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I have a really bad master thesis that's publicly available. I ran out of time and submitted it without proofreading it. Now it's publicly available and it has a lot of grammatical mistakes, nonsensical structure and flow, and a lot of in-text citing mistakes. My jury didn't even read it and gave me an excellent grade. How do I redeem my academic reputation after this catastrophe?

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    Are you applying to PhD programs (about the only time anyone might look at it)? Are you able to request an edited version be posted instead?
    – Jon Custer
    Apr 23 at 15:21
  • Thank you Nate Eldredge. Jon, yes I am applying. And theoretically I could request an edited version be posted instead, but my mentor would lose his calm if he found out.
    – BrajkovicM
    Apr 23 at 15:23
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    You probably only care about academic reputation if you stay in academia. And most people do not read master's projects, but papers. So, be more careful with your first paper, and you'll be fine. Apr 23 at 15:34
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    I do not know if it is an overreaction. I would like to continue my journey in academia of course. I have learnt from my mistakes and I would never ever do something similar again. I just wanted to know other opinions regarding this topic.
    – BrajkovicM
    Apr 23 at 15:50
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    (1) This does not at all sound like a catastrophe. (2) You probably do not have an "academic reputation" in the first place that would need salvaging. (3) Chances are no-one is ever going to look up your Master's thesis, except possibly a grad school admission committee if you try to pursue a PhD. (4) In that scenario, they would be comparing it not with an Ideal Piece of Text but with other Master's theses, which (surprise surprise) are also filled with grammatical mistakes and "nonsensical flow". May 4 at 21:22

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When I was a PhD student my academic brother told our adviser "I'm afraid you'll think I'm dumb" and my adviser responded with "don't worry, I think all my students are dumb."

Similarly, your masters thesis is probably really bad. Don't worry about it.

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  • I hope that you are right. Thank you for your answer
    – BrajkovicM
    Apr 25 at 8:10
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First step: Stay calm

I don't know what field you are in, but a bad master's thesis will likely not be a catastrophe for your academic reputation. People are going to read your published papers, not your master's thesis. But if you are currently applying for PhD programs, your thesis is of course of some relevance (although just of how much relevance depends on lots of factors).

Second step: Publish a revised version

Your supervisor should have been supervising you, which includes reviewing your drafts and providing comments. This didn't happen, but you could still ask for feedback from more helpful people around you, after you fixed the obvious mistakes you seem to have noticed yourself. Then, publish the revised version of your thesis. Either use the apparently available pipeline of your institution, or, if your supervisor is indeed a real obstacle to that, publish it yourself on arxiv. If you go the second route, the arxiv version should be the one you cite and link to in your application and other publication lists (like on researchgate etc.).

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  • What if I gave my institution the copyright rights? How should I go about publishing a revised version?
    – BrajkovicM
    Apr 25 at 8:07
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    If you gave them the copyright, there is probably a document with guidelines. You might find your answer in there. However, you can probably still publish a new version, and simply state that this is a revised version of your thesis. Apr 25 at 9:41
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Going by your posts so far, the problems with your thesis are:

  • grammar errors
  • suboptimal structure
  • typographical errors (swapping citations and full stops)

You have indicated nothing that makes your thesis “really bad” or that some “catastrophe“ happened. In fact, if this is all that is wrong with your thesis, it is better than most (at least).

While you might be able to publish a corrected version (replacing the published one), it is unlikely that your institution will bother about this for the kind of mistakes as assumed above. Usually this procedure is reserved for misleading theses and similar, if it exists at all.

There is a small chance that some hiring or admission committee notices these flaws and a tiny chance that they tip the scales against you. But that doesn’t mean that correcting them is worthwhile. Everything else you can invest your time in probably has a higher chance of benefitting your career.

After all I have seen, you appear to have an unhealthy obsession over the correctness of your thesis. I hope that realising this is all you need to let it go. I suggest that you never look at your thesis again, unless you are required to scientifically.

