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Just failed my phd - devastated

User: anonphd - 28 December 2009 15:12

I've just been told I've failed and am absolutely devastated, especially since I did everything both the external and internal examiners requested (I got someone to read the thesis to ensure I had ticked all the boxes). I'm starting the appeal process but know that most appeals don't get through. My dreams of academia are over because it's highly unlikely my current employers (a university) will want to keep on a failure. It's a battle to just keep going. Are there any students out there who have successfully appealed against failure?

User: snelison - 28 December 2009 16:11

jesus...thats awful. im so sorry to hear that...

...but it does surprise me a little too. i mean, did you have an interim assessment halfway through to check things were on course? usually what would happen is if you have an interim assessment problems can be detected then, instead of at the very end of a PhD when 3, possibly 4 years work has been conducted.

thats what happened to me. a year and a half through my (old) PhD i didnt pass my interim assessment...had to go through the pain of 2 viva's before i found out i hadnt passed. but at least then that allowed me the chance to finish with an MPhil, which i did. and im now having a second shot at my PhD, on a study which is way more suited to me and with far nicer supevisors...

basically, dont see this as the end of your career. maybe find out if they'll award you an MPhil. and as im proof of, it neednt matter if things dont go right the first time. you can give it another shot.

keep us posted as to how things go and try and enjoy your new year :-)

User: rjb203 - 28 December 2009 16:51

I haven't posted on this site for quite a while and just saw your post

I really do sympathise with you. I can only imagine how you feel.

I had a pretty bad PhD experience a few years ago and dropped out. It was quite a soul destroying experience for me to have to leave after just a year. I didn't pass my first year viva and was given a second chance to pull myself together but I knew the PhD wasn't going anywhere ( having a non-existent supervisor and a very manipulative post doc certainly didn't help )

I can imagine this is a very difficult time for you. I am sure you wouldn't want to start all over again from square one but at the same time you need a PhD if you want an academic career. It is a catch 22.

If you have failed outright then your supervisor and your department should be shot!!! I thought the hold point of first and second year reviews was to ensure that your project was on track and that you have made sufficient progress to be able to submit a thesis to the right standard and at the right time. Did your supervisor ever express any major concerns during your PhD and before you submitted? If you have failed outright then you shouldn't have been allowed to submit your thesis in the first place!!

I know it might not seem like the case now but it really isn't the end of the world. You will find that future employers are a lot more sympathetic to Phders than you think. I really thought dropping out of my PhD would ruin my career and as it happens it hasnt. I have completed a masters since and am currently doing another one part time as part of my job. I may very well have another go at a PhD in the next couple of years.

My best advice would be to fight tooth and nail for your PhD. Try and get them to allow you to resubmit with major corrections or at a minimum an Mphil. I know a person who was given major corrections and had to work on his PhD for another year but did pass second time around so it can be done.

Is there someone in the department who you can talk to about how to tackle this? Like a student advisor or councillor? Preferably someone independent and impartial.


User: anonphd - 28 December 2009 17:26

Thanks so much for getting back to me.  I had my viva and my thesis was deferred by a year while I attended to the examiner' s issues. Many of the changes that they asked for were completely unrelated to the thesis, but I still agreed to do them.  After the viva, the super even said the external seemed to be confused as to what the thesis was actually about!

It seems to me that I'm being abandoned by friends and colleagues as no-one wants to associate with a failed phd. I haven't had any support from the institution and now the 'supervisor' has told me he's not allowed to talk to me! 
I've also been told that my chances for appeal are very slim as the only solid grounds I had was the academic judgment of the external who was not even in my field (I wasn't allowed a choice). One thing I would like to know is who owns this thesis?  Can I take it to another institution, re-work it and submit it again?

User: satchi - 28 December 2009 18:16

hi, I also haven't posted here for a long time. Somehow Im feeling lonely these christmas holidays.
I am so sorry to hear about your situation. I thought I was going to fail my MSc (I had a pretty bad viva) but somehow they gave me a pass. I hope you feel better and I hope things come right for you soon.


User: Paige - 28 December 2009 21:26

Hi anonphd,

Sorry that you've had such a hard time - and that the university has let you down repeatedly. I've only started my phd, so I don't know anything about appeal processes etc. But it might be that the university owns your 'intellectual property' but you'd need to check before you resubmitted somewhere else. But do you have any avenues of support in reporting a formal grievance against the department/staff member/university - as your supervisor not being able to talk to you and having an external supervisor not in the right area sounds like massive mistakes on their behalf - as well as your supervisor failing to provide adequate feedback prior to the assessment.

When I've been unfairly treated, and left on hanging, I've done something about it - contact a union, or somewhere, where you can find out your rights. Be professional, and reasonable, but assertive. Even if I haven't got what I wanted - I felt better for standing up for myself.

