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The reasons to be kicked out of a program


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Hey guys,

I am a 1st year grad student in humanities. I was admitted to my dream school (yay), not top 20, but still pretty decent. My first semester I took 4 courses, which is more than required (9 hours is required), but for my second and subsequent semesters I need to take some courses from another department because I feel like I really need to strengten my math skills before digging into dissertation. So I will take just 2 courses in my department and 2 in Math and Statistics, at least for 2 semesters. Though I think most of our students just take 3 courses in our department per semester. The question is, assuming that I receive A's (and may be a couple of B's in rare cases), so basically doing very well in terms of grades, can my department still consider me as a "traitor" or someone and kick me out because I take just 2 courses in my department every semester, thus it will take me longer to complete the program?

I tried to google it, but did not find a single case where department kicked a student out because that student decided to take additional courses and extended his time in PhD program.

Also, assume that my funding is not coming from the department.

Please help, I am really being nervous about it.

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Yes, out handbook indicates that we have to take 6 hours in our department + 3 hours. But in terms of classes I feel like it is mostly up to student what to take, especially at the very beginning. So that is why I am asking it here. I mean, we are not assigned advisors until we finish coursework.

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Are you fulfilling your handbook's requirements for "satisfactory progress towards degree"? Are you in violation of any cap on the number of courses you can take outside the department?

I read the handbook carefully and it does not seem that I violate something. I was wondering if they can kick me out just because they don't like the fact that I take other courses or because my coursework will take 1-2 semesters more.

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Is there any concrete reason for this concern? Like someone who has left under similar circumstances, or a professor mentioning in passing that you're not taking enough courses in the department and that's a problem? Because it really sounds like you are worried about something that is a non-issue. Also making plans for what might happen three years from now, which I can tell you has a way of shifting with time.

I assume that when you were admitted, you had at least one potential advisor in mind. Unless your interests have shifted a great deal between being admitted and starting the program, I would assume that this potential advisor's interests are roughly aligned with yours. Is there any reason to think that this potential advisor will oppose the study plan you have in mind? 

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I read the handbook carefully and it does not seem that I violate something. I was wondering if they can kick me out just because they don't like the fact that I take other courses or because my coursework will take 1-2 semesters more.

Ah, that is a good question. What are the terms of your funding? I think it's less likely that they will kick you out, and more likely that they will stop funding you if you take a lot of courses in another field without the department's approval and without a clear reason to do so, prolonging your time to graduation. It seems to me that what you'll need to do is come up with a course plan that is acceptable to your future advisor and has his/her support. If it's obvious that it will lengthen your time to graduation and this may lead to funding trouble, you'll want to clarify that early. But it's probably not something you can seriously pursue right now, until you identify an advisor and come up with a plan that really justifies why you need all these extra courses. 

Also FWIW part of grad school is teaching yourself things that aren't offered in classes. It may be the case that instead of taking lots of classes outside your department, you'll need to pick up some books and learn how to do things yourself. 

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Ah, that is a good question. What are the terms of your funding? I think it's less likely that they will kick you out, and more likely that they will stop funding you if you take a lot of courses in another field without the department's approval and without a clear reason to do so, prolonging your time to graduation. It seems to me that what you'll need to do is come up with a course plan that is acceptable to your future advisor and has his/her support. If it's obvious that it will lengthen your time to graduation and this may lead to funding trouble, you'll want to clarify that early. But it's probably not something you can seriously pursue right now, until you identify an advisor and come up with a plan that really justifies why you need all these extra courses. 

Also FWIW part of grad school is teaching yourself things that aren't offered in classes. It may be the case that instead of taking lots of classes outside your department, you'll need to pick up some books and learn how to do things yourself. 

Thank you for your reply. Like I mentioned in the 1st post, I do not have any funding on my dept. I am sponsored by another structure in my university and it is kind of "endless" in nature, though the assistantship is a little bit lower than on the department. I do not know anyone who was kicked out because of the reasons I stated. But I am still worried about it simply because no one else on my department does these things. And I don't have any problems with anyone. But still worried....may be these worries are groundless.

