How to organize a mock defense?

Gepubliceerd op 12 april 2024 om 12:00

Before you actually defend your dissertation, it is nice to be able to practice it beforehand. Having a mock defense may help you get used to it. This blog explains how to organize such a mock defense and what things you should consider.


In a mock defense, you often ask colleagues (who already have their PhD) from your own team or those you have worked closely with to participate to oppose. Ideally, you should invite five to six different colleagues to imitate a real defense. It is best if they have somewhat different backgrounds, so they can ask you about different things. For example, one may have more practical knowledge, while another has a strong statistical background.

Divide and conquer

You never know which chapters of your dissertation are going to feature in the questions during your actual PhD defense. Therefore, it is advised to have all chapters covered during your PhD defense. A practical way to achieve this is to assign one or more chapters of your dissertation to each of the individual opponents of your mock defense, with the request to prepare two questions on this chapter. This is also convenient for the opponents, as reading one chapter requires far less preparation than reading an entire dissertation.

Location and time

Plan a date with your dissertation opponents well in advance and reserve a suitable space for this purpose for ninety minutes. A suitable room is large enough for you to be able to sit with each other, with the PhD candidate preferably sitting (diagonally) opposite your opponents, just like in your real PhD defense. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also become increasingly more common for opponents who live far away to oppose online. Should this be the case with your PhD defense, it is a good idea to practice this too during your mock defense, for example by having someone logged in via Teams. Furthermore, make sure to follow the official protocol with 45 minutes of defense and addressing the opponents by their correct academic titles: highly learned opponent for professors and very learned opponent for doctors.

Evaluate and learn

Plan enough time to evaluate your defense as well. A rule of thumb is: 45 minutes of defense and then 45 minutes of evaluation. Ask your opponents what they noticed during your mock defense and if they have any tips for you. Also check with yourself if there are areas for improvement. Are there any answers you gave that you would like to polish a bit more? Were there perhaps questions that you could not answer quite right and for which you still need to research some things? Do you still clearly remember what exactly you did in all your articles and why you made certain choices, or do you need to check them again in your logbook so they are fresh on your mind?

Bad rehearsal?

If your mock defense did not go well, try not to worry too much. Take advantage of the points for improvement so that you will be much better prepared during your actual defense. In the theater they have a saying: “If you have a bad rehearsal, you’ll have a good show!”

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