. My supervisor, Prof. Monika Nerland was available all the time through electronic communications and I could also work closely with my local co-supervisor Dr. Zahid A. Choudhury by being here.

After the submission of the thesis, I was allowed more than a month to prepare myself. During this time, I reevaluated the decisions that I took in my thesis. I assessed how far these decisions were appropriate? In cases where they are not appropriate, what could I have done alternatively? I discussed these issues with my supervisors. Prof. Monika provided me with some more literature so that I could connect my findings with the broader perspectives in the field. In addition, I was prepared to say something about the formulation of my research questions, analytical framework, methodological choices, ethical issues etc.

During this process I also identified the strengths and weaknesses of my thesis. I did not consider my thesis as an end product. Instead, I considered this as part of a process of creating an intellectual product in which this MPhil thesis is an important milestone. I also believe that this thesis might have potential to be a basis for PhD work or perhaps for a publication, but of course there are also areas for improvement. I have seen this defense from the perspective of improving my thesis and this was my motivation for the preparation. The defense was an instrument for further learning.

Finally, the day of defense came. I checked the sound quality, video and the internet connection for the Skype defense. I also kept an alternative connection to a separate computer in case of emergency. I kept a printed copy of my thesis aside so that if any of the examiners refer to a page number in making their questions, I could go right away to that page. I was waiting for the call from Oslo and got it just at 11 Norwegian time. After initial greetings the examiners started questioning. I tried to understand the questions clearly, and in some cases I repeated the question so that both sides were on the same page. I know there are several ways of answering a single question. I might not have had ‘the perfect’ answer, I gave the answer that I thought best in my consideration.

In some occasions the examiners came up with alternative arguments to the ones that I presented and sought for my comments on those. I instantly judged the merit of their arguments and where I found that they had merits, I acknowledged them, and then offered the merits of my own arguments. I tried to establish an intellectual conversation during the defense rather than considering it a question-answer session. It also provided me with an opportunity to establish a conversation with the HE Scholars like Prof. Peter Maassen, Prof. Monika Nerland and Mari Elken. I wanted to reap intellectual benefit from this conversation.

The oral continued approximately up to 45 minutes. Then the examiners logged out momentarily to decide on assigning a grade and I was waiting on Skype to hear that. This interval was a combination of mixed feelings. I felt relieved as well as anxious.

To pass the time, I prepared a cup of coffee and started drinking to ease myself. After 10 minutes they called me again. One of the examiners informed me the grade and explained why they have decided to give me this grade. He and the other examiner as well as my supervisor congratulated me and provided me with some advices on how to take the next step in my academic career.