Move Past Mistakes

Typos catch the eye. Muddled words bring distraction. Mistakes do matter, but for the most part only because they’ll be one more thing on the list of corrections.

When you see them during your prep – because it is when rather than if for the majority of candidates – make a note in a useful way for you, then move past them. Focus on what matters more. Focus on the stuff that your examiners will really want to talk about: your contribution, your choices, your knowledge and what makes you a capable researcher.

Contribution matters more than corrections.

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.

Unclear or Wrong

You can’t – and shouldn’t – assume there are problems in your thesis. It’s worth checking through it carefully after submission. Read your thesis well to make sure that it holds up, that nothing has slipped through.

Find something unclear? What would make it clearer? Add a note of what you might say differently.

Find something wrong? Why is it wrong? What could you do to address it?

You can’t be perfect; you can be prepared.

Mistakes Happen

They do.

Slips, errors, accidents, typos, absent-minded actions and more. There’s a worry for some candidates that examiners will not forgive mistakes. Perfection is not the standard for the thesis or the viva, but you can still wonder, “What will they think about X?”

Well, let’s assume that whenever you find out about X you can’t do anything to change it (because otherwise, you probably would and it wouldn’t be a worry). Maybe you know X happened while writing up; maybe you discover X when you’re preparing for the viva; perhaps you’re asked and only realise X in the viva. Essentially your next steps in all these cases are the same.

Simply think about the Why, How and What of the mistake:

  • Why did the mistake happen?
  • How could you do something about it?
  • What do you think you need to do about it now?

Mistakes happen, and sometimes you need to act to correct them. Sometimes you just need to acknowledge them. Reflect on the why, the how and the what to explore how you might respond to examiners’ questions about mistakes in the viva.

Noting Your Mistakes

They’re there, in your thesis. It’s “when” rather than “if” you see them. When you find mistakes after submission there’s not much you need to do. Correction time will come.

Highlight mistakes if you want to, underline them or make a list if that’s helpful. All of these approaches could be useful so long as they’re not a focus for your preparation or a distraction from the viva.

Personally, I like lists: a list of changes gives you a starting point for correction time. Your examiners may end the viva by giving you a list of what changes they think will help; share yours then if you like, but don’t start your viva by showing your list!

Saying, “Here are all the things I know I need to change,” while honest, may not be the best opening for the discussion…