Friday, April 17, 2015

Major Corrections Update

As many readers of this blog are aware, I have been frustrated by the lack of transparency and communication from academics and department administrators with respect to the process of submitting, reviewing, and approving major corrections post-viva. Well, today I finally heard something from my internal examiner, and unsurprisingly the process is going to take at least another week!

I posted the details of my correspondence on Facebook and received some interesting comments. I do not want to divulge too much of my frustrations for the moment, out of respect for the on-going corrections and my examiners (as difficult as that is right now). Suffice to say, things have taken too long, emails with electronic copies of my thesis have been lost/deleted/ignored, and coordination between the two examiners has taken longer than expected. This should happen next week, but I was not given any sense of when a decision will be made.

This totals a minimum of 2 months of stress and anxiety, which personally I find unacceptable!

Maybe I should have indulged in this product to get a better viva result!

But let's get a little serious.

I am not going to place all the blame on the examiners because I understand that they both have busy schedules in their own right. But departments should have mechanisms in place to ensure that the examiners are reminded to contact a candidate, and that candidates are not left out in the wilderness waiting to hear about their future with no guidance. We as students shouldn't have to fight for departments to do better, but we must do in order to ensure that future students do not experience the same problems and frustrations that I, for example, have personally experienced.

One comment on my Facebook rant (and it was a rant, but a deserved one, trust me!) was that such behaviour would be unacceptable in the private sector. While there is certainly a valid concern about higher education institutions becoming more privatised, I do feel that the management and administration of the higher ed sector could benefit from some of the efficiency and accountability of the private sector. And while some may stress that academics are put under too much pressure due to administrative duties, I would argue that examining a PhD thesis is an academic responsibility. Furthermore, if you choose to award major corrections, you should prepared to support that student since you made that decision! And administrators need to both support and manage academics to a point, to ensure that their responsibilities to students are not neglected amidst teaching duties, research leave, or admin duties.

Another comment stressed that my situation simply would not happen in the US, and for any readers of this blog in the US, I am very envious of you! As my friend wrote: 

"since external examiners are pretty rare, everything is done in-house and everyone is accountable within their department. The U.S. oral defense of the thesis is a bit of a joke since it's a given that you pass - the examiners have to give you the result while you're standing in front of them, and they've all read the thesis already so therefore don't let you stand for the oral unless they have already decided that you pass."

I like that it seems more like a formality, and you can go into the defense confident in the result and that you can start moving forward with your life beyond the doctorate! Now, I get that no system is perfect, but the US system seems to understand more the need for doctoral students to move on after the viva and after the PhD.

As it stands for me, this is how my submission timeframe looks:

  1. July 2014 - Thesis submitted
  2. August 2014 - First contact from examiners setting the viva date
  3. September 2014 - Viva held and major corrections awarded. List of corrections given and I began work on them immediately, although I had 6 months to complete them.
  4. February 2015 - Thesis corrections submitted
  5. April 2015 - First contact from examiners, have not coordinated with each other yet
  6. ????
And that doesn't even count as the end of the saga! Another friend is going through the exact same process as me, and enumerated 3 different scenarios which could happen next:
  1. They read it, they like it, they email saying that they are filling out the paperwork for leave to supplicate.
  2. They read it, they more-or-less like it, and you are given less than a month's worth of corrections.
  3. They read it, they don't like it, you get re-viva'd.
Let's pray for the first one! If it is the second outcome, then I imagine that it could be an entire year from original submission to this drama being over. But if I do have another viva, this time I will take a cue from xkcd:

But all this means is that the future is stagnated for PhD students with major corrections or referrals. I am starting a new job in September and my dreams of graduating by that point are slipping away with every delay that is incurred!

Another friend wrote that my university has had 800 years to get the defense process sorted! Hopefully, it won't take another 800! Well, not if I have any say in the matter!

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