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After a long journey - Post-OIA


User: lucedan - 07 December 2020 20:32

Hello everyone,

I am in a dispute with my ex-university, and I need some ideas on how to move. I already posted in here a few years back.
Is here anybody expert in law that can help me?
A few elements on the incident:

Although I provided my supervisor with my thesis since 5 months, and agreed with him on the submission date (he had to sign the final submission date) 3 months before submission, he has never opened my thesis. For 6 weeks before the submission date, my supervisor stopped replying to my emails. So, 1) I have a supervisor who is not supervising; 2) I have a co-supervisor who said the thesis needed more work and asked if I had availability for a postponement; 3) I have a submission date approaching; 4) nowhere in the university's website and regulations it is reported that I can postpone my submission in such a case nor the eventual procedure.

10 days before the approaching submission date, I was panicking, and asked to my Academic Advisor (also Dean of the Department) what to do in such case, as my viva may go wrong. Instead of doing something like contacting the supervisor or telling me to contact somebody in the university, he says: "the best course of action is submitting by the deadline; then [THEN] report your concerns to the Head of School; and then [THEN] wait for the viva that, who knows, maybe your examiners will like it".

I thought that my Academic Advisor and Dean of Department (the highest officer I could contact at the time) knew what he was saying, and thought that his "best course of action" was the right procedure to self-defend myself in case of problems. I just did what he was saying. I submitted and then [THEN] I reported my concerns to the Head of School, who said that since I already submitted he could do nothing anymore.
As you may figure out by yourself, my viva went wrong, and I was given work for 14 more months unpaid. Now the university says that "Article 6.1.14 of the PGR Code states that students are responsible for 'deciding when to submit their thesis [...] taking due account of the supervisor’s opinion which is only advisory.'"

I reported to the OIA that the Dean of Department's suggestion is not a suggestion on when to submit, but it has elements that have nothing to do with "when to submit", and the student (I) had no other options before him, as the deadline was approaching and nowhere there was information on alternative actions/postponement opportunities. But the OIA decided to not analyze this matter.

So, now what can I do? Does it make sense what has happened in your opinion?

User: rewt - 09 December 2020 13:44

Hi lucedan,

It sounds like the Dean screwed you over. He got you to submit and completely negated the complaints procedure in one move. Alpha Academic Appeals advertised on here a while back and specialize in this stuff you want legal advice. I am not a legal expert but it sounds like your Dean and your supervisor was at fault by misinforming you and not supervising you properly.

Can I ask what is the state of your relationships with your supervisors? The sad thing is that you will still need to resubmit your thesis to get your PhD. I have never heard of anyone overturning a viva on a technicality, so you have the choice of leaving or resubmitting. Your second supervisor sounds more useful, so it might be worthwhile talking with him about a plan on how to do update the thesis.

User: Lawphd - 09 December 2020 20:26

Whilst it is evident that you have been let down by the communication in your university, i'm not entirely clear about what it is you want.

Whilst the viva went badly, you weren't failed outright. You were given an opportunity to resubmit. You haven't indicated any grounds on which this decision could be legally challenged.

Can you be more specific about exactly what the issue is. The thesis wasn't ready to pass. You can't challenge this on the basis of poor supervision, or bad advice from the Dean. The best you can hope for is the time to work on the corrections needed and an opportunity to resubmit. You were given this opportunity.

You may feel like you were given bad advice by the Dean, but i don't see that it really had much impact on the viva itself. You were ten days before the submission date. It's really too late to start flagging issues at that point. You sent your full thesis 5 months before submission, your supervisor had approved submission two months later, so what was it that you were waiting on? Was it corrections? Did you tell the dean that your supervisor hadn't read the thesis yet at the time you asked for the advice?

User: abababa - 10 December 2020 16:51

I'm not sure if you're misinterpreting, since you appear to have passed w/ majors and been given 14 months to do them.

This doesn't mean you need to take 14 months, but you do need to address the corrections. You'd be perfectly entitled to refuse any work other than the corrections if you're not being paid to do it.

I don't think you're necessarily in a worse position here, as you survived the viva, and the alternative as I can see it is they'd advised you not to submit, and spend another 12 months working on it, in which case the ultimate time for you to complete the PhD would, in all likelihood, be longer.

If you have evidence you literally got nothing from your supervisor for 6 months, then you're also not in a bad place (still having passed). Most universities have a policy indicated the minimum contact time for a supervisor (this is typically low, but it's rarely silent-for-6-months-right-before-submission-is-ok low), so you could appeal for reimbursement of fees based on lack of supervision. It's important to note you can never appeal or complain for a better outcome, or 'free' PhD due to supervisor negligence, but you can absolutely appeal for reimbursement if you paid money for supervision at an agreed level (written into the paperwork) and didn't get it.

