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neuropsych76

Does B really equal PhD?

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I keep hearing that grades do not matter much, as long as you pass, no one cares about your grades, research is more important, ect.

How much truth is there to this? Is anyone familiar with the process after grad school? Do people really not ask for your transcripts? I feel like if someone has a 3.4 and someone has a 3.9 then the 3.9 would look a lot more favorable (assuming the rest of the credentials are the same).

I'm probably going to get the lowest GPA in my life this semester so I'm a bit worried about starting off on the wrong path. I won't be much motivated to study if I know I can be fine with a 3.0+

There was a related thread a few years back on this but I'd like to get some recent perspectives on just how important the grad school GPA is :)

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Based on past threads, there seems to be some field-dependence. The idea is similar, but in some fields, the minimum grade that you should be getting is an A- rather than a B, and there are a few in which (or so I am told) you should be getting straight As.

But what you've been hearing is what I've been hearing, including from professors (who presumably know how academic hiring works). And I've seen how hiring works in industry research (a concept which exists for cog neuro as well as my field) - very few places care at ALL about your grades, especially with PhDs. They care about the projects that you've worked on, the papers that you publish, your technical skills, the quality of the research talk that you give at your job interview.

Think about it this way. Why should the people hiring you care about your grades, as long as they were good enough that your program was willing to certify your competence? You aren't going to be earning your pay by taking classes and acing exams. You're going to be earning your pay with your teaching and research. So they care about those. A 3.4 vs a 3.9 isn't particularly relevant (coming from a field/program where 3.0 signifies competence). It doesn't give the employer info that is useful to them.

If you need motivation to study, consider that you need to pass your quals, or you won't make it through the program. If that means that you study hard in whatever subjects you need for quals, but cruise other classes...well, that's triage, and triage is an important skill in grad school (or life, really). You should put the extra time into excelling in your research (and, if you eventually want a teaching position, your teaching), where you can accomplish real things beyond jumping through hoops to optimize a 4.0-scale number.

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I feel like if someone has a 3.4 and someone has a 3.9 then the 3.9 would look a lot more favorable (assuming the rest of the credentials are the same).

But the problem with this logic is that comparing two people is NEVER the same. The fact is that one person's PhD thesis, research, talks, etc. is always differnt from another's so holding such a hypothetical is illogical. Obviously, if you really do hold all things static, then a higher GPA would be better to an extent. After a lot of reading, it seems that GPA acts more as a "check-mark", where it's only necessary for certain fundings or to make sure that you didn't completely throw away your coursework. Depending on the field, as long as you don't get below X, then I'm sure it hardly makes a difference.

But you should never neglect your courses for the minimal grades. You take courses to help your research/interests, and if you just barely get through your classes, what's the point of even taking the classes?

Edited by Riem

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Good points made here. All grad students are held to a much higher academic standard than undergrads, so as long as you are qualifying to move on each semester, it doesn't seem like there's a lot to worry about. The only time it might be worrisome is if you are scraping by each semester and wavering near that 3.0/academic warning line. Otherwise, in terms of job searches, your other credentials should stand out more than your GPA.

On a related note, I find the subject of GPAs kind of interesting--"C" used to stand for "average" or "satisfactory" and this was the baseline where grades started. These days, and especially in grad school, it seems more like everyone starts with an A and you have to kind of mess up to receive a lower grade. While I think the bell-curve system is incredibly unfair and creates damaging and unnecessary competition and stress, I also feel like some grad programs may be a little too easy.

For example, I work at a decent, relatively well-ranked state university and I process graduation for graduate students, so I see all the GPAs as I confer their degrees. Some programs (especially in education) will have 75-85% of students with a 4.0 GPA, and looking at their undergrad records, many had lower than 3.0. This just doesn't seem right to me. But I guess it varies from program to program and university to university (in math and science programs here, most final GPAs hover closer to 3.5).

Of course, most of these are master's degrees--it's much more rigorous for PhD students, and makes sense that most of them would be doing "A" level work most of the time.

Edited by bfat

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I've heard that in some programs (esp. humanities), grades are so inflated that a B is a professor's way of telling you they don't think you're grad school material.

But in the sciences, cogneuroforfun's advice is what I've heard also. In my program, if it's not on quals, it's graded P/F...saves us the trouble of triaging, heh.

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grades effects more.

because it shows your extra efforts and your learning nature.

and having grade at least 3+ is good and you can still say i m doing well but in our society of work we have to be more dependent on our workings too like our assignments, projects, thesis because it will directly effect.

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Think about your responsibilities after graduate school whether it's in academia or industry. Your future employers will want productive researchers and creative thinkers. They'll see that you met the requirements for the degree then dive head first into your publication record. Your productivity and creativity will be judged there, so who cares if you tested well in classes? You won't be taking exams when you get to that point of your career. Don't stress too much about the curriculum hoops you have to get through, just get through them. Focus your energy on your research.

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If it makes you feel better, seek out CVs of PhDs in your field (many members of academia post theirs on their departmental webpage). You likely won't see GPAs, but their publications are emphasized.

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I'm starting to realize grades aren't as important. Well... my brain is, but every other part of me still demands excellent grades. It's funny - in our program we are expected to get lower grades than in undergrad. If fact, one instructor of mine drew up a normal distribution PDF (bell curve, for you non-math people), highlighted the right end tail and said this is where we are used to being. Then he told us to look at our neighbor and pointed out that there is a good chance one of them will be in the lower end.

