shock result_referral & resubmission_what can I do?


My apologies for a long post.. and a post in 3 parts. But it's from a very distressed person.

I have been doing my PhD for 6 years before I had my viva. I started full time for 2 years, then part time for 2 years. I started writing up since Dec 2019 and I submitted thesis in June 2021, during this time I had a baby hence a few month on maternity leave. My research is a practice-based design PhD in a UK uni which I position in the field of interaction design. Although it has a big cross-disciplinary nature that I brought in fashion practice to compliment the methods of design practice in interaction design, and the material/technology I design with is of a robotic nature.

My supervisor had great confidence in my thesis. The thesis had been read by a senior postdoc in my field from the college who also think it is a very good thesis. I had a mock viva 5 months ago which went well. With the technology I designed during my PhD, I have already received 2 external grants for application in healthcare (although these grant projects were not part of my PhD). So everyone thought I was doing so well and won't have any problem. I have a part-time research fellow job lined up and I plan to use the rest of the time writing for fellowship grant. I would be happy as long as it's a 'pass', I'm fine with major correction as there is elements of uncertainty for practice-based PhD with a cross-disciplinary nature, that the examiner may perceive from a different angle and not convinced by some elements and thus suggest correction.

I have just had my viva two days ago, and got a result of referral (re-submission within 12months but can submit earlier, examiner will decide if another viva is needed). Examiners have problem with my research question, the structure of the thesis, and contribution. This is a heavy blow to me. My supervisor sent me email yesterday saying she felt responsible for me and my work, and that 'maybe the examiners in retrospect were not the most conducive'. Both examiners are external (somehow I see that most posters here seem to have one internal and one external), one from psychology background, and one from textile research. None of them are from interaction design. In the viva I have an awkward feeling with the examiner who ask the most question, that I felt that when I answered the question, she will then rephrase and ask me again, so I felt quite nervous as if she expect an answer different than what I provided. I felt from her question she either not familiar with 'practice-led' design phd, or she does not recognise that practice is research. Both examiners suggested to restructure the thesis to a conventional structure. (Regarding structure, my supervisor had several discussion with me, and I have tried this 'conventional structure' but we both consider it is best to be the current layout for it serves clarity to the reader and an honesty account of the flow of the practice).

(to be continue...)


I am now waiting for the examiners detailed report. Given the scale of the revise, I couldn't imagine that the revision guide would be specific enough for me to follow. And i feel that I am now revising for someone who is not from the field and may not appreciate practice, and I worry even i revise according to the guidance the result version won't be coherent enough and the examiner will fail me again.

I have also been not lucky with my supervision. My main supervisor changed during my PhD. The first main supervisor was with me for the first 4 years. He had to leave the college one month before I submit my first draft of my thesis. Although he is a nice person however he did not provide adequate supervision. His incapability was a shared consensus among several of us who had been his PhD students, and was also known to the department, who received complaint (informal) from students and the research lead had to give extra informal 'supervisory meeting' to save confused students. For example I communicated with both of my supervisors around Dec 2018 that I plan to do a formal study in spring 2019 and I will draft out study design to submit to ethics approval, and they agreed. Then I presented the draft of ethics approval in Jan/Feb 2019 and to my suprise my main supervisor told me I don't need another study. Between Jan and April I tried to communicate with him that I did need this final study otherwise I don't feel my practice is up to the rigor of the requirement of a PhD and he refuse to sign off my ethics approval. I had to drop the study plan as by then I am running out of time and had to enter the writing up of my thesis. Then I had our annual exam and the verdict of the exam board was that I still need to do another study, for which I need another term, which I have to pay the tuition fee. I did. My 2nd main supervisor was from social science although she research on emergent technology. She gave me feedback on several drafts of my thesis till 1.5months before my final submission, when she as well left the college. My second supervisor has been with me all the time. She has been very supportive, believes in my thinking and approach. But she is an expert practioner and does not have a PhD. So I am ever so grateful for the attention and care given by my second supervisor I still need proper supervision for the academic rigour. I could never have a proper discussion with my first main supervisor regarding framing of research question and methodology design.

(to be continued...)


post part 3:

My question is:
1. should I even explore appeal the result on the basis that neither of the 2 examiners are from the field that my thesis aim to address, or on the basis of inadequate supervision?

2. In terms of the revision, given the scale of the revise, I am not confident that the revision guide would be specific enough for me to follow. And i feel that I am now revising for someone who are not from the field and may not appreciate practice, and I worry even i revise according to the guidance the new version won't be coherent enough (as the practice is of a different nature) and the examiner will fail me again. What can I do to prevent me from failing the re-submission? - e.g. ask the research office to appoint a professor from the field of my thesis to review the draft and provide written report that I met what has been required from the examiner, before I re-submit as a check point? Anything else could be helpful?

Many thanks if you wouldn't mind sharing your thoughts and experiences. I would be so grateful. I am a mature student so the delayed time is what costing me mostly mentally. and I really LOVE research and love to have a career in research. I am devastated that this is now costing me even more time. I have a good network of academics who showed great interest in working with me or want to host me if I apply for fellowship grants. I have several publications and some either in review or in preparation for journal papers, for which I worked so hard (my 1st main supervisor told me not to publish). For the r&r result I had to shift my plans, and pause fellowship application plan. Although I am not sure if my prospective postdoc job will be affected.

[end of post]
Many thanks for your time.


