Monday, February 23, 2015

Major Corrections

I have a sneaking suspicion that there are way more PhD students out their who were given major corrections after their viva than are willing to admit! But I want to share my story in order to demystify the process, both for current PhD students and prospective employers.

I passed my viva and was told that I had major corrections. At first I was disappointed and a little ashamed, but I soon shrugged those feelings off and set to work immediately addressing the examiners concerns. Now I going to hand in my corrections tomorrow and am pleased to state that:
I am glad I was given major corrections!
"Huh?! Are you crazy?", you may ask. Of course, there are significant downsides to major corrections: the process is dragged on a little longer, their is a greater financial burden, job hunting is delayed, etc. But the benefits outweigh the negatives in my opinion. I appreciate that the regulations about corrections vary from institution to institution. For example, my institution recently introduced new regulations about viva results:
  • Minor corrections: 1 month
  • Major corrections: 6 months
  • Referral and resubmit: up to 6 terms

Now, one of the reasons examiners will give major corrections is that they don't want to put undue stress on the student to complete all the corrections in 4 weeks. If they think it can be done in 2 months, you will still get major corrections! 

However, more than that, they want to help you to improve your work, especially to make it more publishable. You and your supervisor have lived this project for 3-4 years (or longer in many cases), and having a fresh pair of critical eyes on your work will only ever be a good thing. Having systematically gone through the criticisms and comments, my thesis is a much more coherent piece of work, with a stronger voice and argument, and is far more likely to be appreciated by a future publisher. Major corrections are not a punishment, they are an opportunity for reflection and improvement on your work.

In addition, I am a much stronger person for it. After the initial disappointment wore off, I became more focused, more authoritative, confident, and more willing to accept constructive criticism. Yes, there are some points of my corrections which I disagree with, but I can now confidently defend my point of view. Accepting criticism and demonstrating a willingness to learn and adapt are all skills that major corrections will foster. 

Practically speaking, yes, I wish I had received minor corrections. But, I think the changes to my thesis (and to my attitude and personal outlook) will be of immense value and help as I enter the job market.

So, no, I am not ashamed to say that I have been given major corrections, and neither should you!

Do you have a positive spin on a negative experience during your doctorate? Please share in the comments section!


  1. This is such a positive and refreshing post! Thanks ;0) I'm part-time D.Ed and am 2.5 - 3 years away but reading 'ahead' really helps me set my sites beyond data collection :0)

  2. Thank you for your encouraging comment. I also received major corrections after my viva in February. I passed my viva and was informed that the corrections were termed 'major' due to my being employed and also due to having a busy family life as I have a daughter. Even so, I have found it almost impossible to get past the stigma and embarrassment of 'major corrections'. I worked so hard to write up, I gave up so much time with my daughter and I was really proud to have handed in what I thought was a good thesis. I know I didn't perform as well as I could have during my viva as is evidenced by the fact that my examiners want to see every bit of code that I have written, and an extensive amount of data, as evidence that my work is in fact mine. I am very close to finishing my corrections now and I am hoping that this trial will in fact make me stronger and allow me to publish the chapters of my thesis easier. I know that a PhD is not supposed to be easy but I did not realise it would be quite so soul destroying. Looking forward to the future!!!

  3. I can so relate! My viva was today... Major corrections and lots and lots of tears (even in front of the examiners! ) So so embarrassed now....... I also have a family and a small kid. Was self funding this phd for years and now facing a continuation fee which I have no money for... I was considering dropping it but it would be such a waste of so much time and effort... Don't know how I will get through this but I have a few months to figure it out... Many thanks for this blog entry. Puts things in perspective even if the wound if so fresh... :-(

  4. How did you feel when you had completed the corrections? There sure was a lack of pomp and ceremony round here.I agree having completed major corrections three weeks ago that my thesis is stronger and more confident. Unfortunately my institutions regulations are do not include recommended with major corrections but not recommended and referred for major revision and re-examination instead. This means I am now waiting to hear if the examiners are satisfied. It is difficult to keep the faith.

    1. I completely know how you feel.

      I was very relieved when I handed in my corrections, and was reasonably confident that they would be approved because my supervisor had talked to my internal examiner. However, there was lots of ambiguity. I didn't know how long it would take for the examiners to approve (in the end it took 3 months!), or whether I would need to have another viva (thankfully, I didn't).

      For me, the ambiguity of the resubmission process was the most frustrating. But do keep the faith, because it is so so worth it at the end!

  5. Did u try to use external powers for studying? Like Evolution Writers ? They helped me a lot once.

  6. Really good blog entry. After flying transatlantic for my viva to defend a thesis I just knew would only have minor corrections, I got major ones. It was soul destroying and a complete let down after so many years of work. I cried so much that night! It's been a few weeks now and I am coming around to looking at the darn thing again and starting on the numerous (and very detailed) corrections outlined for me. It's kind of comforting to have them all outlined, but it is also a bit overwhelming. I cannot believe how petty some of them are. I am trying to look at it more positively, and your blog entry has most certainly helped. Thank you.

  7. Thank you for this optimistic outlook on major corrections. I received mine a few days ago, performed very well on the viva but still my examiners believe that my thesis needs major amendments (and for that matter a new focus related to THEIR backgrounds, which I believe is not really fair). Also, my supervisor was not present and I get the sense that if he would have they wouldn't have grilled me so much - despite stating from the start that their intention was to give me mc. At the same time I cannot help but wonder why the British system allows the student to get to the viva at all if mc are needed, one should be stopped before either by their own supervisor or the second reader. Keep going after what is the most difficult academic exam in life is unbelievably hard, considering also the fact that the result of achieving the PhD after making mc is not even sure. Not to mention that I feel like my 'life' professional and personal is basically blocked because of this delay caused by mc. ;(

  8. It's good to share these things as one can feel really low after coming out of a Viva. I got major corrections - rewriting the intro and conclusion after my supervisor told me it all looked really good. I now have to add stuff that will make the dissertation easier for the non-specialist to read - basically add material that is really general and as far as I can see when comparing my work to other dissertations - absolutely pointless. I feel it's a waste of time. I shared my thoughts with my head of dept who said that some external examiners feel they have to give corrections to earn their fee. I've no choice but add the corrections. I agree with Anonymous (July 2) that a student should not be in a situation where they walk out of a viva with major corrections. I do think there should be some communication between the supervisor and extern to work out if the thesis is ready. The explanation at my uni was that the supervisor is 'not the expert' and can't be expected to catch everything. The 'not expert' bit is no excuse as far as I'm concerned - it cost me several thousand euro per year in fees - so what exactly am I paying for? Much needs to be done - including training for supervisors. Many don't know how to supervise. Some have not even had vivas themselves (some unis don't have them). I was gutted after my viva but now a week later, I feel okay, as I can see that major corrections can happen not because of a lack of ability but because of circumstance. For the amount of money it costs, unis should be compelled to provide quality supervision through training and monitoring of supervisors, and provide a clearer route to completion for the student.


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