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Possibly getting kicked out of grad school


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So I just finished my first semester of grad school and I learned earlier this week (and by earlier I mean Thursday evening) that I got a B- in one of my classes and then this Friday afternoon that I might be kicked from my program (MS in Biochem).

 

Normally, a B- wouldn't be much of an issue for most people, but one of the stipulations of my acceptance into the program was that I had to take two specific classes in my first semester and get B's in both since my application was unusual (90+ percentiles on GRE, really awful undergrad, good research). The other one is still pending, and as far as I know grades for that class won't be up till this Thursday, but I have a borderline B/B+ and the final is curved to a standard, so I'm going to assume the best right now because any more worrying wouldn't be good.

 

Basically, I'm freaking out a bit (a lot). I went into the final with a solid B and thought I was good, came 16 points short on the final and ended with a B-, which is close to a B but it isn't a B. The prof has said he can't do anything, although I had a short 5 min talk with him instead of a long sit down talk since he was already in a sit down talk with someone else. The academic coordinator (who I talked to this Friday) told me since I didn't get the grades I needed, then odds are very likely I'll be kicked from the program, even if I do well in the other class since I just didn't meet the reqs.

 

However, the choice is ultimately up to the graduate director, and he pulls up grades this Thursday and calls people into meetings if they haven't met requirements, etc. and basically tells them they're out, from what I can gather. There's very, very few cases that people stay who are in similar positions as mine.

 

Research wise, things are going pretty well. Both my PI and the visiting professor (I'm not exactly sure what her status is here, but I'm assuming it's a visiting prof) who's responsible for one of my projects like me. They probably like me too much, since I've been juggling two research projects through the semester. I'm possibly being listed as a co-author on a paper from the visiting prof if it gets published? The two project juggling probably contributed to the low performance on the final, along with three hour commute between school and home.

 

I haven't informed my PI or the visiting prof of the circumstances. So I suppose my question here is- how do I proceed? A B- isn't a B, but 16 points short on a 200 point final from a B is close, but the acceptance letter clearly stipulates I need a B. I'm not exactly sure if research is going to come into the end decision or not or any external factors, or if it's just going to be based on my final grade. Should I inform my PI/the visiting prof of the situation? What sort of argument should I try to make when I get called into the meeting, or should I just not bother? 

 

And in the very real possibility that I do get kicked out, what are my options from there? Apply to another program that hopefully takes me? 

 

tl;dr- First semester in, school said that I had to get B's in two specific classes (1 and 2). I got a B- in 1, likely B or B+ in 2. A's in other classes. Research is good, PI likes me+the work I do. Was told that I'd likely be kicked for not meeting the grades I need, so what can I do to prevent this or what do I do if it does happen?

Edited by provigil
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If it were me, I would go to your PI. 

 

They're the ones that are most likely to be able to help you with this. I've seen students at my program in similar situations get saved by their PI's intervention, if they are behind the student 100% and want them to stay. 

 

Waiting to tell them will probably make it harder, not easier- I think proactivity is better than waiting, personally. 

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If it were me, I would go to your PI. 

 

They're the ones that are most likely to be able to help you with this. I've seen students at my program in similar situations get saved by their PI's intervention, if they are behind the student 100% and want them to stay. 

 

Waiting to tell them will probably make it harder, not easier- I think proactivity is better than waiting, personally. 

 

I agree with Eigen, explain what happened to your PI (they are going to find out anyways) and see what happens. I don't think you have anything to lose with this route either! 

 

Yeah, I'm sitting down and writing an email to him right now later today to try to explain the situation and see if he can't do anything, like petition DGS or send an email regarding it (he's out of the country for another two weeks, I think).

 

I'll also try to inform the visiting prof about it as well, since she's the one who's responsible for overseeing my projects (my PI tends to be out of the country a lot) but I'm a lot less sure how much weight she has, if any at all, but she probably has more weight than me when talking to my PI.

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I managed to talk to the visiting prof today about the matter, and while she didn't know who to talk to other than my PI, she said that she'd also talk with my PI about the situation in addition to me talking to him, and if need be, the department chair (I know my PI is familiar with the chair, but I'm not sure how familiar the visiting prof is).

 

Another PhD student in my lab who's been here a year also indicated to me that in getting a B- is usually entered into the system as a B in some classes, and that it's only if you get a C that you're in real trouble. I'm not entirely sure how much weight to put on that, since the prof teaching the class clearly indicated to me that I had gotten a B-.

