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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?

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    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. – Penguin_Knight Jun 12 '14 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 Jun 12 '14 at 18:19
  • 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. – SadGrad student Jun 19 '14 at 6:51
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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. – Federico Poloni Jun 15 '14 at 7:54

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