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Worried about failing my PhD

(31 Posts)
Oatsinajar Thu 13-Oct-16 16:26:47

Hi,

I'm looking for some reassurance I suppose. I've just heard that my supervisor's student failed his viva and was downgraded to a MPhil. I'm super worried now. I suppose my worry is how was he allowed to submit if it wasn't up to PhD standard? I've worked damn hard on mine, and I'm close to submission. I just can't afford to fail. Any advice or tips please?

MedSchoolRat Thu 13-Oct-16 19:55:56

Oh dear. sad Can you talk to the downgraded candidate, find out if they had the blessing of their supervisor to submit -- you need to find out whose judgement fail this was. Ask your supervisor the same question, and see if their stories match!

Also, talk to the downgraded person & ask if you can see any of the comments they got back; try to figure out if any of those comments apply to your thesis.

Who else can you ask to review your work? Are the other people on your panel proactive or helpful?

ButterBeanSoup Thu 13-Oct-16 19:58:45

Okay. Stop comparing yourself to the downgraded student. That is incredibly rare, so much so I would expect that they have had lots of other things going on, and it was expected.

How's your research going? I basically did my PhD in six months - the first two an a half years were failed experiments! That said, I had a phenomenal supervisor. I think you should bring your anxieties to your next supervision and make sure you have a good, realistic SOLID plan.

Oatsinajar Thu 13-Oct-16 20:04:32

MedSchoolRat Thanks for replying smile

That's a really good suggestion to speak to him, but he's based off campus and I don't know him personally. I just don't want to appear insensitive in contacting him, but you're right, that's the only way to really get an idea of what happened.

I don't have anyone else on the panel that is proactive but I think I'm going to insist someone senior comes on board to read my thesis before it is submitted. I really can't afford to fail.

notquitewhatIhadplanned Thu 13-Oct-16 20:09:00

I don't think it is as rare as sometimes thought. I nearly failed mine, I got told during my viva, that as it stood then it was only worth an MPhil unless I did a whole new section of research. I bit the bullet and did the whole new section, which was about another 18months work, and whilst I was doing this found out about 3 other people who had failed completely and not got anything. I feel I shouldn't have got the stage of my viva and then be told this, I had worked damn hard on mine too. Part of my problem was that I crossed over subjects, and because it was so new there wasn't really anyone around me who could examine me properly, and so I ended up with someone who knew part of it, but not all of it. So my advice is be really really careful about who you choose as an examiner - are they up to the job? Interview them! And the internal one turned out to have an axe to grind. Having said that I did produce a way better piece of work in the end, but it nearly killed us all (DH and kids) in the process.

Oatsinajar Thu 13-Oct-16 20:12:29

ButterBeanSoup, thank you, I needed some straight talking to. I do have a solid plan, I've got to make some amendments (nothing major) and the thesis is ready to submit according to my supervisor. However, I am worried about my supervisor's judgement because of this failed this, and also because my supervisor's feedback is for the most part sloppy, and I don't trust him. So for example, sometimes he says he has read some work and clearly hasn't. Other times, he'll read one part, and says he has skim read the other part. He has in the past also completely ignored my emails, even when he has promised to get back to me. This has been an on-going problem, and I haven't spoken out because I need to keep the peace to be able to submit, pass and move on with good references. sigh

Oatsinajar Thu 13-Oct-16 20:19:02

notquitewhatIhadplanned That must have been awful for you, and it was very brave of you to carry on and make the changes, well done.

Mine is also multi disciplinary and my supervisor admits he doesn't have expertise in the topic, although was quite happy to take me on. I suppose red flags have been there from the start, and I should have been less naive but it has really dawned on me now that I really could fail. It could really happen. I always thought that one's supervisor would stop you from submitting a thesis that is not to a PhD standard.

I sometimes feel like maybe I should pay a senior external academic who is in an expert in the area to review it prior to submission. But I don't think this is the done thing in academia.

