My thesis was accepted with major revisions!

This article was originally published on my website on Jan 2020. I am revising it after nearly 3 years after submitting my PhD thesis. The day I had my oral defence, a person on Twitter repost my tweet saying that “she would have killed herself if she got major revisions” implying that this outcome would have been a career suicide. Twitter exploded back then mentioning how toxic academia and its standard can be. Fast forward, my PhD outcome was nothing but a career suicide. In the past 3 years (2020-2023), I got my doctoral degree certificate, had two industry jobs and enrolled in a women-only entrepreneurship programme to provide women with a platform to unlock their true potential thru science.

Happy New Year folks. I am back from a long-overdue break from PhD life. The biggest news is that, on Dec 6th, I had my PhD defence and my thesis was accepted. The less positive news is that I have a ton of revisions to do. And this is why I was given 12 months to do that. I know that this sounds a bit confusing because the defence process varies according to the county and even differs depending to a specific institution. So, in the UK, you have to submit your thesis within 4 years since the start of your scholarship. After submission, you get an oral exam, no presentation, with 2 professors, one from your institution, an internal assessor, and another from a different university, an external examiner.

The defence is basically an oral exam of your thesis. You go through your thesis and you are questioned about every single experiment you carried out and every single word you wrote down. Straight after the exam, you get told whether 1. you pass (your thesis is accepted), 2. you have to resubmit your thesis and do another examination (your thesis isn’t accepted) 3. you can’t get a PhD degree and you are recommended for a master instead. So, I passed my exam and my thesis was accepted with major revisions. Why so many revisions?

I will have to admit that I knew this was going to happen. When I submitted my thesis and all the period beforehand, I was extremely burned out. I submitted a poorly written thesis and I realised it as soon as I read it through to prepare my defence. There were loads of sections where the text was hard to understand, I didn’t draw reaction schemes to explain my chemistry and my introduction was too short. Luckily, all these revisions mean improving the text and not going back to the lab to redo experiments, which might be the case when you got to do major revisions.

I totally enjoyed my PhD defence because it was the moment to show that I am a good scientist!

Firstly, I want to talk a bit about my defence. I totally enjoyed my exam. I was initially very nervous but my examiner did a very good job at making me feel comfortable and at ease. I was well prepared but I was asked questions I didn’t expect to get. I didn’t panic at all and I took time to think and I always managed to come up with valid scientific solutions to the problem I was asked to address. The other important thing I want to highlight here is that I didn’t make up things when I literally had no idea of what I was asked to and I stayed humble through the entire examination. Defending your thesis does not mean you have to stick to your guns or you know more than your examiners! If they give you feedback, take it and say thank you. Don’t forget that these people might have been doing this job for up to 30 years. So, it’s highly likely that they know a thing or two more than you do on how to do research! Plus, the role of peer-reviewing isn’t about belittling your knowledge or making you feel like an imposter, it’s about improving your work!

Defending your thesis does not mean you have to stick to your guns or you know more than your examiners!

Finally, when I was told I had to resubmit my thesis I wasn’t sure if it was a good thing. Then, everyone around me started celebrating and congratulating, so I thought that the outcome of my examination wasn’t that bad. It took me a good week to finally realise that a pass is a pass, revisions are a good thing and part of the process of becoming a good scientist! Unfortunately, there is some mentality in academia that either you achieve perfection or you are a failure and even positive results like “your thesis is accepted” can be seen as a negative thing. So, although I didn’t expect the major revisions, I went out and celebrated 4.5 of hard work because my exam was great, my external assessor kept saying that my defence was excellent and getting stuff done >>>> getting them perfect!

I also took a long break for Christmas because I couldn’t be bothered about working on my PhD during holidays. I just got started with the revisions a few days ago. So stay tuned because more is coming! Ciaoone

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