I am a part-time, funded PhD student (not much fun over a number of years) but finally submitted last year and have just had my viva. I had got through my upgrades, with only one set back over the years when I had not done sufficient to get through but this was remedied the following year. My (eminent) supervisor and department clearly thought I had done enough work until the day of my viva when I was trashed by a very retired external and a research fellow (internal). I was absolutely unprepared for this and this has to be the worst experience of my life. My supervisor has since sent me 2 line email which seems to suggest that the examiners had decided to fail me before I even went into the viva - although unless he deserves an Oscar, I don't believe he knew this was going to happen. Having trashed me I was offered MPhil on major rewrite, which I am not prepared to do. I think I may have good grounds to show bias and ineligibility on the part of the internal - does anyone have any experience of a similar situation? Thanks to those who have posted their experiences too - I have read some past threads - it is good to know that I am not alone and that others of you have fought the fight before me and won.
Oh dear, what an awful thing to have happened. How did your supervisor let this people be your examiners? They surely must have been vetted by him? I'm not sure what the procedure is, but although not at PhD level I had a similar experience with a very new examiner who was obviously out to 'win his spurs' - at my expense, but in my case I had a second viva which was just like it should have been first time round. It would be a good idea to find out why they had decided to fail you, because surely even if they didn't agree with you, they should have allowed you to defend your thesis properly. Was your supervisor sitting in? Your supervisor should know what the procedure is to contest this result, or there should be a written procedure in the uni rules.
I still have to tackle my supervisor about this - I only received the (extremely inadequate in my opinion) report last week and have been trying to get what happened into proportion since then. Clearly meeting with my supervisor is next on my very long to do list. He was there, but sitting facing away from me and the examiners and I think unable to observe the full force of what was actually going on. What was also really upsetting was that there was no clear statement at all that there was a problem with the thesis - either before or during the viva - if there had been I feel I would have been so much better able to cope with what happened.
I'm sorry that this has happened to you and hope you find some procedural reason to appeal. It appears that you have been ill-advised by your supervisor and treated weirdly by your examiners.
But I am slightly confused as to how your supervisor was in the room, but not facing you and the examiners. Surely it was just you, your examiners + your supervisor in a small office or something? Or are you not in the UK and your vivas are different?
Also, how can they have failed you and not given any indication there was a problem DURING the viva? If this is what happened, you need some serious explaining from somewhere. Did they seem to be okay and then tell you at the end that you'd failed, or what? I think most of the people I know who have major corrections etc knew from the minute the viva started what direction it was going in. It would appear that you have been treated oddly, to say the least. I hope you get some answers from somewhere.
Olivia, I'm sorry to hear this too. You should make it a priority tomorrow to contact your supervisor (do what ever you need to do to make contact), and request a face-to-face meeting about what has happened.
I too find a number of points strange. First, the fact you've gone thru upgrades etc. but now they're telling your thesis isn't even up to MPhil standard. Second, as mentioned by CeCeF, the fact your supervisor was in the room but not facing you (either they attend the viva or not). Thirdly, the lack of clarification about why you failed.
It seems your experience is very bad, particularly with respect to the lack of clarification as to why you failed.
You should contact your supervisor tomorrow, and whoever in your university deals with student guidance on these matters, and the head of graduate studies. You need to press your supervisor for an appeal, and also contest the appropriateness of the examiners, assuming you found them unfair. Also, did you agree with your supervisor on the appointment of these examiners? It is your right to be jointly involved in the appointment. On appeal, you can get new examiners appointed if your supervisors thinks you were unfairly treated.
I hope you find some resolution soon.
I posted about one of my PhDers who failed her viva a while ago. You can read about it here.
She tried to appeal and it didn't really go down too well. Universities tend to be quite defensive and there are a lot of politics that play out behind the scenes. Often examiners are appointed on the basis that something is wanted in return, collaborations, etc. It can be hard to second guess some of these things.
One innate problem with this situation is that there is no standardised marking of PhDs or transparent methods of assessment. Thus anyone who fails is almost certain to say its not fair, inadequate examiners, problems in the process etc. As a result, everyone that has failed before you and takes this route makes it harder for you and everyone that follows, as universities automatically assume appeals are based on bitterness rather than anything else.
Although I cant speak for the OP, I really do not think my PhDer should have failed. However, I (and she) can't prove that. In some way appeals bring up an adversarial position towards universities and examiners because whenever someone appeals it basically says to the externals "You are unfit to do your job and your judgement is unsound". That stance is bound to cause problems.
Having said that, I have seen successful appeals. Usually the grounds are quite strong, and often there is either documentary evidence (from feedback comments, notes taken in the viva or audio taping) that the examiners had a gap in their knowledge or had made a significant mistake. This does happen, and if you have any evidence that shows this, then you can really launch an appeal with a good chance. I always tell my PhDers if they can to take audio recordings of vivas if this is acceptable for their examiners.
