I am scheduled to defend my thesis in February. I've been sending my advisor bits and pieces of my thesis, but he hasn't been replying to my emails. Is this normal, and can I still graduate even if he doesn't read my thesis?

All of the papers in the thesis have already been written, so he knows what's in the main body, and I've just been sending him parts of the introduction/literature review.

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    Have you talked to him about it? Are you sure he doesn't read it, or does je simply not give feedback? Did you actually ask for feedback? Some professors don't care too much about the general parts, or they might think that is solely your part. – Mark Dec 19 '17 at 22:25
  • @Mark I asked him "what do you think?" I haven't seen him in person for a while (we don't have regular meetings, and it's the end of term) so I haven't talked to him about it. – user84811 Dec 19 '17 at 22:44
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    @user84881 I suggest you discuss (in person or per mail) how he handles that part of thesis writing, as in papers, or in a way that you write a first (full) draft of the thesis, which he can then look at in order to give (general) feedback. Alternatively/additionally, check with former PhD students of him, if you know any, how they did it. – Mark Dec 19 '17 at 22:56
  • Is it "normal" as in "happens with some regularity"? Yes. Is it "normal" as in "appropriate"? Well, let's say I have a low opinion of advisors that are "hands-off" to the point that you can't get advice out of them even if you ask explicitly for it. – nengel Dec 20 '17 at 6:56
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    What country is this? The roles of PhD advisor and committee in Italy differ from those in Germany. – henning -- reinstate Monica Dec 20 '17 at 8:46

"All of the papers in the thesis have already been written, so he knows what's in the main body, and I've just been sending him parts of the introduction/literature review."

If this is the case, then indeed it is reasonable (and possibly normal) not to read evolving drafts of the "thesis". Since the thesis is basically done, and now you simply wrap the papers up to have a "thesis".

I don't think it is essential for scholars to read carefully introductory parts of their students' dissertations, assuming they already read the papers on which the thesis is based. The papers are much more important than a "thesis", which is mostly an internal document nowadays (this is subject specific though, and I'm sure some commenters here would find my answer blasphemous. But I stand behind my position: a thesis is not something important once the papers were written and published or checked).

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    I agree with this since you are essentially doing a sandwich thesis. If you were my student so would pay very little attention to the intro and lit review. I don't think either of my husband's co-chairs read his. Given that, I would just ask for a check-in meeting to game out how he wants to handle the next 2 months to make sure. Basically the rule should be "no surprises" for either of you. – Dawn Dec 20 '17 at 2:01

It would be abnormal under almost any system for the dissertation advisor not to read a student's dissertation. However, how closely and in how much of a timely fashion the reading is done will depend on the circumstances and the individuals involved.

In some educational systems, the supervisor is part of the faculty committee that reviews and evaluates the dissertation. Under such a system, it is basically mandatory that the advisor read the document, since they are supposed to judge its quality. Normally, the advisor does not wait for the final version to do this; rather, they read earlier drafts, and only once the advisor is reasonably satisfied with the quality of the dissertation is the near-final version passed on to other members of the examining committee, so that an oral defense can be scheduled.

In other systems, the student's advisor is explicitly not part of the group that evaluates the dissertation. In this case, it is conceivable that the advisor may take a very "hands-off" approach to the production of the actual written document, leaving that basically to the student. Whether this is a reasonable attitude for the advisor to take depends to a large extent on whether final approval is really a rubber stamp. If there is a real possibility that the student may not pass, then the advisor should absolutely take steps to assist the student in getting their dissertation into an acceptable form.

Personally, I feel that whatever the system, the advisor should be fully available to assist the student, if the student makes it clear that they want help. However, some advisors, under some systems do not feel the same way. That's unfortunate, but at the dissertation writing stage, it's too late to switch to a more cooperative advisor.

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    But the advisor possibly already read the papers. Why would he need to read basically the same text? – Dilworth Dec 19 '17 at 22:55
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    Even when a dissertation is constructed largely out of previously published work, the whole thing generally needs to be re-edited for clarity, stylistic appropriateness, and notational consistency. – Buzz Dec 19 '17 at 22:57
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    Why? If the papers are published, they will be the texts that need editing etc., and they will be the long lasting contribution left for science. Not some internal document that few read nowadays. In any case, it's not the advisor job to stylistically edit the text. There are more important things to be done by professors – Dilworth Dec 19 '17 at 22:58
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    @Dilworth In principle, the dissertation is supposed to be a free-standing document. In the sciences particularly, it is unlikely to be read by pretty much anyone after it is approved, but the traditional requirements remain. – Buzz Dec 19 '17 at 23:02
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    Indeed, this is the tradition. I claim that these days it has not much rationale, besides being a nice tradition. – Dilworth Dec 19 '17 at 23:03

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