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maath805

Do PhD grades matter?

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Hey all. I was wondering if grades received in PhD programs matter. I'm in my first year and just got my first grade so far this semester (B+) when I should have gotten an A- without all the of the subjective BS the professor put in (the class was also a very theoretical/discussion based class, but that's a whole different story).

I sort of care because I've been primed my whole life to care about grades, but now that I realize that there is nothing left to strive for since I'm at the highest level of education, are grades really that important?

On a side note, I need a 3.0GPA to stay off of academic probation, and a B+ is a 3.3.

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There are some threads in this forum that address your question precisely:

The short answer is that grades matter less than your research but they are still important in some cases - for example, to stay in good standing in your program and to be competitive for certain fellowships, grants and/or jobs. The bottom line is that if you get great grades in classes but can't produce strong research, you will have a hard time getting a job. If your research is very strong but you didn't make good grades, you are in better shape. Of course the ideal is to have strong results in both areas.

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Yes, your grades do matter, since they are a reflection of how your professors view your work. You sound a bit immature complaining about the professor's "subjective BS." Maybe some of that attitude is coming across in your classwork? Even if it's true, it's part of life, and everyone has to learn to deal with it. However, first year is stressful, and there's a lot to adjust to. It's entirely possible that your grades will improve as you get used to your program. While you shouldn't ignore your grades, you should not obsess about this one, either. It is satisfactory for your program, and you should move on -- strive to learn what you need to learn and to make the right impression on people in your program. They will be your network later, when you need advice, recommendation letters, etc. Congrats for making it through your first term of grad school!

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Not to be too plainly spoken here, but I have never heard a graduate student complain about "subjective BS." Isn't that what undergrads do? If you perform awesomely, no amount of subjective BS will deny you an awesome grade. I would recommend you aim for that. You got a B+, congrats! You are not going to be able to always do superbly in graduate level classes, as you have seen they are much harder and you have plenty of other distractions (research, and/or teaching, grading). Try not to sweat it, if you are not satisfied you can make a point to do better next semester. In the end, as the previous poster stated: this is part of life. You win some you lose some.

Grades matter in the sense that you need to be in good standing from an advanced graduate study perspective (in my department, as a masters student you require a 3.0 GPA, when you pass the qualifiers you obtain a new status which demands you maintain a 3.5 GPA). If you fall below, the can technically require you to exit the program; however, it has been my experience that people who drop below are given as many as three semesters to make it up before they officially do not permit you to continue. Unfortunately, I have known one student who was required to leave because of this.

Beyond this, your grades do matter still, for your first job or post-doctoral position. They may also be necessary for fellowships/funding. You do not want to waste your time though, classes are for learning so your principal priority should really be on that in my opinion, rather than on the letter grade in the end. I did know a few graduate students who would plan when they would take certain classes to maximize their GPA at the often compromise of having a less spectacular professor. I cannot understand this.

Edited by LawlQuals

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So I know this is an old thread but thought I would share this bit of info anyway.... I was advised by professors that if you choose to become one, when you apply for a tenure track (or even instructor position) at a university, they will ask for your transcripts - UG and Grad... so yes, grades can count in the professional arena...

We will always be judged by our numbers it seems.

:unsure:

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So I know this is an old thread but thought I would share this bit of info anyway.... I was advised by professors that if you choose to become one, when you apply for a tenure track (or even instructor position) at a university, they will ask for your transcripts - UG and Grad... so yes, grades can count in the professional arena...

We will always be judged by our numbers it seems.

:unsure:

They may ask for transcripts, but grades are certainly not what will decide whether or not you will be hired for a tenure-track position. At this level you are judged by your research record (cv, publications, research statement, job talk), teaching ability (as reflected in evaluations, teaching statement, sample lecture - in case they ask you to give one) and personality (as reflected in interviews, meetings and such). Letters of recommendation are very important, as are the essays you write and the way you present yourself in the interview (if you get that far...). People are choosing a colleague who will potentially be down the hall from their office from now until they retire; I'd say the same advice applies here as when you apply to graduate school but probably even more forcefully - grades are one of the least important components of the application. Don't mess them up completely but don't worry overmuch.