I think you should seek out the student ombudsman for your uni - S/He should be able to provide more detailed advice on how you should proceed with your appeal, and should be able to advise you how best to deal with your supervisor. S/He can help you organize your thoughts/strategy/documentation of your previous reviews, and may even agree to sit in on your meeting with your supervisor to ensure everything is "above board".
I have a lot of sympathy with Olivia1, being in a slightly similar position. I got my bad news just before Christmas, when I discovered that, after many years work, I was being recommended for an MA by Research. The advice Olivia1 has been given so far sounds about right to me. I am just very slightly further down the same road and preparing an Appeal. I would be very interested to hear how Olivia1 is getting on. I can see that every case is going to be different in some ways, and, also, that not all of us who fail a PhD are entitled to one. However, I wondered if there are any more experiences out there. This seems to be on the increase from what I have gleaned lately. In my case this was a resubmission anyway. The frustrating thing is that the first time round I seemed to be being very strongly encouraged to resumbit on the basis that, although the thesis was not ready for submission (I was inclined to agree) that it was 'strong', 'exciting', 'sparky' and all sorts of other good things. Now, apparently, after I have struggled to follow some very detailed advice about what should come out and what should go in, it is lacking a central argument, has nothing new to say and is a mere collection of information. The notes and the reports of the two examiners seem riddled with contradictions between the two submissions and, also, to some extent, between each other. Student Welfare seems surprised by some aspects of what has gone on and seems to think I have some sort of case. My supervisor is reasonably supportive. He is inclined to think I should have had longer - I am a mature student with a lot of personal commitments, but I seemed to have run out of extensions. In addition, as a result of all the stress in the run up to re-submisson I became physically ill with stress and completed the resubmission in a pretty poor state myself. There was a medical note, at the time, and an extension of a week, but it was probably not enough. My GP is very sympathetic and has drafted a longer letter. So my Appeal will be two part, partly personal circumstances and partly what I now feel was the odd behaviour of the examiners. All I really want is more time - at least six months - and a new pair of examiners. I would have thought that simply giving me more time might be less frightening an option for the university to consider than giving me the PhD now would be. Apart from hearing how Olivia1 is getting on I would also be interested in any other experiences, or views, at all.
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This was an awful post to read, and my heart goes out to Olivia1. I am bemused and astonished that the supervisor was present during the viva examination. I am sure this is against UK regulations, have you questioned this with the university's Research Degree Board? Sound most irregular to me.
It is a truly horrible story, all our worst nightmares come true, and Olivia1 I do think your post was remarkably restrained - I'd be going crazy!
I think Supervisors are allowed in vivas if you wish them to be, but they can only be observers, and not participate at all. That doesn't mean they have to have their back to the group though and treat you in the way he has!
I am so sorry to hear that Olivia, i echo everyones words and it really is a phd students worst nightmare coming true. I hope you resolve it one way or the other and are able to move on one day from this horrible experience. i have this overwelming fear and feeling that i will fail my viva. you're definately not alone.
I posted on a similar topic to this several months ago (I only started looking at this forum sporadically whilst sorting out submitting a complaint against the university where I did a PhD). I finished my Ph.D. after seven years, having been through two vivas. During my first viva, I was offered an MPhil after corrections; I refused to accept this, and was immediately offered a resubmission with major corrections within 12 months. Admittedly my case was quite complicated (hence the complaint), and I think the indecision of my examiners was related to the fact they were up to no good (my external was a close colleague of my supervisor, with whom I had fallen out very badly). However, I did know of another student who had graduated the year before I started in 2001, who had apparently done the same thing in his first viva, with the same result (resubmission for PhD instead of accepting an MPhil), so in some cases it does actually work. Over the subsequent three years, I have come to the conclusion that, in cases where a student has clearly suffered from a lack of supervision or some other mistreatment, the department will try anything to stop the student lodging an appeal, which would bring the case to the attention of the senate of the university.
======= Date Modified 01 Apr 2009 11:05:05 =======
Comisserations plus,plus. I hope the posts are helping to alleviate your pain. I went to a workshop a while ago and the take home message was "pain is what the patient says it is- a PhD is what the examiner(s) say it is". What a comparison! This appears to be an accepted harsh reality but that does not mean it should be taken lying down? Challenge the system, they can only say no and I hope they have sleepless nights for screwing your academic career! Recently, a mate of mine failed her PhD, outright! The examiners (both) thought that the thesis should never have been submitted. Anyway, it turned out that the supervisors were cowboys and consequently asked to leave the university as there were too many failed PhDers under those 2 plonkers. She started the PhD from scratch using the data collected and 3 years later was awarded a PhD with no revisions. I hope you don't have to take the long road to PhD. Please keep us posted on the outcome. Best wishes.
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