Defending your STRAMA paper
This is a logical part 2 of an article I earlier posted in 2012 titled THE CHALLENGES OF WRITING A STRAMA PAPER, which I wrote during the time I was preparing my own Strategic Management paper. I’ve earned my MBA degree since then, joined a development bank and took on other interests.
But for MBA students who are still at it, after you finish the paper and your adviser gives the thumbs up, the next proverbial question is: HOW DO I DEFEND MY PAPER?
For some who are good presenters (I find marketing and sales people exceptional at this), it’s a piece of cake. Not so for others who are, in fact, aplenty. Preparing for your STRAMA (or thesis) defense is a whole new ball game which requires preparation and dedication. I’ve heard stories of students who completed their papers without any difficulty, only to chicken out at the last minute because they are too nervous to face the panel.
Facing the members of your thesis panel can either be a liberating or daunting experience, depending on your confidence level and mastery of your paper. This is why, early on, your STRAMA professor and/or adviser may have urged you to select a company which you are familiar with and not just any company for the sake of completing the requirements for graduation.
Here are some hacks as you prepare for your defense:
- Master your paper from cover to cover. There is really no better way. Remember that your thesis panel’s job is to dissect your paper and look for gaps that you might have missed out. It is your job to know your paper very well from start to finish.
- As much as possible, know the members of your STRAMA panel. This is another important area to keep in mind. It pays to know who the members of your panel are. Are they academicians or practitioners? Do they come from your field of study? Is there a financial guy in the team?
In my personal experience, I found this very helpful. I learned early on that one of the members came from the oil industry (which was the topic of my paper), so I knew I had to firm up on my bullets about it. I knew that any wrong or sweeping statement could lead to so many questions that could derail me from my defense presentation, which is not a good thing. And believe me, practitioners know if you’re just winging it.
I had to give financial guy a different color to highlight this area. If you know that one of the members is a finance person which you’re not (that is to say, that you’re not a finance person), you have to be ready to take some blows on the financial part of your paper. Be ready to explain your projections.
- Make your presentations concise and short. Remember that you are just one of the many students that they will have to listen to, so focus only on the essentials. Some advisers/schools have a template which will guide you on what topics to put in your paper. Be mindful of that and the time allotted for your presentation. Also, give some time for the panel’s Q&A.
- Do not make the mistake of saying anything that’s not written in your paper. Like I’ve said, panel members might be able to spot that right away and ask you where they can find that in your paper. That can lead to very serious issues with your panel which your adviser may not be able to help you with.
- In everything you say or do, your adviser will always be your proponent and guide. Take advantage of your adviser’s free time for consultations. Make each moment count and take everything down. He will always know more than you do.
- Rehearse your presentation, if possible with somebody for an audience. It is always a boardroom setting during a STRAMA defense. I remember my STRAMA professor Dean Albert Buenviaje explaining this to us in class. Imagine yourself presenting before the Board of Directors. You have to have that air of confidence in presenting your topic defense.
- Try to anticipate questions and answer them. Again, I found this very helpful. I always made a mental note of possible questions that panel members may ask me and prepared short answers for these. In the 10 questions that I was able to think of, 4 questions came out–which is not bad at all. So it was a good feeling that I was able to answer straight away without stressing myself.
- Finally, come ahead of time for your defense. You don’t want to be late catching your breath while your panel eagerly waits for you to begin. It will never look good.