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They may ask for transcripts, but grades are certainly not what will decide whether or not you will be hired for a tenure-track position. At this level you are judged by your research record (cv, publications, research statement, job talk), teaching ability (as reflected in evaluations, teaching statement, sample lecture - in case they ask you to give one) and personality (as reflected in interviews, meetings and such). Letters of recommendation are very important, as are the essays you write and the way you present yourself in the interview (if you get that far...). People are choosing a colleague who will potentially be down the hall from their office from now until they retire; I'd say the same advice applies here as when you apply to graduate school but probably even more forcefully - grades are one of the least important components of the application. Don't mess them up completely but don't worry overmuch.

Awesome!! That is a relief!.... In that case... I will have another beer... :)

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i got a D in one subject of my first year of phD. does that effect my professional selection. i am really depressed.

Edited by usha

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As an aside it seems to me the whole grading system for graduate work is screwed up.

Setting 3.0 as the minimum grade gives too little latitude to professors to differentiate between students... Essentially the scale becomes

A => A

A- => B

B+ => C

B => D

<B => F

I think this results in grade inflation and lots of stress. Why not keep the same scale as UG grades? I don't know why this compressed scale was ever adopted.

A previous poster commented that after their exams a 3.5 is the minimum grade ... Really?! That's essentially a Pass/Fail system bound to cause grade inflation.

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I've seen people get lower grades, and even fail, so it's definitely not causing grade inflation, at least in my program.

Rather, it's due to the fact that all of the graduate students are supposed to be doing "A" quality work. That's why you were selected, and that's whats expected. Hence, A/B are the two commonly given (and acceptable) grades, with Bs often given for what's considered "below par". It's not grade inflation, so much as increased expectations.

For a related conversation, see http://chronicle.com...ic,88469.0.html on the CHE forums for the faculty perspective.

Edited by Eigen

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Not to be too plainly spoken here, but I have never heard a graduate student complain about "subjective BS." Isn't that what undergrads do?

FWIW, there are fields, such as history, where the definition of truth is hotly contested terrain. In such fields, one may hear graduate students and professors alike calling "B.S." on a regular basis. That being said, I don't know if a first year graduate student throwing the "B.S. flag" is doing himself any favors.

As an aside it seems to me the whole grading system for graduate work is screwed up.

Setting 3.0 as the minimum grade gives too little latitude to professors to differentiate between students... Essentially the scale becomes

A => A

A- => B

B+ => C

B => D

<B => F

I think this results in grade inflation and lots of stress. Why not keep the same scale as UG grades? I don't know why this compressed scale was ever adopted.

A previous poster commented that after their exams a 3.5 is the minimum grade ... Really?! That's essentially a Pass/Fail system bound to cause grade inflation.

Keep in mind that professors have other means to indicate their dissatisfaction with a student's work. These options can include end of semester evaluations, the decision to not advise or mentor, departmental word of mouth, opportunities to influence the decision over a student's subsequent funding--both fellowships and TA/GA/RA-ships, and the authority to take a graduate student to the wood shed and bounce him/her off the walls for a few tense minutes.

So while you're point about grade inflation may be applicable to many programs, professors can resort to numerous safeguards if they're so inclined.

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I have always found the grading system quite odd in graduate school. I find that there's always enough wiggle room for professors to personally weigh in on whether or not they felt you were a good student- such as participation marks. I think it probably varies by degree and department, but generally if you put serious effort into your assignments, attend every class, and participate in discussion (and show you are following the material), you'll do ok. I know several student during my MA who bombed the assignments for one of our 1st year classes, but they would participate and show up every class wanting to learn and they still pulled a decent mark. This is one benefit of GS, it's not just assignment/test base and reiterating knowledge back to the professor...

