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A couple semesters after beginning my PhD program (in the US), I was dismissed from the program because:

  1. My GPA was slightly below the program's minimum (after being on academic probation for one semester already).

  2. After months of work as an RA in a research group, at the end of the semester, my adviser informed me that he was not satisfied with my research and would not continue to fund me.

  3. After that, the department was not willing to hire me as a TA, because TA funding was seen as an "interim" measure, and having a new adviser was necessary to continue in the program.

  4. I couldn't find a new research adviser because everybody would freak out about my GPA.

However, I have done very well on exams, and I had a great GRE score. What are my options now? Applying again? What could I say about my messed up situation in applications? What if I applied to another school?

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This question was edited after I posted my initial answer: added 78 characters in body Is it recommended to re-apply and trying to hide my records from this school? Oh my goodness, no, no, and a thousand times, no. What makes you think that you could reapply, and the school wouldn't know you had already been enrolled there? –  J.R. Dec 21 '13 at 11:16
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(1) Your application must indicate each institution of higher learning from which you have earned credit and you must submit transcripts or academic records for each… This includes partial or incomplete transcripts. (2) If you are applying as a degree-seeking applicant, submit a transcript for every institution of higher education attended… (3) You are required to upload from all undergraduate and graduate institutions where you..studied for one semester or more… Those instructions (taken from major university websites, emphasis added) seem pretty clear to me. –  J.R. Dec 21 '13 at 12:47
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After reading the question, answers, and comments, I agree with @J.R. This question seems much less like "how do I work through this problem" and more like "how do I game the system". Concealing your records is unethical, period. Everyone has down periods, so if you are up-front and honest, this problem should not sink you. But sneaking around might. An institution could even revoke your degree (should you finish, which I suspect would be difficult with the displayed attitude) if they find out you falsified your application. I would never hire some who displayed the qualities of the asker. –  Reid Dec 21 '13 at 17:29
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Again, check your attitude at the door please. You're reading way more into my comment than is appropriate. What I'm saying is: based on what I see in this question, I would not hire you, and frankly I'm unsurprised you were dismissed. –  Reid Dec 21 '13 at 21:54
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The other posters are trying to help you, not judge you. View the commentators here as the kinds of people who might be responsible for interviewing in the future. They are trying to warn you about the possible repercussions of what they perceive to be a very unwise strategy (reapplying while hiding that you've been dismissed). –  aeismail Dec 22 '13 at 0:07

4 Answers 4

up vote 36 down vote accepted

I agree with the points in J.R.'s answer. I'd like to specifically address your question: "What if I re-apply to another school and hide my records in this school?"

This is a very bad idea. As pointed out in J.R.'s comment, most departments will require as part of your application that you list all schools you have attended, and send your transcripts. It would be unethical to omit your current program, and judging from your comments on J.R.'s answer about copied homework, ethical behavior is very important to you (which I commend). And on a purely practical level, it's extremely risky; if you get caught, it may very well end your career in physics and academia.

It is true that in the US, federal privacy laws prohibit your current institution (let's call it University X) from releasing your education records without your permission. However, these rules do not apply to so-called "directory information", which include your name and dates of attendance. If University Y calls up University X and asks if you have ever attended there, X will tell them. They won't tell them how you did while you were there or why you left, but Y will know that you falsified your application. So if anyone at Y ever suspects that you attended X, they can verify it.

If you don't mention X in your application, Y may not think to do this. But if they eventually find out (and they probably will, see below), you'll be kicked out of the program and the years you spent at Y will have been wasted. If you received a fellowship or tuition waiver, you could potentially be required to pay it back. If you make it to graduation but they find out later, your degree could be revoked; this will probably get you fired from whatever job you hold by then. Basically, once this becomes known, your professional career will be over. It's a Sword of Damocles.

And it's going to be very hard to ensure that nobody at Y ever finds out you were at X. Interview questions: "So what were you doing for the two years after your bachelor's?" You'll have to never mention your time there or anyone you knew at X in any conversation with advisors, professors, or fellow students. And the academic world is small: there's a very good chance that your advisor or someone else at Y knows someone at X, and your name could easily come up in casual conversation. "Hey, I saw your new paper with your student user10165; I guess he's come a long way since his time with us at X."

Summary: Don't do this.

