So I’m still waiting…

I considered not writing about this, but in fairness this blog originated because I wanted to document my PhD journey and this is definitely a part of it.

When I couriered three copies of my final thesis to DUT for examination on the 28th January earlier this year, my supervisor indicated that I’d probably graduate in April this year with the university’s Autumn graduation. That seemed a bit soon for me but hey wouldn’t that have been cool. Obviously, it didn’t happen though.

From submission until mid-April I heard nothing from the university, so I emailed to ask about progress. At that point (19th April) my supervisor then called me to inform me that I forgot to sign the plagiarism declaration of my thesis. Like what? Ok I forgot – but that meant that until the day I asked, my work had probably been forgotten on someone’s desk. Anyhow we move on.

April came and went. So did May. Early June I started feeling anxious again. I plucked up my courage and sent another email. Within hours of me sending the email, I got another call from the university asking for an electronic copy of my work because the examiner wanted one. Incidentally, on the day that I couriered my hard copy work I actually sent an electronic copy to my supervisor, but I decided not to remind them of that. I just resent the electronic copy. Had my work been forgotten on someone’s desk again until I enquired? I guess so. But I decided not to make a fuss. Just go with the flow Bronwyn. Go with the flow.

So June went by and a week after university reopened in July I thought, let me send another email to ask again. There is only one more graduation date at DUT this year – so if I miss September (Spring graduation), then I’ll only graduate next year. This time the HoD of the Department responded to my email. He said that my work has come back from examination and the results are currently in the process of being tabled at the Faculty Research and University Higher Degree Committees.

If everything went well and was successful, then I should be getting feedback within the next two weeks. Successful means either that I passed without needing any corrections or it could mean that passed but I need to make some corrections before graduation. It is highly unlikely that I’ll pass without having to make corrections – statistically only the outliers don’t need to make corrections…

Interestingly though, for my Masters I was the only one in my group that did not need to make any corrections.

The alternative to success, is that I did not pass (yet) and will not graduate this year. If not successful yet, then there is an unlikely possibility that my work was just not good enough, but it’s more likely that something else went wrong.

And ‘something else going wrong‘ was exactly what happened with my Masters. So I surrender to that possibility.

See with my Masters, I completed it in less than a year. Ten months actually, if you consider that I started writing a proposal in February 2011 and submitted three ring bound copies of the final edited work on the 17th November 2011. Only God knows how I managed doing that. My opinion now is that that is a sure thing recipe for clinical depression guaranteed.

After the Masters work was externally examined, in the last stages of approval, my work and that of the five other ladies in my group, was questioned for plagiarism. In academia, plagiarism is the most serious heinous accusation ever. It’s as bad as murdering someone. A cardinal sin. The thing we were told was the trigger of the plagiarism allegation was the statistics chapter of our work (my work and five classmates who were all supervised by the same person).

See, the five other ladies (my classmates) sent their work to a statistician to do that part of the work. This is allowed – there was nothing wrong with outsourcing your stats in Masters. I was broke however, so I could not afford a statistician and therefore I did my own stats. When the other ladies’ work came back from the statistician, because the statistician had used a standard template to analyse the data and report findings, some of the other ladies’ work looked similar. They certainly had not copied and each one’s data was different, but the wording the statistician used to report the findings of two of my classmates in particular, was identical. Our supervisor should have picked that up. But he didn’t. However, someone at the final stage of approval at the University’s Higher Degree Committee (HDC) did….

At HDC, they called for an investigation and all six works with the same supervisor were held back. No graduation until it had been investigated. Innocent until proven guilty they say….. from my practical experience, I can say that’s not how it feels. We (the students) appealed. One of the grounds for our appeal was that if only the stats was in question, since the stats chapter in my work looked so different, it was grossly unfair to us to hold all six works back! We argued that it felt as if we were being treated like villains.

I’m a lecturer and supervisor myself now, and I am able to see it from a different perspective. Our supervisors let us down. The focus of the scrutiny should have been on them, not us. We (the students) jumped through hoops to meet our deadlines. Yet, knowing that everyone is human, I’m overcome with compassion because I now understand that our supervisor just did not have the capacity, nor the confidence at that stage to adequately manage the situation. The whole thing was messed up. It’s one of those things where it’s pointless to blame anyone. And I am who I am today, because of that.

Be that as it may, all the six works were sent to Stellenbosch University to be examined. The report said that my work was completely original. I passed with Suma Cum Laude standards. The lowest mark an examiner gave me was 76% – and that was the internal examiner! And since I did my own stats, it’s the reason why I got the job teaching stats in my Department.

Ultimately, what happened resulted in us missing the Autumn graduation, through no fault of our own. It was a bitter pill to swallow. Initially, when invited to attend the next (Spring) graduation, I didn’t want to go because I was still angry at the way that I felt we’d been treated. But one of my classmates persuaded me otherwise, and eventually I did go. It was rather emotional though, and I wore casual denim jeans to my Masters graduation as an act of defiance.

Coming back to the PhD….. in two more weeks I’ll know. If I hear nothing about making corrections then, it means that I’m not graduating this year.

I wish I wasn’t so nervous about this. I wish I wasn’t so damn anxious. I know, logically it’s all out of my control. I know there is nothing I can do. I am trying really hard to let go of any monkey mind thoughts and stay present and focused on what’s happening around me right now. However that is getting increasingly harder.

Surrender I tell myself, just surrender Bronwyn. … but still I’m nervous.

In this regard I’m consoled by the words of one of my favourite musicians Shawn Mendes though (and isn’t he a cutie too!). He says ‘Nerves means that you care‘. So Yes, actually – I surrender and I do care.