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    This Category: > PhD Advice / Support


    I need advice about my thesis revisions

    User: tr1992 - 29 December 2022 17:33

    Hi everyone

    I'm currently revising my thesis (revise and resubmit, and re-viva) however there is something I am extremely uncomfortable about and I really want to get some opinions from people who are not involved in the project and are actually impartial. I want to know if I should be upset, or if i'm just taking things too personally. I've asked my university for advice but they are very slow and the issue is eating me away every day. Its been almost 2 months and I still haven't got any word from the university.

    In 2020 I published a new methodology in one of the leading journals in my field. Since then it has been cited numerous times and entered the top 10 most viewed papers ever published in that journal. For me I think that's quite good and I think it was the best chapter in my thesis. Its not perfect of course, but i think for a phd student and for my first ever paper its not bad. I then published 2 other journal papers and 2 conference papers, one which was peer-reviewed and one which was not. Only 1 chapter in my thesis is not published somewhere.

    My internal examiner however really does not like this new methodology chapter. He has his own methodology which remains unpublished as it was rejected by journals. This paper was written in 2017 and presented at a student conference but not peer-reviewed for that, and later went on to fail peer-review for 3 journals before he and the phd student involved with it gave up on. I have a copy of the paper and its really not very good at all. His later papers on the subject make no reference to that paper either. He gave me the decision of revise and resubmit and re-viva, and my external examiner seemed to favour minor revisions.

    He keeps insisting that his paper is better, that his paper made the contribution to knowledge my chapter is claiming and that I should have used it in my work. It was a big issue during my 18 month and again during my viva. I am worried that I can make all of the changes he asked for but it will be impossible to get him to give me a pass as I think this is not an academic issue and has become a personal issue. He has accused me of being academically dishonest for not using his work at my 18 month viva (even though I'd never heard of it as it was unpublished). A lot of his comments on my thesis just feel like they have been done in bad faith, some even taking things out of context quite deliberately.

    I had a whole page in my final thesis about his paper saying how good it is but that it wasnt suitable for my work just to placate him, but it resulted in over 1 hour of conversation in the viva (which was only 2.5 hours in total) and about 40% of the thesis comments are also about this issue.

    I feel he has a conflict of interest and I do not trust him to judge the work fairly, but I don't know if this is normal, or if its a serious issue.

    Can anyone give me advice?

    User: abababa - 30 December 2022 04:58

    It's sadly both somewhat normal, and a serious issue.

    I feel your supervisor has let you down here selecting him as an external. Some academics are extremely insecure and tend to manifest this by harshly judging anything they assess.

    However, there's little point dwelling on this. What I'd probably recommend you do is;

    - Flag this before re-submission as a concern you have with your supervisor and at least one other person with authority at the university. I wouldn't dig heels in and refuse to submit unless there's a change in examiners; and I'd describe it as a 'potential' concern, but if you do get a negative outcome, it will help any case (legal or otherwise), if you've got it in writing you were concerned about this before hand. Unfortunately an appeal after-the-fact tends to carry less weight as it's seen as a student disappointed with a fair result and wanting to change the outcome.

    - I'd continue to address the corrections and resubmit. Include a supplementary document explaining how you have addressed them. The goal here is to demonstrate, to any rational observer, that you did indeed address them.

    - Do check your own bias in the process. It's easy and natural to think an examiner criticising something you've put your heart and soul into is being unreasonable or unfair. Sometimes they are. But they will have some valid points.

    I'd think he will ultimately accept the corrections, because it's an incredibly difficult call for 99% of examiners to fail a PhD unless it's objectively flawed. If you are so unfortunate he's in that 1%, the goal should be to collate objective evidence; that you flagged it, that you addressed the corrections, such that you can justify a re-examination.

    User: tr1992 - 31 December 2022 00:14

    Thanks very much for your reply, it's very useful!
    I plan to do exactly what you say and hopefully it will turn out ok. I've raised the issue with the director of graduate programmes at the university and he has been reading through my complaints but still not got back to me. I think I can address most of their comments with the exception of a few which aren't really about my thesis and just randomly telling me about his paper, but 90% of them are things i can make a good amount of effort to show i've addressed them.
    Hopefully it will go well!

    User: rewt - 31 December 2022 17:52

    Hi tr1992,

    I am sorry to hear about viva experience. It sounds horrifying to put the work in, get the publications and then be let down by a dodgy viva examiner. Your examiner seems to see your work as a threat and has a signifcant bias.

    I agree with abababa but would like to add if you haven't already make usre your thesis flags what chapters have been published and where. I would even be cheeky and add metrics such as references as of submission. It should be uncommon that an examiner blocks you with three peer-reviewed publications and you need to make it clear that they are rejecting peer-reviewed work. I would even tell everyone in your department that you don't knpow what the issue is because you have published it in X and X journals.

    Also, can you manufacture a conflict? If he has a conflict of interest he can't be your examiner. Can your supervisor help you create a conflict or do you think is unplublished article alone is conflict enough.

    Finally, if you get to the second viva with this still hanging, attack him on his methodology. And I mean attack. Your methodology is published in a respectable journal and cited by other people in your field. While his methodology has been unpublished for several years. Point out flaws in his methodology and defend your work in the terms of reviewer feedback and citation count. Yoiu can also, tell the chair in clear terms that you are following the university procedures to use peer-reviewed articles and that you think it is unfair to be examined on un-published methods. Then say that you refuse to discuss unpublished material anymore but happy to discuss to your work. A half decent chair will draw a line under the discussion and let you move on.

    Though don't worry too much. As you have said, you have done 90% of the corrections which is good and you should pass the second time. You ccould probably apply for jobs of the back of your publication record alone whicch could be a nice confidence boost.


    User: tr1992 - 06 January 2023 23:23

    Thanks for the advice! I definitely plan to attack him in the next viva. I've just found out today the "conference paper" presented at a student conference actually isn't even a conference paper, it was never even submitted for a conference. There was a powerpoint presentation that was submitted but the paper never was, actually all that was submitted and considered for the conference was the powerpoint abstract. I have him in writing many times saying i should reference this "conference paper" so I'm thinking maybe I can use that to proove he isn't being fair.

    The paper wasn't available on the university repository or on the authors research gate account, when all of their other conference papers are, so I think even they know that this manuscript isnt a conference paper.

    I think he has been intentionally lying about it. Very frustrating!

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