Here, the letter to GPA equivalents are the same in UG and GS, but anything below a 70% (B-) is a red flag. ... I think this is generally what it's like in most schools/departments.

Grades do matter to some extent...your ability to get funding and support is linked in part to your grades. However, I don't think it will stop an employer in the future from not hiring you- but it may stop you from getting into a Post-Doc.

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When I applied for postdoctoral fellowship positions, I was not asked for my graduate transcript. I was asked for references.

That being said, coming into a postdoc self-funded will likely require a transcript as one component of an application. Many of the more competitive laboratories strongly encourage a person to seek their own funding.

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I'm not sure there's a huge point to grades in grad school, and in my program we don't have them beyond pass/fail. Instead, we get narrative evaluations that provide qualitative feedback on our progress throughout a given term. I think the question of whether grades "matter" to your career is somewhat beside the point. You're not in grad school to please your teachers or get a gold star--you're there to become a better scholar...aren't you? So check your ego and figure out how you can do that. This professor must think there are aspects of your scholarship that need work, so go ask for their advice and implement it as best you can.

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Echoing what Spore said above, most of my friends who graduated from PhD and applied to post-docs did not have submit any transcripts. But, they did have to submit them for fellowships or other similar awards. Even so, the grades aren't likely to have very much weight -- NSERC (Canada's version of NSF) base their Masters levels awards on 50% grades, 30% research, 20% community involvement/leadership but at the Doctoral level, it's 50% research, 30% grades, 20% community involvement, so I would extrapolate that trend to post-doc levels (which NSERC also funds) and then further extrapolate this general trend to other national funding agencies!

So I think they might make a difference if you end up competing with someone of a similar research record for a fellowship, but if you have to choose between improving research or grades, I'd say do just enough to get the passing grade (i.e. a B) and then work on your research. I've also heard this advice from other PhD students at many different schools. In fact, at some places, the courses are actually really bad and everyone (profs and students) just do them because they have to, so you don't really learn much anyways.

I also always thought that grades in grad school were strange. It's in the school/department/prof's best interests to inflate our grades. Failing students make the department look bad and also means a wasted investment. Higher grades means their students are more competitive at external awards and reduce costs for the department (of course, this is probably why grades aren't that important in fellowships!). There is less pressure for schools to produce "meaningful" grades because so few people care about PhD grades, as compared to undergrad programs (i.e. a school wouldn't want to send an undergrad with a 95% average to grad school only for the other school to find out the grades were so inflated and thus develop a bad reputation for the school). By the way, this information came to me by talking to profs teaching graduate courses at two different institutions.

Of course, all departments won't hesitate to fail a student that deserves it (i.e. didn't do the work, didn't learn the material) but I find that "pity passes" appear often -- i.e. if the whole class does well enough to meet the prof/department's standards but the grades are low because the exams were too tough or something, it's likely that everyone's grades will be shifted upwards so that everyone passes. I've seen lots of grade distributions for graduate classes where there are conveniently no borderline failures and lots of people in the lowest passing bin.

Not saying that people can/should coast by in their classes, but grad school requires making priorities and sometimes the extra hours put into a course may not warrant the small increase in grade. It would be a good idea to find out from the older students what the department/each prof's grading policies are. If the school publishes it, a grade distribution for old classes is also useful!

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Grades matter for funding, but you generally have to maintain a "B" average. A "B+" is a 3.3 at your institution, so as long as your other grades are "A"s I would not worry too much about that aspect of your situation.

What I would do, especially since you seem to be a little upset by this grade, is to go in and speak with the professor. The conversation should not be a "why did I only get a B+" or a "comparison of this B+ to all my other A grades" sort of deal, but rather, "can you tell me a little about what you see as my weaknesses as a student, and maybe give me some pointers to improve in those areas? I really want to excel, and my goal is to be an "A" student at this level. I'd appreciate your feedback and insight on how I can make that happen."

