Oh, the envy. That green clawing feeling that takes over your heart when you hear about someone who breezed through with no thesis amendments. You can’t help yourself. You try not to compare yourself to others, but that jealousy when others do so well is something we all struggle with.
Everyone wants to get through their viva with no amendments. Few people manage it. Remember that. I have met people who treated amendments like it was part of their PhD, a necessary and inevitable part. I met people who treated amendments like failing an exam and having to retake it.
I felt like the latter. Honestly, I knew I’d get amendments. I never even expected otherwise. What I got were things that boggled my mind and made me want to curl up into a ball and cry because I felt like such a fraud. I felt like I’d written the worst thesis ever, and my examiners were being super kind to even pass me. I felt like I’d failed.
Nearly everyone goes into their viva worrying they have failed. Most people feel the same going into any exam. But to come out of your viva actually feeling like you did fail is an entire other experience. I’d only had it once in undergrad when I knew I had bombed an exam. I was not prepared for feeling like it after my viva. I was not prepared for the feelings of failure and utter misery that followed me for weeks afterwards.
But you probably will get amendments. And you might even get a lot of them. In some departments this is more common than others. In some departments it’s more a 50/50 chance. Whichever department you belong to, know that you might get lots and lots of amendments. And you will probably feel like you failed. Or at least frustrated that you could have done better. It’s normal. But don’t let it destroy you.
It nearly destroyed me. I was so done with my PhD when I submitted, and to then be told, not long afterwards, that I needed to do another six months of intensive work felt like being on the verge of being released from prison, and being told you have suddenly been given six months in solitary confinement (well maybe it’s not, but this is how I envisioned it – it’s very much what it felt like in my head). It was only thanks to a few very good and supportive friends who – nearly daily – told me I was not a failure, that what I was going through was normal, and that it would all – eventually – be okay that got me through. I’m forever thankful to them, and passing on that good will is one of the reasons I started this blog.
So you’ve got amendments. If they are simple amendments, get on them as quickly as you can, get your thesis finished and graduate! Don’t let anything stand in your way. Simple amendments shouldn’t take you very long, and shouldn’t cause you much stress.
If they aren’t simple, well, welcome to the club. I completely sympathise. The first time I read through my required amendments (after a month of not even being able to look at the document) I had a panic attack and then I cried for three days. It seemed impossible that I would ever be able to do them. It seemed ten times harder than anything I had done in my PhD.
It’s not. It’s no harder. You might feel like it is, but it isn’t. You’ve researched and written an entire PhD. You can amend it.
I found it easiest to start with the simple amendments. The ones that I knew I could do and knew wouldn’t take all that much time. That got me through half the document in a few weeks and made me feel better about things. From there, I just tackled each of the other amendments one at a time. I didn’t try to think ahead to the next one, or how hard it would be. I didn’t allow myself (well, not often) to stress about how I was going to do that one. I concentrated on one at a time. If I hit a roadblock, I emailed my supervisor or talked to my post-viva Persons. And, eventually, I got through them all. That took five months (including the month of not even being able to look at the damn document). They had given me six months though, and even with the very long list I had, and working part-time at a job, I managed it in four. Never stress about the amendments deadline. You will have enough time, as long as you don’t spend five months freaking out before you start work [having said that, I know someone who spent three months freaking out and still got everything done in five months.]
Now, once you’ve finished your amendments, you have to edit and proof read them. I had my entire thesis proofed again, because I was worried about having any mistakes whatsoever in the final document. You may only want to proof the stuff you’ve changed, that’s your choice.
And then, then you submit it again. Your university will have specific requirements for how you go about this, and who it needs to be submitted to. At mine, we submitted to the head examiner who made the final call so it didn’t need to be fully examined again, or vivaed again. I submitted to the head examiner on a Monday, and I heard back on Thursday. I fully expected it to take about two weeks, so don’t worry if you don’t hear back right away. It does take time to read a thesis!
But when you do hear back, it will very likely be good news. I don’t actually know anyone (personally) who failed their amendments (unless they didn’t do them). In fact, I know a few people who did not do some of their amendments and still passed. But they did justify why they didn’t do them. For myself, there were two amendments I did not do to the extent asked for, but they were both minor amendments, and I wrote a note to the examiner to explain why I felt they were not necessary to the thesis (but would be for any further research). This is generally okay, but you must be able to back yourself up. Just ‘I didn’t want to do it’ is never going to be an acceptable reason.
Once you hear back, you might very well feel like they’ve made a mistake. I spent three months after hearing back wondering if I’d dreamed it, even after the official letter arrived from my university to say ‘yes, yes, we’ve given you a PhD, go away now’. If fact, I still had a little tiny part of me that didn’t believe it until after I’d graduated. It was only then I felt I could send my thesis off to all the people who had helped with my research and tell them ‘I’m done’.
Amendments, particularly involved ones, can feel like your world is ending, just after you thought it had finally gotten around to starting again. But it’s not the end of the world, no matter how many you get. Because, whatever amendments you get, you did not get ‘this is not an acceptable PhD and we will not be awarding you your degree’. Amendments mean you deserve a PhD, you just need a bit of help to make your thesis ready.
Remember that, when you’re in month three of your corrections and feeling like you’re going to go crazy if you have to do another day of it. You will get through it and it’ll all be worth it in the end.