I had an ESRC studentship to do my phd and was recruited to 'do' a research question. It wasn't really my area of interest but I knew it was my best bet of doing a funded phd.
I submitted and had my viva nearly 18 months ago - I was utterly annihilated, it was a vicious, humiliating experience that left me in emotional distress. I had not been happy about the choice of external, she was the third of a list of three and I had concerns that she simply would not like my approach. As it transpired, I was right. She started the viva by telling me she 'hated' my work...... three hours of total humiliation later I left the room having been given 12 months to re-submit. She did tell me, however, as I was leaving the room that if it had been left to her she would have failed me......she also insisted that I must re-viva. :( She also criticised one of my supervisors and told me that I should not have taken a job whilst writing up (I had no choice if I wanted to keep a roof over my head). The internal examiner just sat there like a plonker.
I should say that I had flown through the internal annual progressions and that this is a red-brick, respected university and a research institute of some reknown. There was significant fall-out over this situation - 'my' research institute pretty much fell out with 'hers' and a seminar she was going to give was cancelled by one of my supervisors (who was director of the unit at the time). It became very vicious.
I had a year but, because of this and other issues, I developed significant anxiety issues and started experiencing full-blown panic attacks. I did very little in the first six months and then when I started, I went into 'melt-down' every time I had to engage with the feedback (which is pretty brutal although I do agree with many of the key points). I finally started work on the thesis then was made redundant from my job, unexpectedly. This knocked my confidence again. I applied for a six month extension, which was granted, I am now to re-submit in March.
I have massive issues with the thesis, I loathe the whole thing and begrudge every second I spend on it. I have no interest in working in this field, do not want to pursue an academic career and generally just don't feel it's of importance to me - all I want to do right now is go and find a job (I am in terrible debt) . However, pragmatically, I know I may as well just try and finish it and re-submit. I am *terrified* of the re-viva though.
After that tail of woe I have some queries:
a) Is there anything I can do to avoid the re-viva?
b) feel I have been let down by my institution (for a variety of reasons), if I am 'failed' (which I suspect I will be), is the first recourse to appeal?
c) Do I need a solicitor to appeal?
d) If I was to be offered a masters, instead of the phd, do I have to accept it or is there still recourse?
e) If I was offered a masters do I then have to get it down to masters 'size'
Thanks for reading. Any advice
Hi Angel, I'm afraid I can't really advise you as I am nowhere near the viva stage, let alone knowledgable about the kinds of procedures you describe, but I want to offer you my moral support in this dreadful situation, and share my success story in similar dire straits. I went through a similar experience at Masters level and came out with a pass, basically because I have a family member who is a hot shot union rep at a university and, basically, slaughtered them; do you know anyone like this? Have you tried the students' union? Although when I tried them they just told me that academics at high levels have 'carte blanche' and they couldn't do anything about it - not true at all, as it happened. Keep any evidence you have: emails, all feedback notes you have ever had, records of your achievement etc because you do not know what might be useful in the furture if there is a case. There may be an educational lawyer who can help, or someone else. You can also sue for damage to your health, something I chose not to do because I just wanted to get the hell away and get on with my life. It also put me off academia for a ouple of years, maybe you'll get your mojo back too. Best of luck, Esk X
Thanks for taking the time to reply, it really helps to know that others go through tough times and emerge at the other end (logically, you know this but the phd is a very lonely and isolating process at times).
I feel desperately miserable about the whole situation and don't really talk to my friends and family about it anymore, I am bored of it myself and I don't want to inflict it on others!
I have all the documents relating to my annual progress reviews, all my notes from supervisory meetings, feedback etc following the viva. But, part of the issue is that I really feel like I've had the stuffing knocked out of me and don't know if I could even 'fight' them.
I'm glad to hear that you've got your mojo back and hopefully I will have too (sometime soon)
oh I feel your pain. You sound like you've had a terrible time with this. feel very sorry for you and also that you deserve a big well done for being prepared to carry on after such an awful experience. This covers several questions which I have looked into, although I can't answer them all I would look very closely at your student charter and your rights. Go to your grad school - they are there to support YOU (at least should be). Get tough with them, if they put you through the internal progress reports and passed you they have (at the very least) some responsibility for all of this. All too often PhD students are dumped with all the crap and those who should be shouldering the responsibility get away with it. I really hope it works out for you.
Hey Angel. This sounds like an absolutely horrific ordeal and every PhD student's worst nightmare. I just can't believe that this can happen. Even if someone doesn't like your research they shouldn't be able to fail you just on the basis of that. You are doing so well to just pick yourself up and carry on- you must have buckets of guts and determination. I can't really help much with your specific questions, but I had a friend who had difficulties with his viva last year. He got torn apart and was given a revise and resubmit with 12 months to do it, so sounds like a similar position to you. This was completely unexpected, nobody could believe it. Originally he was told he would have to have another viva, yet in the end he didn't need to have one, and he recently resubmitted and was awarded his PhD. I'm not sure why he didn't have to do another viva in the end, but he didn't. So it can be done. Personally, given your circumstances, I think you should have grounds for not having to repeat the experience on health grounds, but I guess it doesn't work like that. But I really hope you persevere and go through with it- then turn round and stick two fingers up at the whole experience. On a slightly different note, are you getting any help with the anxiety side of things? You are doing amazingly well to be dealing with situation- I think I would just fall apart- but it might help to get some support, or at least somewhere you can offload about all this. I really wish you the best of luck with things, you just don't deserve this- nobody does. Best wishes, KB
Hi Angel, I got my academic Mojo back by getting a paper accepted at a top of the league conference and by, eventually, getting a place with a supa-dupa supervisor who really likes my research idea, and some of my writing - or at oeast a few paragraphs of it! The fact that I have always felt comfortable with, and happy doing, academic work and wanted it as a career helped me to push through and find it again. I think fighting them and wining helped me an awful lot, nowadays, with distance, it gives me a kind of hardbitten confidence - I know something of how the system, and some people work, and forewarned is fore-armed. I'm a fighter, so I have often been told: when my back is against the wall I come out fighting like an ally cat (even though at the time I felt suicidal). We all have our own ways of dealing with things, and perhaps this isn't yours, but I think the really important thing is to not let them take anything from you that you really want; if you wanted an academic career, then push for it, get published independently of the PhD, use the pressure positively and prove them wrong, stick two fingers up at them (and much worse if you feel like it - which I'm sure you do!). If what you wanted was a stable, interesting, reasonably well paid career, make sure you get that. I hope this makes sense; don't let them steal from you if you can possibly help it. Come here for support if you need it, I know the wreckage and hopelesseness this kind of situation can bring, and we're a supportive bunch. Also, ask for support from your friends and family, mine were life savers.
