Master’s corrections. The pain, the horror, the ineffable tugging at the belly of angst.
You’ve sent off your thesis some months ago with hope and terrible trepidation. You’ve had it niggling at the back of your mind as you ponder what to do with your new-found free time. You shove the entire situation to a dark recess and try not to think about it – and then, one day, while you are enjoying a movie or tucking into a brunch, you suddenly find several missed calls and the promise of news.
Your results have come.
It was such a lovely brunch.
This is how things went down for me. We had gone out for a day in Amsterdam, where we visited the auspicious and wonderful Bakers and Roasters before going to see Hail, Caesar! When I got out of the movie, there were the missed calls and the messages. I couldn’t quite call my supervisor back – roaming is a bitch – and she didn’t want to tell me over an sms, so an angst-ridden bus ride and a couple of minutes’ dazed walking stretched the time between wondering and knowing.
Turns out, it was good news. I passed my Master’s with distinction and received one glowing review. Amid the congratulations, however, my supervisor warned me to not be discouraged by the second examiner’s comments.
Cue another couple of days’ agonised wait to receive my official examiners’ reports and list of corrections to make. See, how it works is, you send your two+ years’ sweat and blood neatly packaged in what you hope is a polished and spiffy little academic tour-de-force, only to receive it back nitpicked and torn to shreds, if the examiner is nice. If the examiner is not nice, or if the examiner had a bad day or found something irritating in your work, you receive a report that will make your stomach shrink to the point of a pin and question whether you ever had an intelligent thought in your life.
Here’s the thing though – it’s not as bad as it seems. You are probably overreacting and being a bit too sensitive. You do infuse the examiners’ reports with nuances that they might not have intended. You are probably defensive about your work and feel something of a crushing disappointment when they don’t quite appreciate it in the most glowing of ways. So, here are some things to keep in mind when approaching your corrections.
How to Face Your Corrections:
- Now’s the time for that steely resolve
It’s difficult to muster up weeks after you felt like you were done with the whole caboodle, but now’s the time to put that steely resolve back to work so that you can get the thing over with once and for all. It will take some strength and some determination, but this is just the last little bit that you need before you can truly call yourself a Master of something.
- Pay as much attention to the ‘positive’ as you do to the ‘negative’
Even at this point, it’s easy to get lost in the negative remarks, even when they’re not that negative. For me, every recommended correction (even the ones where the examiner made a kind little joke) felt like a stab to the heart. It took some convincing by my boyfriend and some serious self-reflection to internalise the good along with the bad. The one examiner loved it and gave me high praise indeed, but I almost allowed her encouragement to be eclipsed by my focus on the negative.
- Have someone to vent to
A thesis is an exercise in emotional turmoil. The elation of finding out that you passed is very quickly followed by a list of things you have to fix or change. You might cry. You will definitely be frustrated. You will feel defensive and stupid and annoyed and you might – like me – burst out with either annoyance or shame every so often. Explain this to your long-suffering loved ones, who might not understand what you’re going through. Once they are prepared, talk to them about the process. It’s healthy to vent and get a hug now and then. When you are pushed to the edge, indulge in some wine and whining.
- Remember that examiners are people
One of the first things you learn at university is that there’s no such thing as objectivity, and even seasoned professionals allow their opinions, intellectual beliefs and their pet peeves to influence their marking. The more I talk to people who have gone through submission, the clearer it becomes that the examination process is something of a lottery because you’re dealing with people, not computers. The key is to not take anything personally (much easier said than done, I know), and to remember that they might have an off day, or just be (irrationally) irked by some unknown thing that another examiner might love.
In my case, I got one examiner who responded in a very helpful and encouraging way. She recommended a lot of fixes and delivered a good bout of criticism that did make me want to crawl into a hole and forget how to read, but I understood what she was criticising and why.
The second examiner picked my thesis apart – and this was a comment from my supervisor – as though I had submitted a PhD and not a Master’s. This examiner seemed to have a completely different rubric in mind, including referencing style and word count. It was difficult to determine why this report was so drastically different from the first one, and even my supervisor recommended that the positives and completely ignore the negatives.
This point is not meant to serve as an excuse, but remembering that examiners are only human will help you get over that feeling of death by a thousand cuts.
- Get it done, and then let it go
It took me a week to get my corrections done, mainly because I was avoiding rereading the examiners’ reports. When I actually sat down to it, I finished both examiners’ corrections in a couple of hours, and that was it. My advice to others would be to treat it like a band-aid – just rip it off and get it over with. It will hurt, and your eyes might tear up, but once you’ve done the corrections you are finally – gloriously – done. Now there’s just a bit of paperwork, a ceremony, and voila! You’re a Master.