I am a graduate student (PhD) in a STEM program. A fellow lab mate of mine asked me to review a chapter (basically the background/history of their project) of their graduate thesis a couple months ago. It was during my finals, I had conference papers due, along with the pandemic shutting everything down; it was a crazy time. I informed this person I was really busy, but I would try. They sent it to me (in PDF format), and I read through it and made some suggestions on content, ideas, and presentation. It was in rough shape; there was a lot of work to be done, but their main concern was if the content made sense and had good logic flow. I replied with my opinions. This was a favor from me without compensation. The thesis was in English and the lab mate was a native speaker.
Fast forward to now, this person defended their thesis this week and passed. Yesterday I received a very passive aggressive text message from this person that stated the following (mostly paraphrasing):
The only real critique I had on my thesis was that the chapter I sent you had typos. I went through this chapter again and found quite a few. In the future when someone asks you to review a chapter you need to carefully check and find typos because it’s embarrassing to send a final thesis with a chapter filled with typos. Its disappointing when you rely on someone and they screw you I hope in the future you do a better job.
The rest of the text chain did not go well.
Let me start off by admitting that I am able to see my fault in this. I could’ve (should’ve) done a more thorough job in editing. But my question is: Is it really my responsibility to find typos? It’s always been my view that you polish something as much as you can before sending it off to others. They sent it in a PDF which I can’t edit (also no indication of spelling mistakes, and its so easy to gloss over mistakes), and I informed them I was super busy, both excuses, but still a little relevant. I also was dumbfounded that they didn’t do a single edit after mine. I feel ultimately it is their graduate thesis and their responsibility for its contents. I feel I can’t be blamed for this person literally not pressing the spell-check button.
In hindsight I should’ve been more assertive with this person by saying I didn’t have enough time to fully give myself to editing. This is a lesson I’ve learned. They are now removing me from their acknowledgements (I couldn’t care less), but what I do care about are the things they are telling other people about me (I screwed them; I’m lazy; etc.). I replied to their texts expressing my view that the typos are not my fault, and it quickly turned into a blow out where I just ended up apologizing and asking not to discuss it further.
What could I have done better? What should I do now? Am I justified in my opinions?
PS: Thank you all for your responses and encouragements. I was feeling pretty bad about the situation, but I feel a little vindicated now. I’ve learned a lesson: I will focus on clear communication and setting expectations.