In this episode of R, D and the Inbetweens, I talk to Dr. Connor Horton, Dr. Daniela Lazaro Pancheco and Dr. Edward Mills about their experiences of doing minor corrections after their viva.

 

Music credit: Happy Boy Theme Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

 

Podcast transcript

 

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Hello and welcome to R, D and the in-betweens.

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I'm your host, Kelly Preece, and every fortnight I talk to a different guest about researchers development and everything in between.

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Hello, everyone. Welcome to the latest episode of R&D and the In-betweens. I'm your host, Kelly Preece,

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And today we've got another compilation episode for you.

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So a number of you have been asking to do an episode on corrections, so corrections after you've had your viva.

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So I have spoken to recent graduates about both minor and major corrections, and for this episode,

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I'm going to be talking to Connor, Daniela and Edward about their minor corrections.

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Yes, so my name is Connor. I used to study - well did a PhD in - cell biology at the university between 2015 and 2019, and then came out into the

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COVID 19 job market, and have now found a job in medical communications where I'm writing for an agency in London.

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So I guess the first question is: what was your viva experience like,

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and what did you get in terms of corrections afterwards? Yes, so my viva was actually a really good experience, actually.

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I was always told that old adage, it's the only time that anyone's going to be really interested about your work,

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so you should enjoy it because you're never going to get as many questions about your work again.

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So, yeah, mine was was really good. I had a really good external assessor, and a good internal assessor.

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And I think the whole process took around two and a half to three hours.

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So my viva corrections were minor corrections, which was which was good because you would have that.

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worry going in. You know, like how much am I going to have to actually don top of this?

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But it was really things like, you know, adding in more sections of things they wanted included.

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So I had to put those in, remove certain figures or change figure legends.

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And then most of it was kind of grammatical and yeah, just punctuation and capitals and things like that.

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So it wasn't actually too much, which was just great. Yeah.

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And I think that's reassuring for people to hear that minor really does mean minor.

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And you know, it's it's has to be stuff that can get done within within three months.

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But for many people, it's stuff that can be done within a couple of days.

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Yeah, when you see minor and you actually see what the revisions are, you're like, 'actually, it's not as bad as I thought it was going to be.'

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So it's not as bad. And I was going to say, how were the revisions and the corrections communicated to you?

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So it was quite nerve racking when I went into my viva because of course,

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I did it in the time before COVID, where we did it all with physical copies and in person.

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And you see examiners come in with a copy of your thesis that is just absolutely covered in Post-it Notes and you're like,

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Oh my God, like, was there that much wrong with it? A lot of it is comments that they have or things that they want to touch upon.

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But I think when I received my final set of corrections, it very much was, you know,

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a kind of a table of how the whole thing went and my kind of like, 'overall

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satisfactory' or like the kind of comments that they had about the viva process.

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And then underneath was a list of like what page number there was and then what needed changing and what line and things like that.

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So it's very much it's very quick to do because it corresponds to, yeah, it's two specific pages,

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so you can just quickly whizz through it and and find the bits that they're talking about and correct them.

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And I think, again, that's another thing that causes people anxiety, it's that sense of, well,

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you know, 'am I going to be in the dark about what it is they actually will want me to do?'

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whereas actually examiners tend to be pretty specific and prescriptive about what the changes are that they want to make.

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Yeah, I don't think it was unfair at all and what they said, and I think everything was quite clearly put across.

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But I think you've also got to remember that that they're not looking for excuses to fail you, that they're looking for a lot of reasons to pass you.

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And you know, they want you to do the best that you can. And that really came across in the discussions that we had.

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They were really encouraging and they really wanted to encourage a great discussion and really kind

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of tease into the knowledge that I had and allow it to come out and they're not trying to trick you,

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which I think is another thing. You know, a lot of people think that it's like a good cop bad cop routine when you go in. They were both,

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you know, really pleasant in my experience, really wanted to talk about the science.

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And I think everything that they gave me was corrections was entirely fair. And yeah, they were incredibly transparent, which is good.

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So. And how did you approach that period or the kind of time you took to undertake those corrections?

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Did you just kind of print off a list and tick them off as you went through; you know, how did you actually go about it?

