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I feel inferior to the other students in my program and I'm convinced I will outright fail
M

I submitted my PhD thesis 7 weeks ago and I'm still waiting to hear back from the three examiners as to whether I require minor mods, major mods, revise and resubmit, or outright fail. We don't do the oral examination here until all three examiners are happy with the results of the thesis. Basically, you go into the oral exam knowing you've passed. I feel VERY inferior to other people in my program, and it's making me think I'm going to outright fail.

Most of the people in my program are older. I just turned 31. I have a tenure-track position at a local university (not the same uni as my PhD), and I have a tenure promise which will come into effect the moment my PhD is granted. Other than that, I'm not very impressive. My PhD is a creative writing/literature PhD. The majority (if not all) of my PhD colleagues have published books, short story collections, and have received awards for their writing. I've published a handful for short stories and poems, and none of them are in BIG name journals. I've had a few of my stories published in anthologies. I co-edited a research anthology. I have a few obscure journal publications and a few more well-known publications (but not New Yorker level or anything). I feel like this is indicative of my writing quality. How can I stand out to the examiners if I'm literally just a beginner and have no awards or major publications to my name?

Did anyone feel the same? Did anyone successfully pass their PhD thesis even with minor publications and no major accomplishments?

Nearing some sort of breakdown while waiting for examiners' reports...
M

That actually makes a lot of sense! I've calmed down a great deal since I originally made this post. Of course, I still get the occasional moment of panic and dread, but it isn't consuming me like it was at first. Today made six weeks since the day of submission! Fingers crossed that I'll hear back soon. :)

Nearing some sort of breakdown while waiting for examiners' reports...
M

Thank you, Em89. I love that all of you have taken the time to deconstruct my worries point-by-point. What stuck out to me in your response is that theories are often open to interpretation and that the PhD is about learning. I'm the first in my family to attempt a PhD (or even get a degree of any sort), as such the process has always been mysterious to me. At first, I assumed my work needed to be groundbreaking (like John Nash in "A Beautiful Mind"). Then, I assumed that I need to be an absolute expert in whatever it is I'm writing about. Of course, I've been studying literature since I was 18, but I still don't feel like an expert.

Nearing some sort of breakdown while waiting for examiners' reports...
M

Rewt, I want to thank you too. You are right that I can't control the situation and that worrying won't help. I'm not worried about the VIVA since, in my program, the examiners provide their reports and decisions prior to the oral examination (kind of the opposite of how it's done in other places). The 27th made four weeks since submission and the examiners have six weeks. Hopefully time will pass quickly. Thank you again for your support and kind words!

Nearing some sort of breakdown while waiting for examiners' reports...
M

Thank you for addressing my individual worries, Cucaracha. My academic career certainly is my passion. I remember deciding that I eventually wanted to become a professor during my sophomore year of undergrad. I had just switched from biology/pre-med to English literature. I've never wavered from that plan. Like you said, that's probably why this is so worrisome for me. Your statement that accessible writing is actually a good thing really helped. My supervisor sent me a copy of another successful dissertation he had supervised while I was writing mine up. The information was just so dense and complex that mine felt overly simplistic. I was actually deeply surprised when my supervisor sent my draft back with minor corrections and a note saying that he was happy with it. My thesis is comprised of two parts -- a 40,000 word short story collection and a 40,000 word research thesis. I knew he loved my short stories, but I seriously doubted that he would enjoy my academic writing. I was 100% expecting him to just be like "maybe this isn't the right place for you" after I started sending chapter drafts for my research thesis, lol.

Nearing some sort of breakdown while waiting for examiners' reports...
M

Disclaimer: I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder with comorbid anxiety. My medication and therapy keep most symptoms to a minimum, but I've been experiencing a high degree of breakthrough anxiety during this time.


Monday, it will make four weeks since I've submitted my PhD thesis. In my program, the examiners review the thesis and write reports. Once everything passes, an oral examination is scheduled. I've been anxious to the point of losing hair. I'm having panic attacks. The day after I submitted, I felt relieved. Every day since then has been utter hell. I do nothing but check and re-check my email inbox hoping for an answer. The examiners have six weeks from the date they receive the thesis to send their reports. My supervisor told me that they often take longer. I'm not sure how long I can handle this.


My supervisor signed off on my submission and said it is an excellent thesis. He is more than happy with it and said he is optimistic. One thing he said that bothers me, however, is the statement that we can never predict the examiners' responses. He has never seen anyone fail outright, and I'm convinced that I will be the first. Trying to think on the "bright side" doesn't help in the last and honestly just fuels the fire that is my anxiety. People have said that failing isn't the end of the world. It is to me. I was hired as a tenure track professor in 2017. I was approved for tenure last semester but it will not begin until I finish my PhD. It's sort of a "tenure promise" and I was allowed to go up for tenure early due to the excellence of my service work and teaching evaluations. I can't lose this job. There's nothing else I want to do with my life.


Here are the reasons I'm convinced I'll be the first outright fail my supervisor has seen;


- I feel like the language in my thesis is simplistic. The thesis itself is very easy to understand compared to papers and other dissertations I've seen which were heavier in jargon and more dense.


- One of the theories that I applied to my thesis was learned while writing the thesis. What if I misunderstood it or there are holes in my knowledge?


- I found three typographical errors upon re-reading my thesis after submission. They were super small, but they're haunting me.


- My supervisor allowed me to submit earlier than we had previously anticipated. What if he just wants to get rid of me and get it over with?


- My thesis isn't a groundbreaking piece of research. If anything, it has only managed to make a minor adjustment to an already existing idea.


- FINALLY, my masters was in creative writing. As such, when I entered into the English literature and creative writing PhD program, my academic writing was rusty. I feel as though I made substantial edits with my supervisors help, but I'm never 100% confident in the things I write.



I'm not sure what I'm expecting with this post. Perhaps I'm seeking re-assurance. I needed to vent.