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I have been doing my master thesis in Germany for the last six months and submitted my thesis this week. I kept in touch with the supervisor while I was writing the thesis and the result was satisfactory to him.

But as I was preparing the slides for my defense today, I suddenly received an email saying that my defense will be cancelled and that a meeting is needed next week. The professor and supervisor want to talk to me regarding the thesis. I asked the reason, but the supervisor did not give a clear reply, and just said that I don't need to prepare anything.

I am pretty sure that my thesis was written and completed independently by me. I am now very anxious about this unexpected situation. How can I approach this situation and prepare for the meeting?

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    Answers in comments and follow-ups have been moved to chat. Please only post a comment if you expect it to lead to an improvement of the question (see this FAQ). Post answers as answers (even if your answer is that we cannot say what’s going on).
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jul 17 at 11:21
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    I don't understand what is meant by "I am pretty sure that my thesis was written and completed independently by me". Why "pretty sure"? Why not 100% sure that you wrote it? Jul 19 at 4:11
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    @alex - I hope you've been able to prepare and, more importantly, also relax a bit over the weekend. I'm curious what the outcome is, so I'd like to ask if you can update the question after you've had the meeting.
    – Jeroen
    Jul 19 at 7:10
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    So, what happened finally?
    – user151413
    Aug 1 at 4:01
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The following is obviously an educated guess, so you have to be the judge whether it fits all the information you have:

  • Your examiners found something of serious concern in your thesis. This could be potential plagiarism, data manipulation, etc. Otherwise they wouldn’t go through such extreme measures and wouldn’t have cancelled the defence already. The only reason I see for expecting a small issue is that your examiners may not know what they are doing at all (see my third point).

  • Your examiners want to see whether you can defend yourself against an accusation properly without preparation. They are fixated on not telling you anything; otherwise your supervisor would not have reacted to your request like this. It is very unlikely that you will get any information out of them before the meeting. (Mind that I don’t condone this strategy here; see the next point.)

  • Most importantly: Your examiners are way out of their depths and have no idea how to properly handle such a situation¹. They probably don’t know the default or official method to handle shortcomings or suspected academic misconduct in a thesis (which almost certainly exists) and fail to see things from your point of view, in particular the anxiety they are causing. Even if they want to take you by surprise, they could have just called for a meeting without cancelling the defence or did this at the defence itself – after all, that’s what it’s for. They probably cannot even cancel the defence unilaterally just like this.

Now, what can you do and keep in mind?

  • Be able to defend everything you did in your thesis, in particular potential shortcomings. For example, if there are passages where one might want more citations, be able to explain why there are so few. This is not only a good preparation for the meeting per se, but also for the actual defence as well as your confidence.

  • Get familiar with the pertaining examination rules. Know which ways you have to handle extreme situations and respond to accusations. In particular familiarise yourself with all the steps that need to happen to fail a master’s thesis (it’s usually a lot). You probably have a second professor to examine the thesis who should be able to intervene if things go awry; see whether you can get some general information on them. Finally, by knowing the rules you can also better react to inappropriate procedures being suggested during the meeting and instead insist on the proper procedure.

  • As much as your professor’s behaviour sucks for you right now, it probably goes against written or unwritten rules and common sense. This in turn gives you some leverage if the situation escalates further, i.e., end up before a higher committee. In particular, in most fields a proper supervision includes pointing out issues with your thesis before you submit (save for misconduct, which may not be obvious).

  • You have little to fear if you did not do anything wrong. While this saying sadly doesn’t apply in many areas and is often abused to downplay injustice, it applies to your scenario to a large extent. It is (unfortunately) already very difficult to stick academic misconduct to those who actually committed it – the cases that you get to hear are the extreme ones. If they think you committed misconduct, they have the burden of proof.


¹ This is unfortunately very common. Keep in mind that professors are mostly selected for being researcher-group leaders and not for being bureaucrats. I have seen several professors display astounding ignorance about the procedures and rules of their institutions.

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  • ♦ Thank you for your answer. I am very sure there is no academic misconduct in my thesis. And in my opinion, even if they think there is academic misconduct in my thesis, shouldn't I be asked to give evidence? How can I defend myself if I don't do anything?
    – alex
    Jul 17 at 14:21
  • @alex: I expect that they will ask you to provide evidence (defend yourself) during the meeting or after that, depending on whatever the issue is. But remember that you don’t have to provide evidence that you are innocent, they have to provide evidence that you are guilty first (and then you can react to that evidence).
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jul 17 at 14:28
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    "Your examiners want to see whether you can defend yourself against an accusation properly without preparation" is an excellent point. Nice catch.
    – Buffy
    Jul 17 at 15:36
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    "Get familiar with the exam rules": this. Also get in contact with someone trustworthy who knows about the specific rules (Vertrauensprofessor? I've also been in places where the Prüfungsamt was very friendly and helpful to students.) Also, this is a situation where I'd bring a friend. The more so, since OP speaks of professor + supervisor in plural. Jul 18 at 12:10
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    @Wrzlprmft: I see. I can't tell how big a deal this actually is at the OP's university (regardless of how big a deal the OP perceives it to be). At the university institutes I was in touch with, agreeing on the date of BSc/MSc presentations was usually a rather informal procedure - students would usually pick one of the next free slots in the institute's internal colloquium after handing in the thesis, and rescheduling of those slots could easily occur for various reasons. Jul 24 at 18:24
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I don't have a truly similar situation, but it seems that something has come up. Something that needs to be dealt with seriously. One case I know of was parallel work leading to two very similar doctoral theses, presented simultaneously, answering an important question. The plagiarism question naturally arises. In this case it was worked out satisfactorily to all parties including the wider community.

But it seems to be something that needs to be discussed before people are comfortable going forward. I suspect that the chances are good for a happy outcome, but can't say. That is the reason for the meeting.

I suggest taking a relaxed attitude until you know more.

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  • Thank you for your reply. What I can't understand is why I can't be told the reasons. If it is my problem, just tell me where the problem is. But my supervisor just said that he can't give me more info.
    – alex
    Jul 16 at 13:12
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    Possibly a misguided attempt to lessen your anxiety, or a way to defer all discussion until the meeting.
    – Buffy
    Jul 16 at 13:23
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    @alex Until next week, just keep in mind that if the guy/woman really wanted to give you a failing grade, there would be no need for a meeting. He/she would write a thesis review with an "insufficient" mark underneath and be done with it. If he/she wants to invest time in meeting you, then you are unlikely to fail.
    – DCTLib
    Jul 16 at 13:51
  • @DCTLib Thank you very much for your help. It really makes me be not so anxious.
    – alex
    Jul 16 at 13:54
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You are worried about why they did not explain the matter in the email. Actually, this is for your advantage. If there is a problem and if they explain it in the email, that makes the problem official. If they haven't explained in the email, that means they haven't made up their mind about how to deal with the problem yet. I sense compassion, and opportunity for you to explain your side about the problem.

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There is no reason to pre-empt these types of situations by guessing what people might want; just wait until the meeting and you will find out what is at issue. In the event that any serious concern is raised, stay calm and do not feel the need to respond contemporaneously; just ask for time to think over any matter raised.

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