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Stanford reserves the right to withdraw an offer of admission under certain circumstances, including: if there has been a misrepresentation in or a violation of any of the terms of the application process; or if the applicant has engaged in behavior prior to matriculation that indicates a serious lack of judgment or integrity. Stanford may rescind an applicant's admission at any time, including after attendance and after degree conferral, if it determines that an individual has been admitted to Stanford on the basis of having provided false information or has withheld requested information. –  J.R. Dec 21 '13 at 21:20
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Source. I doubt they are the only major institution with such a policy. –  J.R. Dec 21 '13 at 21:20
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I am not sure offhand whether your program or degree is protected information. If you want details, google "FERPA". As to how to discuss this in a statement of purpose, I don't have any advice, but similar questions have been addressed on this site previously; try a search. –  Nate Eldredge Dec 21 '13 at 21:57
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@user10165 Please see a related answer academia.stackexchange.com/a/14612/546 –  scaaahu Dec 22 '13 at 4:57
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@user10165: If you've had(/have) depression, you should be seeking medical help. and once you do, you can get the proof of your illness, and get your dismissal reconsidered. (I suggest presenting that proof to someone higher up) –  Oxinabox Jan 1 at 2:24

This answer is going to sting, but it's how I read the situation based on what you've written here. It sounds like there is something going on that you haven't addressed.

If a department wanted to keep someone who they felt was a promising student, who they thought could contribute with good work, I think they'd find a way to waive the GPA for another term, seeing that it's so close to the threshold. On the other hand, if they felt like a student was not worth keeping, they might be relieved that the student's GPA fell below the specified threshold, so they could use it as grounds for dismissal from the program.

As for the lab reports, there's a difference between being late and being unreliable. One is a fact, and the other is a perception. You emphasize the fact, but I suspect it's the perception that is behind their unwillingness to rehire.

As for the GRE score, those scores used to measure potential from an admissions perspective. Once you're in the program, GRE scores become pretty much meaningless; from that point on, you're judged by the work you do at the institution. (The fact that you even mention it makes me wonder if you have a habit of overestimating your own value in a way that annoys your professors and your peers.)

As for your options, I wouldn't recommend reapplying. That's an uphill battle; they seem to be sending pretty clear signals that they'd rather be done with you. That leaves transferring somewhere else. Given that your GPA is so close to 3.0, I'll bet you could find a school willing to accept you as a transfer student; however, they might have second thoughts based on some of the reasons for your departure. I would be very careful about who I listed as a reference from the school that is dismissing you now.

You might want to look in the mirror, and try to more accurately assess why you are being let go. As I mentioned, I think it has to do with intangible qualities such as personality, reliability, and teamwork – things that are hard to quantify, but easy to spot notice once you start working alongside someone, especially in an environment where the goal is to achieve a complex and long-term endeavor.

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No matter where you apply, you'll almost assuredly be asked for previous transcripts. You shouldn't just pretend this never happened – admissions offices take such omissions VERY seriously, and, if you try that, it could get you into hotter water than you are in now. As for the scores, a GRE might be an indicator of how much someone "knows the basics," as you say; however, in a doctoral program, knowing the basics won't get you very far. [EDIT: This comment previously stated the asker's GRE score. I just deleted it, at the asker's request, for privacy reasons. -Pops, SE Community Manager] –  J.R. Dec 21 '13 at 11:12
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After reading all of this, I have to agree with @J.R. - the intangibles are very important - and your last comment is a bit unclear, sounds almost like a mini-rant, what exactly do you mean by that? –  user7130 Dec 21 '13 at 13:08
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@user10165 that does not matter where I am from, the main point is - is that it i best to be honest –  user7130 Dec 21 '13 at 13:43
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Yes, it is legally private information. However, leaving an unexplained gap (or worse, implying "That's none of your business!") in your application will raise a red flag, which is likely serious enough to kill your chances of admission. If you aren't willing to let us honestly evaluate you, we don't want you. –  JeffE Dec 22 '13 at 20:56
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This answer may seem unnecessarily sharp now, considering the much-revised version of the question. I answered Version 1 of the question. Key details from revision 1 were the basis for much of my answer. [EDIT: I've just deleted numerous revisions, including the original one, at the asker's request, for privacy reasons. -Pops, SE Community Manager] –  J.R. Dec 23 '13 at 2:33

As everybody can tell, you are emotionally stressed.

My first advice to you, calm down!. This is not the end of the world. You still have options.

You can go to industry if you want although I think you prefer not. You still have the passion for Academia since you are asking this question on this site. So, I am not going to suggest that.