P x

User: Paige - 28 December 2009 21:30

Oh - and if you are going to pursue this I'd recommend starting by making a list of everything they did - dates, and factual descriptions - with copies if possible (eg. of emails stating that the supervisor couldn't speak to you etc.). And if it's still going on, keep a diary and record everything - dates and times you have spoken to people, their names, left messages etc. Eg. if you have evidence that you asked for feedback from supervisors over a long period of time and they didn't give you advice etc.

User: Sue2604 - 29 December 2009 00:15

Hi anon, you have my sympathies too! Poor you, this sounds horrible. But as Paige has suggested, go and get some advice. Go and talk to your student union, your postgrad student union people. It sounds like you've had a hard time, and certainly doesn't sound right that your sup isn't supposed to talk to you now!!

Take some time out to get over the hurt for a bit, then in the new year make some phone calls. Good luck! Let us know how you get on.

User: rjb203 - 29 December 2009 11:35


Best of luck with your PhD. I think it takes lot of character to get back up on the horse again and I've always found it quite inspiring hearing about people like you on this site :-)

I am constantly toying with the idea of doing a PhD again and as it turns out a phd could be very beneficial in my career so I am seriously considering it.

User: rubyw - 29 December 2009 12:48

Hi Anon,

That sounds awful and I'm not surprised you feel devastated. Do carry on with the appeals process though, some do get through, I've seen it happen. It does sound a bit dodgy that you were allowed to submit if your work was supposedly that bad, how did the whole process get to that point? I would echo what's already been said and start checking back through past documentation of any possible deficiencies on the part of your supervisors or the department. Are there any other students with the same supervisors who also failed? Sometimes there is a pattern that shows the university is at fault.

Good luck with it anyway, (up)

User: TT - 29 December 2009 15:03

I am sorry anonphd. I had a similar situation, I submitted my thesis and my supervisors said it was great and 100% certain to pass. I was then phoned 9 days before my viva to be told my external thought it was so unsatisfactory that the viva was pulled. After the shock I went through the complaints proceedure. Everything I wrote was cross ref to every piece of paper/electronic communication I had ever had, one thing you might like to do is a data protection/freedom of information request. I then went to the OIA (which you can do if you are at a British university). The OIA upheld the majority of my complaint awarded damages and demanded (as the OIA is binding on a university) that the uni make changes. It did take over three years! The good news for me was I then started again with a new team and nine months later (December 11 2009) had my viva which I passed with minor revisions. Do not give up, complaints are upheld and they can make your viva null and void which means that you still have a chance. I will not deny how difficult it is, certainly many people are not talking to me (I will graduate from another school in the uni) and the uni will support its staff to the hilt. However as one person said to me - what have you go to loose, the worst has happened, it can only get better.

User: Aodhán - 29 December 2009 23:34

Just read the headline. I'm disgusted, disgusted beyond words, that this can be allowed to happen. Before reading anything else I just want to reiterate what has undoubtedly been said to you many times by now: it is your supervisor's fault that you are in this position.

The entire viva voce process needs to be kicked screaming into the era of openess and transparency and the age of supervisors getting away scot-free has to end. This process is a deep shame on the universities of the western world.

In the meantime, my instinct would be to discover what needs to be done in order to get you over the bar and push yourself over that bar like you've never, ever done. You will, I assure you, be a stronger person for it.

User: Aodhán - 29 December 2009 23:45

Wow, TT; just f*cking wow. Wow. You should be publicising that story more.

You have my respect.

User: anonphd - 30 December 2009 00:17

======= Date Modified 30 Dec 2009 00:24:18 =======
Hello everyone,
I just want to say how grateful I am for your support which means the world to me. I am battling against feelings of being inadequate and completely stupid. I am writing the appeal but feel so numb I don't know where to start (not helped by the super not allowed to communicate with me). Part of me just wants to give up and look for another PhD, but this thesis has taken up so much time and so many sacrifices. The uni has a very short time span in which to submit an appeal and because the clock started ticking just before the Christmas holidays, time is short. I can believe that they did it on purpose! I agree that the Viva and academic assessment process needs to be more transparent and examiners need to be accountable. This is people's lives they are playing with so they shouldn't be allowed just to get away with this.

User: TT - 30 December 2009 06:56

I am pleased you have decided to appeal. One thing I did when I was unable to meet a deadline was write to the university and state that I would be proceeding. In my uni this letter kept the proceedure open. One thing: follow every regulation to the letter, if your supervisor has been told not to talk to you then do not try to contact them. In my appeal I followed the regulations and the uni did not: this put me in a strong postion when it went to the OIA. Happy to receive a PM if you would like to discuss it more.
1 to 15 of 19 PhD Forum Posts

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