I defended my Master's thesis last year and continued on to pursue PhD in the same university under a different adviser. My Master's thesis adviser and I were getting ready to present a paper pertaining to the MS thesis at a conference in two weeks. The paper is already accepted.

Earlier this week, in preparation of showing reports at the conference, I started re-running my Master's thesis code to obtain fresh reports. The results gave me the nastiest shock of my life. The new results I was getting were a magnitude off from the results I had before. I could not believe the new results. Thinking that I had done something wrong in the current run, I re-ran my previous projects which I had used to obtain the results for the thesis document and defense. Even these runs gave me the same results as the new results I was getting. When I dug into it further I realized that I had misinterpreted the value of a single variable which changed all my result values by a magnitude. This reverses half of the conclusions I made and slightly alters the rest. I immediately emailed my adviser for a meeting to discuss this issue. I am meeting with her next week.

In the meantime I am panicking that my adviser or the school board might think that I deliberately presented the wrong values since I was getting better results. I am scared that they might not see my mistake as a mistake or even if they do see it as a mistake, they might take some strict action like revoking my MS degree or suspending me from school or even expulsion. I am panicking. Please advise. Thank you.

  • 15
    "I am panicking. Please advise.": You're doing everything right so far, except for one: Don't panic. Sadly, I regret to inform you that you most likely are human, indeed, and not a robot with no imperfections besides the inability to know you are a robot.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jul 21, 2017 at 16:52
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    That's unfortunate, but an honest mistake. You won't be "punished" for an honest mistake.
    – Thomas
    Jul 21, 2017 at 17:32
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    Pretty sure you will find mistakes like that in a considerable amount of theses (PhD and MS). It just happens and imo it's no big deal.
    – user64845
    Jul 21, 2017 at 17:54
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    ... no biggie ...
    – Shake Baby
    Jul 21, 2017 at 18:23
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    Theses are not revoked for honest mistakes. Nor have I seen honest mistakes in academic work leading to expulsion. What you should do? Post an erratum if there is a reasonable place for that. (If it's a maths or CS thesis, I'd consider the arXiv.) Jul 21, 2017 at 18:54

2 Answers 2


Correct the mistake for any peer-reviewed publications (journal, conference, etc). Don't worry about the thesis published at your institution.

Reason being, your committee signed off in the work as a whole as fulfilling the merits of the degree. Yes, it's unfortunate, but theses often aren't indexed by journal searches, and even when they are, they are generally interpreted with less weight.

On the bright side, you recognized an error others might not have. Apply this lesson moving forward. In any other case, you'd have to retract.

PS - I did the same thing during my masters thesis. Didn't sleep for a week.

  • Thank you HEITZ. I am going to discuss this with my adviser and see how she wants me to proceed. Luckily the paper does not need many changes. I checked on the IEEE website and for the conference I submitted to, the papers don't get published till next year; so I hope the editor will let me make changes to the paper. Jul 22, 2017 at 15:10

These things happen. It's unfortunate, but as Bryan said in his comment on your question, we're all only human. You're doing exactly what you should be doing, and now you just have to wait to hear how your department asks you to proceed.

To put things into perspective, the concept of austerity cuts as a method for bolstering economic growth stemmed from an error in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Whoops. Be glad this is just your thesis and not an internationally-recognized research effort that drove over a decade of global economic policy.

  • Thank you @eykanal. I am going to discuss all options with my adviser and see how she want me to proceed. Jul 22, 2017 at 15:17

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