If you want to stay in Academia, others have given you excellent answers. I am not going to repeat them. I want to point out things others may have missed.

First, you have to admit that you messed it up. How to re-enter Academia is your question. I think you'll have to look for the schools in the next lower tier. Transferring to a school of the same tier may not be possible at this time. For example, if you are in the top 20, apply to the top 50. I think you have the chance. If you still don't get to top 50, go to top 100. There is a will, there is a way!

Go to your advisor and tell him you would like to transfer to another school. Tell him that you made a mistake and want to restart your academic career somewhere else. He will be glad to help you to transfer because he has some responsibility to fulfill. At least, you were his student.

Again, calm down. Being emotional will not help you. Find another school is your first priority. Good luck!

Edit

Let me address your specific issues here,

And what to tell about my messed up situation in applications? Is it recommended to apply to other schools without mentioning that I had attended this one?

Your question boils down to, Can I erase my past?

My answer is no. You can't. The key is the recommendation letters. Whom do you go to for those letters? The people who knew you during your undergraduate days? They know you were in your current school. Are they going to wonder what happened to you in the past couple of years? In these days, information travels fast. A couple of e-mails between your undergrad prof. and the profs. in your current school will reveal everything. Get help from your current school to transfer to another school is the practical solution.

End of edit

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I've observed more than "stress" as this question has unfolded. Hints of obstinacy, duplicity, and immaturity abound. If the O.P. takes this does-not-play-well-with-others attitude to the next school, chances of success won't be so good there, either. This isn't about A's, B's, and C's on a transcript, it's about being able to work with other people. Few people can earn a PhD while alienating those around them. –  J.R. Dec 23 '13 at 1:07
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@user10165 You're just confirming J. R.'s point when you react with such hostility to random people on the internet who you asked for advice. All of us who have been involved in graduate programs know that it's not really especially about grades and GRE scores, but about successfully joining a community of researchers. Some combination of factors convinced the professors in your program that keeping you was not a good idea, and you need to think hard about those factors are (we don't know of course, but you should, and if you don't, you should find out) before trying to continue in academia –  Ben Webster Dec 23 '13 at 2:24
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I'm not judging you based on your question, I'm judging your behavior over the 24 hours since you've asked your question, where you have: insulted and criticized members here, disregarded moderator requests, slandered your fellow students and former faculty members, averred that your right to privacy trumps established admissions procedures, nagged for answers about how an admissions office might learn of deliberately-omitted information, talked about yourself in high-and-mighty language, and repeatedly played petty revision games. –  J.R. Dec 23 '13 at 2:46
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@user10165 ...and you continue to illustrate my point. Even if this is true, it just makes it sound like you are making excuses. You might consider how such a negative and defensive reaction to any criticism looks to a supervisor or your fellow students. Grad students screw up a lot; if people get the impression you're not willing to face screw-ups and learn from them, then of course they won't think you're going to be successful. –  Ben Webster Dec 23 '13 at 2:48
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Which part of "Please stop removing important details from the question. I .. ask that you leave it [alone]" do you not understand? That simple request was made by a moderator 18 hours ago. Since then, you've tinkered with the question seven times. That version (seen here) left out the details about your GPA, which seems to be what you want. As for my comment about unscrupulous behavior, I stand by it. You asked about "trying to hide my records from this school," which would be unethical. –  J.R. Dec 23 '13 at 3:21

I realized that a PhD program was not working out for me for various reasons. They were trying to get me to transfer to their Masters program. I decided a more generalist Masters in my home town would be preferable because continuing where I was would only continue the difficulties I faced. My old cohort is now facing the publish or perish monster while teaching undergrad students at State schools across the country.

Sometimes you need to take one step back to take two steps forward. In the end, you get that PhD, and it's publish or perish. Your ability to publish will be greatly hindered if you've been struggling along the way.

Take a step back and get a fresher perspective. Maybe earning a Masters in applied mathematics or another applied science that has requirements that would create a record of academic success instead of failure would give you a firmer foundation on which to earn your PhD, perhaps at a better school. While you're doing that, you can keep the bigger picture in mind, do more self-studies, and build a toolbox of skills that would help you succeed.

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I wasn't struggling as much as some A's in the classes. I explained why in previous comments. It is also shown that publications are not correlated with grades in graduate school and GREs. +1 for sharing your own story. –  user10165 Dec 21 '13 at 21:40

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