This expert advice comes from Sonja Foss and William Waters - authors of Destination Dissertation: A Traveler's Guide to a Done Dissertation
Sonja Foss would say that the defense begins as soon as you start working on your dissertation (Foss & Waters, 2007). Defense in the context of the dissertating process refers to the presenting, explaining and defending of your ideas. It also includes laying out the rationale behind your choices and decisions, for example, regarding theory selection and research methods. Efforts to recruit your chair and other committee members will entail some of this communication behavior. Seeking approval for your dissertation proposal, the foundation of all your research activities, will also entail a bit of defense.
Throughout the course of the project many exchanges with your chair and other committees will involve explaining and defending your ideas and decision. However, the most important defense is the dissertation defense which comes at the end of a long and arduous process and which may have unfolded over a number of years. The dissertation defense is a significant milestone signaling closure on your graduate student career.
The dissertation defense can be divided into three distinct components (Foss and Waters): the preparation, the defense, and follow-up. A few brief comments about all three follow and a very helpful resource provided a thorough discussion of all three components.
- Attend the defenses of some of your departmental colleagues or attend defenses in other departments.
- It is very important to adhere to graduate school rules and deadlines covering the scheduling of a defense.
- Begin very early to schedule and coordinate the date, time and place for the defense. Committee members and chairs have very busy schedules.
- Have your manuscript reviewed before the defense to be sure it is consistent with formatting requirements. You want to present a polished document for the faculty to work with in preparation for the defense.
- Maximize your opportunity in the pre-defense meeting to raise any issues or concerns. Or ask your chairs what questions and issues might be raised during the defense. Prepare to address them.
- Organize you material for presentation. Create flawless presentation of the material you will be covering on the defense. Finally, practice presenting the material and answering questions.
- Meetings may begin with brief comments by the chair followed by your comments thanking advisors and committee members for their time and efforts on your behalf.
- Your presentation material should briefly cover the research question, literature review as it relates to your theory, methods and analysis, major findings and recommendations for future research.
- During the defense, the faculty may take turns asking you questions and discussing among themselves points of interest or disagreement.
- Two questions to anticipate include identifying the weaknesses of your study and post-dissertation research plans.
- When all questions have been asked and answered, you will be asked to leave the room while the committee deliberates. At this time faculty will be deciding by vote whether to pass you on your defense and dissertation.
- The desired outcome of this meeting is the chair's greeting you with the statement "Congratulations, Dr. _." (Foss and Waters, 2007). The defense was successful and the committed has passed your dissertation.
- You may plan a small reception for the committee, friends and family. Check to see what the norms are in your department on post-defense celebrations.
- Next day attend to the revisions the committee asked you make to the work.
- You may want to provide bound copies of your work to your chair, committee members, family and friends. You may also be required to provide copies to your department and library. Create a budget for handling the incidental related to publishing and ordering additional copies of your manuscript.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------About the Authors: Co-authors of Destination Dissertation: A Traveler’s Guide to a Done Dissertation, Dr. Foss is a professor of Communications at University of Colorado, Denver, and Dr. Waters is an assistant professor of English at University of Houston-Downtown, They are co-directors of Scholar’s Retreat, a program to support progress towards completion of your dissertation, thesis or writing project.
This is not a French specific committee for a PhD exam. The German structure is the same.
The advisor (directuer) is called “Promotions-Prüfungsvorsitzender”. This is your “doctor father”, or supervisor for the past years while your PhD work. This is also someone that reads and evaluate the dissertation. In the German language this evaluation is called “Gutachten” and that is the reason why the advisor is also called “Gutachter”. To be more precise “Erstgutachter”, I explain later why.
The reviewer (rapporteur) write, like you said, the critical review, or in German called “Gutachten” and is also a “Gutachter”. Because he (or she) is the second selected by the advisor he (or she) is also called a little more precised in the German language “Zweitgutachter” (or “Zweitgutachterin”).
Both words “Erstgutachter” and “Zweitgutachter” are used more in a formal way and mostly used on the paper. Normally they are both referred as “Gutachter” in a more direct way of speaking.
The last group, the examiner (examinateur) are called “Beisitzer” (or in general "Prüfer"). I don’t know how this is exactly in the French PhD exam, but in the German one this “Beisitzer” listen to the defense part and are also allowed to ask question that are not part of your dissertation but belong to the field where you studied. For example if you do a PhD in say physic and your topic was something with quantum mechanics they are also allowed to ask more basic questions about thermo dynamics etc. And like you said they give more an opinion about you.