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Another PhD student in my lab who's been here a year also indicated to me that in getting a B- is usually entered into the system as a B in some classes, and that it's only if you get a C that you're in real trouble. I'm not entirely sure how much weight to put on that, since the prof teaching the class clearly indicated to me that I had gotten a B-.

 

I second (third?) the advice to talk to people sooner rather than later. As for the grade, at least at my school you can get a +/- qualification of your grade which shows up on internal transcripts but the official transcript only shows the letter grade itself and that's what the GPA is calculated based on. You can probably find information about that somewhere on your university's website but what really matters is what your department considers the official grade, which may be up to them to decide. There may be some wiggle room here and that's where your advisor can help if they are willing to fight for you.

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As for the grade, at least at my school you can get a +/- qualification of your grade which shows up on internal transcripts but the official transcript only shows the letter grade itself and that's what the GPA is calculated based on. You can probably find information about that somewhere on your university's website but what really matters is what your department considers the official grade, which may be up to them to decide. There may be some wiggle room here and that's where your advisor can help if they are willing to fight for you.

 

I've tried looking around the school website, but I haven't found much that indicates much. I'm fairly certain that our school may use a +/- scale when assigning grades for official transcripts, since the wording on the syllabus implies that is what's used, but I'm not sure how it translates into the actual transcript itself since I'm not actually able to view my grades yet. I did get the impression that it's unusual for a prof to give a B-, since it means you have to retake the class and you're already close to a B as it is, but I'm not sure if this is one of those cases.

Edited by provigil
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Yeah, I've talked to the graduate academic coordinator who's probably as well informed about these things, and she confirmed that the +/- thing was a thing involved in grades and that it did show up on something that factored into the decision. 

 

The upside is that my PI replied to my email saying he'd talk to the department about it. Which isn't very clear but I'll take it as a good sign.

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So there wasn't a meeting and just an email telling me I'm out of the program. I'm not sure if my PI did ever get around to talking to the department or if he forgot, so I shot him another email. Except seeing how I'm no longer in the program, I'm not sure how this is going to go.

So, I suppose the question is now what should I do?

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There may be a chance for you (and your PI?) to appeal the decision maybe? For major decisions like this, I usually see a policy for an appeals process at the places I've been to (but no guarantee that your school/department would have one). But like you said, it's not clear if your PI has already tried this. I think emailing your PI was the right thing and you might have to wait until you get a response. 

 

Meanwhile, I'd check if there was an appeals process and initiate ASAP just in case (especially if there is a time limit for things like this). I think it's pretty crappy that they just sent you an email instead of an actual face-to-face meeting to discuss the matter. Maybe you can ask for one? One tricky part will be balancing doing these things without your PI (because I think without his/her support, you probably won't be able to stay) but also starting the process so that waiting until your PI comes back won't mean that any timelines are past!

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So there wasn't a meeting and just an email telling me I'm out of the program. I'm not sure if my PI did ever get around to talking to the department or if he forgot, so I shot him another email. Except seeing how I'm no longer in the program, I'm not sure how this is going to go.

So, I suppose the question is now what should I do?

 

Who was the e-mail from?

 

In general, I wouldn't say "you're no longer in the program", but that you won't be back in next semester. So that gives you some time to appeal, talk to your PI, etc. 

 

You can also talk to the visiting prof, and see what they say. 

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There may be a chance for you (and your PI?) to appeal the decision maybe? For major decisions like this, I usually see a policy for an appeals process at the places I've been to (but no guarantee that your school/department would have one). But like you said, it's not clear if your PI has already tried this. I think emailing your PI was the right thing and you might have to wait until you get a response. 

 

Meanwhile, I'd check if there was an appeals process and initiate ASAP just in case (especially if there is a time limit for things like this). I think it's pretty crappy that they just sent you an email instead of an actual face-to-face meeting to discuss the matter. Maybe you can ask for one? One tricky part will be balancing doing these things without your PI (because I think without his/her support, you probably won't be able to stay) but also starting the process so that waiting until your PI comes back won't mean that any timelines are past!

