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Other 2 masters, but 2nd one was very bad

  1. Jun 22, 2017 #1
    I will explain my serious and embarrassing problem: I would really need some good advice.

    I did a MSc in Theoretical Physics in a good UK university and I graduated with a distinction.
    My grades were not the best of the best, but I think they were good enough to find a good PhD place.

    Since I was not accepted in the universities to which I applied, I decided to try to enhance my chances for the next year by taking part III course at Cambridge. I imagined this second master as an extra in which study some interesting pure maths and physics that I had no chance to study before. (I have always been very attracted by pure maths).

    Sadly it was the worst decision in my life (so far!). My exams are gone extremely bad, beyond every expectations. I am not a pure mathematician so (before the exams) I was expecting to have something like a pass in the three pure maths exams and to have a better grade in physics exams (general relativity, black holes).

    But the results were fails in all pure maths exams and only a low pass for the physics exams. Probably this is due to a combination of a personally hard period and to the fact that (even if I could understand the courses in pure maths) it was too much hard for me to solve the kind of exercises that mathematicians do. And to prepare better the math exams I did not prepare physics exams properly. (This is very embarrassing since actually I am familiar with general relativity since my BSc)

    I am sure that this will completely ruin my career and destroy all chances to be taken anywhere for a PhD.
    Could I omit from my future applications that I have taken this course? (Since I already have a MSc) Or this would be perceived as a dishonest behaviour? What chances I really have now?
    I am asking to you some advice, because I really I do not know what to do...
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 22, 2017 #2


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    My two cents:
    You have accomplished getting your first Masters. If you can get into a PhD program with that, then do it. I think you should just learn a lesson from this unfortunate turn and not mention it. (If these later classes were at the same university as your first Masters, you may not be able to avoid including it in your application since those classes will be in your university transcript.)

    PS. It is not unusual for the first encounter with pure math to be a real shock. Now that you have a clearer understanding, and a little time to absorb it, you may be better at it in the future. Also, many people you were competing with in those classes may have had it before.
  4. Jun 23, 2017 #3


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    You can leave it out (if you have records of your first master that don't mention the second one). You might get questions about the time between your master and the PhD application.
  5. Jun 23, 2017 #4
    Thank you very much for your answers.
    The two masters are in two different institutions, so on the first one there is no mention to the second. If I understand correctly in this case you think that I can omit this result. But if they ask me what did I do that year what should I do? Lie? Do they have a way to find out that I did this master?

    Unfortunately I sent some applications during the last months in which I mention this second master. So it seems obvious that I would not be able to apply again to these universities...
  6. Jun 23, 2017 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    I disagree with the above answers. The question on the form usually asks you to list everywhere you have attended. You should answer that question honestly.
  7. Jun 23, 2017 #6
    I fear that it would be perceived as dishonest... What would an admission officer think about a curriculum with good results in BSc and MSc and then a total mess in part iii? It will not only lower my chances respect to a year ago, but destroy them
  8. Jun 23, 2017 #7


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    Which form?
    If someone asks you to list everything, you have to list it, sure. If you do not get asked, you don't have to.

    As far as I remember, all I had to do for my official PhD admission was (a) to prove that I have a qualifying degree (master or diploma in physics or related) and (b) sign that I never started a PhD in the same field before. For the position I took I sent a CV, for a different offer I didn't have to send anything, the professor knew me.
    Don't lie. You can say that you got interested in something outside physics, pursued that for a while, but then decided that you want to return to physics. I don't know which type of positions you apply for: Be careful if the PhD position could be related to courses you took in the second master. If it is unrelated, it should be fine.
  9. Jun 23, 2017 #8
    Thanks, this is a little hope, but the problem here is that it is not completely unrelated... I will be more specific: I have always been a theoretical physicist and my studies were directed to duality of superstrings, supergravity and also geometry of string theory.
    I was attracted by pure maths and for the second master I took category theory (a little unrelated to physics (so far)), Algebraic Geometry (I think physicists don't study it like mathematicians but it's not so unrelated) and algebraic Topology (idem).
    Second problem: I took also general relativity and black holes to have more familiar exams and to learn something more in black holes. And I did bad in both. This is totally embarrassing since I study GR since my BSc dissertation and also Differential geometry since my BSC. I took differential geometry at the first master and I got 92%, I took supersimmetry (that includes supergravity) and I did it good. Even my first MSc dissertation was related to supergravity and geometry. This is a mess...
  10. Jun 23, 2017 #9


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    What was your background regarding pure maths?

    My BSc was in maths and physics combined so I took pure maths courses alongside physics courses;

    So when I did my MSc in pure maths I didn't find the courses too much hard (I also took courses from applied mathematics, which is basically mathematical analysis).

    Taking a course in Category theory without the prequisites in logic and set theory might seem to me too presumptious of you.
  11. Jun 23, 2017 #10


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    In my experience it's pretty standard for a PhD program to require that the student submit official transcripts from ALL post secondary education courses.

    In your application you can try to focus on your BSc and successful MSc. But you cannot ignore or omit the unsuccessful MSc work. Yes, this will likely make you less competitive than had you been equally successful in the second MSc. But it is what it is. And that alone is not likely going to keep you out of a PhD program. Most people on admission committees are aware that a person can have a bad year for whatever reason. The fact that you've demonstrated you can be successful at the graduate level will still count for a lot.
  12. Jun 23, 2017 #11
    I agree it's a bad idea to intentionally omit your second MSc. As you've already realized, you then always need to be on guard with creative stories whenever someone asks about the gap in your CV. Perhaps it's best to face it head on in a cover letter: admit that you tried one path and it was successful and that you tried a second path and it was not; now you are wiser for the experience, and have a better notion of where your talents lie ... and where they don't, thereby making you a stronger candidate.
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