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Question: Options for people who "fail out of" a PhD program

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  • #1
StatGuy2000
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Hi everyone. This scenario does not apply to me, but I've seen a number of threads on Reddit as well as here on PF about those who have "failed out of" a PhD program (be it in physics, math, or some other field), due to not passing the comprehensive exam or not passing their PhD courses.

What I want to ask here is this: what options do these students have? Are these students "doomed" to never be eligible for a PhD program again? Can these students even qualify for a graduate program in a different field? (e.g. for a washout from physics, pursuing, say, a MS in statistics)

Is a STEM career path essentially over for these students?
 

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  • #2
analogdesign
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About 1/3 of my cohort didn't pass their comprehensive exam (I have a PhD in EE). A significant number got fed up and left after passing the comprehensive exam but before writing a dissertation. So, I would say 1/2 of my cohort didn't finish. They just got jobs (at least the ones I knew enough to keep up with).

Engineering would be a great safe harbor for a "washout" in physics, I would think. It's hard, but probably not as hard and a lot of schools offer coursework master's degrees if the student isn't up to a thesis.
 
  • #3
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Hi everyone. This scenario does not apply to me, but I've seen a number of threads on Reddit as well as here on PF about those who have "failed out of" a PhD program (be it in physics, math, or some other field), due to not passing the comprehensive exam or not passing their PhD courses.

What I want to ask here is this: what options do these students have? Are these students "doomed" to never be eligible for a PhD program again? Can these students even qualify for a graduate program in a different field? (e.g. for a washout from physics, pursuing, say, a MS in statistics)

Is a STEM career path essentially over for these students?
I'm afraid that a PhD position would be very difficult to obtain. It's much harder for a failed PhD student to get access to a new PhD position.

One option is to go to Europe though. It is quite easy to do a masters in Europe (much more difficult to do a PhD though). So a MS in physics or statistics would be definitely possible.
 
  • #4
Choppy
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I agree with Micromass that once you've failed out of a PhD program, it's very difficult to get back in to another one. Obviously you have to deal with these on a case-by-case basis though. I think the situation is different for a student who flunks the comprehensive exam because he was also battling cancer at the time compared to someone who too often choses to play video games than study.

So you need to figure out why the person failed and if that problem can be corrected. If it can, there might be some options. If you have a candidate who was really stellar coming into the original PhD program, that weight from the undergrad performance might be enough for some schools to consider that person again, despite a lackluster performance the first time around (again, in combination with some kind of evidence that the previous cycle won't be repeated). On the other hand, a student who just "squeaked in" may have an even harder go of it.

That said, I think in most cases, once a person fails out, the person takes that as a sign that maybe the PhD is not the right path and moves on into a different field. From a professional perspective, I don't think that person is any worse off than a fresh BSc graduate, although there might be some time holes that need to be explained.
 
  • #5
analogdesign
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That said, I think in most cases, once a person fails out, the person takes that as a sign that maybe the PhD is not the right path and moves on into a different field. From a professional perspective, I don't think that person is any worse off than a fresh BSc graduate, although there might be some time holes that need to be explained.
Arguing along the lines of "I decided that academia was not for me" or "I am more excited about the faster pace of industry" will go a lot farther than simple saying "I couldn't hack it in graduate school".
 
  • #6
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I know of a few cases where students have dropped out, (not sure if voluntary or involuntary for some of them), and got into another graduate school after a few years of working. In some cases, the second grad school was as highly regarded or better than the first one. The hardest obstacle for these students is getting LOR's.
 

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