I don't think I can prove that additional courses will be directly related to my research..,.I mean, they can be applied in the form of more advances methods, but to be honest - I take them mostly for my future - to rise chances to find a job after graduation. To diversify my skills. So that's the problem - will my dept find it inappropriate? And I can't ask it directly - I'm too scared :))

Edited by Segel_Mahmoud
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I strongly agree with fuzzy's thoughts and advice here. Talking directly and honestly with your department is what leads to a healthy relationship between student and department. In almost every case where I know someone who left or got kicked out, there was some kind of miscommunication or breakdown in this dialogue and by the time everyone started talking to each other, it was already too late to do anything about it.

The way I see it, if you talk to the department now and say "this is the courses I want to take" and lay out a plan that includes all the department required courses plus the extra stuff you want to take, then everyone is on the same page and whatever happens next will be clear. The department may not be happy that you are taking the extra courses but if they don't actually refuse to authorize this study plan, then that's okay. You are set and you won't have to worry about being kicked out.

The reason I say this is that the department will find out eventually about these other courses. During a PhD, there are many milestones where the department or a committee will review your progress and your future study plan. It can be a lot more trouble for you if they delay your admission to candidacy (for example) because they felt you did not make enough progress in your department's coursework yet. Or, if they all of a sudden say "okay you can take these courses but you must do X, Y and Z" and now you have way less time to do X, Y and Z and these things may even interfere with your own plans. 

I recommend laying it all out on the table now and getting the department's opinion. When you hear their response, make sure you can differentiate between what they would "prefer" you to do and what they are "requiring" you to do. Sometimes, departments are pushy and make it sound like their preferences are actually requirements. It's okay to ask for clarification.

I know it's scary to talk to the department/professors about this but it's a normal and necessary part of being a graduate student. Students in my program talk to faculty all the time about getting waived from some of the introductory classes due to extra classes in undergrad (to be replaced with other graduate classes). The department rules and policies exist but ultimately, the reason they are there is to help students get the education and training they need, so they tend to be flexible if you communicate your desires with them. 

However, before you do all of this, you might want to consider two other sources for advice. First, talk to the other grad students in your department. If you find out that your department is actually not very supportive at all and being honest with them will hurt you in the long run, then you would have to reconsider what you tell them and perhaps stick to the minimal stuff only. You can also talk to the Graduate Office or equivalent office on campus that oversees and knows about all of the program regulations on campus. This way, you can get advice on what you need to do to meet the department's requirement and come up with a plan to talk to the department before they know anything.

Finally, just a comparison with my school to provide examples of other policies: Here, we can take extra classes in whatever we want, but our advisor has to sign off on the classes. At another school, there are limits on the number of classes you can take in total because your tuition waiver only covers up to X credits. And at yet another school, taking additional classes is okay but we pay for them ourselves. Departments have the right to limit what classes you can take, especially if they will extend your degree and if it will cost the school (not just the department) more. If the above does not work and you really want to take extra classes for job prospects, have you considered taking something at a community college or another school where you just pay for the classes yourself and then you don't have to worry about getting kicked out of your own program? After all, it is a little dishonest to use resources (your funding) that is meant for you to complete your PhD program for other purposes.

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You should definitely talk to the department to make sure the courses you're taking are approved or acceptable. It's not uncommon in the humanities for students to take extra coursework outside their department (languages, methodological training, etc) but you should definitely be talking to your adviser about your coursework plans. At least at my program, students choose their coursework the first year (in addition to some required courses like historiography, a central component of history education), but in the second year students consult closely with their adviser to make sure they stay on track to finish major and minor requirements (and I'm assuming stuff like languages and methodological training if necessary, but I don't need any extra courses in this area so I'm no expert). I was also told some students take more time to complete coursework because their choice in major/minor fields, so it's not unheard of.

Talk to your adviser and the graduate adviser. Don't go out on a limb if you aren't sure your program will approve, especially because they're funding you and view your funding as contingent on certain progress goals. You're worrying yourself sick over something that can be cleared up with some frank conversations.

