Submitted incomplete PhD thesis


Hello everyone.

This is my first time here. I really need some advice and help.

I just submitted an incomplete PhD thesis. Meaning I submitted an introduction, 3 good chapters, a 4th very bad draft chapter and no conclusion. I just did not have the time. I did not sleep during the last 48 hours before submission. I submitted for the University of London. I have suffered from clinical depression and anxiety and in the past this has slowed me down in my work. And I have had an extension based on that. However I still failed to complete the thesis on time.

However I know I can do it if they give me some more time and another chance. I'm in a better place in my life. I just don't want a fail and an Mphil. I wouldn't mind a Not Pass with option to resubmit.

What are my chances of a re-submission (referral)?
Would they pull off the viva before it happens? If they do, what does that mean?
Anything I can do or tell them to argue my case or defend myself at the viva?

Please I would appreciate any advice. And don't worry about my feelings. Brutally honest is welcomed.



Sounds familiar.

Due to my studentship requirements, I was forced to submit an overly long incomplete thesis. I similarly ran out of time. Five months later I was given a viva date. Two weeks before the viva, my external examiner cancelled the viva due to an overly long thesis. This led to a frantic search for a new external examiner. A month later, I sat my viva with new examiners and they awarded a resubmission for a PhD (and were very positive). After a year of working on my resubmission, I resubmitted my PhD thesis on time, then was faced with a five month wait for a decision on my corrected reduced draft. Awarded minor corrections, completed minor corrections within three months and graduated in July 2013.

Given the state of my overly long thesis, I was delighted with the resubmission verdict. I was convinced it would be an MPhil or outright fail, but my examiners were very positive about my work and allowed me to resubmit for a PhD.

In the viva, I was very honest about the limitations of my thesis and discussed ways to improve it. Before the viva, I was in bits! floods of tears and really very anxious. My examiners were really lovely though.

I was awarded a resubmission after my first cancelled viva, so it does happen. But I passed, received my PhD and now well into my postdoc position.

I got there in the end, but I'll never forget the stress I experienced (not to mention anxiety and depression!).

Be prepared for any delays and cancellations. Also work on developing a strong defense. It might also help you to know that it is possible to pass and obtain a PhD after submitting an incomplete thesis. Although I may have been lucky with my examiners.

Hope this helps.


Dear Pineapple,

First you are amazing for responding so promptly. Thank you!

I cannot explain to you how down I feel. It is really hard to not be beating myself over an incomplete thesis *without* a conclusion.

I don't know how vivas go, but would I be allowed to refuse an MPhil and argue/defend my way into a resubmission? I was thinking of continuing work on my thesis and writing a conclusion and cleaning up chapter 4 and reprinting it and taking it with me to show them that I have been working on thesis during wait for viva and that I am dedicated to see it through.

Another idea was actually taking a letter from the doctor that proves I did suffer from clinical depression. But I don't know if that is allowed or too much?

Other than that I feel too ashamed to defend. What can I possibly tell then to excuse an incomplete phd thesis?

Sometimes I feel very down about this, very down.

Can I ask you a question? *How* incomplete was your first viva?

Thank you.


Sorry to hear you're feeling so down.

What do your supervisors say about redrafting work and writing a conclusion pre-viva?

You'd be demonstrating that you're a conscientious and proactive reseacher, but your examiners might suggest revisions and conclusions that could render this extra work immaterial.

A thorough chat with your supervisors about the thesis and your next course of action should hopefully provide some clarity.



No problem!

I'm sorry you're feeling so down. I can appreciate how difficult it is right now considering that I've walked a similar path.

My examiners were informed before the viva that I simply ran out of time with my thesis and they acknowledged this within the viva.

From what I can remember, I met with my supervisors before the viva and they recommended I concentrate on implementing a plan of action on areas for improvement. I was very worried about the MPhil/outright fail so I was instructed to think more positively and think more proactively about the next steps (easier said than done!).

My examiners probably saw that I was distressed and worried about the viva! They firstly announced their decision (Resubmission for a PhD), congratulated me for producing such a detailed and extensive PhD and the moved onto discussions about reducing this thesis down to a specific area (my original thesis covered multiple areas). Most of the viva focused on ways to narrow down the thesis topic, my thoughts about specific findings and my reflections. They also asked if I was willing to submit for a PhD and if I was able to reduce the thesis within a year. I responded with a definite yes and discussed through my ideas for the next reduced draft.

My discussion chapters were largely incomplete, but the skeleton structure and plan within my discussion chapters showed my examiners the main points for my discussion. The remainder of my thesis was complete, very detailed and included extensive coverage of various areas.

I similarly felt very ashamed before my viva and I really wanted to run for the hills. Right before the viva, I said to my supervisor and the admin lady that I wasn't going to go through with it! I was more or less taken into the room! ;)

In the end, the viva was a relatively pleasant experience :). I was delighted they offered me a second chance (and shook the external examiners hand!) and asked the examiners twice about their decision ;)

Hope this helps :)


Dear Nick1,

Thanks for your response.

