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I am planning to submit my thesis next month. I have 4 published SCI-indexed journals (Elsevier, Springer, IEEE transaction, World Scientific) and 2 more journals communicated (all first authors). My thesis is on Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. The thesis will be sent to two external examiners about whom I will not know (Institute policy). I am fearing what will happen if my thesis somehow gets rejected (I do not know why I am so scared right now).

  1. Should I be worried that my thesis may get rejected?

  2. Also, what happens when the thesis gets major revision?

  3. Do I have to do the corrections and send the thesis again?

  4. When a reviewer is checking a thesis, usually what does he want in it?

  5. Does he read the entire thesis line by line?

Kindly share any incident of thesis rejections if you know of any, why it was rejected and how the person finally got his degree.

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    Surely you have been a PhD student long enough to have asked other students what they went through? Have you asked your supervisor? Supervisors don’t usually allow submission until the work is ready and you should have agreed the work with your supervisor.
    – Solar Mike
    Aug 19 '20 at 5:00
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    With several journal publications in solid or better journals, it's very unlikely to be rejected. If the supervisor gave you green light, they assume you are fine. It is good to be anxious to some extent, but at this stage, according to what you report, it does not look like an existential matter. Of course, we do not know the details of the case, but I do not see red flags here. Aug 19 '20 at 7:43
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    where are you? Thesis submission and marking processes vary wildly between different academic cultures.
    – Chris H
    Aug 19 '20 at 10:55
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    I have never heard of a PhD thesis being rejected. It would reflect catastrophically on the advisor and damage the relationship between the advisor and other examiners. Usually, submission of the thesis needs approval by the advisor. You can trust your advisor to recognize if a thesis is such utter trash that it can be rejected.
    – Roland
    Aug 19 '20 at 12:27
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    This is a question you should be asking to your advisor and committee. It is not a question for strangers on the internet. Aug 19 '20 at 13:04
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This very much depends on which system you are in. I can answer from the point of view of the UK system.

  1. It is very unlikely your thesis will be outright rejected.

  2. It is very likely you will be asked to make some corrections.

  3. Yes, you will have to make the corrections and send the thesis again.

  4. Requirements for a thesis are generally set out by the university. They normally specify you must have made a "novel contribution to the field" and the work is, in principle, of publication quality. Or something similar.

  5. Yes, a good examiner will read the thesis line by line.

There are five possible outcomes from the examination of a thesis.

  1. Accepted without corrections
  2. Minor corrections - generally textual changes only - 3 month time limit
  3. Major corrections - might involve some reanalysis, but no new experiments - 6 month time limit.
  4. Resubmit - this thesis does not pass, but contains sufficient material to convince the examiners you are capable of passing. You are giving leave to rewrite and resubmit the thesis. May involve new experiments - often 1 year time limit.
  5. Fail (either with or without a Master of Philosophy degree).

Almost all students are given minor or major corrections - I'd say 90% fall into these categories. Slightly more in minor corrections probably. Maybe 8% get no corrections, and perhaps 1.5% are asked to resubmit. Very, very few fail outright.

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  • I'm in the UK system as well. I've been supervisor and examiner and I've seen what happened to other students. From my experience 1.5% is far too low a percentage for resubmission. I'd say 10% or even more. I have made this decision as examiner, and had it made by other examiners for one of my students (although that was apparently not based on the thesis in the first place, more on viva performance); I have examined less than 10 and supervised 5-10. I've also seen this happening in other cases. I agree with the rest, by and large. Aug 19 '20 at 12:37
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    Disciplinary differences I guess - I've never done it, nor had it done to one of my students. Of my colleagues, I only know of one or two occasions where they have given out a re-submission. Aug 19 '20 at 12:55
  • This would match my US experience in biology. I would say the number for anything worse than "major corrections" is effectively zero when the advisor supports the thesis, and 4 or 5 become much more likely if not. Most who would otherwise fall into 4 or especially 5 would likely not even submit a thesis.
    – Bryan Krause
    Aug 19 '20 at 21:51
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Should I be worried that my thesis may get rejected?

Four published journal articles and two under review, that sounds impressive to me! It's natural to fear your thesis will get rejected, it's natural to be scared: Search this forum for impostor syndrome

Also, what happens when the thesis gets major revision? Do I have to do the corrections and send the thesis again?

That'll likely depend on your institute and country. I suspect you'll need to make corrections in a timely fashion, perhaps your examiners will need to check they are satisfied.

When a reviewer is checking a thesis, usually what does he want in it?

A novel (valid) contribution to your field (just like a journal article), mastery of the material, and a broad understand of your domain.

Does he read the entire thesis line by line?

That depends on the examiner.

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The other answers have generally good advice, to address a specific question you had:

Kindly share any incident of thesis rejections if you know of any, why it was rejected and how the person finally got his degree.

I only know of one thesis that was completely rejected. In this case:

  1. The student had a very weak publication record.
  2. The student decided it was time for them to graduate (not the advisor).
  3. The procedure for a defense didn't require the advisors signature, so they submitted the form and schedule the exam without their consent. (And initially without their knowledge.)
  4. The advisor told them they weren't ready to graduate.
  5. At the defense I'm told they couldn't answer even basic questions on the field properly.
  6. After a year they were able to try one more time, and nothing changed, so they failed out of the program.

From what you've posted, this is far from your situation. So, while occasion anxiety is understandable, it is probably unwarranted in your case.

I also know of one case where someone's PhD was found to highly overlap with another PhD in another area with completely different terminology. (Math vs CS) That was awful for everyone involved - in that case they were given more time by the committee to come back and address it, and eventually they graduated.

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It is possible but unlikely that your thesis is rejected.

Although probably technically illegal, it is also probable that any sensible examiner would quietly contact your supervisor before submitting a report if there was a major problem with the thesis, if only to make sure there was no major misunderstanding and avoid embarrassment for the student but also for those like the thesis director who allowed the thesis to go forward. My experience is that examiners will prefer to hold their noses and accept a marginal or bad thesis rather than cause trouble and reject the submission.

The most likely outcome is that you will be asked to make minor revisions, and then your school will have some procedure to handle this time-wise. Usually the examiners do not need to see the thesis again when resubmitted after minor corrections.

Depending on how closely the thesis is examined, it may be accepted as is, but this very rare in my experience, and not necessarily desirable and one wonders how closely the examiner did his/her job. You want the examiner to engage with and improve the outcome to raise the visibility of the results.

In 35 or so years of experience, I know for certain of only three cases where a thesis was rejected: in two instances a document was submitted over the objection of the thesis director; in the third instance a real error was found in the thesis. Since this is exceptionally rare, you tend to hear about such instances when they happen. Thankfully, I was not involved directly in any of the situations.

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