I have been a PhD student in an institute for the last 4 years and now my deadline to submit my thesis is in another 40 days. When I joined the institute, official papers were signed stating that Professor X will be my first reviewer and will grade my thesis. By regulation, the first reviewer has to belong to the same faculty, but he was not from our group, and we did not have much contact with each other.

Now that I am ready to submit my thesis, he decides to back out on reasons stating that I was not in touch with him (but I was never told by my supervisor or by him that I need to regularly contact him).

Does this happen and is this allowed since official University papers were signed 4 years ago saying he will be my first reviewer?

  • 16
    People can back out for whatever reason and it's not a matter of can or cannot. Once you learned that this person is going to be the reviewer, there should be a round of communication to settle the expectation, availability, and other specifications. Focus the energy on finding another reviewer, you don't want an unhappy reviewer who holds negative thought about you, even you could force the promised review to happen. Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 16:02
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    In the best of worlds, this is where your supervisor should come in and provide guidance and help. Hopefully your supervisor might have some ideas on how to either smooth it over with Prof X or how to connect you with Prof Y who can be your first reviewer.
    – brechmos
    Commented Jun 12, 2014 at 18:19
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    Thank you all for your comments. Thankfully, my problems have been sorted out last evening and now I finally have an official supervisor who is ready to step in at the last minute. Commented Jun 19, 2014 at 6:51
  • One of my reviewers did it but was extremely rude about the whole process. He didn't want to do it, but by rule, at our university, we needed an out-of-department reviewer. I had actually taken a course from this professor, but the professor was still not very nice about it. Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 15:56

2 Answers 2


Such situations are not uncommon in academia. I would caution you against trying to get this person back as a reviewer, even though you have signed papers from 4 years ago. Simply respect that person's decision to back out, thank her or she for their time thus far, and invest your energies finding somebody that will serve as a reviewer so you can graduate. Perhaps this sounds like rather odd advice. Just put yourself in the shoes of a person who doesn't want to serve as a reviewer but is subsequently forced to do so. You are at risk of getting a very unfavorable review, and the 40 days could become much longer. You have plenty of time to get somebody on board, and you will certainly encounter situations in your future career that are far more egregious.

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    I do not know the specific regulations at OP's university, but in my view finding a substitute looks like a job for the advisor, not the student. Commented Jun 15, 2014 at 7:54

This happened to me, too: one of my committee members was suddenly unavailable for several months and unable/unwilling to work with me on scheduling my defense.

My process:

  1. Took deep breaths and stopped panicking.
  2. Reviewed the profiles of all eligible faculty members in the university
  3. Picked a shortlist of 3 people in related fields that I wanted to meet
  4. Asked my advisors for feedback (valuable - they knew who was a difficult committee member)
  5. Emailed my top choice, Prof. S, to be on my committee.
  6. Got a positive reception, met with Prof. S to discuss my work; they were friendly and mildly interested.
  7. Scheduled the defense (tough, with five professors).
  8. Sent my thesis out for reading, defended, and passed!

I believe this worked out well, and instead of a reluctant committee member, I got exposure to the leader of a significant program in my field. It still wasn't ideal, however, and I would've been in a bad position if Prof. S took issue with me, my other committee members, or my work.

You could also skip to step (3) and ask your advisors for advice - but I think it's worth taking control of an issue with so much potential influence on your career.

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    I'm glad your situation worked out well. That said, did you notice that this question was asked in 2014? Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 20:21
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    @EthanBolker Yes, but the problem isn't unique to the 2014 poster, and this question is general enough that it might attract future readers with the same problem.
    – Blizzard
    Commented Jan 13, 2021 at 20:26
  • 2
    @EthanBolker: StackOverflow actually has a "Necromancer" badge (for folks who answer questions 60+ days after they were asked and get five or more upvotes) to encourage new or higher-quality takes on previously-asked questions.
    – Richard
    Commented Jan 26, 2021 at 5:42

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