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I have an issue with my university. After 3 years of PhD research, I have presented to my examiners a out-of-format interdisciplinary research, as agreed with my supervisor. Unfortunately, my supervisor said "yes, yes, no problem", but after that he has never looked at my submission (I guess he was hoping my secondary supervisor was working for him), even though I had started to provide him with chapters of my thesis 5 months before submitting.

I had notified my University 10 days before submitting, and got told by the Dean of my Department: "I guess the best way to proceed is to submit by your deadline. Maybe your examiners will like it". Generally, from the reports of my examiners and the internal investigation, it looks like I was put on the wrong trail since the very beginning of my Ph.D., working on a wrong format but getting almost no advice and supervision along my journey.

I got an R&R, but half of my research has been cancelled, and so my interdisciplinary research. This creates numerous problems, as for example: 1) I cannot apply anymore for some job positions in a field I was looking for; 2) I cannot apply anymore for some postdoctoral opportunities; 3) I have now complained heavily against my supervisor, so I don't feel anymore like trusting him for a reference, which is often mandatory for jobs in academia; 4) I have to do 1 more year without fellowship.

How can I calculate damages? Is there any resource in which I can find examples, or techniques to understand them? Unfortunately, I have no money at this uncertain stage to have a consultation with a lawyer, so I have to find a way to calculate them myself.

  • Jurisdiction? You may be bound by arbitration in your contract with the university and can't sue or seek damages; read your contract and check with the university student grievance office. – BlueDogRanch Sep 25 '18 at 18:28
  • @BlueDogRanch, thank you for your help. My University is based in England. What should I search for, in order to understand whether I can or cannot? I have read all the Code of Practice, and there was no clear information about this. I have no idea what "arbitration" means in this case. – Luca Danieli Sep 25 '18 at 18:35
  • Read the academic contract you signed when you were accepted into the PhD. program. "Arbitration" means you can't sue for damages. – BlueDogRanch Sep 25 '18 at 19:01
  • @BlueDogRanch, Under the University Statutes Council has the power “To entertain, adjudicate upon and if thought fit redress the grievances of … Registered Students who raise a grievance concerning an issue or issues which, in the opinion of the Registrar and Secretary, concerns matters of University governance, and who have exhausted other internal dispute resolution procedures”. – Luca Danieli Sep 25 '18 at 19:12
  • Such matters are those which affect the student body as a whole or a large group/cohort of students, or which relate to University legislation, procedures or organisational structures on a broad scale (for example, programme modifications that detrimentally impact upon a whole cohort etc). Issues relating solely to a student’s individual circumstances are unlikely to be considered valid grounds for the submission of a grievance. - Does it mean that I can seek damages, if well grounded? – Luca Danieli Sep 25 '18 at 19:14
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There will be something that passes as a contract which you agreed to when you entered the university. Here is one example. This says that you will follow the rules, they may change your course of study, and so on. Relatively little is said about what they commit to providing. They do mention a complaint procedure. They do not guarantee that you will graduate nor do they guarantee that you will have decent supervisors. There is no requirement to arbitrate in this instance. If you were to sue the university, you would have to show that they breached their obligation to you. Probably that would come from some external document like a Royal Charter – this one does not appear to obligate the university to teach anything. They also have Statutes, Ordinances, Regulations and Codes of Practice, Policies and Guidance. You would then want to dig through the analogs at your institution and see to what extent they have promised that advisers will competently discharge advisorial duties. If so, you might be able to sue them, in which case computing damages would be relevant. The internal complaint option does not appear to allow for any monetary compensation beyond an "Offer of reimbursement of expenses up to a maximum of £100". The internal complaint system is also highly compartmentalized, so you can't use Code of Practice to challenge professional academic judgment of examiners, nor to appeal an academic assessment and progress decision.

  • Thank you @user6726 for your help. Some regulations have been completely broken (e.g. scheduling tutorials within the maximum amount of time permitted, delayed feedback over the maximum amount of time permitted), but the university would respond by saying that these are not "substantial", although it is a ground to prove that I have not obtained what stated in the first article of the Code of Practice: "adequate supervision". – Luca Danieli Sep 25 '18 at 19:26
  • The list of inadequacy is long, with 2 complaints along my Ph.D. journey that have never been dealt with neither at supervisory nor at departmental level. Unfortunately, negligence is difficult to prove, but the above points are surely a concrete indicators that my supervisor hasn't done his job nor provided me with adequate support. – Luca Danieli Sep 25 '18 at 19:37

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