I'm coming up to the end of my PhD. My work is industry funded, so although I've presented my work, and written technical reports and patents*, I'm probably not as experienced in 'scientific writing' as perhaps I should be and my literature reviews have tended towards application-based, rather than pure science.
I've made what could be a big discovery, but I can't shake the feeling that the general case must have been observed somewhere before — maybe not in my field, and not with the exact materials I work with, but it seems too obvious for nobody to seen or thought of it.
I've described it in my thesis and said it's new for my materials etc but my supervisor says that I'm underselling it and it could be a really big deal. We've been referring to it with one specific name — literature searches on that bring up nothing similar. I've tried what I think are synonyms and can't find anything. I've written that it's a novel pathway for my material, and again I've been told to make it a bigger deal and say it's novel in the general case.
I'm still worried. What if my examiners decide to do their own lit. search, and hit on a search term I just haven't thought of, and there are actually lots of examples? I feel like I've searched lots of things, but perhaps somebody with a different background will think of another search term, or worse, just know an example. I've tried searching adjacent fields it might be related to (chemistry/geology/construction/material type) but I know that wording can be different in different fields as well.
If I'm right and it is brand new, then it's really exciting. If I've missed it though, and the examiners find it, realistically what will happen? I'll have to correct obviously, but I'm worried that they'll accuse me of "reverse plagiarism" and not looking hard enough so I can make it sound more impressive.
*A patent based on this has gone through, and I've checked what the examiner has written to see if he found anything similar (he didn't). However, the patent focussed purely on my particular system and it wasn't written as being a new general pathway, he might not have looked for that.