It’s done! It’s been a real pain in the bum bum, navigating all the formatting issues, the various forms to fill and timings to meet … but it’s finally done! Holding that thesis in my hands, fresh from the printers, I was (almost) as proud as when I first held Anzel (my firstborn son) in my hands.

The obligatory thesis shot in front of the department sign. Hooyah!

To be honest, I found it difficult to follow some of the instructions that were given to us, so I’ve written up my own submission Cheat Sheet for DBS Graduate Students submitting their thesis, which lists all the tasks you need to do chronologically. I personally find it a little easier to follow than the official instructions, so I hope it’s helpful for you but it might not be totally updated so use it at your own risk. Feel free to send it to others, and if you want to update it so that it’s useful for future generations, do let me know and I’ll send you an editable version.

Download Cheat Sheet


I’m afraid to say it: I was actually a little bored during my defence presentation! I’d presented the data (in one form or another: posters, talks at conferences, lab meetings, TAC meetings, written reports, etc.) so many times that I couldn’t bear hearing myself say the same things over and over again, and I’m guessing you may feel the same way at some point.

But I realised that it also meant that I knew my stuff really well. If my examiners were there to see whether I knew my work, then the answer was most definitely: Yes! I didn’t need to worry about that. What I had to worry about was how to exhibit my knowledge to them (and to the audience) in a confident and non-boring manner. So here are some things I learnt from the experience, and I hope they help you too…

Ian’s “3 Things to Remember for your Defence“:

  1. Don’t be too stressed – you’re probably fine! No one knows your stuff as well as you do, not even your examiners. You are an actual expert on your topic now (even though you may not feel like it)! Also,  remember that the examiners WANT to pass you. So just prepare, practise and present. You’ll be okay.
  2. Don’t tell them everything you did. No one wants to know a step-by-step of what you did over your entire PhD journey. You have 30 to 45 minutes (that’s about 40 slides, depending on how you present). So first, make sure you’re telling a nice story: what your question was, how you tried to answer it, what you found out. Write out an overview of the storyline if you need to, then list down the points you will need to tell that story. If a point does not help your story be more convincing or interesting, throw it out.
  3. Be fun and easy to understand. Don’t overload your slides with details: use pretty pictures and know stick to the point that each slide is supposed to deliver. Insert jokes or videos or little games (related to your research) to break the monotony if necessary. Have dry runs early on so that you can get feedback on whether your story was easy to understand, whether points need to be added or removed, and whether your jokes were appropriate. Then: practise, practise practise!  Practise it when you wake up, during the day, and in bed when you can’t sleep (it’s a great cure for insomnia). Practise till you can deliver the whole thing almost automatically.

Bonus tip: the department gives you $35 to buy a cake when you graduate. You can use that to buy cookies/cakes for the examiners and audience members at the defence. An examiner with a happy belly is your best friend. Good luck during the closed door!

Limbo period – am I a Dr yet?

Yes you’re a real Doctor of Philosophy now! =) You just have to wait awhile for the bureaucracy that is NUS to realise this (and also to submit your revised thesis). Hopefully you’ve saved up enough money to tide you through this time, but I hear that your prof can hire you on an RF pay now, even while waiting to get your cert (we couldn’t before… supporting a family on 8 months of hourly pay was super tough).

“What advice have you for this phase,” you ask? Just enjoy yourself! In academia, achievements are few and far between and we need to celebrate every single one, no matter how small! So take a holiday, relax, read some books, and partake of some alcohol (in a responsible adult manner). Now is also a good time to start looking for a job (if you haven’t already started) but I will write more about this in my next post.