Signup date: 26 Jan 2015 at 2:24pm
Last login: 31 Dec 2019 at 8:24am
Post count: 9
I’m sorry that you’re having to go through this. I just wanted to add that I gained my PhD after a successful appeal against proven ‘procedural irregularity’ and possible bias (at a UK university). Unfortunately, progress was painfully slow. My university, which had imposed such exacting conditions and deadlines on the appeal itself, seemed ignorant/uninterested in how to proceed after the verdict, with long silences and miscommunication. I’d also taken up a full-time post at another institution, so was navigating the process remotely, and feeling increasingly detached from the PhD.
I wasn’t allowed to alter my thesis further, despite it having been revised to the previous examiners’ (now nullified) feedback. However, I was involved in selecting new examiners, but they weren't supposed to know anything of the reasons for the resubmission. The second viva eventually took place nearly a year after the appeal – and almost three years after viva no.1. It was, thankfully, a short and amicable experience, the main outcome being to reinstate content I’d previously been asked to remove. The PhD was formally awarded about six months later.
So, be prepared for a long, complex and stressful process, but yes, it is possible to succeed in the end. All the best, and please PM me if you’d like to discuss further.
I’m sorry you’ve had to go through this – it resonates strongly with my own experience (which does have a happy ending). Mine involved a fairly brutal viva, an R&R verdict, and examiners who 'moved the goalposts' to MPhil after I'd submitted PhD corrections. It was only at this point that a Subject Access Request (details below) showed the original viva had been corrupt and biased, rendering everything subsequent – more than a year’s work - null and void. There followed a long but eventually successful process to get them overruled, the thesis re-examined by new examiners, and the PhD belatedly awarded. I’m not implying that the same would happen to you, but if you do want to challenge the viva outcome now, you need to work within the university’s internal procedures. In terms of immediate guidance:
1. Familiarise yourself with your uni's examination rules and appeals process (esp deadlines for challenging a decision, and the grounds under which you can do so). Arguing that it's unfair/unexpected simply isn't enough.
2. Use the Data Protection Act: Submit a Subject Access Request to the the Data Controller at each examiner's university. Ask to see each person's emails and records relating to you or your PhD, from the time at which they were appointed to the role. They are legally obliged to provide this information within 40 days, and can charge £10. This can highlight any procedural irregularities, bias etc. that would otherwise be left to speculation.
3. Contact Daniel Sokol at Alpha Academic Appeals. He will give you an honest idea of whether you have a case, work efficiently to draft a statement, and (if allowed) represent you at an appeal hearing. Admittedly expensive but money well spent. In an ideal world, such support should be readily available through your institution/student union etc but that certainly wasn't the case for me..
All the very best and please let me know if I can be of any further help.
There's no surefire way to avoid an MPhil. Although 'contribution to knowledge' is supposed to be the deciding factor, this is an ultimately subjective decision. What you, your supervisor or other advisors consider PhD standard may be viewed very differently by one or more of your examiners. The system is deeply flawed and students all too often pay the (financial, personal, career) costs of these entrenched shortcomings. I accept that this perhaps isn't what you need/want to hear at an early point in your PhD, but would also say not to worry unduly, and to talk to your supervisor. Do you have an upgrade/mini viva after the first year? This would usually be the time when any problems are flagged.
The guidelines do vary, so you'd need to check your university's policy on this. 'Major corrections' and 'R&R' are sometimes used interchangeably, with the same timescales to undertake the required work. In contrast to Gwen's experience, my institution would allow R&R without a compulsory second viva. However, the examiners also had the entire range of outcomes - including MPhil or fail - available to them at resubmission, and although the emphasis should be just checking that the original corrections have been done, it's not possible to challenge 'academic judgement' if you feel you've been penalised on new grounds.
To reiterate what Gwen said, challenging academic judgement is a non-starter, as is (with very rare exceptions) the court system. A first step needs to be the university's internal appeals system. Typically, appeals could be considered on one or more of the following grounds:
- Procedural irregularity
- Bias or possibility of bias in assessment
- Illness or impairment (with medical evidence).
Information gathered from a Subject Access Request can support claims of bias or procedural irregularity.
Once you've exhausted this process, if you're unhappy with the outcome, you can then take your case to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIAHE).
With respect, it's not necessarily a case of where the thesis 'fell down', as the one thing you can't appeal is academic judgement (however unfair this may seem). Rather than focusing on the actual outcome, it's important to try and find out whether this decision was reached jointly and in accordance with university regulations - which may require some detective work.
Anz, really sorry to hear about your experiences, which are very similar to my own. I understand how devastated you must be feeling, so wanted to share some practical advice - and possibly a glimmer of hope. My examiners also 'moved the goalposts' to MPhil after I'd submitted PhD corrections, and it's been a long but eventually successful process to get them overruled, the thesis re-examined, and the PhD belatedly awarded. In terms of immediate guidance:
1. Familiarise yourself with your uni's examination rules and appeals process (esp deadlines for challenging a decision, and the grounds under which you can do so).
2. Use the Data Protection Act: Submit a Subject Access Request to the the Data Controller at each examiner's university. Ask to see each person's emails and records relating to you or your PhD, from the time at which they were appointed to the role. They are legally obliged to provide this information within 40 days, and can charge £10. This can highlight any procedural irregularities, bias etc that would otherwise be left to speculation.
3. Contact Daniel Sokol at Alpha Academic Appeals. He will give you an honest idea of whether you have a case, work efficiently to draft a statement, and (if allowed by your uni) represent you an an appeal hearing. Admittedly expensive but money well spent. In an ideal world, such support should be readily available through your institution/student union etc but that certainly wasn't the case for me.
I do hope this can be of some help or consolation.
I’d also like to congratulate Adam on having the strength to challenge an unfair decision with potentially grave consequences. It’s a truly horrendous outcome for any PhD student to experience, and the sheer lack of institutional knowledge, support or accountability in such cases is disgraceful and unacceptable. Even ultimately ‘successful’ appeals are often financially and psychologically costly for the candidate, whilst discredited examiners may receive little more than a verbal slap on the wrist. I’m willing to advise anyone else on this area, though it’s a sad indictment of higher education that PhD students are forced to seek anonymous online help or independent legal advice when the examination process goes so very wrong.
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