I am not sure my supervisor knows about me not including a conclusion but she will find out in a few days. However she knew that my thesis was not up to par in the sense that the chapters still needed work.

My excuse is that I had to deal mainly with French archives and French is not a language i speak or read. That's why translating documents was such a tedious and time consuming job. And I wish to bring that up at my viva. I hope it could be a valid point to be taken into consideration.

Do you mind telling me about yourself a little as a PhD student?



I'm at the end of my third year and fighting to produce something approaching a final draft. My funding has now ended, meaning I'm living on savings, which will probably last five months or so. Once my savings run out I'll have to submit and find job, whatever that may mean.

Unfortunately I'm not from money and couldn't have started the process without AHRC funding (which I'm extremely grateful for); but with no safety net in place, the prospect of not having a satisfactory draft written by the time the money runs out is pretty frightening.

It's conceivable that I'll be in a similar position to yourself in the near future. I'm not sure my PhD journey has been unusually rocky, though the realisation that chapters are still not ready upon receiving feedback from supervisors caused a bit of panic a few weeks back.

I consider myself fortunate in many regards, since I'm studying at a university with a collegiate atmosphere and a strong postgraduate support network. None of that stops the self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and fatigue that come with the process.

I'm pretty exhausted right now; and the need to get up each day and write (and rewrite) sections of the thesis is taking a toll. The obvious advice is to take a break, but I really can't afford to (in very literal terms, as outlined above).

For what it's worth, I think you should change your forum name from "hopeless," if that's at all possible. I appreciate that it's a reflection of how you feel right now, but it shouldn't define you as a researcher; and you may feel very differently in the not-too-distant future.

I haven't contributed to this forum much, though I've been a long time lurker. Nevertheless, I'd like to hear how you get on, with your supervisors in the coming days, and with the process more generally.


Dear Nick1,

I don't know if I am in any posotion to advise you on how to go about things. But five months is still "enough" time if you put your mind to it. Trust me, I wish I would go back in time to when I had five months. You need to deactivate Facebook, twitter, and just lock yourself up for most days just working on the PhD. Do take breaks every now and then in order for you not to lose your mind, but for the next five months dedicate your life and time and soul to the PhD. I just don't want you to find yourself in my same situation. And hopefully you will not.

With regards to you being exhausted, I know that feeling. There is a point when you start hating your thesis and the topic and even writing one sentence becomes very time consuming and energy draining. But remember this is something you loved at one point and you made a commitment to see it through. My advice is take a complete week off and then do what I told you in the first paragraph.

I just don't want you to be in my situation or Dr Pineapple's although in the end she had succeeded.

Maybe sometim soon I will change my name from Hopeless to Hopeleslly Hopeful.


Dear Pineapple,

I also wanted to say thanks for your ideas and advice. You are definitely an inspiration. I am trying to get myself together these couple of days and work on writing the missing parts of my thesis in order to take with me to my viva.

I have not yet heard from my supervisor. I am assuming she is not happy with what my thesis as I submitted it. Or maybe she hasn't seen it yet.

I feel so much under pressure. Some friends have started calling me doctor and I keep explaining to them I am not a doctor yet and we have to wait for the viva. But they don't listen to me. I feel to pressured.


Thanks 'hopelessly hopeful'.

In the end, due to deletion of key finding chapters, I basically rewrote my intro, methods and discussion chapters in around 3 months and managed to turn it around. :) I've never experienced that degree of pressure before and I'll never forget it!

I spent weeks developing a table identifying every single error throughout my thesis for my examiners to look through at the viva. In the viva, they said they didn't want to see these 'acknowledged limitations' tables, but that my report would help with the resubmission. My examiners were more interested in my thoughts and reflections about my most notable findings and were impressed with some of my discussion points and wanted me to discuss in greater detail. The viva was more about discussions on how to reduce my thesis to 100,000 words and which material to publish in books and journal papers rather than within my thesis.

I felt very isolated from my university and it felt as if the university had washed their hands of me (ie anticipating a fail). I locked myself away and literally just lived and breathed my thesis for 3-5 months. I knew negativity and doubts from my university slowed my progress so I locked myself away from it, although I met with my supervisors a few times following the viva. Keep in touch with your supervisory team.

With a resubmission, it's basically a second chance for obtaining a PhD award. Candidates only use the doctor title after confirmation from the university along with informally using the title after a minor corrections verdict.

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy

I know people are often encouraged to submit at some Universities before the 4 year limit (full-time) is reached, even when their thesis might not be 100%. More time is bought in such cases, with the candidate taking the major corrections hit and resubmitting six months or a year later.

However, you're submitting an incomplete thesis rather than an unpolished one. In your case, you might also be examined and have to take the resubmission hit. You also risk having the thesis being rejected by the examiners and if you have not been able to submit a complete document by the end of the four years you may be failed under University regulations. I'm afraid a complete but imperfect document is better.

