Passing Prestige

There are different outcomes to vivas, but in the grand scheme of things there’s no real hierarchy with them. We know this because when everything is complete you’re not awarded anything extra for how you pass.

Corrections, minor or major, are for most the necessary work for a pass. But there’s no special seal on your certificate for no corrections, no demerits for having to do more. No official commendation: you pass, and that’s that.

Passing is special enough, right?

The OK Thesis

Perfect is the enemy of done, but does it then follow that it’s fine to submit an “OK” thesis? One which you know has typos in? One which you know could be better? One which you know has things you could fix? It’s OK… It’s fine. It’s acceptable. It’ll do.

Is that OK?

Since most candidates will have a successful viva that leads to some form of corrections, it’s a natural question to ask if you could just submit your first, could-be-better, OK version of your thesis. There’s only so much time to do a PhD. There’s so much going on, especially recently. I can empathise with someone who would make the argument that they just have to get their thesis in now, and then fix anything later on.

But.

If you know there are things that could be better – in terms of making sure your thesis communicates your research – it’s nearly always worth the extra effort before submission, the viva and corrections. If you’re tempted to let things slide, to rush something in, to say you’ll fix it later, I’d urge you to take another look. See what you can do.

If you have a deadline you cannot break, then at least prioritise the most important things to help your thesis be the best it could be.

You’ll never reach perfection, but your best is a lot better than OK.

Major, Minor, None

You’re most likely to get minor corrections. Check to see how much time your university allows for them to be completed. Passing usually means, “passing subject to completing these” – so find out the timeline in advance for the most likely outcome and figure out what that could mean for you.

You don’t need to plan for no corrections. If it happens, great! That’s it. Your only bonus is to be completely done probably a little sooner.

You’re least likely to get major corrections, but some candidates do. Doing a PhD is hard, writing a thesis is hard. It’s to be expected that sometimes, despite best efforts, the thesis does not quite match the standard needed even if the contribution is sound. It’s major because it takes more time than minor, because there is more to do. But it’s not a fail, and you shouldn’t expect it for you.

If you do, genuinely, expect to get major corrections then talk to your supervisors about why you’re thinking that. Get a second opinion and explore your options.

The PhD Epilogue

After the final act, the climactic battle between good and evil, heroes and villains clashing, a white knuckle adventure with thrills and chills…

…there’s corrections.

It’s always worth remembering that for most candidates the PhD process does not end with the viva and a little paperwork. After your viva – which, white-knuckle-or-not, comes after weeks of preparation and years of work – there will probably be a few more weeks of work while you finalise your thesis. You remove any typos, tweak a few paragraphs, add something here and there.

A little epilogue when the battle is done (and won!) but where the hero has to think about what they’ve learned, and leave their adventure behind. Perhaps they find a new adventure, maybe they retire to a different life or return to what they knew before.

Don’t forget about this period. Look forward to it if you can.

A short time to finish things, to calm down, to recover, to find your feet before adventure calls again and you start on a new journey.

Looking For Mistakes

Your examiners have better, more important things to do than search your thesis for errors. It’s important – for the viva, and for any corrections – that they identify mistakes, but that’s not their focus. It’s much more useful to focus on your research and the contribution you’ve made than to just look for the “bad stuff”.

You have better, more important things to do in your preparation than search your thesis for mistakes. There probably are some – typos, little slips, references that aren’t up to date, passages that could be clearer – and it will help you in the viva and for your corrections to be aware of them. But if you make them your focus you will never stop finding things you could improve. It’s much better for you to put your attention on what makes your thesis good rather than what could make it better.

Don’t look for mistakes. Look for what matters.

A Haiku About Thesis Corrections

It won’t be perfect.

Accept that, listen, then:

Just get them all done!

 

There’s always something. “No corrections” means your examiners didn’t see the typos! Nearly everyone is asked to do something to help make their thesis better. Smile, say thank you for the help, get the corrections done and then move on.

 

(more short viva-related haiku posts here!)

7 Tips For Completing Corrections

Most candidates will be asked to complete corrections after the viva.

Most candidates will have other things to do which could make doing corrections feel like a tricky task.

Being busy won’t excuse you from corrections; here are some ideas to help you get them done.

  1. Check the conditions of various viva outcomes in advance. How much time is given for different corrections? Factor that into your plans.
  2. Ask for a list of what your examiners expect after your viva is done. Nearly all examiners give this anyway; if you have any doubts, ask for a list of required amendments.
  3. Ask for clarification of what is expected. Ask your examiners for details of what might satisfy their requests (how much detail about a reference, say, or what wording they think is unclear).
  4. Check your current plans. If you have a month after your viva to complete all of your corrections, when could you schedule time to work?
  5. Check who needs to approve your corrections. Is it just to the satisfaction of your internal, or for your external as well? And what is the effective deadline?
  6. Make a quick plan. What are you going to do and when are you going to do it? Create a clear checklist so you can mark tasks off when they are completed.
  7. DO THE WORK! Once it is done then you’ll be over 99% finished with your PhD.

It is also useful to check what you need to do after your thesis is corrected. Some institutions have short periods between when corrections are approved and the final thesis submission. Be sure of the timeline so you are ready to meet your institution’s requirements.

Corrections are an opportunity to make your thesis as good as it can possibly be. After your viva, go do that. Get it done, then go on to the next great thing you’ll do with your life.

Correcting Corrections

Corrections don’t mean your thesis is incorrect.

They are the typos and mistakes that crept past the editing process. A correction could be a suggestion that you direct the future reader to another reference, or direction to improve clarity for that future reader. They’re the ideas from experienced academics steering your work to a good place.

Corrections aren’t the system’s response to imperfection. They’re not given as a punishment. They’re not asked for on a whim.

A list of corrections is the answer to the question, “What changes would help your thesis be the best it could be?”