Kevin O’Gorman is Professor of Management and Business History and Head of Business Management in the School of Languages and Management in Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. He trained in Glasgow, Salamanca and Rome as a philosopher, theologian and historian. His research interests have a dual focus: Origins, history and cultural practices of hospitality, and philosophical, ethical and cultural underpinnings of contemporary management practices. Using a wide range of methodological approaches he has published over 80 journal articles, books, chapters, and conference papers in business and management.

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The exact terminology is not exact, and often varies from institution to institution. Don’t fixate on particular words like minor / major / substantive etc., rather, understand what the board classifications mean.


Now, a few things to consider before we look at the actual decisions that your examiners can make after your exam:

  • If you have reached your viva, you will probably get your PhD
  • It is exceptionally rare that a thesis will be passed without any corrections
  • Most people get some kind of amendments
  • The viva is the beginning of the end…!


Even if you gain the decision of ‘Award’ most students comment that they had some kind of feelings of ‘anti-climax’ after the exam… myself included.  This is not really a surprise as your focus / dread / fear has been building up to this moment for the last three and half years, and, guess what, it passed off without major incident….

Now, what could happen to you?


  1. Award of the PhD. Possible, but this is very rare… have you ever won the lottery?

You get to go home, call yourself Doctor, and wonder what you are going to do with yourself now, whilst being slightly confused about where your friends have gone… actually you last saw some of them three years ago… oh well…   No further work needs done: PhD, that’s it!

Joking apart, this is an exceptional result, and hardly happens to anyone… Congratulations, Doctor!

Now, change your thesis into publications and get on with a glowing academic career. As long as you have no religious, philosophical, or medical impediments – do not resist the temptation to have a celebratory drink. Remember: never drink alone (unless there is no one else around).  An email of thanks to your Supervisors, Head of Department, and examiners is always welcome.  Don’t forget to thank your family, loved ones, friends (even employer) without whom none of this would have been possible – they were as worried as you were today! It’s time for your mother to buy a new hat…


  1. Award of the PhD subject to minor amendments.

Now, we are back in the realm of mortals; this is a common result but still not that common. You have some minor corrections to be made and submitted to the internal examiner within one to three months depending on the rules of your particular university.  You are done, all done, and dusted… well… there might be a comma missing on page 47 and a typo on page 235, and really why on earth is that journal title not in italics on item 145 in your list of references…

You have got the idea, we are in the realms of the pedant, however, your examiners are aware that your thesis is going to hang around your neck like an albatross for the rest of your life. So, before it gets bound and goes in the library (for no one to look at ever again) they want it to be perfect for you, even although you could see it far enough just now!  Also, now you will post your final version on Research Gate / Institutional Repository etc. Theses have always been public documents, but now they really are public… so, it’s worth getting it perfect! When you have done those fiddly little things, get on with publishing…

However, you should leave all of that for a day or two and get your thank you emails written / phone calls made and celebrate, Doctor!


  1. Award of the degree subject to amendments

Welcome to normality: this is the most common result. If you have a good thesis and a good supervisory team, then this the normal expected result. So, you have some corrections to be made and you have six months to do them. Depending on the rules of your institution these have to be completed to either the satisfaction of the internal examiner or both the internal and external examiners; this is not a reflection on you or your thesis, it normally comes down to the rules of your institution. Sometimes the word ‘major’ or ‘significant’ is used before ‘amendments’, again, this is not a reflection on you, it is the arcane regulations of your institution – really it’s just there to distinguish it from ‘minor amendments’ or whatever they are called.

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Now, the word to fixate on here is ‘Award’: you did it – you passed!  All those years of toil, sweat, blood and tears… it is over!  Yes, you have some corrections to make, but when you do them, that’s that! You are free to call yourself Doctor, publish, and launch yourself head first into an academic career, or head off out into the ‘real world’…  where the grass is always greener…

However, you should leave all of that for a day or two and get your thank you emails written / phone calls made and celebrate, Doctor!


  1. Revision of the thesis and a requirement to resubmit without further examination

Normally, students tend to feel disappointed with this result; their feelings are perfectly understandable. However, this is not an uncommon result, it is not a fail, it’s just not an ‘award’ yet, as the vast majority of students who get this result go on and resubmit successfully.

You may feel you have entered some kind of academic limbo… don’t panic!  There will be a written report coming from your examiners which will give comprehensive details of what needs to be done, wait for that come through.  In the meantime go and talk to your supervisor, they will normally have some more feedback, if not your supervisor, there is normally a PhD coordinator or advisor of Doctoral Studies you can chat to.

The examiners are impartial and appointed by the university; follow their advice when it comes.  You will probably be required to rewrite substantial parts of the thesis, or collect more data or redo parts of the analysis, or even work your findings and conclusions more. The revisions needed are not normally minor, there is more work to be done. However, remember, your examiners want you to pass and should have set some clear criteria for you.  If you need further advise or are unclear about what they are looking for you to do, don’t hesitate to ask for it, however, you should go via your supervisor / PhD Administrator / Head of Department, as you don’t really want to be influencing the examination process.


  1. Revision of the thesis and a requirement to resubmit with further examination

Well, more or less the same as above, however, another viva is required.  Again, this is not necessarily a reflection on you, your thesis or your supervisor… the choice of whether or not there needs to be another viva is often dictated by the rules of your institution and not really up to the examiners… and remember, as above, the vast majority of students who get this result go on and resubmit, do the viva and pass.


  1. Award of a lower degree with or without minor amendments

We are back in the realms of lottery wins again; this happens rarely and never on a first viva.  Normally this only happens if you were set another viva before, you did not follow what your examiners required you to do as part of your resubmission, and you didn’t perform at your second viva.  If you have followed the instructions of your examiners and advice of your supervisor then this should not happen to you.


  1. Thesis failed with no right of resubmission

This is an exceptionally rare result, and I have never even heard of someone getting it.  Something extraordinary would have to have happened.


Picture by Patrik Nygren under CC license.