Is it usual to for viva corrections to set out a completely different set of research questions ?


I have just had corrections following a viva. It was an odd one as I have been working in one interdisciplinary field, but was examined by examiners specialising in disciplines that weren't directly connected to the interdisciplinary mix found in my thesis. I think was mainly because my interdisciplinary field is a bit of a failed project (my PhD course is about to be closed down) and it proved difficult to find examiners for my thesis.

I assumed that the examiners had been well briefed with my situation - particularly the examiner who was from a different country with different types of viva processes and who had never taken part in a UK viva before.

I passed with what were meant to be modest corrections, but these corrections tell me that I need to adopt a completely different set of research questions than the ones that I have based my research on. The corrections also ask me to revise my existing methodology (constructivist and exploratory - with the significances of the research emerging during the research) by setting out a clear analytical framework. This framework includes setting out abstract criteria for the research from the start and then showing whether this criteria is found in my data using a linear pathway. On the face of this, this looks like it would require me to rewrite my abstract, research questions; introduction and conclusion. The approach will also have require me to rework my methodology (the development of this methodology has been identified as the main significance of my work) and substantially restructure my research findings.

Is it my imagination, or have I been asked to rewrite my thesis using different research questions - with this referred to as modest corrections?

I think interdisciplinary PhDs can be highly complex and messy. I had to rewritten my research proposal numerous times and was passed through several faculties at my university until I was able to settle into the PhD. As a result I had my first formal supervision with both of my supervisors around 5 months into the PhD. My masters degree was in one field. My supervisors were specialists in two other fields. My examiners were specialists in other fields then either myself or my supervisors. On top of this I had to restructure the PhD due to the Covid19 lockdowns. All in all, the complexity of the degree, its supervision and assessment have led me to a point where I feel I can't get passed the paradoxes.

It would be great to have some suggestions about what I should do next?


The general advice when faced with corrections, is complete them as advised and move on with your career.

This might mean adjusting the PhD in a way you're not 100% comfortable with; if this is really jarring for you, you could attempt to rebutt any corrections in an attached document, but you should be aware this will be viewed cynically (that you don't want to do the work), and you'll need to provide a robust argument on each point. Given the viva outcome, make sure if you make this argument, it's in the 'language' of the examiner - i.e. easily related to their background.

I'd agree with you 100% that interdisciplinary PhD are messier, and harder. Often what a PhD examiner is looking for is that the basics of their field are fulfilled - valid RQ, appropriate methodology, appropriately-analysed conclusions. Examiners don't set out to fail PhDs, but as soon as one of these aspects gets muddied, the worry of an examiner is that the student is trying to get a confused mess past the viva - even though it may, in reality, be a very carefully considered PhD, but using an epistemological/methodological approach they're unfamiliar with. Unfortunately some students attempt to hide behind interdiscipliniarity (think that's a word!), arguing whatever the criticism is, it's irrelevant because it's not in that field, which breeds a certain cynicism in examiners when faced with an interdisciplinary PhD.

This is partly why I'd encourage a candidate to engage with their supervisors and suggest potential examiners. In most systems it's down to the supervisory team to make the ultimate decision, but too often students assume they have zero input so don't even try to engage with it.

I think you're right this will be a lot of work to address supposedly minor corrections. I would further go back to the point that your examiners won't *want* to fail you (paperwork is horrendous), but typically the best approach is to amend, and submit a supporting document explaining how you addressed each point raised. It's unfortunately a bit late to have a deep argument about why, epistemologically (or similar), they're wrong, but once you complete the PhD, you'll hopefully have a long career in which to make that point.


Hi abababa

Thanks for responding and putting the time into writing a detailed reply. I noticed, however, that you have not directly responded to my question - 'is it normal for an examiner to rewrite research problems as a correction following a viva?’ I can't say that I was deliberately trying to get an interdisciplinary mess through my viva. I worked hard to create a synthesis out of the disciplines I referenced. I think that the number of disciplines I had to reference due to the structuring of the degree was ridiculous (even an interdisciplinary team would have struggled), but I did my best. My supervisors were very supportive and encouraging. I engaged with my supervisors over examiners and I had no issues with the examiner we agreed on. He asked me very sensible questions and I don't think he has rewritten my research questions. I passed my viva. I recognised that nearly all of the corrections were appropriate and I have no problem delivering on them. The issue is whether it is appropriate to impose a new set of research questions and methodology on a student after they have passed viva. It will mean that I will have to suggest that I have arrived at my research results using a different methodology than I actually used (surely that would be academic misrepresentation?)

This type of situation may be different for those intending to become academics, but I am not going down that path. I expected high professional standards from academics and for university to follow the guidance and criteria that should be standard to all universities (i.e., according to regulatory bodies such as the OfS and QAA). I guess that many students aren't aware of such standards, or they may not be prepared to challenge a university through reference to them. It concerns me that the approach you have suggested above suggests a form of suppression. Perhaps you need to give this some consideration yourself. The situation you outline is similar to employees who have been treated unfairly at work being told to keep quiet and not go to an industrial tribunal, or politicians telling citizens to stick to rules and then break the rules themselves. The only possibility for mediation (according to your response) seems to be that academics will not want to be bothered with a lot of paperwork. I understand you are being sensible - but if we are all sensible in the face of suppression, where does that leave academia and society more generally.

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Hi Interdis,

Congragulations on passing! A pass is a pass regardless of the corrections and you can now call yourself Dr Interdis.

I always thought that examiners could ask for virtually anything and to whatever extent they want. Major restructures, massive rewrites and new data analysis are all normal. The exception is usally new data collection at which point it should be a revise and resubmit. So passing you with requests to rewrite the reserach problem for clairty is prefectly acceptable.

I might be wrong but it sounds to me that your introduction and methodology is difficult to follow for someone outside your exact sub-field. I did multi-displinary reserach and always had issues having to explain over and over again in different ways to different audiences. Unfortunately you chose someone outside your exact field as an examiner and so you have to tailor your thesis for them. If they didn't get your reserach approach, it is your resposnibility to explain it properly. So, I wouldn't fundamentally change anything but just rephrase stuff to be more accessible.