Second Chances

I have heard stories of candidates that are asked to correct and resubmit their thesis after their viva. Resubmission is a formal process; it can mean that the candidate has to have a second viva. It could be that the thesis was incomplete or in some way “not right”. It could be that on that occasion the candidate needed to say something in particular – but didn’t.

It could be this or it could be that, but one thing that is certain is that the “second chance” of resubmission and a second viva is incredibly rare. It happens and it happens for specific reasons. If you’re concerned about it in advance of your viva it might help to read the regulations for your university or talk to your supervisor to see if there is anything in your work to really be concerned about.

Again, it is incredibly rare for all of this to happen. While it might help to find out more about resubmission and second vivas just in case, it’s probably better that you focus on other things instead: your research, your thesis, your preparation. These are certainties that can help you to succeed – a far better focus than a hypothetical that will only serve to distract you.

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.

Unreasonable Corrections

After the viva most candidates will be told to complete corrections. For most, corrections will be simple things: amending spelling mistakes, making ambiguous sentences clearer, breaking up long and clunky paragraphs, and so on.

While no candidate wants to get corrections – however minor for the most part, they’re still more work – it’s rare that a candidate would be asked to complete unreasonable corrections. It’s rare that an examiner would ask for rewrites of chapters over a minor point or for a style change based solely on their preferences. Requests for more research have to come with real justification.

If a suggested correction strikes you as unreasonable:

  • Ask yourself why you think that.
  • Discuss it with your supervisor.
  • Decide if you need to appeal the request.

Everyone can make a mistake. You can make mistakes in your thesis. Examiners can sometimes make a mistake with a request. Nobody wants unreasonable corrections.

It’s unlikely that you’ll be asked to complete anything unreasonable, but if something seems wrong to you then know there are options.

Corrections & Confidence

Consider making two lists as you read your thesis in preparation for the viva.

On one list, make a note of any typos that you find or any sentences that you think need revising. On the other, make a note of anything that you think is good, great or amazing.

After you’ve made your lists put the first one away until after the viva. You’ll find it useful then to help you complete your corrections.

Look at the second list every day on the lead up to your viva. Remind yourself that you have done good work and you can be confident that your thesis has value.

Corrections need to be done eventually. Before the viva it’s far more important to look for things that will help your confidence.

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.

Heads or Tails

You can’t flip a coin to determine viva success.

The stories we tell about vivas pivot on knowing if someone passed or failed – but these things are not equally likely.¬†Around one in one thousand PhD candidates don’t pass.

There are many, many reasons why candidates pass – the process, the structure of the PhD, the skillset and knowledge base and experience that a candidate must typically have.

Doubting your future success is a human response; knowing a little of what to expect in the viva can be the first step to putting doubts to one side, so you can focus on being ready to succeed.

Passing the viva is not due to simple luck.

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.

Clearing Up The Vague

You have to read your thesis to get ready for your viva, even if you don’t want to. You thought about it, you wrote it, you rewrote it and now you’re done-

-except you read it and you think you could still do some more.

A paragraph that meanders. A section that is too long, or perhaps too awkward. The odd typo or twenty is fine, but what about the places that proofreading forgot? What about the vague sections that sort-of-but-don’t-quite make the point you wanted?

You grin and bear them in the viva, if they’re brought up. You explain what you meant, and what you would do to make it better – not perfect, never perfect – but better in your corrected thesis.

And when you see them during your prep you think, you write and maybe rewrite again, leaving a note in your margins or on a Post-it, clearing up the vague that you left in. They don’t disqualify you or your thesis at all.

There’s just that little bit more to do, then you really will be done.

After The Viva

Thank your examiners.

Take some deep breaths.

Make a few notes about what just happened.

Make sure your supervisors know what just happened.

Call whoever you need to and let them know.

Take some more deep breaths.

Go find a way to celebrate.

And in and among all of those moments, have a minute for yourself to really take in what you’ve achieved in the viva. The almost-end of a long, long period of hard work and discovery. Don’t forget that it wouldn’t have been possible but for you.

You deserve every congratulation you receive.