 

I had thought there was an actual meeting, since that's what the academic specialist told me when I asked but apparently, just an email. I tried looking around for the exact process for an appeals process, but I didn't have much luck in finding anything. Talking to the academic specialist (who's quickly becoming my least favorite person) regarding the matter netted me a response that boiled down to 'possibly talk to the graduate school director', who's proven elusive and difficult to find. I am having limited trust in what the academic specialist says however, since the first time I went to talk to her about it, she implied there was next to nothing I could do to stay in the program. 

 

Everyone in the lab is of the opinion that getting the PI to talk to the department should be fine. However, the general consensus in the lab is also that the PI forgot about the entire situation at hand.

 

In the meantime, I sent him another two emails in addition to the notification he got from the GSD about the matter and I'm working on one to the relevant people (either the academic specialist or the GSD, to be decided) so he'll have four or five emails about this. It's tricky though, since my PI won't be back in the country till Jan sometime. 

 

Who was the e-mail from?

 

In general, I wouldn't say "you're no longer in the program", but that you won't be back in next semester. So that gives you some time to appeal, talk to your PI, etc. 

 

You can also talk to the visiting prof, and see what they say. 

 

From the graduate academic specialist/student coordinator. Attached to it was a pdf letter from the GSD regarding the matter.

 

I don't know- the words 'immediate termination from the program' kind of jumped off the page at me, but I suppose not being back next semester also gets the idea across. 

 

The visiting prof is convinced along with everyone else in my lab that my PI hasn't talked to the department at all because he forgot, and that I should email/attempt to contact him until I do get a response and then have him talk to the GSD. She's talked to the lab manager as well (who's also my PI's wife) and the lab manager is also pretty sure that he forgot about it. 

Edited by provigil
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What kind of PI doesn't bother to talk to the department because he forgets that his student is about to be kicked out of the program?

 

... Are you sure you want to stay there?

Yeah, this. And maybe it's because PsychGirl1 and I are in Psychology, and I can't for the life of me imagine a PI forgetting about a student getting kicked out of a program (including PIs that go overseas for a semester for research).  Cripes.

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What kind of PI doesn't bother to talk to the department because he forgets that his student is about to be kicked out of the program?

 

... Are you sure you want to stay there?

 

Yeah, this. And maybe it's because PsychGirl1 and I are in Psychology, and I can't for the life of me imagine a PI forgetting about a student getting kicked out of a program (including PIs that go overseas for a semester for research).  Cripes.

 

In his defense, we have a large lab (36 people as of present), he's got some responsibilities in another lab overseas and tends to leave the actual running of the lab to the postdocs and research scientists. But he's also notoriously bad about deadlines and remembering things that don't directly impact the lab as a whole when he's abroad, ie. another student missed the deadline for a NSF fellowship because he forgot to get the rec letter in on time when he was traveling abroad. So that sort of behavior isn't that surprising, given how he's acted in the past- only now it's put me and several other people in the lab in a lot more uncomfortable position. 

 

There is the alternative that he did talk to the department about the matter already, and it was a no go and he just didn't inform me of it either, but everyone in the lab seems to think that it shouldn't be the case.

 

Either that, or the PI knows that it's not a big deal and he can take care of it, and didn't think the department would send out an e-mail just yet. 

 

There was apparently a similar situation last fall semester where one of the PhD students in the lab had gotten B- in both his core classes in his first semester. I don't think that he was admitted under the same conditions as me, but I know that PhD students tend to be under much more scrutiny and if their GPA dips below 3.0, particularly for first semester PhD students, they're in trouble. He had apparently talked to the PI about it who then talked to the department or someone and nothing too bad happened. Based on that, everyone seems to be of the opinion that this situation shouldn't be that difficult to work around or that big a deal for him to deal with since I only got a B-, and my GPA is still above a 3.0. 

 

Excepting that I haven't heard anything from him about the matter, etc and etc.

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I can't imagine being in a program where I can't just walk up to the person who has this much control over my life...

 

It's ironic that I always complained about having to attend backyard BBQ's and sometimes was expected to watch someone's cat, but they were always accessible in exchange.

 

I mean, seriously, I HATED my advisor by the end of it before I quit.. but I also knew if I needed to get ahold of her she went to meet her niece for lunch every Thursday at 1pm at Panera.

