It occurred to me that not a lot of people (including myself, initially) really knows what happens after you initially submit a Ph. D Thesis for examination, so I thought I’d write a little post about it here.
So, back in March- which feels like a life time ago, I submitted my Ph. D Thesis for examination. I wrote a commemorative Blog post on it, because it’s a very big deal. I wrote up a giant manuscript of all my hard work for the last four years! Literal blood, sweat, and tears went into that. It’s definitely worth celebrating.
But bringing it back to the general sense, once this happens, while you haven’t completed your Degree/course, the ‘clock’ essentially stops. You’re no longer required to do progress review meetings, and the length of your candidature that’s logged by the university just… stops. Mine was like, 3.999… years, because I submitted the day before my 4 year deadline.
And, while you wait for the results of your examination, there’s not much else you can do.
For me, I had no income (my stipend ended upon submission), so I immediately looked for work. Fortunately I found a job soon after submission, but I shudder to think what life would have been like had I missed that opportunity.
Examination could just take a couple of months (e.g. my housemate found out in about two months)- but it really comes down to who you have as examiners, and the quality of your thesis. Even if the thesis is top notch, examiners are also principle investigators (PIs), and they’re very, very busy! PIs have their own research (and/or labs) to run, and they have personal lives as well.
In the end, my examination took five months. In that time, I had an examiner drop out, so my supervisor had to quickly find a replacement. Thankfully this third examiner was very quick, but it could have been a lot longer than five months.
Examination results can vary.
A thesis could be awarded any of the following:
- Pass with minor amendments
- Pass with revision
- Revise and submit
A Pass means that the thesis can be deposited to the university library ‘as is’.
The examiners essentially thought that the thesis was excellent, and they felt that all hypotheses/aims were addressed (whether it be experimentally or by discussion). This is the best outcome overall because you can literally just submit your final copy to the university without doing anything. Adios, thesis. Your Chair of Examiners (usually the Head of your Department) has to approve this final submission, but in the mean time you can just wait impatiently for them to approve it.
Pass with minor amendments is still good- you just have to make some minor changes to the text before you can deposit the final copy. Annoyingly you have to get your Chair of Examiners to approve these changes, which, again, can be a drag when you have to wait for them to respond. Any changes you make have to be done in a six week period.
Pass with revision means that there’s a bit more work required before you can submit your final copy. It could be bulk text amendments, or maybe additional experiments are required. Any changes have to be done within a two month period, and the examiners get three weeks to look over these changes to see if it was satisfactory.
Revise and resubmit is not good. It suggests that there are some major issues with the thesis that requires a whole lot of work to fix. Generally it means more experiments, thorough analysis of data, re-writing… I hope that no one, given your supervisor/s are supposed to look over drafts of your thesis, receives this kind of result. Any changes have to be done within a 12 month period, and the examination process has to repeat itself in its entirety.
Fail… I mean, speaks for itself. I would imagine the likelihood of receiving such a mark would be extremely low.
Road to final submission
Once your thesis has received an official ‘Pass’, though (whether it be after amendments, etc.), you can also arrange for a citation to be prepared and submitted to the university by your supervisor.
A citation is a 50 word summary of your Ph. D project. Generally it’s written in somewhat lay language, with intricate scientific jargon avoided. Your supervisor can write one for you, but I actually had the opportunity to draft my own, which my supervisor edited before submission. It was kinda sad, for me, because that was our last sort of writing and editing task. I really enjoyed writing my manuscripts and thesis with my supervisor, so not having any more of those opportunities made me feel quite wistful.
So here’s a sample citation:
‘This candidate examined the intricate interplay between the intracellular bacterial pathogen, Coxiella burnetii, and the human host cell. Specifically, she defined the nutritional requirements for pathogen success and characterised virulence factors that enable this microbe to replicate within the normally destructive host lysosome.’
Once the citation has been submitted, the Associate Dean of Graduate Research for you Faculty has to approve it.
In the mean time, you can upload your final copy to the university library.
There are a few categories to this, as well.
You can have full, public access– meaning anyone can just google your name and thesis and read it.
You can also have a two year external embargo, which means that for two years after submission, only those that are affiliated with your institution (who have login details) can read it. Those outside of your university can’t access a copy.
The last category is a full embargo, which is when no one can read it for two years after submission.
Why would one need to embargo a thesis? Well- it comes down to what’s contained in your thesis. If all of your work is published in a peer review journal, then the work is already out there in the public domain, so an embargo isn’t necessary, but… if some or all of your work is unpublished, someone could read your thesis and steal your (and your lab’s) ideas. Given that most Ph. Ds in Australia are around 3-4 years long, that’s a lot of time and money invested by your lab- I would imagine most PIs would want it published, because that’s how they can apply for funding. The more novel/new the idea, the more likely it can get published, so you can imagine if someone steals your idea/s, that’s real bad. It takes the novelty away, and you significantly decrease your chances of getting published or receive funding.
So an embargo essentially prevents the lab from getting scooped. The university can withhold the thesis/data for two years, giving the lab some time to try and get a manuscript out to a scientific journal.
The final step
Now, after all this work, there’s still one last thing remaining…
Unfortunately, though, for anyone completing degrees this year, physical graduation ceremonies have been… well, postponed. 😓
My university is offering two options.
- Graduate in absentia
Essentially you receive your graduation certificate in the mail, and that’s it. You can now start calling yourself THE DOCTOR, or A Bug’s Life (Ph. D). The university are considering letting people come back next year to at least wear a regalia/gown and take professional photos, but thus far nothing is set in stone.
2. Defer and graduate in 2021
Defer your graduation and wait to attend a physical graduation ceremony. You won’t receive your certificate, and you technically aren’t allowed to use your title. But you can keep deferring until you can attend a physical ceremony, dress up, and do the whole thing.
I personally have opted to defer, for now, because… well- I worked my butt off for four years, and I really, really wanted to wear a mushroom hat/Ph. D hat. I wanted an opportunity for my Supervisor to come up on stage and read my citation, because I’m one of their first few Ph. D students to complete their candidature. The title means f*** all to me if I can’t have the whole experience/closure. I’m really hoping I can attend a physical graduation ceremony in the first half of next year, but in the mean time, I’m like a Doctor but not quite. 😂 Super confusing.
But graduation is the last thing in this whole adventure. After that, you’re finally, officially done with the degree. I look forward to the day I get to use my full academic title of ‘Doctor’ (I am a bit of a Whovian), but I’ll have to wait a wee bit longer for that day.
I hope this sheds some light for people who have been a little confused as to why I’ve been a bit reluctant to call myself Doctor. And I hope it gives insights into the whole process for those going through their Ph. Ds. It’s a long and arduous journey, but… I feel like anything worthwhile in life is always painful and labour intensive to achieve. Otherwise you don’t get a good sense of accomplishment… or that’s what I keep telling myself while I suffer PTSD. 🤣
Categories: Ph D posts
A Ph. D graduate in Microbiology, residing in Victoria, Australia. Now working part time at a secret location as a Communications and Data Officer. 👀 🦠 🧫 🧬