User: lucedan - 11 December 2020 20:25

Thank you all for your help. To clarify, I successfully got my PhD after a 14 months revision. I went under some bad times (self-esteem and depression for about 7 months), but I was able to get my PhD back. When my unfortunate thesis got rejected, I asked my Academic Advisor and Dean of Department for a scholarship to conclude my PhD, but I wasn't awarded one, and had to pay 14 months by myself.
When I say 14 months, it is because my supervisor (after this episode hit unwillingly his reputation), indicated to me to submit the revised work on the very last day I had at disposal. To be clear, when I say that "he indicated", I mean that there have been many problems and he started to show authority by saying that "if I wasn't following his indications, I was going against the advice of his and the entire department, and I would be the sole responsible for my final outcome". As you can understand, I followed the advice literally. In the end, finally, the Dean of Department changed my primary supervisor, and everything went well.

@rewt, thank you for your suggestion!

@lawphd, I answered your question about the 14 months above. To your other observation, the R&R was not just an R&R: my submission was composed of a written dissertation and some practical works. The examiners said not to present the written dissertation anymore. That work has vanished, and incredibly the banished dissertation became the basis of my currently-funded postdoc research partnering 4 universities. However, my work, formally doesn't exist.
Also, to answer your other question, my academic career has got 2 formal complaints: the first during my Progression Panel review after 18 months of research, where I complained about miscommunication problems within the department and an issue about music performance that was acknowledged as a contributing factor to my R&R. 3 months before submitting my thesis, I complained again about these facts. In both episodes my Academic Advisor (aka Dean of Department) was present, so he definitely knew there were problems. However, as reported in the below link, I could not really fire a formal complaint against my supervisor until the end for multiple reasons: an article states it's the last thing to do; need for a reference letter; only supervisor in my research field.

@abababa, its 6 weeks that he wasn't replying, not 6 months! However, I submitted half of my written dissertation to my supervisor 5 months before my final deadline (2 months before declaring the intended date of submission).

User: lucedan - 11 December 2020 20:25

Basically, the University is using an Article that says that "the choice regarding when to submit is responsibility of the student, taking in due consideration the opinions of the staff which is only advisory". However I challenge that the advice of the Academic Advisor (also Dean of Department) was an opinion on "when to submit". I contacted him in a very confuse state, in which I had no clear information on what to do, a submission deadline was in 10 days, and there was no information online or in the regulations reporting that I could postpone my submission in such situation, nor the procedure to do it. More information in this post from 2 years ago: https://www.postgraduateforum.com/forum/phd/advice/thread/supervisor-doesn-t-read-phd-thesis/53856

So, in such situation, 10 days before my deadline, I decided to contact my Academic Advisor and Dean of Department and said "Things may go wrong since my supervisor isn't responding. What should I do?", and he said "The best course of action would be to submit by the deadline, then report your concerns to the Head of School, and then wait for the viva as, who knows, maybe the examiners will like your work". Well, they didn't. Now, the university says that it is my fault that I submitted, because I had not to submit and the AA's opinion is just advisory, and the article says that it is my responsibility to choose when to submit. That's just crazy to me. I challenge this by saying that the AA's opinion is not an opinion on "when to submit", but it is a procedure for my self-defense. And I question: why the AA said to me to contact the Head of School after submitting? Of course, I contacted the Head of School the day after my submission, who said "now that you have submitted I can do nothing".

The university and the OIA has not even considered this. The article says that it is my responsibility, and that is, no matter what the circumstance. And at this point I understand nothing, and I don't understand why this point was not taken in consideration. If this was not clear, I shew proof for any of the claims reported in this post + a literature review on how stress and uncertainty affects the rational adjustment of a person, which was completely ignored. (Btw, sorry for double posting some information.. it's just to keep information together for readiness sake)

User: lucedan - 11 December 2020 22:08

*readability's sake

@abababa
>> It's important to note you can never appeal or complain for a better outcome, or 'free' PhD due to supervisor negligence, but you can absolutely appeal for reimbursement if you paid money for supervision at an agreed level (written into the paperwork) and didn't get it.

I see. I got a fees-exempted scholarship for my Ph.D. (so I did it for free, but I did not have a full scholarship and had to pay my living expenses working part-time), so you think that I cannot appeal for my +14 months (when they could have been +2) if my supervisor actually did his job as reported in the university's regulations (which is technically my contract, right, through which I am entitled with some services)?

