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Do I give her yet another chance?
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frustratedacademic · 04/07/2022 19:38

I've inherited a mature student from an older colleague who sadly passed away. She's submitted three drafts so far in as many years: the first was full of plagiarism; the second was a total mess, lacking a decent literature review.

I said I'd give her one last chance but she jolly well had to make sure that it was properly structured, proofread, et cetera. Opened it up today to find she hadn't even complied with the most basic stuff like correct length of abstract, text size etc. It's impossible to navigate as she seems clueless regarding setting out headings. I've spent an hour just starting to make it readable, but still it's very hard to follow the logic of the sub-sub sections.

What do you think I should do? A) send it back yet again.
B) read it, spending time I cannot afford correcting its structure all the way through before I start reading it closely.
C) or simply refuse to do anymore?

The complicating factor is that she has been collaborating with a close colleague abroad, so there are informal ties to our group.

Agh! I don't need this! Confused

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frustratedacademic · 04/07/2022 20:00

I forgot to mention the critical point that this is a PhD student. So with equations, easily knocking on 100k words to work through each time.

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daretodenim · 04/07/2022 21:13

Is there a potential fees issue here? Is she an international student?

I had a friend who worked in academia and this was a not infrequent problem with some of the foreign PhD students. The university's policy was basically keep going as long as fees are paid for them. I was an undergrad then and shocked that PhD level students were plagiarising. In one case one plagiarised a book written by the supervisor!!!

Basically I think you need to know what the university policy is before you look at possible steps.

If this is a British candidate then how on Earth she got on a PhD is beyond me - unless it's self-funded? But even then, surely she should understand the basics of how to present a logical piece of work - and that plagiarism is unacceptable even at undergrad level!

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frustratedacademic · 05/07/2022 05:48

sort of a fees issue. She’s not paying until she submits, but she’s liable to repay her sponsor if she doesn’t pass. An international student, with a good job at a foreign NGO, so a massive loss of face if she doesn’t pass. But then, why risk failure by submitting substandard work? Is she actually incapable, or simply so used to minions doing the work for her she’s forgotten how?

I think the plagiarism is partly sloppiness, and partly has got away with it for years, so thought no different to do so now. No sense of shame in being caught out, but then I was so embarrassed for her, I wasn’t as obviously furious as I should have been, in retrospect.

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daretodenim · 05/07/2022 06:31

Ok makes a bit more sense now.

Do you have a supportive HoD? Can you raise it with them? There are some departments that get a high number of foreign PhD candidates and have unwritten rules of dealing with these situations.

It's actually unfair to accept students from certain educational systems without providing them the basic (undergrad level!) courses about writing at an academic level, because often they don't learn how to structure essays. I had a friend in one such place who was shocked that the lecturer told them to go to the library, find his book, print or copy pages X-XX and submit with a cover sheet (before computers widely used there). That was undergrad. She felt cheated because she'd wanted to write an essay! The oral exams she had were initially marked down because she answered questions in her own words and didn't respond quoting verbatim with the relevant paragraphs learned by rote from the lecturer/examiner's book. That was with more than one lecturer over the entire degree.

There are plenty of people who edit theses. It has to be paid for but that's not your problem. If there's no other advice then I'd tell her bluntly (to leave no room for misunderstanding) that she needs to have an editor help her with it before she submits it to you again, and I'd give her one more chance, on that condition.

I have to say that these candidates often go home with their foreign PhD and are seen as experts. It's really worth a lot of social, if not financial, capital. She has a LOT to gain in this.

But I'd still try to run this past HoD to make sure this is ok with the department. Is there a limit to submissions for example.

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frustratedacademic · 05/07/2022 07:38

Thanks for that advice,

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frustratedacademic · 05/07/2022 07:42

Pesky app!

Thanks for that advice. I'm sure you're right. I'm just struggling with the concept of giving her a chance again, when this was meant to be the very, very last one.

I think I'll do the structuring work just to check if the content is good enough. If yes, I'll read it, just to get it off my desk for good. If not, I'll go for the nuclear option, and refuse to handle. She can submit without me, but that'll make it the senior tutor's problem, and he won't be happy!

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MorrisM · 05/07/2022 07:46

Hi OP,

I'm a mature PhD student and thought I might say a bit about what I found helpful coming back to academia, in case any of it was useful to you in working out why your student is getting it so wrong.

One thing I found was that the way universities work has (unsurprisingly) changed substantially in a quarter of a century. That meant that not only was there stuff I didn't know, but there was stuff I didn't know that I didn't know. One of the most useful things my supervisor did for me on day 1 was simply send me a link to all the info on formatting etc. Of course, easy to think a PhD student should be able to find this sort of thing herself but it's not obvious (to someone who hasn't been in a uni for over 20 years) that such information exists, and if you don't know it exists you don't think to look for it. If she's getting basic stuff like size of text wrong, that suggests to me that she's unaware that this isn't something she can just decide for herself. What's more, as a mature student she might be a bit "out of the loop" with the other PhD students and so miss out on the informal learning that goes on between them.