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Yes, so I think I did what most people did and came out the viva and was like, 'Oh my God, thank God, that's done.'

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My viva was in November, so I was very much like, 'Oh,

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I'll have Christmas and I'll sit on these for a bit and you know, I'll do it in the in the new year.'

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But I think it's fair to say as well that there was an element of burnout that I was kind of experiencing after my Ph.D.

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I think like,

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you're always operating at incredibly high level for (I think my PhD was four years) and you're always operating at maximum capacity.

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And yeah, you get you finally finish and, you know, everyone tells you, oh,

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you got to submit your thesis and then you submit your thesis and then you'vew gotta have a viva and then you have your viva,

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And even then it's it's still not over.

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So mentally, it was kind of like, 'when is the final bits?', you know, and when you get to the corrections, that is very much the final section.

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But I think mentally for me is just never really see the end in sight because every time you have an ending, there's another bit to be done.

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And so to approach the corrections, yeah, I had the list, went through,

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ticked them off, mase sure that everything was like absolutely perfect before sending it back.

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And then even when you send them back, you're like, 'Oh, will my examiners agree with the corrections that I've made?'

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Or, you know, there's still an element of uncertainty.

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It wasn't until I actually got my certificate in the post that I could actually kind of relax a bit and be like, 'Oh, it's it's over.'

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You know, it's done. And did you hear quite quickly that your corrections had been accepted?

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The whole process was very quick, actually. So I submitted my thesis in September, my viva was in November.

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I submitted my corrections in January and I think a week later I got an email saying that it had been approved by the Senate of the university.

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And that a PhD would be awarded.

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So I kind of look back on that and I was like, I don't know why it took me so long to do that because it could have been done before the new year.

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But I think, yeah, you've got to have that kind of aspect of - mentally,

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You've also got to do what is right for you as well, and you have three months to turn them around.

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So. Yeah, and I think that's really,

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really important actually that you recognise that the kind of the impact of the burnout and that you've got three months,

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it doesn't make any difference to anybody other than you,

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You know, if you submit within a week or within at the end, the end of those three months,

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it's how you manage your time depending on what other responsibilities you have or you know what other pressures you have,

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but also, you know your well-being. Yeah, exactly.

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Yeah, that's probably a take-home message from this, I think, is, you know, look after yourself first.

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And I was very lucky to have supervisors that kind of agreed to me on that and very supportive for the whole process.

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My name is Daniella Pacheco. Right now, I work as a postdoctoral research assistant at the engineering department.

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My research is currently focussed on the study of the intervertebral disc in order to improve the testing

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for new therapies that eventually will lead to treat degeneration in the spine and low back pain.

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So I did my viva back in 2019.

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It was quite a good experience, I would say.

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Fortunately, the outcome of my viva, I passed with minor corrections. Once we completed the viva and my viva lasted almost three hours,

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I - they mentioned that they will send a report with all the notes and the recommendations for me to to make the corrections.

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And what I received was a very detailed list that was numbered with very specific parts to be corrected on my thesis. More than content,

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it was a week of editing, a week of going into more detail having some explanations and very little technical

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corrections in terms of the content of what I wrote for my dissertation or for my thesis.

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I waited around a month for my list of corrections.

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To be honest, I thought it was quite a long proces: I emailed asking when I'm going to receive this.

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In that case is a little bit tricky as well because I was an international student back then.

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So all these processes linked to my visa and my time started to apply or go back

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to my country or where my - where I'm allowed to take any extra work as well.

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So time is also something that you should pay attention on.

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If that's something that you worry about, like, you communicate that to your department.

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That's probably my recommendation there. So I received this document Word lwith, as I mentioned, a numbered list. In my case,

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There were around 20 lines or 20 corrections. As I mentioned before, they were very specific in terms of 'Line 16,

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Page - number of the page, number of the paragraph', and then a little bit description of what they wanted for that paragraph to change,

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for what they want, if they require more detail,

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if they want, if they say it wasn't clear enough that the content was okay based on their discussion on the viva, but it required some rewriting.

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And so are some rewording in some cases,

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they ask at part of my conclusions to add content and be more explicit on my suggestions or recommendations for future work.

