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A friend of mine who is doing a PhD has finished writing the first draft of her thesis. In her school, it's a common practice that a supervisor will read the first draft and then provide feedback and suggestions for improvement.

However, my friend's supervisor is too busy at the moment and explicitly says that he won't be able to read her thesis in a month or so. The supervisor suggests my friend to wait for him. But, since my friend already has a job offer and wants to submit the thesis as soon as possible, the supervisor allows her to submit it now without him reading it.

When my friend was writing her thesis, she sent some chapters to her supervisor. He read some but not all of them.

My question is whether a supervisor has a responsibility to read his/her student's thesis. Moreover, should my friend submit her thesis now even her supervisor hasn't read it yet.

Updates:

  • My friend is doing her PhD in the UK, which means the supervisor is not in the examining committee.
  • My friend let her supervisor know about the job offer more than a month ago and they both agreed that the supervisor would try his best to find a time to review her thesis. However, it seems that the supervisor cannot find a time, so he lets her submit now if she wants.
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    Has your friend told her supervisor that she has a job offer, and so she needs to finish the thesis ASAP? Is the job offer contingent on having the thesis submitted? – mhwombat Jul 30 '16 at 19:29
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    My question is whether a supervisor has a responsibility to read his/her student's thesis. — This could depend on the field and the location. My advisor (US, electrical engineering) did not read my dissertation draft, mainly, I think, because I already had a few papers that he provided feedback on prior to writing the dissertation, and he knew where I was going with my research. – Mad Jack Jul 30 '16 at 19:32
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    At what point did your friend notify the supervisor of when the thesis would be ready for review, and of the urgency of getting it reviewed quickly? – Patricia Shanahan Jul 30 '16 at 20:50
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    The title is misleading, since it makes it sound as though the supervisor doesn't want to read the thesis at all. In fact, the supervisor has already read parts of it, and has said he will read the rest as well. The issue here is simply that the student is trying to impose her timetable on her advisor, and he's pushing back. A better title would be, "Should my friend proceed with her PhD defense without giving her advisor time to read her thesis?" – Ben Crowell Jul 31 '16 at 17:43
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Have to is a strong requirement. In the US, the supervisor is almost always part of the examining committee so at some point they will have to read it. Some departments may have rules about feedback on drafts and how quickly and how much feedback supervisors can provide.

In the UK, the supervisor is almost never part of the examining committee. While I have never seen regulations prohibiting feedback, but there is more of a culture that students should stand on their own. That said, I think most supervisorsuccessful read a draft of a thesis.

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    Although in the UK the Supervisor is not the examiner, it is in their interest to read the thesis before submission. Most of my colleagues feel that a good or bad student is a reflection on the supervisor, and as such want the thesis output to be as good as possible. No-one wants to end up with a student who outright fails, or is told their work isn't sufficient for a PhD. (Although in this case it says the supervisor had read some chapters, so they should have a feeling of whether things are on track or not) – Bob Jul 31 '16 at 10:31
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As mentioned, this is country and field dependent. What should be (and probably is) a universal rule is that the supervisor should have a pretty clear idea of what is in the thesis.

A supervisor having only met the PhD student a few times a years, who has not read any paper turned into a PhD chapter, should definitely read the thesis before accepting it is submitted to a committee, for both the sake of both PhD student and advisor.

If the supervisor had weekly meetings with the PhD student, when the details of the research where discussed, if he or she read several chapters which where compelling, then he or she might be in a position to trust the student into submitting without reading the thesis entirely (but this could be incompatible with the specifics of the field, or with its customs). He or she might also have enough clues to know he or she really has to read the thesis, depending on how the supervision went.

I would also guess that, knowing that the PhD student has a job offer (I assume, outside academia), the supervisor might be less concerned about ensuring a flawless defense and could settle more easily for a merely passing one (not that I endorse this attitude, but it seems likely).

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Ultimately, your friend has to decide for herself. But I have a tendency for submitting before starting the new job.

Your friend should keep in mind that

  • it's not guaranteed that her supervisor will read it soon. Maybe, he is still very busy during the next month or even months.
  • her own motivation will plummet. Her first priority will be the new job, and in particular at the beginning it will require most of her attention.

So the process can drag on for quite a while before she is finally ready to submit.

But what she should do (if she didn't do it already) is to talk with her supervisor in detail about the contents of her thesis. For every section he didn't read, she should him what material she coverst so that he can give her some feedback.

Moreover, if she feels insecure about some parts, she could ask a fellow PhD student with a basic understanding what she did to read these parts. They cannot give her feedback about the quality of the research but about the writing ("you lost me there", "the order in which you discuss things is weird"). This can be particularly helpful for the introduction and literature review.

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This is just another example of some advisers bad habits. Yes, it is their responsibility to read the thesis. The supervisor is the chair of committee and receives job benefits from this thesis.

When I submitted my Masters thesis, I had two co-chairs. Unfortunately, none of them take the time to read my thesis. They said we know you have done a great job from your reports. In the defense session one of my committee members gave me a real hard time over a missing chapter of my thesis. Later I had to add that chapter. So I do not recommend sending the thesis while it is not read by the supervisor.

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    This is very country dependent. In the UK the supervisor is not part of the examining committee. – StrongBad Jul 30 '16 at 19:51
  • Interesting. So in UK there are no academic rules on providing feedback to PhD dissertation as a supervisor? – Ferferimori Jul 30 '16 at 22:37
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    Of course the members of the examination committee have to read the thesis. However an other question is, should the supervisor be part of it. The UK and the Netherlands answered that question with no, and I think it is good practice to separate day to day supervision from the final examination. – Maarten Buis Jul 31 '16 at 7:00
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    Even though in the UK and NL the advisor is not part of the examination committee, still it is in their interest to read a draft (or at least be well aware of its contents). The advisor (at least in NL) has to approve submitting the thesis, and if s/he does while the candidate would fail (very uncommon), that would reflect badly on the advisor. – Jaap Eldering Jul 31 '16 at 14:59

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