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My master's thesis supervisor refused to recommend me for a PhD

  1. Feb 3, 2016 #1
    Initially he was happy and did refer me to a couple of profs. But towards the end, he reasoned that I lacked the understanding of the subject and so not competent enough for a PhD. I agree to his concerns, since I was studying this concept for the first time (for my thesis) and took extra time to write my thesis. On the other hand I'm very passionate about this particular subject and intend to pursue an academic career in this field. I did manage to get a decent score for my thesis (15/20) and graduated with cum laude.

    I took some advice and decided to try for a short-term internship/research assistant position. But it was the same situation where a reference from proj supervisor was asked. 4 months down the lane, I have seen the various weird reasons professors give to not accept me.
    2 questions:
    1. Its been 4 months since I graduates, so how long should I continue the search?
    2.should I give up and take up some job since nothing will move forward without a recommendation?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 3, 2016 #2

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    So you have worked for two people and neither will write you a letter of recommendation. This is a bad sign. I think you might want to explore options outside of a PhD program.
  4. Feb 3, 2016 #3
    You graduated cum laude, so you are one of the top graduates, but you can't get a recommendation for a PhD position? That is kind of puzzling.

    There must be something going on here. We can't tell what it is except speculate which would be insulting even if we were right, like asking "Are you really they weren't dissatisfied with you?" There may be something you aren't telling, and aren't telling us for a reason. But that makes it impossible for us to answer your question.

    Apparently their judgment, for good or for bad, came to the conclusion a life in academics isn't suited for you.
    If you can't get even an unpaid student intern position, I don't know what to say as you should be beyond that by now.
    Even such a position may be a desperate attempt since after you graduated your BSc/MSc, you should be beyond that and even doing one is no guarantee you will get a PhD spot anywhere. Even if they want you, they may not have an open position. It may be a waste of time, sort of.
    I was able to get a summer internship after my first year as a BSc student. Depending on the type of work being done there and how well your courses line up with that, a student that does well in courses should be able to find such a position, if they are at a research university. I think in physics it may be harder and I assume your subject is physics, since you didn't mention it.

    Too many people do a PhD so I don't know if you should really be that desperate to try to go down that road anyway. These two people may be wrong, they may be right. This may be a sign for you that academic life won't be your thing.

    If you are in a BSc->PhD country, you can try to do an MSc in BaMa/Bologna country. You will get to take grad school courses for a year, get one year to get research experience, and hopefully recommendations, then you can decide to do a PhD where you actually get a salary and build pension. And you can ever get to work at a group where there isn't a angelo-saxon/Asian work ethic. Not a bad thing, though some people lament they can't get inside the lab during weekends, evenings or holidays.

    I don't know the value of a physics MSc on the US non-academic job market.
  5. Feb 4, 2016 #4
    Apply for another Ph,D program and use the letters that your professors wrote for you as an undergraduate. One person should not be able to control your future. If you want to get a Ph.D in physics keep going at it.
  6. Feb 4, 2016 #5

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    This is truly terrible advice, from someone who has no business giving it.

    First, if it's a letter that you have a copy of, it will get virtually zero weight. A letter that the student sees is only epsilon better than no letter at all.

    Second, taking a letter of recommendation for X and using it as a recommendation for Y is dishonest. The last thing the world needs is a dishonest physicist, and the committee knows that. If they catch this before admission, you will not be accepted. and if you are admitted, you will be expelled.

    Third, it's not one person, it's two, and the whole point of letters is to ensure that a limited resource (seats in graduate school) are allocated to those who best deserve them.
  7. Feb 5, 2016 #6


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    I am going to focus on your first two lines:
    I had one junior engineer work for me at a large Design Build company. The junior engineer had just graduated with a 4.0 in his senior year. He KNEW everything and didn't need to listen / learn what I needed him to do. When given assignments, he over performed (wasted time) designing to 100% when he was only tasked to design to 30-50% (in design/build you want client buy in, and the clients can change their minds as the design progresses), and provide a cost estimate for the equipment used and installed. While designing to 100% wasn't horrendous, his missing my critical deadlines was! AND he never learned why missing deadlines was BAD! ie potential clients wanted a proposal with cost by a certain time, if our competitors met the deadline, we were immediately out of the picture!!! He caused me to work much longer hours to actually put together estimates to meet these deadlines. While it was commendable that he was detail oriented, that WASN"T the job at hand. Another department head who poached several of my engineers (not willingly, he just had more company clout, I seem to have been a grooming station) also took him off my hands (and actually, may have loved this trait).
    Did you cause your professors any delays in research or stall a project because YOU NEEDED to understand his research ie you stole hours or days from him to have him tutor you up in knowledge. While that may get you an A in college coursework (He can't knock you for that!), you hampered his research and may be the type of individual who does GREAT academically, but may not tackle your projects from a practical point of view. This may have caused your professors to miss critical publishing cutoff dates. Do THAT and you won't get any glowing recommendations!!!
    And this is just speculation based upon my experience of an individual who had a great GPA, but lacked practical experience and didn't seem concerned about improving his lack of common sense.
  8. Feb 5, 2016 #7


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    There's a lot of unanswered questions here, and the OP hasn't been back here since the day he/she posted this. So this could be a post-and-run.

    It might be best to wait until the OP returns and provides additional info. Otherwise, we will all be wasting our effort on nothing.

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