Dr Alice Violett
Book witterings and PhD archive

PhD Hell Update

Last time I blogged (and despite me giving it minimal pluggage, that blog post REALLY took off - thanks to all who read, shared and messaged me), I’d been referred for my PhD after a difficult viva and was broken but hoping that once I received my report, an appeal would change the outcome.

Alas, things are not a lot better now.

I got the report on October 26th, and you know what? Despite everything in the viva seeming very negative to me, the corrections suggested didn’t look that bad. I didn’t have any objections to the changes themselves, even though I’m not exactly looking forward to all the editing. If I’d received that set of changes with a pass with major corrections, I’d be practically raring to go. My examiners suggested that they believed I could make the changes, and within a year, and they referred me so that I had less time pressure to do it.

Unfortunately, as I literally only found out when I received the report, a referral also confers completion year fees. Talk about kicking someone when they’re down, central administration. Not only at no point before I had my viva did anyone suggest that I might not pass, but there was never any mention of extra fees.

My main reason for appeal was so that I wouldn’t have to pay to complete a PhD I’ve fallen dramatically out of love with. Of course, I couldn’t actually say that, so I made the argument that while I was fine with the corrections, I thought they were more suited to the class of pass with major corrections. And, to be fair, even without the whole money thing, I would have more confidence and enthusiasm going forwards if I’d actually passed.

I didn’t win my appeal.

It turns out there are only really two grounds for appeal: incorrect examination procedures, and prejudice/bias. As I was appealing against academic judgement, I had no chance basically. This brings me back to the whole feeling that academia is messed up - that you can put all that work in for three years and then you’re totally at the mercy of two people who haven’t been there for those three years. In essence, ‘academic judgement’ is untouchable.

So, it looks like I’m just going to have to suck it up, pay my money and get on with finishing my doctorate. I’m hoping to get my fees for this term waived as I haven’t been able to do any work (not sure who hasn’t sent it as things have to go through the registry, but I haven’t had a reading list I’m meant to have or any communication from my examiners), but this is still going to cost me at least £645 I would much rather spend on something else.

Why am I doing this?

  • Because I’m bloody-minded and don’t want to have wasted three years.
  • I don’t want to waste the work I did do right.
  • I don’t want to have to explain to people that I was doing a doctorate, but didn’t finish it.
  • I will, to some extent, enjoy some of the extra reading I have to do.

That is literally it.

Somehow, those reasons outweigh all these reasons not to bother. Quality over quantity, I guess:

  • I have literally no passion, interest, or confidence in my work whatsoever. For something that was my life for three years, I only ever think about PhD now when it’s brought up. This is just a case of working through it in the same way I might, I don’t know, send out a bunch of letters with different names and addresses on. Methodically and dispassionately, but with the appropriate level of brain engagement to do it correctly.
  • I already have what I wanted all along (bear in mind here that my starting point was working part-time in retail and postgraduate study felt like the only way out of it) - a full-time, permanent job where I get to read, write, edit, generally use my brain, and feel like my work benefits society.
  • I can think of far better uses for my hard-earned money.
  • I can’t see myself deriving any benefit from having a PhD.
  • Practically nobody I’ve met in the ‘real world’ really understands PhDs.
  • I might have to have another viva. To say that I do not want another viva is putting it considerably mildly.
  • I feel generally chewed up and spat out by academia.
  • Apart from the one article draft I managed to write and send off before my viva, the thought of attempting to putting my work into a publishable format and trying to get other articles/a book from it fills me with dread at the extra work and a feeling that there’s no point because my work isn’t good enough. So I’m not even going to be publishing now.

I have twice as many reasons ‘against’ as I do ‘for’. But nonetheless, last weekend I started a new, dedicated notebook. It’s one I got in a self-care subscription box, and pretty fitting, actually:

A notebook with a picture of a cartoon tribal bear and the words 'be strong' and 'PhD repairs' written on it

I am going to finish this PhD. But I’m sure as hell not going to enjoy it.