Newtoday Thu 13-Oct-16 20:19:19

Any student who I have supervised who has not done as well as I expected/knew they were capable of has done so due to not taking supervision advice! Every time!

Common with other supervisors I have spoken to.

You may not want to hear this now but I PhD is tiny. It's a gateway to research. It's learning the ropes. Take on your supervision and be humble. You can direct your research more once you have a research position.

Bountybarsyuk Thu 13-Oct-16 20:26:41

I would hope that your internal processes such as passing the upgrade and being supervised by a team/second supervisor would prevent this happening, it is fairly rare these days at our uni except where the candidate just doesn't have enough to give and really is at a MPhil standard.

I second the advice about getting the right examiners though. You need someone who is firmly within your discipline or firmly within your topic, and ideally both. It's awful to end up with lots of amendments as you fall between disciplines, this happened to me to some extent.

The other way to look at a viva is that it is just a chance to find out what amendments you really need to make! If you think of it as the end point pass/fail, this can be disappointing if you get amendments. I had a PhF student though, who just couldn't quite seem to finish off his PhD and in the end submitted it though I felt it could have been improved by about 10%. He did get major amendments but at least he knew once he'd done that extra work, that was the end of it so to his mind, this was a victory of sorts.

If you can find someone to read your thesis and look for major flaws, great. I wouldn't worry so much about style (unless it's unreadable) or tinkering with minor things at this stage, as unfortunately examining is quite idiosyncratic and you may be changing things that your examiners don't care about.

Have you already chosen the examiners and are you happy with them?

MedSchoolRat Thu 13-Oct-16 20:30:52

shouldn't have got the stage of my viva and then be told this

That is absolutely so. It should not happen.

Officemate says it happened at lot at his ex-institution b/c the PIs were too overworked to properly supervise and make sure a thesis was ready. Their empire building strategy factored in regular casualties. shock

My PhD was also inter-disciniplinary. Supervisors are only human, so could be an unusual mistake that they let this one go to Viva. Yes also think carefully about the examiners. You want fair examiners most of all.

Oatsinajar Thu 13-Oct-16 20:34:01

Bountybarsyuk thank you for sharing your advice and experience. I have been struggling to find the right examiner. I am trying to decide between an expert in my very specific topic (but there may be a conflict of interest due to similar ongoing research projects) or someone who is an expert in the larger area of research. Any advice please?

MedSchoolRat Thu 13-Oct-16 20:36:56

Expert in somewhat larger area, is my gut feeling, but not sure I can articulate why!

Reduce conflict of interest, I suppose.

They will more likely put more value in your research methods, whether your conclusions are justified, maybe less welded to any particular theory (esp. any theory that might disagree with your conclusions).

Oatsinajar Thu 13-Oct-16 20:39:08

MedSchoolRat Thank you, that makes sense smile

allegretto Thu 13-Oct-16 20:42:40

Interesting thread - I have my viva next month and I have the same fears.

Oatsinajar Thu 13-Oct-16 20:54:08

allegretto Wishing you the best of luck, I'm sure you will be fine though. Have you had a mock viva?

notquitewhatIhadplanned Thu 13-Oct-16 22:19:49

Oats and allegretto - hope it goes well for you. Have a nice reward for yourselves at the end flowers

forkhandles4candles Fri 14-Oct-16 08:38:11

Are you in Humanities, Social Sciences or Sciences, I think there are subject specific issues here.

Bountybarsyuk Fri 14-Oct-16 09:11:00

I agree this is tied in to discipline and overall area, as fork says. I can only speak for the Social Sciences, and I would say don't pick someone with an actual conflict of interests where they are doing pretty much the same work, but personally, the closer the type of work, the better because they have a motivation to read the thesis and examine it properly. That said, if you know the wider scope person is extremely nice and has a history of relatively straightforward examining, that could be a plus as well. Your supervisor should know who is fair ideally, and also get a reasonable internal examiner (I wouldn't accept a crappy/totally unrelated one for my own student, I'd approach the ones I wanted myself).

