I am doing PhD in an Australian university. My thesis was approved by my supervisor, however, one of two examiners suggested revision and re-submission (with harsh criticism and no solid recommendation), and eventually failed it. The committee asked for another examiner and failed it. I would like to know if we can appeal in this situation:

  • My supervisor has approved the thesis,
  • I never had any problem in annual review, and
  • I have made revisions in accordance with the comments received from the examiner.
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    I think your supervisor knows the answer better than us. He knows your thesis and your university policy. – scaaahu Jul 25 '15 at 3:58
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    Obviously this is a frustrating situation for you, but I don't see how this site can help. If your institution's rules say the examiner's approval is required in order to pass, then of course you have to have it. If your supervisor's approval was all that was needed, what would be the point of having other examiners? As to appeals processes, they are different for every university; you will have to research how yours works, whether you have appropriate grounds to appeal, and what your chances are of succeeding. But again, nothing that a stranger could help with. Sorry. – Nate Eldredge Jul 25 '15 at 5:18
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    What discipline are you? How many papers out of this thesis have you published? How many years were you in that PHD program? – Alexandros Jul 25 '15 at 8:17
  • If you have publications from your work in peer-reviewed journals or conferences you should be able to over-rule that one person. however, you also should be able to replace him if he is not suggesting improvements. – Amir Jul 25 '15 at 21:02

I don't see how you can successful appeal the failure based on your supervisor's approval. The only recourse is to change supervisor, complain that your supervisor is incompetent, and get the university to waive any penalties to do with late submission. The supervisor's job is to make sure your thesis is up to the international standard. He/she is not responsible for passing you. In your case, as three external examiners have said no, then there is no way to pass without first doing more work, and then submitting a revised thesis; perhaps sending it to new examiners. Also, I would definitely get an experienced supervisor or co-supervisor to guide you.

The other side of the coin is that it is possible that the fault is entirely yours. I know of students who went ahead with the submission despite having a poor thesis, and the supervisor reluctantly approved the thesis to prove to the student that the thesis is not up to standard.

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    +1 for @went ahead with the submission despite having a poor thesis, and the supervisor reluctantly approved the thesis to prove to the student that the thesis is not up to standard". This is probably the only reasonable explanation. – Alexandros Jul 25 '15 at 8:15

As a number of respondents have said, it really depends on your university's policies on supervision, vivas and appeals, but it is likely that there are three issues here.

  1. The question of adequate supervision. Were you supervised properly in essence? Was your supervisor reasonable in approving your submission or did they guide you correctly in your choice of topic etc? Very often that will come down to the documentary trail on meetings, discussions on the parts that led to the fail etc.

  2. The conduct of the viva. Was it procedurally correct? It is highly unlikely that you can appeal on the grounds of the examiners' academic judgement.

  3. Which leads to the quality of your work. Is it of sufficient quality for you to be awarded with a doctorate?

It might be that you could establish a procedural irregularity in the exam or that you were subject to inadequate supervision but that still leaves open the question of the quality of your completed work. In other words, it might be that you deserve some kind of remedy, but that remedy might not entail you being awarded with a PhD.

Your first step is likely to engage with the relevant officers in your students' union, if they exist, and also to have a conversation with your Head of School about possible next steps. That second conversation might be best managed towards discovering what your department's attitude is, not for you to rehearse your own feelings on the matter.

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