helen-louise (baratron) wrote,
helen-louise
baratron

public, because I owe people an explanation.

Letter to my research supervisor, the Atmospheric Physics Group Secretary, the Imperial College Disabilities Officer and my doctor.

As you know, I was a postgraduate student at Imperial College from 1997-2001. I submitted a thesis in September 2001 which was incomplete because I was not well enough to finish it. I had a viva in November 2001 at which the examiners said they did not believe there was enough work there to justify awarding a PhD, but if I made major corrections to the thesis (i.e. added everything that was missing) it could be worthy of the degree of MPhil. Under University of London Regulations, I would have 12 months to make these corrections.

It was only in October 2002 that I recovered from depression to a sufficient extent to be able to contemplate returning to my studies. I found that the notes I had made during a lot of my period at College were too incomplete to be useful, and instead started a thorough revision of the subject area. I felt that going back to my supervisor and/or research group claiming I was better and would finish my work was pointless because I had spent a lot of the time while I was a registered student not working and claiming I would try to get better so I could. I thought it would be a much better idea to get the thesis started before making any contact, so that I could prove things had changed.

I made contact with my supervisor on Monday and sent him a draft of two chapters yesterday (Wednesday). I spent some time going through the University of London Regulations for the Degree of MPhil and PhD booklet to see what options I had. I already knew that it would not be possible for me to withdraw from the exam and re-enter (either for a PhD or an MPhil) without re-registering as a student. Unfortunately the paragraph I needed (9.3.5) descended into legalese Latin in the middle, and although I understood what the words meant literally, I didn't understand what they meant in practice. So yesterday I rang the College Registry to find out. Apparently the line "de novo" means that re-registering means quite literally starting again, with a minimum registration period of 2 years before I would be allowed to submit my thesis. No time reduction is made for the fact that I have already been a research postgraduate. Actually, it is a little unfair, because if I had already been a student of another, non University of London university, I would be exempt from some of the time under paragraph 3.3 of the Regulations, and would only need to register for one year before being able to submit the work. But I suppose it is worded that way to stop people abusing the system by constantly failing and re-registering.

I have considered it carefully and the fact is that I simply do not want to spend another 2 years of my life at college at this time. The earliest I would be able to submit my thesis would be January 2005, and the exam would not be until March of that year. In addition, the college fees would be nearly £6000. However, I don't really see the money as the issue now. I want closure from a difficult part of my life; I want to get things sorted out and move on. I am definitely not ruling out doing a PhD at some time later, but I want to get my career under way first. Perhaps I would be able to get my employer to fund or part-fund a PhD based on the work I go on to do.

So at the moment I am in the position of needing to submit a thesis by 4th January 2003 (actually, that is a Saturday, so I probably need to submit it the day before). This is impossible, because at the moment I have approximately 2/3 of the introductory chapters done and none of the results and discussion chapters. Three weeks is simply not enough time. There is an additional complication in that my mother is going into hospital on 22nd December for an operation which, while relatively minor, will require total bed rest for at least a week afterwards and there is not really anyone else apart from me who can look after her (I don't have any siblings, and my grandmother is far too frail to be able to help). But that also is not really the main issue at the moment.

I basically have two choices:

1. Work ridiculously hard over the next 3 weeks to submit a not-complete-but-more-complete than the previous "thesis" in the afternoon of January 3rd 2003.

2. Try to get a time extension to the 12 months stipulated for major corrections in the UoL Regulations paragraph 9.3.3 (f) (iv), on the basis that for 9 of the 12 months I was far too ill to be capable of doing academic work.

Clearly, (2) would be my preferred option. I want to do my thesis properly and get the degree of MPhil. I should be able to obtain any number of supporting documents from my medical team to prove that I have been seriously depressed for a number of years, tried various therapies that had worked only with limited success, and that in May of this year things were so bad that I was referred to the psychiatrist and clinical psychologist for this area. What I don't know is whether these documents would have any effect. I don't know who it is who is in charge of the Regulations and would be able to make a ruling - whether it would be the College Registry or someone in the University of London. And there is not much time for this procedure to happen. I "should" have got things sorted out a long time ago, but until October this year I didn't know whether I would ever be capable of finishing the degree at all.

I see option (1) as horribly dangerous. There is no way to have the resubmitted thesis examined by a new set of examiners (that I know of). I felt that the current examiners were offended by being asked to mark work that was nowhere near complete. Although in the viva they promised to send me a detailed report explaining what would need to be added to pass, what they actually sent me was one sheet of A4 with no constructive comments whatsoever. I am afraid that they would not say "This still isn't good enough but you can have another 12 months to make major corrections" - they would just fail me outright.

I am taking action to get the necessary medical documentation. I am going to take a copy of this letter round to my doctor's in the morning, and also try to speak to him to explain the situation further. I was not able to get hold of him today because he only works at the practice part-time. What I need in the meantime is for someone to start the process of trying to get a time extension to enable me to enter the exam properly prepared. I am sending a copy of this letter to three people: my supervisor, the research group secretary and the College Disabilities Officer who may be able to help with the situation. I am happy for this letter to be forwarded to anyone else within College or the University of London who would be able to help. As soon as I have proper documentation I will come into College to meet with whoever I need to speak to: this may be as soon as this afternoon (Thursday), but it might take as much as a week for paperwork to be prepared.

Bleh. Stressed. But it says a lot about how far I've come that in contemplating not getting a degree at all, I panic wildly for about an hour, then immerse myself in work again. A year or six months ago, I would have been unable to even face that thought, cried for hours, panicked, screamed, self-harmed and other such for at least a week at a time. Now my mind is comparatively clear. All I need is three to six months to finish off. Worrying isn't going to get it done.

It's funny: people have offered me sympathy for the fact this degree will be an MPhil, rather than a PhD. But by the time I'd actually started telling people that's what it'd be, I had already come to terms with it. I couldn't even think about it for months. After the exam, I wanted to die - I walked in front of buses on Gower Street, then went round to Tim & Peter's without telling them what was wrong. Peter was surprised that I was wearing a skirt, but didn't say anything about my bizarre mood.

I just hope I can get a degree.
Tags: mental health, thesis part 1
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