This post is coming from a place of frustration, so forgive me if it comes across as a little bit of a rant. I have been wondering over the past few days whether university departments give much consideration to the welfare of students after the viva, especially for those who received major corrections or referral and resubmit.
For regular readers of this blog, you will be aware of my belief in a frank and open discussion of the outcome of the viva, especially when that outcome is not the expected one. You can read more about this here:
Initially, the idea of being open and honest was meant to be for the benefit of other students, to allow current PhD students to know that corrections or referral is not the end of the world, and to be proud of the work already achieved (knowing that the doctorate will come, just a little later than intended, but probably as a better, more publishable thesis).
However, I think those running departments and examiners also need to take a hard look at the implications of their decisions, both mentally, emotionally, practically, and financially. Anything which delays the awarding of the doctorate will come at the expense of some aspect of student welfare.
Now, I wholeheartedly understand that examiners and departments have a duty to ensure that a thesis meets the standard of a doctorate, and I would in no way advocate for cutting corners or rushing results. What I advocate is for more transparency in the whole process, especially relating to timeframes. By the time a PhD student goes through the viva/defense process, we are likely in our late 20s or early 30s, with relationships, families, financial obligations, and sundry which are the lot of adulthood. Students need to make plans: to return home, to move to begin a job, or even just to be able to apply for jobs! How can we do this when universities keep us in limbo?
As an example, my university has changed its PhD regulations:
- Minor corrections = 1 month
- Major corrections = 6 months
- Referral = 1 year
Now, my university has a rule that when you submit your PhD thesis formally (for the first time!), the examiners must respond to you within 4 weeks to acknowledge receipt of the thesis and to try to arrange the future viva date. However, when you resubmit for major corrections, that rule does not apply and the process takes as long as it takes. Furthermore, there is the potential for a second viva which further leaves students in limbo - stuck waiting for an email. If we move anywhere, we have to pay to return for a second viva, or we live in fear of leaving the university just in case the viva happens!
But more than the practicalities of living, transport, jobs, and money, there is the emotional and mental wellbeing of students to consider. I submitted my corrections over 1 month ago, and the department has told me that there is no timeframe, they cannot chase the examiners, and it is the vacation so it will take as long as it takes. All the while, my heart skips a bit every time I get an email, I am constantly anxious and even having the dreaded viva nightmares!
The natural sort of pressure, anxiety, and fear of failure attendant to the PhD process is exacerbated by universities failure to support students post-viva. More and more students will be given major corrections in the future, and they need a timeframe in the same way that current PhD students have. We become forgotten, ignored parts of the department when we actually need the most support. For that, transparency in the process is key: a strict timeframe of response and clearer guidelines.