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You should definitely talk to the department to make sure the courses you're taking are approved or acceptable. It's not uncommon in the humanities for students to take extra coursework outside their department (languages, methodological training, etc) but you should definitely be talking to your adviser about your coursework plans. At least at my program, students choose their coursework the first year (in addition to some required courses like historiography, a central component of history education), but in the second year students consult closely with their adviser to make sure they stay on track to finish major and minor requirements (and I'm assuming stuff like languages and methodological training if necessary, but I don't need any extra courses in this area so I'm no expert). I was also told some students take more time to complete coursework because their choice in major/minor fields, so it's not unheard of.

Talk to your adviser and the graduate adviser. Don't go out on a limb if you aren't sure your program will approve, especially because they're funding you and view your funding as contingent on certain progress goals. You're worrying yourself sick over something that can be cleared up with some frank conversations.

Like I said, my dept. does not sponsor me

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The question I have, and there may be a reason for this, is why take the courses for credit instead of auditing them/asking if you can sit in?

It will still help you learn the material, but won't cut so much into your time/cost the school/increase your time in classes. 

It's very common in my program for people to sit in on classes outside their field for personal/future interests, but very few of them do it for credit or in place of the courses they're taking for a degree.

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Even so, you're trying to get a graduate degree through that department, therefore they have the prerogative to guide your progress and enforce whatever requirements they want for you to get that degree. Why not talk to the grad adviser in the department and make sure you're on track? It sounds like, despite reading the handbook closely, there are still ambiguities. It just makes sense to talk to the people who write, edit and enforce the handbook and degree requirements.

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The question I have, and there may be a reason for this, is why take the courses for credit instead of auditing them/asking if you can sit in?

It will still help you learn the material, but won't cut so much into your time/cost the school/increase your time in classes. 

It's very common in my program for people to sit in on classes outside their field for personal/future interests, but very few of them do it for credit or in place of the courses they're taking for a degree.

I see your point, but it is not difficult for me to take 1 or may be even 2 additional courses for credit AND courses in my dept. simultaneously. I can handle it.

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Like I said, my dept. does not sponsor me

Just want to point out that even if your department does not sponsor you financially, they are still spending their time and other resources on you as a student. This means that, as I said above, it is reasonable for the department to expect you to not take on other courses or activities that will delay graduation and for them to approve your courseload.

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Just want to point out that even if your department does not sponsor you financially, they are still spending their time and other resources on you as a student. This means that, as I said above, it is reasonable for the department to expect you to not take on other courses or activities that will delay graduation and for them to approve your courseload.

I see your point. So the bottom line: if I take the required coursework, fulfil all requirements and do my best - I can spend the remaining time on course I want to take outside of my dept? I've never been in the US before and never studied here, so I don't know your regulations. In my country I did not choose courses at all - 0 flexibility.

Edited by Segel_Mahmoud
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So the bottom line: if I take the required coursework, fulfil all requirements and do my best - I can spend the remaining time on course I want to take outside of my dept? I've never been in the US before and never studied here, so I don't know your regulations. In my country I did not choose courses at all - 0 flexibility.

Bottom line: only your department can answer this question. 

You will gain very little from knowing what is (im)possible at other schools/fields, as your school can have its own opinions and it's not bound by what others may choose to do. 

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As fuzzy said, each school has its own policies and regulations. Exactly how much freedom and flexibility you will have depends a lot on your individual school and program so you should be talking to the administrators at your school and/or program (as I said above, sometimes it's easier to first talk to administrators outside/above your department).

In general, for schools in North America, graduate programs are not like undergraduate programs where it is easy and encouraged for students to take a lot of extra courses in unrelated departments. Many programs have the mindset that you are here for them and you are expected to work full time towards completing your degree. 

There's also a difference between spending your free time doing your own things (for example, joining a club, pursuing a hobby, whatever you want) vs. spending your free time doing things that will cost the school time and money (for example, taking a course in another department). 

I very strongly urge you to talk to your school and department about this. A lack of communication is what ends up causing a lot of graduate student problems I've seen in my colleagues. 

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  • 4 weeks later...

I'm not in grad school yet but I hope to be next year! Anyways, I found this concern really interesting. The programs I'm looking require me to take classes from other departments. I like the interdisciplinary style so I can understand the appeal! I would ask your adviser and the department to make sure that this is ok though. I think its better to maintain great relationship with the people you will be spending a lot of time with over an interesting looking class. If you really want to learn the information, maybe try out those free online classes? Good luck!

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