Hi designphd,

Your story is an upsetting one and your pain comes through very clearly.

I am an MSc student studying through distance learning, and I have no understanding of your area of research. So, the advice I can offer is limited. But I hope I can be of some use.

I think the first thing you should do is give yourself a pat on the back. To have got this far in your research, during a pandemic, despite a change of supervisor and the birth of your baby, that is a tremendous achievement and it shows you are not the kind of person that gives in easily. You have worked hard and achieved a lot. You should congratulate yourself for that.

Second, you should understand that other people have been in similar situations to you before. That is important because it means there are people around who know what to do, and--hopefully--there are institutional rules designed to help you.

Third, you have the support of your supervisor and that is important. Have you asked for her advice? I think she is the person you should turn to first. You may also find the NUS can help if you are a member, and your university will have counselling services that will probably have experience in this kind of situation.

As for your specific questions, I would suggest:
1. Ask this of your supervisor and your research office. When you started your PhD, were you given any documentation or guidance that might suggest your next course of action?

2. Again, this is one for your supervisor and research office. But you will probably have to wait until you have received the revision guide.

I hope that is helpful.

Best regards,


Avatar for rewt

Hi designphd,

Woaw that sounds tough! I completely understand your shock at the result, especially when you have future research roles lined up. Previous posts on this forum by faded and behappy successfully appealed their vivas and they could help you figure it out. You should probably talk with your students union for more specific advice about your appeals. I have heard of people changing their examiners but it depends on the university. Normally your supervisor recommends them and you might be able to challenge how they were selected. Also, having two externals is rough as that is usually reserved for members of staff. Getting more appropriate examiners does sound feasible in your situation but I would wait for the R&R before deciding.

Quote From designphd:
I have several publications and some either in review or in preparation for journal papers, for which I worked so hard (my 1st main supervisor told me not to publish).

In my opinion your supervisors' advice is outdated. Publications strengthen your thesis as you can claim both a contribution to your field and that it has been peer-reviewed. It is far harder for an examiner to criticise your entire approach if a respected journal has published it as it looks bad on them. If you can get parts of your thesis published it would make appeals or complaints easier.


Thank you rewt. Yes I have read most of the post on this forum regarding the topic of r&r, including the posts from faded. What a horrific experience and I admire her for enduring to the end. I noticed most people only appeal after their r&r result. I will first wait to see the list of corrections required by examiners and the extend of it. I'll discuss with my supervisor.

I have come through at least 7 drafts of my thesis in the 1.5 years leading to the submission. And each version was commented by at least one person from my supervisory team. I have addressed every single comment. My supervisor signed off my submitted version and considered the thesis strong. It is beyond my comprehension the difference in the assessment from the examiners. I could not understand how come a thesis that went through this process will end up with referral (not up to PhD standard?). And how this could be allowed to happen in a sound academic system? As now I am totally lost what check points I could rely on to get a pass in my next version.


Dear designphd,

I am so sorry for your shock and horrible experience.

PhD examination especially with external examiners can sometimes result in horrible outcomes, as you have experienced. Sometimes, it could even be due to something unrelated to you, such as your supervisor and said examiners having a disagreement and someone is being petty. Or your point of view in the thesis is opposite to their theory and work, hence they are motivated to give you a really hard time.

First of, strategise.
1) Chat to your chairperson of examination (if you have such a position), postgrad coordinator and student union. The more people you talk to to seek advice, the better. You want people to know your case so that if things go horribly wrong, no one can sweep this under the carpet
2) Ideally you would have identified the issue that none of the examiners were in your area and corrected this before your submission. However, now that they have been finalised, wait for your r&r result guide. If the r&r result guide is unclear, make sure you request for further details.
3) I do not know if you can change your examiners at this point. You could explore. If you can add rather than change completely, you could explore that too. Bear in mind that research is such a small field where collaboration is vital and it is possible that this third examiner would not publicly contradict what two previous examiners have agreed upon.
4) Can you quickly get those manuscripts published? that will help your case significantly


Thank you Tru for taking time to give advice.

These are great points.

1)I have emailed my supervisor, the school's head of research and chairperson of viva (who is also head of Research Office) my concerns and confusion why and how it came down to here. Everyone's advice is to wait and see the r&r report. My supervisor said that the viva chairperson suggested making some green amber red positioning when we receive the examiner notes. I don't know what does that mean?

2)I'll try to talk to the student support next week, although I am not sure if they are still open.

3)How could I explore if I could change examiners?

4) two of my studies have been presented in conference workshops. 1 being reviewed by 1 reviewer and the other by 2 reviewers. Another study is being prepared to submit to a journal. These single studies are partial of the PhD process exploring an overarching topic. I find it difficult to concise the whole PhD both conceptual framework and the practice into one article. I thought I could explore trying to publish the conceptual / theoretical framework first?


Hi, designphd,

1) Download and keep all your emails in a folder. Green amber red positioning means different things to different people. It could be tiering of difficulty/time urgency eg. red- superhard, time-consuming, super urgent to green -least difficult, least urgent or not time consuming.

2) Write to your student support too and keep the email

3) Talk to your postgrad coordinator and supervisor. Bear in mind, if you change your examiners now, you will deeply offend the two external that you have currently. And if you are unsuccessful in changing and have two deeply grudgeful externals, your life ahead may be challenging. So tread carefully.

4) You don't have to publish everything in one paper. However, having papers accepted and published will strengthen your case that your PhD study is solid