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I have been waiting for my PhD thesis results for a long time now. Last week, I sent an email to the university, asking for the results.

Few hours ago, my supervisor has sent me an email saying that she got a notifications that the examiner reports were ready, and once I get the official email, I should contact her on how to respond to them. When I asked her if the results were "OK or not"? She replied that she cannot disclose anything, but what she can say is that

"the two examiners saw things very differently....."

Now, those 'dots' at the end and the different views from examiners made me very stressed; Especially, since there is no one at the university to answer phones, because of the COVID-19! I have faced many problems during my PhD, such as my supervisors having problems with each other, my main supervisor resigning from the university, etc! And I just want this nightmare to be finished!

Does someone here knows if my supervisor's reply means there is a major problem with the thesis or not?

Thanks in advance!

PS: The reason I am shocked, is that despite almost not receiving any major feedback from my supervisors, I managed to publish a 'best paper' in a relatively good conference, based on my thesis. So, I was confident that it will not come back with very bad reviews! Now, I am starting to read the sentence as 'both reviewers saw things differently from me and my supervisor'! Going crazy here! :))

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    You should get the answer to your question from the examiners' reports, which will reach you soon enough. Nobody can help you who has not seen those. If you're feeling very stressed, you might discuss that with a licensed councilor or a friend. – Anonymous Physicist Apr 6 at 5:29
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    As a sidenote, that's really not something that the supervisor should have said. "There may be serious issues that I can't tell you about right now" sounds like unusual cruelty to me. – xLeitix Apr 6 at 11:42
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    Nobody can answer this question. Nobody here has read your thesis, sat in the examination room, knows anything about what you're working on, nor do we have any other information that you don't. You can read almost anything into that sentence that you want to, depending on context, and we have absolutely no context. You will simply need to discuss this further with your supervisor. – J... Apr 6 at 13:02
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    It could just mean that one supervisor has an astigmatism, and the other is colour-blind... – Chronocidal Apr 6 at 14:51
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    Summary: One of the examiners liked it, and the other did not. When you get the official e-mail, you'll hopefully figure out why. For the examiner who didn't like it, try to see things from that examiner's perspective. Is the criticism valid? If the critique is something you'd thought of and found not to be a problem, did you communicate that adequately, or can you be more clear? It may be that some additional work is required, but the extent of that (e.g. minor explanation change vs. new analysis vs. new experiments) is unknown until you get your official results. – WBT Apr 6 at 18:51
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"Major problem" is premature. "Potential major problem" though - that's likely, depending on what the examiners are disagreeing about. It's possible your thesis is fatally flawed, but it's also possible one of the examiners is wrong.

Either way you can't do anything right now, so there's nothing to do except wait for the official email.

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  • In a circumstance where there is a ‘fatal flaw’, what could likely happen as a result? I mean, the degree would not get awarded, but is there any way to remedy that or is it just 4-5 years for no degree? – GrayLiterature Apr 6 at 12:32
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    @GrayLiterature that depends strongly on the country, funding source and even individual university. It's possible that the student would be given time to revise, resubmit and have the thesis re-examined, but if the flaws really are fatal this may not happen. Of course, the question then becomes, how on earth did this fatal flaw not get picked up on by the supervisor long before the thesis was submitted... – astronat Apr 6 at 13:51
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This an awful position to be in, but I think the problem is most likely to be "minor vs significant changes".

Looking at the UK system, there are (simplifying slightly) 4 possible outcomes:

1) No changes.

2) Minor changes (up to 3 months work).

3) Major changes (6 months or 12 months work)

4) Fail / Get an MSc.

If I had to guess based on that email, I'd guess you are looking at 1 vs 2 or 2 vs 3. I would not expect a significant disagreement on (4) -- if a thesis is this bad there is usually agreement on that topic.

However, I've often had disagreement around 1 vs 2, or 2 vs 3. Is it worth asking the student to perform another minor study or significant further analysis of their result? This kind of thing can be discussed. In some cases, these discussions can take a while.

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  • Thank you for your input. I'm in Australia, and the system here is very similar to UK's system. I also don't think that it is a fail! Since when I saw I do not get much from my supervisors, I published a summary of my whole thesis as a paper, to see how it is; and it became a 'best paper' in a relatively good conference! – RFNO Apr 7 at 1:44

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