PhD status

Everest
Everest by Joe Hastings

A quick note that appearances do suggest that I am in the final weeks of my PhD, with submission in late May. I am reluctant to say this because I’ve been wrong before, but this time my supervisor agrees. So.

I probably will be pretty absent for several weeks. And if I am not, I may be very tired.

Also an explanation of how this works in Australia, because it’s quite different to North America. Mostly writing this so that people don’t start addressing me as ‘Doctor’ in June.

Short version: this work is me preparing my thesis for initial examination, and this is hopefully the hardest bit. But I won’t graduate for at least six months.

First, I finalise my thesis document (we don’t call it a dissertation). I submit this to the university where it is examined by three external examiners: ideally at least one from an Australian university. At this point my work on it is in deep freeze.

Unlike in North America in general, these examiners are anonymous to me (chosen by my supervisor) and were not involved in my PhD studies prior to this point. This means in theory that they might not like it: in practice I am told that around 99% of students who submit at all eventually graduate.

Examination in theory takes six weeks, it could take as long as six months (since appointing a whole new examiner might be slower than waiting for a late one). They submit reports which my supervisor reads and makes recommendations on (most commonly I agree, Mary should indeed fix all these things, followed by I almost entirely agree, Mary should indeed fix all but a few of these things). This is fed into the higher degree research committee (who usually agree with the supervisor, but they might come up with a different answer if the examiners’ recommendations varied a lot) and then there’s a huge range of possible decisions that come out of the HDR committee:

  1. pass as is
  2. make minor amendations to the Library copy and pass
  3. minor revisions to be checked by supervisor (for which I’d be allocated a month) and then pass
  4. major revisions to be checked by supervisor (for which I’d be allocated two months) and then pass
  5. revise and resubmit to examiners a second time
  6. only award a Masters degree (possibly in combination with revisions): recall that in the Australian system I don’t already have a Masters degree
  7. fail

The most likely decision by far in my research group is minor or major revisions: I’ve never heard of anyone avoiding them. Some people in fact prefer major just because you get a bit more time to revise. (In other faculties, it isn’t unheard of to pass without revision.) No one wants to be re-examined: this usually means re-enrolling and re-doing experimental work and similar.

Unless re-examination is needed, after any required revisions it is pure administrivia: the HDR committee must pass it, and then the university Senate. I submit a bound copy of my thesis to the university library and (far more importantly now) put it on my website and submit to the university’s digital collection.

I think at that point I am finally a graduand and can use the title ‘Dr’ in academia and so on. Actual graduation would take place in either September/October or April/May, so in the pathological case it could be a while between finalising the thesis and actually graduating.

I do not do an oral defence (a three hour or so session where my examiners ask me questions in person).