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Why PhD students fail their PhDs

Dear all,

I have just published a piece in Inside Higher Ed on the main reasons why students fail their PhDs. It may be helpful.

It is available at no charge here:



VIVA Failure- Major corrections plus viva

Very sorry to hear this, snfu4. You are not alone - I see cases like this every week.

Try not to panic. Ask to meet your supervisors and talk about what just happened. Ask for their views. Then decide on your next steps. Do not make rash decisions.

possible viva decision overturned?

Hi Anamy, this is a potential ground of appeal but it needs to be negotiated very carefully. I suggest going to your Student Union for advice immediately. In the meantime, refrain from discussing this with anyone else in the university. A key discussion point with the adviser will probably be the nature - and content - of the necessary medical evidence in support.

Good luck!

Founder, Alpha Academic Appeals

Resources for PhD Students Who Want to Appeal Examiners' Decision

Dear PhD students,

I'm a former university lecturer (PhD 2006 Imperial College) and now a barrister who specialises in PhD appeals.

Here are some free resources that might assist in your appeal. Please note, however, that nothing can replace the case-specific advice of a qualified professional.

1. How to appeal if you fail your PhD (the Guardian, 2nd March 2017; https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/mar/02/how-to-appeal-if-you-fail-your-phd[url])
8 steps to improve the chances of a successful PhD appeal

2. How to represent yourself at an academic appeal hearing (Student Wire, 19th March 2015; [url]https://studentwire.co.uk/how-to-represent-yourself-at-an-academic-appeal-hearing/

3. Tips for student advisers on appeal hearings (6th November 2017)

4. Contract cheating and essay mills: how much proof do you need? (Times Higher, 13th November 2017; https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/contract-cheating-and-essay-mills-how-much-proof-do-you-need)
Useful material on standard of proof.

5. 4-minute video giving tips on university appeals (https://youtu.be/Mz9PrqkJFA4)

6. UK Quality Code for Higher Education, chapter B11 (Research Degrees)
This can be a helpful document in some PhD appeals, in particular to stress the importance of following assessment procedures rigorously.

7. The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (http://www.oiahe.org.uk/) contains summaries of past cases that could be used to persuasive effect in PhD appeals.

Good luck!

Daniel Sokol, Founder, Alpha Academic Appeals

Problem about unfair and supervisor. Really need help

Dear Vivien,

I'm sorry to hear about your situation. Here are a few thoughts, but please feel free to call me to discuss in more detail. My details are on the 'Alpha Academic Appeals' website.

You say you have proof that the dissertation is your own work. What is the nature of this proof? If it's not in English, then you will need to get it translated. That proof will probably form the basis of your appeal, along with a detailed explanation for why you struggled to answer questions in the meeting. If you did not make use of the 'proof' at the meeting, you should explain why not.

Find out what the permissible grounds of appeal are at your institution and identify the one that applies to your case. Everything in your appeal should then relate to that ground.

Also find out what the standard of proof is for academic misconduct at your institution, namely whether's it's the civil standard ("on the balance of probabilities") or the criminal standard ("beyond reasonable doubt"). Most universities - unfortunately for students - adopt the civil standard, which makes it much easier for them to find students guilty of academic misconduct. However, there are a few that prefer the criminal standard.

Finally, check the rules and regulations to find out if the University followed its own procedure for the investigation of suspected plagiarism. If they breached them, and the breach is material, then that should form part of the appeal (under 'procedural irregularity').

The focus at this point should be in producing the most persuasive appeal you can, with as much supporting evidence as possible. Consider what, and who, could lend support to your contention that you are the sole author of this work. You may want to consider producing a statement from your flatmate.

In my view, this is not the time to think about 'suing'. Issuing legal proceedings is the nuclear option and should generally only be done once you've exhausted the internal appeals process.

If you haven't already done so (and time permitting), I would recommend going to your Student Union for advice but, as English is not your native language, I would strongly advise having a professional draft the appeal statement for you. This is hugely important and you want to make sure your chances of success are as high as they can be.

As for the fees, the £180 + VAT/hour quoted is not unusually high, but the real question is how many hours you will be charged. You should ask them for an estimate in advance.

Best of luck,


Senior Consultant, Alpha Academic Appeals