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So I will say some of them were very editorial that were very easy to address.

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And in terms of content they were, they were quite descriptive of what they expected based on our discussion.

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I mentioned that there were around 20 corrections on this list. There were two pages in a Word

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Document, so even where there were quite a lot of corrections suggested there,

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They were easy to address and they were briefly but clearly descripted.

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It took me around probably three hours to do the whole corrections.

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So in my case, it was very simple. Even when it took me three hours, which I was very glad,

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once the process - I spent a month before receiving a little a bit of stress and anxiety,

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and just thinking 'how long this is going to take?', even when I have three months and they were more than enough.

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And even because I was applying for different visas and I was checking where my opportunities were in terms of jobs,

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I waited till the last week to submit my corrections.

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So I sent the I sent the corrections to my internal examiner through an email.

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It was quite a very informal but clear process to follow there. Hello, my name is Edward Mills.

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I am a lecturer in medieval studies here at the University of Exeter, and I completed my viva in October 2020.

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So can you tell us a little bit about your corrections? So you got minor corrections, is that correct?

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That's correct, yes. Minor corrections.

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So first of all, can you tell us a little bit about how your examiners talked to you about your corrections in the viva?

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So my examiners gave me minor corrections at the end of viva life.

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They were very helpful actually in distinguishing, both in the viva and in the report they sent to me afterwards, thesis corrections

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which would need to be completed in order for the thesis to be accepted on revision

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and then possible future corrections if the thesis were to be published as a book.

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They made it clear that the corrections to have the thesis accepted for the first part of those two were fairly minor,

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but they were clear from from the end of the thesis - from the end of the viva onwards.

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So when you say they were fairly minor (yep), can you elaborate on what that is?

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Because I think for a lot of people, until they go through it,

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They don't actually know what minor corrections entail.

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So minor corrections for me meant corrections that could be achieved within a period of about three months.

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So my viva was in October, and I had until, I think, mid-January to actually submit those corrections.

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I'm actually looking now at the spreadsheet I made with all of the corrections that I was given on it.

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And they ranged from picking out particularly

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Unclear or problematic single phrases that I've used, so I've got one example here, which says simply,

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I've talked about 'reductive modern understandings', and I was asked to unpack that debate, make it a bit clearer what that precisely meant.

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Another example of something similar to that: I was asked to provide my definition of the term 'didactic', however broad it might be.

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I just use that term and left it hanging. I was asked to clarify that slightly.

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So we're talking about really, really specific things.

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Yes, I think everything in my minor corrections was within an individual chapter.

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There was nothing that cuts across the board of chapters. And so how were these corrections communicated to you?

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So in two ways, I think. The first was during the viva itself.

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I, it became clear as the examiners went through my thesis - and they did take a fairly linear approach during the viva -

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which bits they returned to and where I could probably expect comments.

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But the main way in which I got corrections was in the Examiner's report,

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which I received about three or four weeks after the viva. Which I should say is completely normal.

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Yes. It does take some time and your correction period.

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Whatever it is, three months for minor, six months for major, et cetera, doesn't start until you get that report.

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It doesn't start on the day of the viva. It does make for a slightly nervous three weeks after the viva.

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Yes. Yes. Worth pointing out. But when I got the report back.

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The thing that I noticed it was for me, it was a PDF document.

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And the thing that I noticed when I looked at it was it was - I was given effectively page reference,

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possibly a quote from my thesis and then a question.

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So for example, 'are you making assumptions here?'

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Question mark. And the expectation was for me to answer that question or clarify or resolve something that I left hanging.

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So there was nothing ambiguous about the corrections that they wanted you to do.

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No, they'd made it clear to me that I couldn't go back to them directly, but that I could go through my supervisor once.

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But I think, what I mean more is the list that they gave you.

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It's very clear what they expected you to do to. Resubmit and pass.

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Yes, I would. I think I was very fortunate in that respect.

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And I think it's fair to say with with minor and major corrections, actually there is, you know,

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There's a level quite a level of specificity of what it is the examiners want you to do.

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Yes, I've actually got one example here on the spreadsheet, which is perhaps a little detailed,

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but I'm going to give it because it's a really good example of a single minor correction.