I don't think there's any reason to panic now, there's no evidence or reason to think that your PhD is anything other than satisfactory. I'd look up both examiners, talk with your supervisor and then just make a decision. More than one person can be the 'right' examiner, what you want to avoid is ones with an issue, grudge, or just generally miserly in their examining.

OneFootinFront Fri 14-Oct-16 13:00:58

There's some really good advice here, about ensuring that you have a second supervisor, or look back to upgrade advice, and ensure that you have annual reviews.

The bit of advice I would not take is that you contact the other PhD candidate. Apart from being horribly insensitive, rude, thoughtless & tactless you can see I think this is a REALLY bad idea one 'failure' is not relevant to your situation. I've failed a couple of PhDs at viva. in one case it was probably almost wholly plagiarised; in the other the student just couldn't handle the intellectual level & intensity needed. But I wouldn't condemn their sypervisors because of this. Indeed, one had submitted against the advice of the supervisor, the PG director and the Head of Department.

So you just don't know. And the other student's result is nothing to do with you - it's confidential to them, and you don't know what happened in the viva, or throughout the candidature.

Just get your own house in order. Talk to your Department's PG Studies director, or that PG lead in your Faculty, about ensuring there's a review of your PhD prior to submission, so there's an outside eye on it. This is what we have 2nd supervisors for, or even a supervisory committee (that's the US convention). Even your supervisor might be too close to it now.

OneFootinFront Fri 14-Oct-16 13:03:24

I am trying to decide between an expert in my very specific topic (but there may be a conflict of interest due to similar ongoing research projects) or someone who is an expert in the larger area of research.

The latter. And not only because of potential conflicts of interest, but because an expert in your specific topic will have her/his very firm ideas about that topic, and if they don't accord with your thesis, then you might have a difficult time.

allegretto Fri 14-Oct-16 16:40:13

Oats - no! My supervisor hasn't suggested it and to be honest, I'm not keen.

OneFootinFront Fri 14-Oct-16 16:49:50

It's bad practice to allow your student to go into a viva without preparation. We always give them a mock viva. Even if the real viva is easier, or different, at least it's not the first time you've had to sit down and explain yourself in a formal atmosphere and proceeding.

Oatsinajar Fri 14-Oct-16 18:58:19

Thank you Bountybarsyuk and OneFootinFront for sharing your advice, much appreciated.

OneFootinFront: "Talk to your Department's PG Studies director, or that PG lead in your Faculty, about ensuring there's a review of your PhD prior to submission, so there's an outside eye on it." - Thank you, this is actually really useful, I'll have to demand this. I also agree with you actually about contacting the other student, my gut feeling was also that it didn't feel right, and it wouldn't be fair on the student, because I'm sure he must be gutted.

In terms of discipline, its multi-disciplinary but probably closest to psychology.

Harriedgymmum Fri 14-Oct-16 19:09:12

I agree with the others, have a mock viva and try and find a supervisor in one of your related disciplines to cast their eye over it. If you're well prpepared, know your subject and are confident talking about related work then it really shouldn't be an issue.
I had 2 supervisors and sometimes they gave me conflicting advice on parts of my thesis to change!
My external examiner was in the same field while the internal one worked in a related area. After I'd submitted my thesis, I found a few areas (grammar, punctuation etc) that neeeded corrections so I reworked those and took the corrected versions with me. When they found the error, I was able to show them the corrected copy.
My PhD took 4 years as I don't get any results for 18 months due to failed experiments, I got there in the end by being well prepared. That said I'd never do it again!!!

Lweji Fri 14-Oct-16 19:16:10

Do find out what happened. From several sources.
I've only seen one student fail and she was given 18 months to resubmit. I'm surprised this one failed outright.
You don't know if the one who failed listened to her supervisor.
Then, they may have chosen very difficult examiners.
Some people are just too hard to please

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