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GradSrudent3645

Failed quals TWICE - now kicked out

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Hi everyone

I'm looking for some opinions/advice. I'm in a top ranked (top 10, sometimes top 5) engineering program. I failed the PhD qualifying exam ... twice. The 1st time I took it, I passed 1/2 of the exam, and only had to retake a specific portion. Multiple profs asked me to stay, so I did. The second time I took it I still failed that topic. Basically I choked the 2nd time. This means I'm kicked out of the program. Now I have 3 options:

1) apply for jobs. This is the most obvious. In fact I've applied for 15 engineering jobs already.

2) apply to a lower (but still respectable) school. I would need to convince profs to write me letters of recommendation after failing a qualifying exam, this could be a challenge.

3) switch departments at my current school. This is appealing since I've already made progress on a thesis at my current institution. However, I've probably damaged my reputation here, and there's a chance I could fail AGAIN (which would probably turn me into a public spectacle here)

So this sucks. Since I took the exam twice, this results in a total 8 months of studying. These 8 months were a complete waste of time, unless I take a similar 3rd qualifying exam and pass it (justifying the 8 months of studying). Obviously since it's mid-April I have to make a decision quick. I have a few questions:

1) does anyone here have experience with this (failing quals twice and being kicked out)? Or, do you know somebody who had this happen? What did they do?

2) is it irresponsible to go to another school/program and take the quals? I mean, I just failed twice.

3). How would I explain failing quals to another university? Would they immediately reject me? My research/gpa are good, and now I have an MS.

4) Do I have any chance of being admitted into a respectable PhD program after failing the doctoral qualifying exam at one school?

**sorry for any misspellings - I created this post in a rush**

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If option 3 does not require reference letters, you still want to get a graduate degree, and there are other departments that might be interested in taking you on, I'd give this a try. You have little to lose and potentially so much to gain.

 

If the other departments aren't a good match and you're still interested in graduate studies, then try for option 2.

 

If you can't get good reference letters and/or no longer wish to pursue academia, then by process of elimination you would be left with option 1.

 

A 4th option you could consider is applying in a new field at a new school, if there is anything else that interests you, and using the references you used to get into your current program.

 

Best of luck to you. I hope this next chapter will go much more smoothly for you.

Edited by jenste

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I had a couple of friends that this happened to. They ended up leaving with an MS and going to work in industry.

 

Getting into another program will, as Jentse mentioned, depend on how good of recommendation letters you can get from your current faculty.

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Thanks for the reply. Yes, I agree - transferring departments is the best option. I don't think I'll need to go thru the application process all over again (letters of recommendation, GRE, etc) - however I'll need approval from my advisor and the respective departments.

This leads me to another question. I made decent progress on my thesis under the work/funding of my current prof. If I switch departments, could I still use that prof and that research for my dissertation?

In other words, are you allowed to have a research project and dissertation chair outside of the department? Maybe I can make the work relevant to the scope of the new department. I understand this is partially an administrative question - and I'll ask around at my university too, but what do you guys think?

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I've heard of people having 2 advisers from different departments. So it's been done before. These people did not switch departments in the middle of the program, but I definitely think it's worth investigating.

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In general, you can't switch programs within a University. It's not like undergrad in that sense.

 

Different admissions process, different funding, etc. 

 

You'd generally need to re-apply to the new department and be admitted. If you've been told otherwise by the program you want to switch to, they may be willing to make an exception for you, but it's not common.

 

Generally, your dissertation chair has to be in the department from which you're getting a degree. People who are co-advised are generally getting an interdisciplinary PhD. I know our school requires the dissertation chair to be a full time faculty member in the department, and from what I've seen many others are the same.

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I've heard of people having 2 advisers from different departments. So it's been done before. These people did not switch departments in the middle of the program, but I definitely think it's worth investigating.

Agreed, I'm going to talk to them. It's really a win for them bc the research would result in 2 publications that (in my opinion) are pretty decent

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In general, you can't switch programs within a University. It's not like undergrad in that sense.

Different admissions process, different funding, etc.

You'd generally need to re-apply to the new department and be admitted. If you've been told otherwise by the program you want to switch to, they may be willing to make an exception for you, but it's not common.

Generally, your dissertation chair has to be in the department from which you're getting a degree. People who are co-advised are generally getting an interdisciplinary PhD. I know our school requires the dissertation chair to be a full time faculty member in the department, and from what I've seen many others are the same.

Maybe I can edit/bend my research to a more interdisciplinary problem. You're correct, at the grad level switching majors is more complicated than changing the major's name on one's university account.

The requirements for a dissertation a pretty strict, so switching departments could be a tough maneuver as you suggest - although I'm still going to seriously look into it. I have another question then. Do you think I could get away with this if it was a MS thesis (as opposed to a PhD)? The requirements should be more relaxed, and this way I atleast pick up a 2nd MS from a different department.

Basically I want to at least capitalize on the research I've already done

Edited by GradSrudent3645

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What I'm saying is that there's no way I know of to switch departments. 

 

An interdisciplinary project would have to come out of your current department, more than likely, which wouldn't be possible since you're being kicked out. 

 

If you want to work in another department at the same University, you'll likely need to apply to that graduate program. Some of your credits may transfer (hopefully), or you might have to largely start over.

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I'll add some caveats to Eigen's advice. I actually considered switching master's programs after my first year. The new program was related and they were willing to count basically all of the courses I'd already taken toward the new degree. In other words, I wouldn't have really lost any time had I switched (and now I periodically wish I had for various reasons). My partner is in the sciences and switched between one department and another within a broader umbrella department and didn't have to redo any coursework. So it is possible but you have to negotiate the specifics on a case-by-case basis.

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We had a student here who failed twice. He tried switching programs (with his advisor pushing for him) and none of the departments would take him because he failed in our department. My best advice would be to take a masters, attempt to solidify LORs, and reapply elsewhere. A fresh start may do wonders.

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