Edited by Loric
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In his defense, we have a large lab (36 people as of present), he's got some responsibilities in another lab overseas and tends to leave the actual running of the lab to the postdocs and research scientists. But he's also notoriously bad about deadlines and remembering things that don't directly impact the lab as a whole when he's abroad, ie. another student missed the deadline for a NSF fellowship because he forgot to get the rec letter in on time when he was traveling abroad. So that sort of behavior isn't that surprising, given how he's acted in the past- only now it's put me and several other people in the lab in a lot more uncomfortable position. 

 

There is the alternative that he did talk to the department about the matter already, and it was a no go and he just didn't inform me of it either, but everyone in the lab seems to think that it shouldn't be the case.

 

 

There was apparently a similar situation last fall semester where one of the PhD students in the lab had gotten B- in both his core classes in his first semester. I don't think that he was admitted under the same conditions as me, but I know that PhD students tend to be under much more scrutiny and if their GPA dips below 3.0, particularly for first semester PhD students, they're in trouble. He had apparently talked to the PI about it who then talked to the department or someone and nothing too bad happened. Based on that, everyone seems to be of the opinion that this situation shouldn't be that difficult to work around or that big a deal for him to deal with since I only got a B-, and my GPA is still above a 3.0. 

 

Excepting that I haven't heard anything from him about the matter, etc and etc.

 

Again- are you sure you want to stay there? He forgets his students are getting kicked out of the program... misses major grant deadlines for his students... puts his students into "uncomfortable positions".

 

I'm not saying you shouldn't fight for your spot, but I'd also put some serious thought into whether this is a place you want to stay.

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I can't imagine being in a program where I can't just walk up to the person who has this much control over my life...

 

It's ironic that I always complained about having to attend backyard BBQ's and sometimes was expected to watch someone's cat, but they were always accessible in exchange.

 

I mean, seriously, I HATED my advisor by the end of it before I quit.. but I also knew if I needed to get ahold of her she went to meet her niece for lunch every Thursday at 1pm at Panera.

 

I suppose that it's not that I don't know where to find my advisor when he's actually on campus, but the issue is that the total number of times that I've seen him on campus is less than 10, so trying to get in touch with him via email is the only recourse and tends to involve sending multiple copies of the same email to get him to notice he's got a new (important) email.

 

Again- are you sure you want to stay there? He forgets his students are getting kicked out of the program... misses major grant deadlines for his students... puts his students into "uncomfortable positions".

 

I'm not saying you shouldn't fight for your spot, but I'd also put some serious thought into whether this is a place you want to stay.

 

I think I'd have a lot more issues with it if it were for a PhD, as opposed just a master's. My last PI was both insane and awful, and my current PI's research is both in line with my interests (unfortunately he's also the only one here who's doing work in the field) so the neglectful aspect of it I can deal with. 

 

Not to say that it's an ideal or good situation by a long stretch, but at this point in time I don't even have the luxury of having a choice between other labs. 

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Update- PI emailed me back with an email he got from the GSD about five days ago when PI emailed GSD expressing concerns about the matter that said: 

 

1. If GPA falls below 3.0, then you've got a semester to bring it back up. If you're a normally accepted student. 

2. If accepted under special conditions, then there's not much to be done. It doesn't say much else other than 'not much to be done' regarding the matter, only that status is assigned to students that had weak undergrad performance and is a way of seeing how well student would do if accepted fully into the program. 

 

I'm emailing him back pointing out that my GPA is still over a 3.0, and trying to see if that isn't much room at all. The visiting prof suggested the same thing as well, but I'm not having a particularly strong feeling about this.

 

EDIT: PI replied saying he'd ask the department about it. Visiting prof also suggested directly asking the GSD about it as well.

Edited by provigil
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Sorry to hear about this problem you're having. You didn't mention if you ended up getting a B or B+ in the other course and which courses you took. If you end up appealing and have the support of your PI, perhaps you could argue that the two courses average out to a B if you got a B+ in the second one. Your case would be even stronger if the courses were closely related.

 

Best of luck!  

Edited by jenste
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It ended up being a B+ in Thermo, and B- in Biochem I, so not too terribly related.

 

The issue is that I'm not sure if there's a formal appeals process, other than having my PI talk to the GSD. I'm trying to use that point and that my GPA is still above a 3.0 as points of contention, but my PI isn't seeming too optimistic about it. The impression I had gotten from talking to the academic specialist is that I would've had to have gotten an A or A+ in the Thermo to balance out the B-, so yeah. 

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