I really want to worry less about grades and focus on finding good research opportunities, but it's tough to get over that "grades are important" attitude.

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It depends on your program and the places to which you are applying. I have a friend on the job market now and I forgot what field she's in, but some of her schools are asking for transcripts. Every other person who's done the job market before has told me that no one asks for your transcripts.

The question of whether Bs get you a PhD is separate from whether they get you a job. It also depends on your program. Some programs have limits on how many Bs you can get. If you get too many, you may be put on probation and later dismissed. Others see it like my grad program, where the joke is if you have too many As, it means you weren't focusing enough on your research. Our DGS sat us down the first week of school and told us not to worry about grades, just to focus on learning and doing research.

Also, your motivation to study for class should not be to get an A. It should be to learn the material that's vital for your qualifying exams, your dissertation, and for doing research in your field.

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Also, your motivation to study for class should not be to get an A. It should be to learn the material that's vital for your qualifying exams, your dissertation, and for doing research in your field.

This is really the crux of the whole conversation. At this stage of the game, your grades are going to be a by-product of a number of things, first among them your ability to successfully understand course materials and integrate them into your knowledge base. If you've done that to the best of your ability, 1. That's all anyone can ask of you. and 2. You grades will likely reflect that effort, leaving you with a good GPA.

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Some programs (especially in education) will have 75-85% of students with a 4.0 GPA, and looking at their undergrad records, many had lower than 3.0. This just doesn't seem right to me. But I guess it varies from program to program and university to university (in math and science programs here, most final GPAs hover closer to 3.5). Of course, most of these are master's degrees--it's much more rigorous for PhD students, and makes sense that most of them would be doing "A" level work most of the time.

As an incoming MS student this made me cringe a little. For one, the figures that you posted are just flat-out depressing (but completely believable). Additionally, though, I thought the implication that masters students are that far removed from PhD students in terms of ability was a little insulting. I know the academic expectations vary widely according to level, field, individual program etc...but I also know that the masters program I'm starting this fall is far from a cakewalk, and whatever GPS I end up with will be well-earned. To me it makes sense that ALL graduate students would be doing "A" level work most of the time.

Yikes. I guess I'm kind of sensitive about this. Your wording got under my skin but I guess my real problem is, again, that you're absolutely right. I think I resent the fact that there are Masters programs out there that are so un-challenging that they potentially bring down the reputation of the entire degree.

</rant>

Sorry.

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Grades matter sometimes, but not all the time. It definitely sets you on the right path in your relations with faculty and how they look at you. On the other hand, if you get one B, it's not the end of the world. Things happen. But I guess if your grades are consistently B's throughout, they may start questioning your abilities or, probably even worse (and more likely, since they would assume that if you got to this level you DO have the ability to do better), question your commitment and whether or not you really care about this.

At the same time, getting straight A's is not sufficient for success, clearly. I have straight A's, and I can tell you that when it comes to presentations/giving talk, I tend to do quite poorly, and someone who only had B's on his transcript , has been overshadowing me in that respect. And let's face it, once you pass the comprehensives, no one's going to say, if you can't present well, oh, but she had good grades so it's all fine... So on the one hand, don't kill yourself over grades (learned this the hard way). Use coursework as an opportunity to improve yourself. I unfortunately didn't use it as an opportunity to improve things I was weak on, such as presentation skills, because those were really only worth 5% of the grade or something like that, whereas the great bulk of the grade was dedicated to written work...

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I've heard that in some programs (esp. humanities), grades are so inflated that a B is a professor's way of telling you they don't think you're grad school material.

But in the sciences, cogneuroforfun's advice is what I've heard also. In my program, if it's not on quals, it's graded P/F...saves us the trouble of triaging, heh.

Well, in the social sciences, if a prof gives a PhD student a B, it's like he's saying, you're A- material if you were a MA student but since you're a PhD student that puts you at a B level. I know one prof who has done this to some PhD students and wrote on their papers that this was a Masters-level quality work, but not as good for the PhD level. Don't get me wrong -- I don't endorse this perspective and think that lots of MA students can give me a run for my money. But that's the attitude of some profs. It could be that it's because in my program, MA and PhD students take courses together. I don't know. I can say that in my program (political science), PhD students are not given A's very easily. Most profs don't entertain A's at all. The highest they'd give is an A-, and that's if you're exceptional. So most of my friends have B+s and B's, and one or two A-s. It also depends on the prof. Some profs are easy graders, others are not. But increasingly, departments are pressuring profs to provide a more believable distribution of grades rather than give everyone A-s or A's, which some profs have tended to do.

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In talking to PhD students who are about to graduate (I'm in a masters program now) and their post-doc/real job hunting process, a huge fraction of the job applications do not ask for a transcript at all. Most of them have not submitted any, and a few have submitted 1 or 2 transcripts out of a dozen+ applications.

When I visited Caltech for the PhD program, the advice I got was to aim for a B because that was a passing grade. An A is nice for our egos but it doesn't help us too much. Although this may be a comment on the quality of instruction as well (i.e. it's not worth trying hard since the courses may not be too great).

Most people who go into PhD programs may be overachievers -- I think the advice is that if you are going to do more than the minimum/standard amount of work, put that extra effort into research!

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