Technically that would mean 12 months of my potential career lost.

User: rewt - 11 December 2020 22:16

Quote From lucedan:
I asked my Academic Advisor and Dean of Department for a scholarship to conclude my PhD, but I wasn't awarded one, and had to pay 14 months by myself.

I have never heard of anyone getting a PhD bursary. I may have a limited experience in academia and other universities may be different, but my understanding is that it just doesn't happen. I know people who have the late fees or extension fees waved for various reasons but I highly doubt your bursary will be extended. I am sorry to be so blunt but I have heard a lot worse stories getting far less than you. Your Dean and supervisor definitely did you wrong with bad guidance and supervision that drastically affected you which meant you were not properly prepared for your viva. You should be allowed to make a complaint against them, though don't aim for a bursary extension.

User: lucedan - 11 December 2020 22:24

@rewt, your bluntness is for my sake, so thank you. I am here just to understand the case, as I am accused to be wrong while (I claim) I wasn't. However, it is true that I was aggressively intimidated to do +14 months ("submit the last day"), and I had an R&R (not a pass) with just a one-shot opportunity to pass my viva. Length was not really depending anymore on my will, as my supervisor was not cooperative anymore. If you wonder "why +14 months?", the advice of the supervisor was not really motivated and he just tried to get as much time as possible. And that, in my view, is unnecessary lifetime. I honestly think that I should be given at least the maximum level of compensation for distress.

By the way, I just discovered that the OIA writes that they consider compensation for delay (see also Case 7): https://www.oiahe.org.uk/media/2275/putting-things-right-february-2019.pdf

User: Cat123 - 12 December 2020 12:43

You say you now have a funded postdoc, my advice is to move on and leave the bad Ph.D. experience behind you. I can relate to how you may be feeling, I have felt depressed at times also. I am at an earlier stage currently and the reality of my situation is that I will likely need to submit my thesis early next year without anyone having looked at it. The bullying primary supervisor, who still causes me issues in the department, has not been involved for over 2.5 years now and a co-supervisor I have is nice but heavily overworked and has been ill and so there is not much contact there. I have been through the complaints process about matters relating to my PhD and supervision, that didn't help and nor did the OIAHE. I raised the matter of compensation for the delayed Uni complaints process with the OIAHE, and they ignored it. The OIAHE don't even stick to their own guidelines re. timescales. To get the best outcome from the OIAHE you need legal support now and there are solicitors who specialise in this.
I find what you say about your thesis not existing now odd, that couldn't happen in my field.
I know of another student in my department who had a supervisor who he had very few meetings with and little support from, he had 12 months of major corrections after his viva and like you no stipend during that period. That period should have finished a year ago and he is still a registered student with no thesis in the online repository.
I don't think you are going to have any chance of compensation for distress without legal support and what the OIAHE may or may not offer likely won't be worth the stress and time involved, and a court will not award compensation for distress for these matters. You passed the Ph.D. and now have a postdoc, and my advice is to focus on the postdoc, building your network and future opportunities.

User: lucedan - 12 December 2020 15:03

Hi Cat123, thank you very much for sharing your experience with us. Honestly, what you say makes me much more willing to continue on this journey of mine. It is absolutely ridiculous that your university is not taking in consideration your problems and trying to address those proactively - that's in everyone's sake: yours and the university's. We both went through a Progress Panel Review, so our research has been acknowledged by the internal staff. That is the more important for them to make sure you finish your thesis, succeed and get the most out of it. I honestly do not understand why the university is willing to risk all this by not changing your supervisor, given that you may feel at risk of retaliation. And the OIAHE should at least have suggested it.
The most ridiculous thing is that they often say that complaints are the last things to do, and other types of actions should be considered before proceeding, but when you do that, nobody moves. Good luck with your choices. I will think about your advice: I contacted a lawyer, and we are looking at the case.
Through this post, I wanted to know what would people perceive from this story, as it is all well documented. If you didn't feel like my AA screw my submission, that would have been the end. It is important to understand what people would think about it, because that allows you to understand what can be done and how to phrase it. This post has already provided me with lots of ideas, and I just need to understand how to focus the point so that it can't be ignored. Independently on my future opportunities: those are there, and I don't hold any grudge against my ex-supervisor and academic advisor anymore.

