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I have made a very good contribution in my PhD and just graduated two years ago from a top university with honors.

Today, I revised my PhD manuscript and surprisingly found several grammatical errors, informal sentences that I don't feel comfortable with now, and honestly also found two technical errors (they are correct in my published papers but not in my PhD manuscript). I am really disappointed, and feel like "I don't deserve to be graduated from a top university" with a PhD manuscript that contains a lot of grammatical errors and several informal things.

When I wrote the manuscript, I was happy with the informal things I added, but today I feel really sad by having them in my manuscript since I think they decrease the reputation of my work.

Although that after my defense the committee gave me one month for the minor corrections, but I don't think I have really benefited well from this opportunity. Is this normal? Any suggestions?

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    Yes this is normal. Suggestion: Just forget about it. Most likely, you cannot change anything. Most likely, the only people looking into this are friends who want to read the acknowledgements. – user111388 Feb 12 at 12:27
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    @user111388 Thank you for your suggestion:) You're right. I usually open PhD manuscripts just to read the acknowledgements!! – Christina Feb 12 at 12:31
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    If all of the technical content of your thesis is contained in other papers, chances are that very few people will read your thesis. If not, write those papers. And it's a thesis — the language doesn't have to be as formal as for a journal paper (although ideally the technical content will be completely correct). – Peter Shor Feb 12 at 13:07
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    I would call it a liberating truth. You're no better or worse than anybody else. – lighthouse keeper Feb 12 at 15:22
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    Oh mate, I have mine under lock so I don't look at it. It was also 2 years ago, but the day after I submitted, I found 3 typos in the first page, one of them being a word in a completely different color. Its part of the job, we go learning along the way, hopefully – Ander Biguri Feb 13 at 16:20
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Ok. Let the past be the past. You weren't perfect then, you are better now. Maybe not perfect yet, but neither am I, or anyone. The very fact that you can recognize past errors is a sure sign that you are now better at this than you were as a novice scholar.

As the comments note, there is little chance the problems will be noticed, or even that they will matter if the are noticed.

There is a phenomenon among writers that is worth noting. Many people, writers of all kinds, sometimes feel embarrassed by their older work. Even poets. It is a sign of growth, not of failure.

In Tai Chi we say "One day's practice, one day's progress."


A couple of additional thoughts.

It is immensely difficult for most people to proof-read their own writings. You tend to see what you thought you wrote, not what you did write. An external review is a great way to improve any writing. See, for example Ezra Pound and the drafts of The Waste Land.

Also, you would be in far worse shape if you ignored past errors and insisted, insisted, that they were PERFECT.

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    Thank you a lot for this answer, it really makes my happy. You are right 100% – Christina Feb 12 at 13:52
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    +1 for “insisted, insisted, that they were PERFECT”. – Ed V Feb 12 at 14:21
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Congratulations on your Ph.D. Don't stress over the minor errors.

A Ph.D. is a mark that you are capable of absorbing the state of the art in a certain (sub)field and contributing novel knowledge. Your dissertation documents this, as well as shows you are capable of communicating about it. It seems you ably did all this.

A Ph.D. dissertation is not meant to be perfection and rarely is. As you progress in your career, academic or otherwise, your future work will invariably eclipse it. It is a rite of passage, not your lifetime supreme achievement.

Some Ph.D.'s eventually realize their dissertation contained substantive errors. Not typos or suboptimally written phrases, but methodological or logic errors significantly affecting the validity of the results. In some fields where there are different schools of thought, successful Ph.D. dissertations may well become controversial, and their flaws more apparent over time. This is all part of the academic process.

Even those of us spared of the above will generally wince at something when rereading our dissertation years later. It may not be a grammar error or maladroit sentence, but very often some of what we wrote seems -- with the benefit of hindsight -- very naive, or at least very earnest and self-important. That's more wince-worthy than a typo or weird sentence!

The Ph.D. and the dissertation in particular are part of the learning curve. If you continue down an academic career path, what took you several years the first time around will soon take you several months, and be better. That's normal.

  • Thank you for every word you wrote. It is really impressive! Yes it is 100% true. I believe it is normal but at each time I say next time I will be much careful and unfortunately I make again minor errors which are really disturbing. But as @Buffy said in the previous answer "One day's practice, one day's progress". – Christina Feb 12 at 21:38
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First, if these mistakes were left unnoticed by the thesis committee, don't expect people to give much concern about them. Especially if you wrote your PhD in a foreign language to you. Though, if people in the committee did notice such mistakes and pointed them to you, you had the obligation to correct them (although for typos and grammar, this is more of a moral obligation than a strict concern).

Regarding technical issues, keep in mind that making imperfect claims is a part of the scientific process. At some point people believed in Phlogiston Theory, people also believed that the speed of light was relative to some observer, and we don't review PhD thesis from a century past and go around revoking dead people's titles. Science is, at all times, just "the best we can do", it is not "perfection" nor an "absolute truth".

Finally, I would rarely actually read a PhD thesis in full. I'd normally prefer papers in journals. Even those are subject to mistakes, even in equations.

All that being said, there is a matter of how much you pride yourself in the actual thesis. Right after earning the title, it might have been the biggest accomplishment in your life, but as others pointed out, in an academic career it is bound to superseeded by later work. Even some of the most notable works of all time are rarely read by academicians (not accounting for historians), and when researchers do read works such as Newton's Principia Naturalis or Euclid's Elements of Geometry, it's an adapted version, which was translated, proof read and filled with editor notes to point relevant stuff for the modern reader.

  • Thank you for every word! Exactly! I even prefer reading papers in journals rather than PhD manuscripts. – Christina Feb 13 at 20:04
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As the other answers say: don't worry about it. The thing is, in the early years of school, writing, spelling and similar elementary skills are what you should learn, so of course that is what you are judged on at that stage. Later on these things are not important - you are evaluated on the content, not grammar, spelling or handwriting. And in your PhD, you are still learning: the focus is now on learning to do research, and how to fit into the academic millieu in general. I have seen a fair few academic writings, and you wouldn't believe the atrocities that are committed against Her Majesty's English on a daily basis :-) - but that is OK, because these people are scientists, not the Poet Laureate, and they produce good, scientific research.

  • Thank you for your answer. You are right! and as I always mention to myself "WE ARE ALWAYS STUDENTS". – Christina Feb 14 at 11:10

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