Aware of the Outcomes

I don’t think I knew – at all – what the result of my viva might be.

I naively expected that I would pass, and I was right in expecting that. I suppose I expected I would have to make some corrections, which was right again – but I had no idea as to what that really meant, how much time I would be given, how that would be sorted out. I knew none of it.

I didn’t know that there were regulations about vivas. I didn’t know that there were categories of outcomes. Had I been aware of all this I think I would have been better prepared for what happened at the end of my viva. I was told that there was something still to do, told that I had three months to get it done. It wasn’t bad, but it was a surprise.

Be less clueless than me. Find out what is expected formally for different outcomes at your institution. Be certain of what’s expected for minor corrections particularly, as that is the most common outcome.

Minor

Most candidates get minor corrections as a result of the viva. I’ve talked with plenty of candidates who worry about what this might mean for them.

Words that correspond with minor in the thesaurus:

…inconsequential, unimportant, lesser, slight, trivial, small-fry, small-time, dinky…

Perhaps you wouldn’t categorise typos as small-fry, but it’s worth reflecting on what “minor” means to keep the scope and scale of minor corrections in perspective. Individually, each correction is a relatively small change. Combined, they could take time to work through, so be sure that you know how much time your institution gives for completing them.

Compared with the work for your PhD, the effort for your preparation and your viva, minor corrections are a dinky piece of work. For the most part, they’re trivial compared to the energy required for everything else you’ve done.

Incorrect

Corrections don’t always mean you are wrong.

It could be that you’re not clear, or that you’ve not considered something, or that you could use something extra in your thesis. But they don’t always mean you’re wrong. They’re very rarely connected with even a hint of failure.

And if you’re asked to do something because something is wrong in your thesis, you now have the chance to make it right or make it better. Fantastic! (it might take time and work – which has consequences – but now it can be right)

Corrections and amendments to your thesis are part of the thesis examination process. Vivas and corrections aren’t about finding fault for the sake of it.

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!)