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I recently submitted my completed Bachelors Thesis. In the guidelines we were given for the thesis, it was stipulated that the thesis should not be more than a certain amount of pages long. My thesis due to the nature of the topic it deals with ended up being quite a bit longer than that.

I spoke to my supervisor about this issue and he said that it would not be a problem, and that the guidelines were there mainly to give an idea and that they shouldn't be restrictive based on length. Upon submission of my thesis to our program coordinator, however, the program coordinator complained about the length of the thesis to me and phoned my supervisor.

The program coordinator informed my supervisor and myself that I was in a violation of the rules of my bachelor's thesis and I would be penalized as a result (in terms of the mark I would receive for my thesis). I've since received my marks for the thesis and I've discussed the issue with my supervisor and a former head of department, they agree I was unfairly penalized and are writing to the program coordinator to help resolve this issue.

Furthermore my supervisor and former head of department made it known to me that those guidelines I quoted above were only internal (departmental) guidelines, they are not strict guidelines that our university enforces, and it doesn't stipulate anywhere in our official university handbook regarding these matters that our Bachelors theses need to be maximum of x pages. Also, it seems that the program coordinator has enforced the penalization without any external consultation.

As a result of this unfair penalization of my thesis, I will miss out on receiving summa cum laude with my degree which is the highest honors attainable. This may affect my future Masters applications.


Here is my take on the situation: Objectively I do think I was in a violation of the thesis guidelines rules, but it essentially feels like I am being punished for doing too much work.

What can I do (or what should I do) in this situation?

At the moment it seems that I cannot do much, especially regarding the issue that my applications to other universities will contain an unfairly lowered mark and degree status. I don't think I can mention to the universities I'm applying to of my situation in any case as I doubt anyone will care if one of the many applicants to these universities has had some problem like this, plus it may just seem downright odd.


Let me mention that I do not want to put my supervisor in an awkward position as I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to do my thesis on my chosen topic and he has been a great mentor to me and I do not want to sour our relationship by bickering over marks. The same goes for the former head of department, who is a former lecturer of mine and who has provided me with numerous opportunities, I do not wish to wish to sour my relationship with her over an issue such as this.

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    To be honest, I think this question could also perhaps be concised. – Dmitry Savostyanov Dec 13 '19 at 10:32
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    @DmitrySavostyanov a skill that might have been useful on the thesis... – Solar Mike Dec 13 '19 at 11:42
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    Being concise was part of the requirement, obviously. I am not sure why your supervisor told you otherwise, clearly they were not in the position to make that statement. Now, they have to sort it out for you. It is a shame, but let's face it - had you strictly adhered to the original requirements, the problem would not have even surfaced. The lowering of the mark is not strictly unfair, as you didn't follow the requirements, but of course your supervisor has unintentionally misled you and given you wrong advice. Lesson for next time: flout bureaucratic rules at your own peril. – Captain Emacs Dec 13 '19 at 11:57
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    @Mihail The rule is not necessarily meaningless, even if I do not sympathise with it, personally. Maybe most theses submitted are so mediocre that one wants to avoid wasting referees' time with reading 200 pages of padding. It is not made for the exceptional student. Unfortunately, the "not so good" is the enemy of the "excellent". It's the same thing as with conference papers. Even in some top conferences, pages are very limited. Plus, that's what appendices are for, as they usually do not count towards page count. – Captain Emacs Dec 13 '19 at 18:47
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    @Mihail Let's make it even more complicated. Let's set the limit to 30+erf(gpa/pi^2). But seriously: either there is a rule, or there is none, or there is a mechanism to resolve it. Let's face it: The supervisor messed up, they told the candidate that this would not be a problem, and they were not in the position to do so. The school board should now discuss how to resolve this. – Captain Emacs Dec 14 '19 at 1:11
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I think that your assessment that there is not much that you can do at the moment is correct. Your supervisor (and the other faculty member) should be the ones to address this issue at the faculty level. You should however check the University's regulations regarding the possibility of appealing grades and decisions about "summa cum laude" status. In particular, check if there are any deadlines for doing so. (If there is no tight deadline, you might want to give your supervisor some time to try to sort things out internally before filing any official appeals etc.)

As far as this issue affecting grad school applications. Again your assessment that you should not mention this in your application is probably accurate. Doing so may come off as "whiney" or you trying to avoid responsibility by blaming others. However, if your supervisor is providing a reference letter for your applications, it would be good if they could address the issue in their letter.

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Let me add to the answer of mmeent and the answer of xLeitix the following.

If you are intending to apply to graduate school and it proves impossible to work this out satisfactorily, that you get letters of recommendation from at least one of your supporters and they mention the issue specifically. "The student was penalized, improperly, for doing much more than required in the thesis."

I hope (and suspect) that this can be resolved, but if not, it won't necessarily affect your future chances if you handle it properly. Eventually future successes will overwhelm any negative effect here.

But as the other writers have suggested, let your advocates fight the fight on your behalf as long as that has any chance of success.

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I think you have largely done what you can do in this stage - you have argued your grade and escalated the issue to your supervisor and other senior academics in your department. At this stage, it may be best to hold your horses and see what your allies can do for you.

If this does not resolve the issue to your satisfaction, you can of course consider formally appealing your grade, but quite frankly this would not be a straight-forward appeal (at least not in my university). The fact that it's not under discussion that you were in fact in violation of the communicated rules may be enough to sink your case. These rules may not be very well thought-out or pedagogically useful, but appeals councils typically do not take the "usefulness" of rules and exam regulations into account - if there is a grading rubric, and your thesis has been graded according to this rubric, an appeal has a high chance of failing. This is because in many universities, the designated examiner of a course or project has a lot of legal protection to design the grading in any way they see fit (even in a way that the department disagrees with) - the only thing an appeals council can really complain about is if these rules are not communicated, or not applied equally to everybody.

Hence, the only two angles that I see that could possibly work is to argue that you misunderstood the rules since your advisor communicated the matter differently to you, or that you find previous thesis projects of comparable length which were not penalized.

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