How should I approach a re-viva with a potentially corrupt examiner?


Hi everyone!

I posted a while back about my viva nightmare.

In short, my examiner dislikes one of my published papers that is published in the main journal for my topic, and has already been cited in other papers as he feels another paper is better, which just so happens to be his paper. Its also a really bad paper.
This paper was never published and was submitted to journals for years and was rejected every time.
He then kept insisting that it was at least a conference paper from 2017 and accused me of being academically dishonest for not citing it, making me feel very uncomfortable in my 18 month viva and basically turned what should have been a strong positive (my first published paper) into a strong negative with questions about my academic integrity. Both papers are totally different methods and dont have any similarities other than they are addressing the same question.
I contacted the conference organisers and they have told me they never received this paper, and what they did receive was a presentation abstract. It was also a student conference so there was no attempt at peer-review of the abstracts.

About 40% of my thesis comments are just him talking about his paper, how its better and mine isnt the first to do what it claims etc.

I feel its a huge conflict of interest and he should be removed, but my 2nd supervisor is good friends with him and there seems to be a feeling they dont want to cause any drama, so have suggested i just resubmit, graduate and move on. I do not really feel comfortable with this at all but accepted their suggestions.

I will at least be able to write a strong rebuttal letter and the graduate school will give guidance to the examiners and the independent chair, as they were considering their own investigation into it as I already had several published papers and the university's criteria for a phd appear to have been met. The independent chair should hopefully intervene if they think anything corrupt is going on, but I'm not allowed to tell them my complaints in advance and instead the graduate school will give them "guidance", whatever that means.

My first supervisor is very supportive but I do feel massively unconfident about approaching this re-viva with someone still as my examiner who I believe is corrupt. I am also not allowed to tell the other examiner of my complaints in advance, and i believe he has no knowledge of my examiners involvement in this paper as no one would ever have heard of it.

My corrupt examiner will still be 50% of the decision making process so I am very unsure how I should approach this.

I want to attack him and highlight the issue but he will still have a lot of influence over my fate. What should I do?

Avatar for rewt

Can you do a pratice viva? It would be a good chance to practise your defense and get feedback on how you are coming across.

Also, do you know what "guidance" the graduate school gave your chair/examiners? I know at my old uni guidance could be quite explicit and the chair was "briefed" on the situation. Though my university had been sued a few times so were careful to avoid any more PhD related court cases. It may be that the chair has been told about the issues, relevant university regulations and how to prevent the university being sued. If the guidance is simply follow the rules to the letter, memorise your PhD handbook and remind your examiner about it. Your PhD handbook may even state the expected thesis quality and you can refer to that. Ie you have made an original contribution to knoweldge which is entirely evidenced by your publications. Or that the university regulations recommends you to use Web of Science, scopus etc and this guy's papers aren't in there.

I really do wish you all the best and goodluck!


If the examiner could not be changed to someone else, from many of my and my friends' experiences, a useful technique to approach a re-viva is with an "examiners are always right" approach. They feel that as examiners, they must have better experience, knowledge, and authority than us. And that as our seniors, we should agree with their "kind" advice and suggestions.

For example, one my friends was an outstanding student and had many papers, but he still failed just because he took an opposite stance from one of the examiners during the viva discussion. Another of my friends was slightly below average but she passed because I told her all she had to do was agree with them and do the corrections that they want. I also passed my MSc by agreeing entirely with them, even apologising for not noticing, and thanking them for their suggestions.

The most we can do is just say the reasons behind our previous actions and without sounding as if "we are right and they are wrong". Remember not to let their ego provoke us, as the focus and priority is just to pass the degree and get the certificate. In the end, the thesis of many lecturers just sit on the shelves in the lecturers' offices, so it is okay not to have the perfect thesis. I suggest agreeing with all the corrections that they want you to apply in your thesis, and shall they still insist you are not fit to pass, apologetically remind them that your thesis completed all the objectives.


It will probably help to step back a bit and try and get some perspective, if the only main line of criticism is it does not consider/cite an examiners paper.

It - as it seems you have done - is easily addressed by respectfully citing their paper.

There's a very big debate behind this over whether the archaic PhD system is fit-for-purpose, and if academia is endemically corrupt. A lot of academic power is held by a small minority, and absolute power... etc. But you do not deserve to be a martyr to this cause, nor will you gain much by being one.

Follow the direction, smile and get the PhD, then you can make the choice in the rest of your career whether when approached to examine a student, and being judged by your faculty on citations, you'd do the same. And, hopefully, you can impress the right answer to that to your future PhD students. This might seem a weak answer, and there's a whole 'you should formally complain' line; I would not want to dissuade you from that, but to me it seems better to pick your battles as a tenured academic rather than as a PhD candidate.


Tough luck. Your problematic examiner is good friends with your second supervisor. The only way to remove this problematic person would be for both your first and second supervisor to agree to the changing of examiner, citing conflict. Your second supervisor would likely rather you fail than destroy his current relationship with this problematic person.

So, you have two options. Try talking to both your supervisors to change the examiner. Most likely will not get through.

Second and best way in my opinion is the softer approach. Give the problematic person all that he wants and get this over and done with. If he is as close to your second supervisor as you said, he probably only wants to soothe his bruised ego when you didn't cite him but will likely still let you pass after giving you a really hard time.


Thanks everyone for all of the comments! the graduate school had admitted to me that if I appeal it, i will win, however they've said the process of them appointing new examiners would likely take longer, so they think resubmitting with the same examiners is the best option and it sounds like the guidance they are going to give the examiner is basically to tell him i've met the criteria already.
The paper of mine in question was also recently shortlisted for manuscript of the year in the journal, so that should hopefully help convince my external examiner that i'm right and the internal examiner who hates it is wrong.