Once you’ve formulated a completion plan, you should discuss it with your supervisor. You’ll need their support to execute it. Perhaps this involves them playing a different role, giving you more input, or changing the way you work together. They should be involved in the planning stage, as it affects them too.
Do they think your completion plan is realistic? Can they suggest any key milestones you need to be aware of, such as an Intention to Submit process? Does your supervisor have any commitments that could affect your plan? You might be hoping to send them a full draft just as they head off for a sabbatical.
The final stages of your PhD are stressful for both you and your supervisor. They sometimes feel as though they’re also being judged during the examination process. In a few cases, this can provoke unhelpful interventions, including:
- Suggesting a delay to submission
- Insisting on perfection or impossibly high standards
- Recommending significant changes at a late stage.
Of course, they might have legitimate concerns, but you should always discuss their suggestions rather than accept them unquestioningly. Here are a few ideas of how you might approach the potential problems outlined above.
Suggesting a delay to submission
This sometimes happens when a supervisor hasn’t noticed how much progress you’ve made, especially if you’ve suddenly accelerated. Listen to their concerns, then show them how you’ve planned your time. Demonstrate that you’ve considered everything that needs to happen and have also allowed some contingency. If your plan isn’t realistic, then it’s their job to question you.
Insisting on perfection or impossibly high standards
There’s no such thing as a perfect thesis! Ask them if they’re thinking of the PhD as a book rather than an examination. In any case, 90% of candidates are given corrections. If you feel comfortable in doing so, gently point out that the examiners’ idea of perfection will differ from theirs. Which are critical issues? Are any nice-to-haves, but not strictly necessary? Are they going to make the difference between a pass and a fail?
Recommending significant changes at a late stage
Explain the consequences of making such a big change. Ask whether it’s really going to make the difference between passing or failing your viva. After all, there’s always a chance that your examiners would prefer the original version.
These last two problems can often be prevented by being specific on the type of feedback you need.
In the early stages, you’re seeking high-level input on the structure and arguments — the absolute fundamentals of your thesis. It’s not helpful for someone to point out all the small grammatical errors on something that’s likely to be reworked multiple times. Equally, when you reach that elusive final draft, you won’t be too pleased if someone suggests an entirely different structure or new ideas.
First, then, consider what stage you’re at and what input you need:
- Grammar and spelling?
By being clear on exactly what you require, you improve the chances of your supervisor getting it back to you quickly and getting feedback that you can implement.
Remember, you’re trying to create a Minimal Viable Thesis, not achieve perfection.