In other words, use the professor's office hours, and go in there with the intent to really hear what s/he says - because obviously whether you like it or not, s/he perceives some weaknesses in your performance. You don't have to agree or like it, but it would be very wise to take this chance to learn what s/he is looking for and strive to incorporate that into your overall performance - it can only enhance your abilities, and will also a.) help you understand better what happened and provide a little closure b.) let the professor know you are open to constructive criticism and create good will and a good impression for future encounters and c) give you the chance to develop areas of your performance that might be holding you back without your knowledge.

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I currently have a 3.6 GPA with 4 A's and 2 B's. I will say this, professors who give B's because you deserve them. It does sound to me that the original poster is a bit immature. I hope by now you should be just now completing your first year or nearing it; you have learned to settle down and take the advice your mentors have given you.

Grades matter, but then again they do not really matter, the Ph.D. program is in three phases; course work, comps, and dissertation. If you need a minimum of 3.0 to get through your course work, then ensure you do that. However, in the long run, you will not be judge by your grads, but by your research. Good Luck!

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Since we are on the topic, I had a question:

The courses I am about to take (first quarter as a GS, PhD progam) offer two methods of evaluation:

1. Letter Grade (ABCDF)

2. Credit/No Credit.

I'm wondering what the difference is, since I can opt to choose either when registering for the same course. What sort of experiences are to be had with each one?

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hmm...dunno...never heard of being able to pick your method of evaluation.

Perhaps the credit/no credit is for auditing a course? You can audit the course and it can be on your transcripts that you took it, but you won't receive a grade for it.

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Sorry if I bring up an old thread...

 

There is one overlooked aspect in this whole discussion of PhD grades: if one hit the job market in some capacity for a few years after graduation, and hits a wall in a career that can't be overcome with a PhD but can be overcome with a professional school degree. Or wants to switch fields.

 

How do professional schools (other than law school, which do not care about graduate grades in any shape or form) view PhD grades? 

 

Professional schools ask for all university transcripts, undergrad and grad.

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Sorry if I bring up an old thread...

 

There is one overlooked aspect in this whole discussion of PhD grades: if one hit the job market in some capacity for a few years after graduation, and hits a wall in a career that can't be overcome with a PhD but can be overcome with a professional school degree. Or wants to switch fields.

 

How do professional schools (other than law school, which do not care about graduate grades in any shape or form) view PhD grades? 

 

Professional schools ask for all university transcripts, undergrad and grad.

 

My school has been discussing graduate course grades for awhile now. The GPA distribution of students here is basically that >80% of grades are 3.6 (A-) or higher, with 4.0 (A) being the most common. There is an idea to change the grading system of all grad courses to "Pass/No Credit" instead of letter grades (currently, we can take any non-required course as Pass/Fail if we wish).

 

Other faculty brought up the same issue you asked here: If we don't assign a GPA, what if students graduate and go to another program (or a job) that wants to see a GPA? The solution was that, if we were to adopt this, we would assign Pass = 4.0 so that everyone basically has a 4.0 GPA (which is already true anyways). 

 

So, although this doesn't directly answer your question, I think this means that these programs must know that the way grad school courses are graded (after all, these programs likely exist at schools with graduate programs too). That is to say, they would expect A-flavoured GPAs, in my opinion.

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^Basically this. A glance at the PhD GPA would be more of a simple check, and I think anything below around a 3.5 or so would be a red flag. But most PhD students are going to have a 3.7+ GPA just because the standard grade is an A.

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^Basically this. A glance at the PhD GPA would be more of a simple check, and I think anything below around a 3.5 or so would be a red flag. But most PhD students are going to have a 3.7+ GPA just because the standard grade is an A.

 

In graduate psychology courses, maybe A is the standard grade but I do not think it holds true across all fields or all departments within a field.

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In graduate psychology courses, maybe A is the standard grade but I do not think it holds true across all fields or all departments within a field.

 

It is certainly true in most physics and astrophysics graduate departments in North America. And it's true in all departments at my school (see above post).

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