I have to admit if I was an examiner, then I would probably reject the document in it's incomplete form, though with a recommendation the candidate adds their conclusion and resubmits. I might give the benefit of the doubt and assume the candidate has accidentally forgotten to include it - ahem!!! In other words, I'm not out to fail the candidate and am trying to buy the candidate extra time. Others might take a harder line though.

All I can suggest is if you do go forward to viva, is you have the conclusions and other corrected work ready and have a reasonable excuse as to why your thesis is incomplete and the conclusions are missing. That is assuming you are examined and University does not fail you.

You have taken a big risk by doing this and would have been better to be honest with your supervisor before submission. There may have been the possibility of you being given a few extra weeks if there were extenuating circumstances. I think you have been very silly.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)


Dear Ian,

I have to admit that reading your comment was very difficult for me.

I don't know that the university has the right to fail me if I have submitted the thesis regardless of whether there was a conclusion or not. I may be untruthful with them about "forgetting to include" the conclusion chapter but I am not sure this is something I want to do.

I was simply thinking maybe if I showed them a conclusion and a reworked chapter 5 at the viva, they might spare me? I could explain that my clinical depression has been tough and also the fact that I had to deal with too many French documents and translate them was very time consuming and all lead to the position I am in today.

Do you think they can decide not to hold a viva for me? I mean based on what? At least it would be fair to give me the chance to defend myself.

Is there anything you would advise me to do please? I would be very grateful.

Avatar for Mackem_Beefy


I've just looked at my old University's regulations - it says is a standard of 'excellence' must be achieved. Basically it's open to interpretation what the examiners might do. However, you not submitting a complete thesis might suggest you not reaching that standard of 'excellence'. The thesis could thus be rejected and you could be failed without viva. Your best hope seems viva then 'revise and resubmit'.

Your depression and health issues could have been used as 'mitigating circumstances', to apply for a suspension buying you more time. Also, your French-sourced data might have been used to apply for a further 'extraordinary' extension beyond four years provided you could show your research was still 'relevant' and that you originally couldn't speak French.

However, this should all have been looked into before you submitted and the fact you have lied to your supervisors and ultimately your examiners about the condition of the thesis could act against you. You need to look at your own University's regulations to gain a clearer picture.

I hope you do sort something out, but I think honesty here is a better course of action. Go talk to your supervisor as soon as possible and admit what you have done. It's not going to be the most pleasent tasks, but probably your best hope of rescuing the situation. Perhaps the submitted copies could be replaced with more complete versions within a short space of time the examiners may look more kindly on.

I remember having to play a part in failing a Masters student as their dissertation was all but incomprehensible. I'd expect at the very least to have a complete and comprehensible document in front of me to examine.

As I said in my previous post, I would probably "assume" in the first instance that you had "accidentally" left out the conclusions to give you the benefit of the doubt. However, whether other examiners would do the same would very much depend on the person.

Sorry to be harsh, just trying to be honest.

Ian (Mackem_Beefy)


Dear Ian,

I already had applied for extra time, which I did get. But it was still not enough because sometimes my depression was so bad I would go a whole month without touching my thesis.

I did not "lie" to my supervisor and she was told of my shortcomings in French and mental health. My supervisor is aware that my thesis is not the greatest thing ever but I don't think she is aware I missed to include a conclusion. I didn't even think it was *that* substantial until my friend told me. In defense, my topic is indeed novel and so are my sources used and my thesis is very promising and indeed a contribution. And that is something I believe I have demonstrated. It just needs more time. My supervisor will find out soon in the coming days when she reads the copy I left her.

I have gone through my university regulations and nowhere did I find a clause that allows for a viva to be cancelled or a thesis to be failed without a viva. So I am hoping that would basically save me. I am also hoping that the examiners wouldn't want to hurt my supervisor. I know a lot of politics goes behind these vivas.

I really think I have a good thesis and a good novel contribution and I hope the examiners will give me a final chance which potentially could make all the difference in my life. To them it won't make much of a difference, but to me it could either make or break me.

Thank you for your honestly anyways. I asked for honesty :-)


You are in a very difficult place, and I'm afraid I share many of Ian's views. I think a good outcome for you will be a revise and resubmit option. Not including conclusions is pretty catastrophic, when the whole point of your PhD is to show your contribution to knowledge and originality of thought. And that is what you do, primarily, in the conclusions. It's not enough that the material is elsewhere in the thesis. It has to be spelled out for the examiners.

So assuming there is a viva, you need to work on what your conclusions would have been. They don't have to be written out fully at this stage, but you need to get them very clear in your head, so that you can defend yourself in the viva properly on the day. Above all you need to stress why your research is PhD worthy, even with that terribly incomplete thesis, and how you can fix your thesis in any resubmission to make things right.

I sympathise with the health concerns. I had to leave one full-time science PhD after a severely disabling progressive disease started. Years later I managed to complete a part-time history PhD, but would often go many months without working on the PhD. I managed it without an extension, juggling my time ferociously (usually managing no more than 5 hours PhD work completed each week - total). But it can be very very difficult.