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  • I hope that you are right in saying that I just have an unhealthy obsession. What if I try to pursue a PhD? Will the admission board take these mistakes seriously, i.e. will they reject me? I'm an MD trying to do my PhD
    – BrajkovicM
    May 13 at 20:36
  • @BrajkovicM: The same applies: Most probably, the admission board won’t even notice. There is a tiny chance that this will tip the scales against you, but that applies to a lot of things, and almost anything else you invest your time in has a higher chance of tipping the scales for you.
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 14 at 5:00
  • I would like to do a PhD in basic pharmacology. I did get a certificate for doing experiments on lab animals and I have 10 Q1 papers of original research and 3 Q1 review papers, out of which I am a first author on two. What else could I do?
    – BrajkovicM
    May 14 at 5:24
  • @BrajkovicM: I am no expert on that field, so I can’t say what’s important and how valuable publications are. But I am certain that there are useful things to do, e.g., doing your current job thoroughly, writing your applications, polishing your application, learn useful skills (data analysis, programming, …), informing yourself about PhD opportunities, … When you run out of things to do, you should have long applied for your PhD.
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 14 at 5:48
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I too had a bad publicly available master's thesis. It even was cited, because the topic was interesting. But I contacted my old university's library and asked them to make it unavailable, i.e. show only the abstract. This took less than five minutes and now noone can read my bad writing. It doesn't hurt to ask.

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If the "in-text citing mistakes" are actually plagiarism (i.e. "forgotten" quotation marks or misplaced references), then you really need to bite the bullet and publish a correction, involving your supervisor if that is necessary at your institution. Otherwise, the thesis is available at anytime for discussion. If you happen to end up as a politician people might start investigating your thesis, and you may not be happy with that public discussion. People make mistakes, but just putting your head in the sand and hoping the problem will go away is not a good solution. Take a deep breath, make it right, and then carry on with your life.

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  • The main problem was that i put punctuations before and after the reference. I.e. (1). And .(1) I haven't blatantly taken a full piece of text without putting a reference (in the way described before)
    – BrajkovicM
    May 15 at 16:59
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    That's not really a big problem. May 16 at 17:43
  • What about getting into a PhD program, how will these mistakes be taken?
    – BrajkovicM
    yesterday
  • It depends on where and what the program is. Everyone makes mistakes, but we strive to publish only that which is true. And when we mess up, we own up to it. Just apply and see how it goes, but don't start off with "I made a big mistake".... 8 hours ago
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It all depends on the types of problems. As already pointed out above, if any parts of the text can be classified as plagiarism, this is something which can bite you in the future. You may probably get away with a "borrowed" figure or two without proper attribution, but it makes sense to fix it. Apart from that, the main question is: is it possible to read it without being madly frustrated? For example, "see fig 15" which does not exist, mix-ups of tables/figure descriptions, tables without column/row names, figures no one can figure out what is what etc. Some mistakes are almost always made, so do not bother fixing a spelling error or a wrong citation here and there unless you absolutely must.

Having said that: if you really are worried about the serious problems in your thesis set a deadline/number of days you can devote to fixing the thesis and just do it. Do not make it a months long perfectionist madness endeavor.

By the way, your supervisor is supposed to read and approve the thesis. Not after submitting but way before. It is foolish to be mad if he did not do his job. Like reviewing the structure/logical flow.

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  • Again, The main problem was that i put punctuations before and after the reference. I.e. (1). And .(1) I haven't blatantly taken a full piece of text without putting a reference (in the way described before)
    – BrajkovicM
    May 15 at 17:13
  • @BrajkovicM re punctation & references: this is a really tiny issue, or rather a matter of style. IMHO you can safely forget about it. Yes, you may bump into a pedant or two who will notice it. But if someone even in passing mentions that such trivial to fix mistake will count against you working somewhere then I seriously suggest you run away from them as fast as you can.
    – darked89
    May 15 at 20:47
  • What about getting into a PhD program? Will these mistakes make me seem incapable of writing a good piece of academic text?
    – BrajkovicM
    yesterday

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