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PhD and Dyslexia

Think hard about taking advice from those who have no experience of dyslexia, or tell you to use particular tech or lawyers. Dyslexia can be seen as a money making industry, or people may have little knowledge and be pretty dismissive about the condition or just ignorant. I would suggest that anyone facing problems with dyslexia in their university check out the law on this area. I know of at least one person who was given questions in advance of a viva due to their dyslexia, so adjustments can be major rather than just minor. The following is another example of the degree of adjustment that may be made in the case of a specific learning difficulty: -

It may also be useful to look at the cases that have been successful with the Office for the Independent Adjudicator.

I made the mistake of not pushing hard enough in the early days of my PhD as I have had better support in other universities, or alternatively other environments had been so supportive that my dyslexia was never made very apparent. That degree of support has not been therein my current university. My advice is to make sure that you know the law and the right adjustments are in place before the viva or any other exam. It may feel that you should be taking time to revise or prepare for an exam, but this is just as (if not more) important. Also be aware that some academics may not be very knowledgeable about dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties. Some may even have discriminatory viewpoints.

Is it usual to for viva corrections to set out a completely different set of research questions ?

Hi abababa

Thanks for responding and putting the time into writing a detailed reply. I noticed, however, that you have not directly responded to my question - 'is it normal for an examiner to rewrite research problems as a correction following a viva?’ I can't say that I was deliberately trying to get an interdisciplinary mess through my viva. I worked hard to create a synthesis out of the disciplines I referenced. I think that the number of disciplines I had to reference due to the structuring of the degree was ridiculous (even an interdisciplinary team would have struggled), but I did my best. My supervisors were very supportive and encouraging. I engaged with my supervisors over examiners and I had no issues with the examiner we agreed on. He asked me very sensible questions and I don't think he has rewritten my research questions. I passed my viva. I recognised that nearly all of the corrections were appropriate and I have no problem delivering on them. The issue is whether it is appropriate to impose a new set of research questions and methodology on a student after they have passed viva. It will mean that I will have to suggest that I have arrived at my research results using a different methodology than I actually used (surely that would be academic misrepresentation?)

This type of situation may be different for those intending to become academics, but I am not going down that path. I expected high professional standards from academics and for university to follow the guidance and criteria that should be standard to all universities (i.e., according to regulatory bodies such as the OfS and QAA). I guess that many students aren't aware of such standards, or they may not be prepared to challenge a university through reference to them. It concerns me that the approach you have suggested above suggests a form of suppression. Perhaps you need to give this some consideration yourself. The situation you outline is similar to employees who have been treated unfairly at work being told to keep quiet and not go to an industrial tribunal, or politicians telling citizens to stick to rules and then break the rules themselves. The only possibility for mediation (according to your response) seems to be that academics will not want to be bothered with a lot of paperwork. I understand you are being sensible - but if we are all sensible in the face of suppression, where does that leave academia and society more generally.

Old gal embarking on MSc with OU...what was I thinking?!

I have done several post-doc degrees as a mature student.

Look closely at your course materials. Make sure these are very clear about what is being assessed and what materials should be referenced. If these are not clear, try and get confirmation of what is required from your tutors (either written or spoken in front of others). There should be clarity as regulators (including quality assurance bodies) require such clarity from degree courses at all universities.

It may seem pretty mechanical to follow set criteria, but be careful about trying to be creative or bring in ideas from outside academia. Universities are far more commercialised than they were decades ago. They have to be in order to survive and pay academics. Academics won't have much time to support you on an individual basis, unless they see you as someone who will go on to be an academic in their department. I doubt that happens much with mature students. Academia is constantly pursuing new funding (from research grants, overseas students, etc). What will influence top students to apply to a university is the ranking of the university. One of the main deciders of such ranking in the UK is the OfS survey on student satisfaction. When students asked what makes them most satisfied it invariably turns out that they want clear criteria for how to do well and then be carefully mentored through to delivering on that criteria. It may sound mechanical, but that is what many younger students ask for. Traditional academics are happy to deliver on it.

This mechanical approach is not reflected in the workplace - particularly during periods of major change. Within the workplace I have often been given projects with the broadest of instructions and had to completely rescope them and develop skills to deliver on these as I go. Managers tend to be more interested in results than following set procedures. I tried to bring this understanding into my academic life, but this was not appreciated by most academics - particularly those working in technical subjects. They expect and seek to present certainty.

If you want to improve your prospects of finding work, it might be better to pursue a technical qualification below degree level (they tend to cost less and be shorter in length), although you need to be careful of anything covering UK regulations as the current UK government may make changes to these at any time. You could also volunteer at an organisation which is prepared to support you to develop the knowledge and skills sets currently needed in the workplace. It might also be worth looking at age-discrimination law and if the need arises, make use of this. Gaining more degrees may not be the answer you are looking for.

Is it usual to for viva corrections to set out a completely different set of research questions ?

I have just had corrections following a viva. It was an odd one as I have been working in one interdisciplinary field, but was examined by examiners specialising in disciplines that weren't directly connected to the interdisciplinary mix found in my thesis. I think was mainly because my interdisciplinary field is a bit of a failed project (my PhD course is about to be closed down) and it proved difficult to find examiners for my thesis.

I assumed that the examiners had been well briefed with my situation - particularly the examiner who was from a different country with different types of viva processes and who had never taken part in a UK viva before.

I passed with what were meant to be modest corrections, but these corrections tell me that I need to adopt a completely different set of research questions than the ones that I have based my research on. The corrections also ask me to revise my existing methodology (constructivist and exploratory - with the significances of the research emerging during the research) by setting out a clear analytical framework. This framework includes setting out abstract criteria for the research from the start and then showing whether this criteria is found in my data using a linear pathway. On the face of this, this looks like it would require me to rewrite my abstract, research questions; introduction and conclusion. The approach will also have require me to rework my methodology (the development of this methodology has been identified as the main significance of my work) and substantially restructure my research findings.

Is it my imagination, or have I been asked to rewrite my thesis using different research questions - with this referred to as modest corrections?

I think interdisciplinary PhDs can be highly complex and messy. I had to rewritten my research proposal numerous times and was passed through several faculties at my university until I was able to settle into the PhD. As a result I had my first formal supervision with both of my supervisors around 5 months into the PhD. My masters degree was in one field. My supervisors were specialists in two other fields. My examiners were specialists in other fields then either myself or my supervisors. On top of this I had to restructure the PhD due to the Covid19 lockdowns. All in all, the complexity of the degree, its supervision and assessment have led me to a point where I feel I can't get passed the paradoxes.

It would be great to have some suggestions about what I should do next?