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OK. So on Page 304, for example, the examiner has asked the question, 'French is indeed a language of court and cloister,

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But why does this make it ambivalent as a language?', which is a really specific and also a really good question.

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And then I fixed that by changing the term from 'ambivalent' to 'polyvalent'.

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That was an example of a super-specific correction. And so you mentioned a spreadsheet.

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Yes. So this is something about how you - how you managed and responded to your corrections.

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Could you tell us a little bit more about that? Yes. So the simple answer to that is:

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I went and made a spreadsheet because I noticed that all of my comments on things to fix came in the form of questions,

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I thought the easiest way of doing it would be to copy and paste the entire document

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into an Excel spreadsheet and break it up so that for each row in a spreadsheet,

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I would have a page reference, whether it was a minor correction for the thesis or future one,

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and I would focus on the kind of minor corrections for resubmission.

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I then had a box next to it, which said, 'changed?' with an X on it when I done that and then details as well. The details column said

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Something like, for example, 'added a note on Page 248 to clarify this' or 'fixed awkward phrasing.'

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And so was this just for your own benefit or was this something you had to submit, or ... I didn't have to submit it, actually, but I chose to.

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It was mainly for my own benefit so that I could make sure that I'd done everything.

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The other thing to note is that as I added a little bit of material (and I did tend to find that the process of making corrections involved

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adding a little bit of material to the thesis here and there), the page numbers would go out of whack.

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So it allowed me to say things like 'fixed awkward phrasing (brackets was on page 247 in the original; now page 249.)

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And that meant I could go and check things very quickly. I then made the decision when I was.

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Resubmitting - well, not resubmitting, when I was submitting the revised thesis, I should say,

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with the minor corrections incorporated - to send in the spreadsheet alongside it.

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There's no requirement to do that, but I thought it might improve my chances of not being sent back again with corrections.

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And indeed I was actually told that my internal examiner very much appreciated that, specially because it made her life a lot easier.

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So that was my next question: so what happened when you'd done the corrections?

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So when I'd done the corrections, there was a period of waiting. So you submitted them again, but just directly to the internal examiner,

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was that correct? I actually submitted them to the postgraduate administration team.

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Yes. Rather than to the Examiner directly. It's their job then to to pass that on and indeed to manage the process.

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And then you had another period of waiting. I did.

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I had a slightly longer period of waiting than the period between the the viva and the and the report,

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which is perhaps understandable because it's the way these things work.

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Again, it's a perfectly normal thing because at some point your examiner, internal examiner, needs to sit down and read the corrections.

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And, you know, depending on how minor they are, you know, even if you know they are the kind of things that you're talking about,

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it will take some time for them to read and digest and reflect.

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And so it's not something that can be done kind of ad hoc.

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It's something that they need to kind of focus on. So sometimes it will take a few weeks to get back to you,

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although it might be worth thinking about how you can make your life easier for your internal examiners if that one of reviewing it,

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such as, for example, with a spreadsheet, because that would help the internal examiner to track their progress as well.

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And that may have from a purely selfish perspective made them a little better

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disposed towards me while they were making those comments on the corrections.

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I'm yeah, I'm not sure it can influence their decision, but it shouldn't -

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But it for certain can't hurt. Exactly. So. So how did you find out that the corrections have been approved? Via email,

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Actually! I got an email saying that my corrections had been approved and I had been recommended for an award.

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Effectively the the next meeting of the appropriate committee would review things and hopefully approve it.

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That went through, I think, on something like the 8th or the 9th of February.

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And then on the 11th my birthday, I actually got confirmation.

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I got the infamous email that begins 'Dear Doctor Surname'.

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So 'Dear Dr. Mills'. What a birthday present! I know, right?

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Thank you so much to Connor, Daniella and Edward for their time and insight into their process of receiving and doing their minor corrections.

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But of course, minor corrections is only part of the story.

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In our next episode, we'll be talking to researchers about the process of doing major corrections. And that's it for this episode.

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Don't forget to like, rate and subscribe, and join me

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next time, where I'll be talking to somebody else about researchers, development, and everything in between.

 

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