User: Cat123 - 12 December 2020 23:49

I have actually never had a progress panel review and I am now in the final year of the Ph.D., the failings in my case on the part of the University have been that bad. I always submitted the required documents for progress reviews each year. I am certainly experiencing the retaliation you refer to currently. I am trying to keep going and focussing on end goals.
Good luck with whatever you decide to do.

User: abababa - 13 December 2020 00:48

"I see. I got a fees-exempted scholarship for my Ph.D. (so I did it for free, but I did not have a full scholarship and had to pay my living expenses working part-time), so you think that I cannot appeal for my +14 months (when they could have been +2) if my supervisor actually did his job as reported in the university's regulations (which is technically my contract, right, through which I am entitled with some services)?

You can (though it would more accurately be a complaint over the time you did not receive supervision, and - more difficult to argue - the consequences. It's very hard to argue rationally beyond doubt that if the supervisor had done their job you'd have passed sooner. It's also hard to argue they forced you to submit if you signed the form.

The hard bit over supervision, would that legally this would be assessed 'as contracted'. Not answering for 5 weeks might seem unreasonable, but you will probably find the University *promises* you (contractually binds themselves to) a scandalously low amount of supervision. For many Unis, the contracted amount of supervision is something like 20-40 hours a year, including time to review your drafts. It usually does not specify how frequent this should be, and will almost inevitably have no clause they they will respond within x weeks.

It's pretty scandalous tbh as any competent supervisor is going to put in way more than 20 hours per year, but legal departments at universities have become savvy to litigious students, and this protects them against that, because all they'd have to show is that over the calendar year you had a few meetings and feedback on a draft. Applications for studentships are so competitive most people are happy to sign (or don't check) against these terms.

As others have said, you may well be best served cutting your losses and moving on. It's a risk if you spend money on litigation, since whilst I'd readily agree with you the Uni is not in the right morally or ethically, I can see their position arguable legally, and that's what would matter in court.

User: lucedan - 13 December 2020 11:47

Thanks @abababa. Very appreciated. I understand your point. What is unclear to me is whether a court considers the circumstances. The OIA and the university have applied the Article 6.1.14 strictly. But, would a judge in court consider if: (1) the student was given non clear advice; (2) the university has acknowledged that provoked severe distress in the student due to lack of supervision and communication; (3) this stress is scientifically proven to affect the rational adjustment of a person, who becomes unable to estimate risk/reward ration and tends to ask and trust the opinion of an "expert" (aka Dean of Department); (4) a deadline was coming; (5) the observations reported timely by the same student (since 18 months) affected the viva; (6) in the entire university websites and regulations there is no written information on the possibility or procedures to postpone (so, actually, he didn't have really other options in that moment).

In that case, would the judge consider legitimate in such circumstance that the student was allowed to ask for information to his Academic Advisor (part of the PAU) and Dean of Department? And in that case, would s/he question why the Dean of Department suggested to contact the Head of School only after submitting? Because, all this has been unanswered by the OIA.

Or better: the OIAHE says one thing. I had to file a complaint before. But they do not take into consideration (1) that an article of the regulation says that a complaint is the last thing to do (also reported in the link to postgraduateforum provided above); (2) the fear of retaliation by the supervisor (also reported in the link to postgraduateforum provided above); (3) that the Dean of Department was already informed since 18 months that there were problems and two related complaints (on internal miscommunication); (4) that the Dean of Department had 10 days to inform himself before firing an advice on "the best course of action".

In the end, the OIA frames the Dean's words as just an opinion on "when to submit".

User: rewt - 13 December 2020 22:15

lucedan I admire your determination but if you want honest opinions. My opinion is your Dean only gave advice on whether to submit and he didn't force you to do anything. I think that you should have asked about your options more than 10 days beforehand and you would have to extend regardless of what advice the Dean gave you because of your viva issue. The debacle with your written section not even being considered and how it even got to that stage was a far bigger determining factor than what your Dean said. If your examiners accepted the written dissertation and you passed first time your Dean's advice would have been mostly correct. With hindsight we know you got R&R from your viva and knowing that you wish took an extension so you could have filed a complaint. However that wouldn't change your R&R or how your supervisor so badly supervised you. With hindsight your Dean might have done things differently too but it was probably not his intention at the time to cause you distress, and he can always say that he thought you would have passed with majors. Also, you are saying that you were under so much stress that you couldn't make a rational decision so asked an "expert" what he would do and now you are now criticising that advice with hindsight. To be honest, having heard all of your issues with your Dean, viva and complete lack of supervision, the decision to submit was probably the least negligent issue.

Saying that you should still talk with a lawyer because your supervisor and examiners definitely caused you undue stress.
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