The Last Correction

Most PhD candidates are given corrections to complete after the viva. Typically examiners give a list of typos, clear instruction on sections that need to be revised and so on.

While they’re often not too numerous or too onerous, corrections are not wanted! After years of work and months of writing, who wants to revise their thesis again?

To help get them done, re-organise the list you get from examiners. Break it down into specific actions. A to-do list of typos and everything else – then get to work.

It might be the work of an afternoon in some cases, or a small project that takes place over weeks, but there will come a time when there is only one more thing to cross off. One last mistake to fix. One final paragraph to polish.

Savour the last correction. While there’s admin and graduation before you’re really “done” this is the last real thing you need to do. Savour that moment…

…then be done with it. Get it done and celebrate.

Identifying Mistakes

Typos matter because they need correcting. It’s important to work towards your thesis being as clear and polished as possible – but it also helps you to know that perfection is an ideal. Most PhD candidates have to complete corrections of some kind after the viva.

After submission you don’t need to scour your thesis to identify mistakes. If you find one, make a note in some way. Be prepared to explain something that’s unclear or incorrect. In general, identifying mistakes is less important than spending time to identify your strengths.

“What potential corrections have I found?” is a much less useful question to ponder than “What’s good about my thesis and research?”

Get Corrections Done

Big or small, whether they feel fair or not, after the viva just get your thesis corrections done. Your examiners will be clear about what needs doing and why – if there’s any doubt in your mind, ask them.

Corrections are a part of the process; no-one wants to do them, but they’re required for a good reason. They help to make your thesis that little bit better, more valuable or easier to read.

Unless you have a very good reason to think that your examiners have made a mistake: say thank you, make a list, make time to do them and get them done.

Disagreement Is Not Disaster

If one of your examiners doesn’t agree with some aspect of your work that doesn’t automatically mean you fail. It doesn’t mean the outcome of the viva jumps to major corrections. And it doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong.

It means that they disagree. They could disagree with a question, an idea, a method that you’ve used, a position that you hold or a conclusion that you’ve reached. It means that you’ll need to talk about it – but you have to talk and discuss your work in the viva whatever topic comes up.

Disagreement does mean you need to listen extra carefully. Ask questions to be certain of what your examiner disagrees with. Respond appropriately. It’s not the end of the world or the end of the viva. Disagreement shows a different perspective in some way. Sometimes you just have to listen and take note.

Do Your Corrections

If your examiners ask you to complete corrections for your thesis after the viva there’s a reason.

Corrections don’t mean you did anything wrong. Most candidates are asked to complete them because it’s hard to get everything right.

Just get them done. Unless you’re positive a request is asking too much or misses something important, say thank you and get the corrections done.

Then move on to something more important.

Winning The Viva

When your viva is all done there’s no gold medal for no corrections. You don’t get a little asterisk on your certificate for minor corrections.

No corrections, minor corrections, major corrections. Different outcomes that mean the same thing: you’ve passed.

Different outcomes mean different amounts of work involved. It’s worth knowing what the different outcomes mean in terms of deadlines for completion or the scale of work involved. It’s worth getting a sense of what your supervisors think about how likely different outcomes are (and for what reasons).

No corrections, minor corrections, major corrections: you’ve passed.

The Dream of No Corrections

Dreams do come true.

Sometimes.

But wishing and dreaming that you get no corrections for your thesis is a fantasy that’s best left alone. Some candidates find out at the end of their viva that they have no corrections to complete, but not many.

It’s nice if you have no corrections, but it’s more typical to have something still to do.

Rather than dream about having no corrections instead focus on writing the best thesis you can, preparing as well as you can and being ready to engage with your examiners.

You might not get corrections – but you probably well.

It’s probably better to dream of something else.

Everyone Makes Miskates

Corrections aren’t a sign you’ve necessarily done something wrong in your thesis. The request from your examiners is a helping hand to make your thesis as good as it could reasonably be, given that your thesis is a permanent contribution to knowledge. They want to help.

Most PhD candidates are asked to complete corrections. This doesn’t mean that most candidates are failing somehow or that most candidates don’t care.

It shows that writing is hard. Writing long, involved texts – books! – is hard.

Practice helps. Feedback helps. Investing time purposefully to get better, of course, helps. Proofreading and editing and revising all help.

And after all of that you can still miss things.

When you’re asked to complete corrections, as you most likely will be, just remember that it’s another part of the PhD process. You didn’t do anything wrong; you now have the chance to make things better.

 

A short post that occurred to me today, as I sit slightly stunned that this is my 1500th daily post on the blog – and I remember the many, many mistakes I’ve made over the course of nearly 250,000 words!

Avoiding Corrections

If you go for a walk on a rainy day you can step around as puddles as much as you like, but your shoes are probably going to get pretty wet. That’s just what happens. You can’t avoid it.

If you submit a PhD thesis you can proofread and edit for months beforehand, but your examiners will probably find something for you to correct. That’s just what happens. You can’t avoid it.

If your shoes get wet on a rainy day then there’s simple steps you can take afterwards to dry them.

It’s the same with corrections. You’re given a list. You know why your examiners are asking for the corrections: to help make your thesis the best it could be. Not perfect, but the best that anyone could reasonably expect. To complete them you make a plan, work carefully and get them done.

You should obviously work to submit the best thesis you can, but you can’t do much to avoid corrections.

Unlikely Unconditional

If your idea of viva success hinges on your thesis passing with no corrections, then you’re probably going to feel disappointed. A few years ago I asked a lot of people about their viva experiences and only around 10% said that their thesis passed unconditionally. Simple statistics say you’re highly likely to need to do something to correct your thesis.

It’s unlikely you’ll pass with nothing to do, but not unfortunate. It could be uncomfortable or stressful if you’re already busy, but corrections are requested because they’re necessary. They’re not something that only the lucky avoid; despite writing, rewriting, feedback and years of work, it’s extremely unlikely that you would write tens of thousands of words in a book and have it be just right. It’s just one more step in the process from the start of the PhD to the end.

The best you can do is your best. Write the best thesis you can, based on the best research you can do. Do your best in the viva. Then, most likely, do your best after that to make small changes to make your final thesis the best you can make it. Never perfect, but certainly good enough.

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