Likewise, being given a few samples of theses which my supervisor thought good examples was incredibly helpful. Perhaps showing her an example of how it should look would help her understand how she should be using headings etc.

My professional background is in law. I was experienced at structuring long documents as this is something I do as part of my work. But again, different conventions apply and it was helpful to me to have this pointed out: I was used to writing for busy clients who might only read the bullet point summary so the amount of signposting needed in a thesis was a big adjustment (essentially "tell me what you're about to tell me, then tell me it, then tell me that you told me it").

Of course, it may be that she's already been told all this in which case ignore me!

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GCAcademic · 05/07/2022 07:51

Restructuring a thesis does not fall within the remit of the supervisor's role, OP. I would send it back to her. You're basically doing her work for her.

How on earth have you ended up in an arrangement where the student doesn't pay until they submit?

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fudfootedfannybangle · 05/07/2022 07:55

“Hi, got your email but it looks like you’ve sent the wrong version. Please submit the correct version asap”.

id just bat it back to her tbh.

caveat- I’m not an academic- but this is the route I take professionally when sub-standard work is submitted. Spent far too many hours correcting the mistakes of others.

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frustratedacademic · 05/07/2022 08:08

Ah, ok, you're strengthening my arm. Yes. I should bat it back. She's been given all the information on formatting, links to the instructions, every possible guidance, which is why I'm frustrated. There's simply no excuse. I shouldn't indulge her, right? Yeah, I know I shouldn't. I need to channel her late lamented supervisor, though perhaps without the expletives that would have accompanied the push-back. Grin

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parietal · 05/07/2022 22:03

In terms of reading drafts, I might be inclined to give detailed feedback on one chapter (e.g. chapter 2 or 3 if that is core experimental data) to show the standard of what a thesis should look like. and then tell her she has to apply the same rules to all the other chapters.

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JustMaggie · 05/07/2022 22:34

I wouldn't restructure it, I think that is your student's job. But bring her back into your office, sit her down and go through it with her. Tell her explicitly what is wrong and what she should do to fix it. Make her take notes, show her (yet again) good examples and send her off to fix it. Tell her the consequences if it is not right this 3rd and final time. If you ask me, she sounds a little lazy. Don't do her work for her!

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canellini · 06/07/2022 05:25

What's happened at her regular reviews? There's something badly amiss if she can get to this stage without being warned. It shouldn't all be on you. Absolutely don't restructure it for her. I'd point out the issues and share with senior tutor.

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frustratedacademic · 06/07/2022 08:10

OK, to answer a few questions: she returned a few years ago from several prior years in industry, having upgraded, collected data, analysed it (poorly), started a full draft - all under auspices of her late supervisor, then found a job, married, established a new life abroad. She returned, announcing she'd like to submit. This is her third attempt, having had copious, detailed feedback in person and in writing each of the two previous drafts.

Senior tutor has said it's up to me to decide what to do Confused. I really haven't the patience (or inclination) to go through it with her again. There's only so much you can do in guiding, if they apparently don't get it.

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GoodThinkingMax · 06/07/2022 08:18

I feel your pain! I’ve had a few PhD students like that.

In your position, I’d send it back, with some comments along the lines of what you’ve told us (phrased more formally of course!).

And I’d be instigating an annual review process with a 2nd supervisor or someone in your department but outside your immediate research group.

Also, keep notes, follow up verbal advice in supervisions with written advice - an email with your supervisory comments bullet pointed. Quick and summative. It’s evidence. Unfortunately you need to cover your back, but it’s also good practice.

If you have a Director/head of PGR, I’d be alerting them of your concerns about your student’s progress and ability to finish in the allotted time/funding.

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GoodThinkingMax · 06/07/2022 08:23

Or let her submit. And either be offered an MPhil or Revise and Resubmit.

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frustratedacademic · 06/07/2022 13:15

GoodThinkingMax · 06/07/2022 08:18

I feel your pain! I’ve had a few PhD students like that.

In your position, I’d send it back, with some comments along the lines of what you’ve told us (phrased more formally of course!).

And I’d be instigating an annual review process with a 2nd supervisor or someone in your department but outside your immediate research group.

Also, keep notes, follow up verbal advice in supervisions with written advice - an email with your supervisory comments bullet pointed. Quick and summative. It’s evidence. Unfortunately you need to cover your back, but it’s also good practice.

If you have a Director/head of PGR, I’d be alerting them of your concerns about your student’s progress and ability to finish in the allotted time/funding.

All good advice. She's well beyond annual reports with feedback: thankfully all this is documented in painstaking detail. She's unregistered as she ran out of time, and funding, years ago. In fact we're doing her a favour by me reading a draft (let alone 3!).

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