It's good to see you back, I just wish things had worked out better for you. You might want to try speaking to the Students Union as I'm sure they would have someone who could help particularly because this seems to be more about academic politics than it does about your thesis. Another option would be to investigate the possibility of getting a different external examiner or an additional external- I don't know if it is possible at this stage but it's worth a try but you'd need to ask your graduate admin staff. It may also be worth speaking to the graduate admin staff because they will know the rules and regulations much better than the academics and probably could give you some advice. If I was in your position I would also try for extenuating circumstances given the health problems the PhD created for you.
I totally understand how you feel about the whole resubmit process. I had another viva last January and was given 6 months for minor corrections. I handed those in and one of the externals came back at the end of September with something else which he hadn't picked up until I handed the minor corrections in. I'm still sorting it out now because my full time job is so busy that I rarely get much time to work on it. I am sick and tired of my thesis and I hate it.
Looking on the bright side and with some luck we'll both have a PhD by the end of 2010 ;-)
I definitely think you need to try and get to see whoever is in charge of your graduate school. As you said you were ESRC funded, were you by any chance pushed to submit before you felt ready because of the ESRC deadline for their students to submit? If so, it suggests your institution may be struggling to meet ESRC completion targets, in which case your graduate school has a very strong vested interest in helping you to finish here so that they don't get penalised by the ESRC.
I also think your graduate school needs to know about the fall out between this examiner and your school. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the original case to choose this person, you are now in a position whereby the your supervisor/institute is openly at war with this person. To my mind, that makes it inappropriate for her to continue as external. As it sounds like your supervisor / institute has been pretty unprofessional, you need to make sure those in authority know what's gone on because I doubt your supervisor has admitted uninviting her etc. I think depending on your institution's rules that there may be a case for the appointment of a new external. Does your student union have an academic advice centre / person - if so I'd go there first, run the tale past them and see what they think the rules are. A rep from there might be willing to help you get an appointment with the head of the grad school without hassle and to go to the meeting with you to make sure everything is done by the book.
My final thought with the corrections demanded - you say you agree with a lot even if you hate the way it's phrased. Could you start by doing the things you agree would make for a stronger thesis? That might help you move forward.
Regarding your questions b, c, d and e - personally I'd start with trying to avoid failing. Your internal said you did well in the viva, so if you got a new external then you probably would be fine. Particularly, if you felt the thesis was stronger too. There's no harm looking at the appeals procedure because I think that prejudiced examiner or similar would be a category. Basically if you point out to the grad school that if they don't replace the external for the reviva that will be the grounds you will be appealing under and that you have the evidence to hand, namely the post-viva spat, then they'd be daft not to do something. Oh and if you're awarded an Mphil I'm pretty sure that no you don't have to cut it down and yes you could still appeal. Good luck.
This is indeed a bad situation. I had a similar problem when I was doing my Fellowship exam viva, someone who decided that his idea was right and mine was wrong, but in this case the board phoned me up and apologised, I still had to do another viva, but it was so much better.
Who have you spoken to about this? What has the internal examiner said - you have presumably got written feedback from them both, were they in agreement?
don't take this lying down. You - or your sponsors have paid good money and you should not expect a fail at the end of it. there needs to be some explanation from them. Make sure you see someone about it
go to the student union, go to the head of your faculty, and the dean. They all need to give you an explanation, not only why they failed to give you proper support, but why they chose this person as your external.
The object of the exercise is not to please your examiners, but to present a coherent account of your research. It should not matter whether they agree or not, your findings are your findings, and unless you have made illogical conclusions which fly in the face of those who know better in your field, and you have not acknowledged their views, they should not hold this against you. It sounds as though your examiner was biased, and as such should have ruled herself out of being your examiner for that reason.
I'm not sure what they would offer as a 'consolation prize'. but if I were you I would go for the re-viva, but i would make it very clear that you expect them to do better with their choice of examiners, you need an external who does not have the bias of the first, and an internal who will stand up to them. If you have to have the same examiners, ask them what they intend to do to make sure you have an unbiased viva.
good luck, and don't let them get away with it
======= Date Modified 27 Jan 2010 11:02:22 =======
Hii Angel, it's really good to read that you are ready to snap at some ankles, get biting lady, and get what's yours! 8-)
Good for you, it's time to fight back (up) You shouldn't be penalised for the problems between you supervisors and the examiners.
It's about time that the PhD process in the UK was overhauled. There seems to be so many people who end up having a bad experience with their PhD. I know that not everyone will pass but so much of it depends upon academic politics that it can't be right. Now I'll get off my soap box ;-)
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