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  1. What is the difference between termination and suspension?
  2. Are there "neutral" ways for a graduate student leaving his graduate school without completing a degree? Is a student voluntarily leaving his graduate school called termination?

  3. When applying to another graduate school, will the student be asked if he has ever received a probation and termination? How will that affect the student's chance to be admitted to the new school? For example, he received a probation because he didn't manage to find a research direction and research advisor in 2.5 years, followed by a termination a few months later because he didn't pass his PhD qualification exam without "protection" from an advisor?

  • What is this "protection" that you are referring to? – Shion Aug 16 '13 at 2:51
  • If an advisor would like his student to stay, he will try to make the student pass the qualification exam (which is oral). – Newbie Aug 16 '13 at 3:01
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There are basically two ways to leave an academic program permanently: withdrawal and termination.

  • Withdrawal is a voluntary process, which can occur for any of a number of reasons: academic dissatisfaction, financial, psychological, medical, or family are usually the most common of these. The key factor here is that withdrawal is normally initiated by the student. It is "neutral" in the sense that normally the student hasn't done anything wrong, and could have continued in the program had she so chosen.

  • Termination is an involuntary process initiated by the supervisor or department. Usually, under such cases, the reason is inadequate performance or violating departmental policies. For instance, one might fail a qualifying examination, fail to pass required courses, committed "academic dishonesty," or violated some other regulation. This is the sort of "black mark" that you are referring to. Depending on the situation, this can have catastrophic effects on the student's ability to apply and be accepted elsewhere. It all depends on the nature of the situation, and what the student's role in the situation was.

On the other hand, suspension or probation are serious issues that require disciplinary action but are not so serious as to require termination. Probation may or may not need to be reported, but an action which leads to a suspension—or temporary removal from the graduate program—probably would need to be reported, if asked about it.

It is not necessarily a given if you will be asked about this in a graduate application—it depends very much on the particular program or school to which one applies.

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  • Thanks! For example like this "have you ever been placed on academic probation, suspended or expelled from a college or university?" The student in my case will have to report both probation and termination? Is "expel" same as "termination"? – Newbie Aug 16 '13 at 12:23
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    Yes, expel means terminate, and yes, the student would have to answer "yes" to that question. – JeffE Aug 16 '13 at 15:06
  • @JeffE: If the student managed to transfer to another school before the termination date, will he still have to answer "yes" if he is asked whether he has been expelled? – Newbie Aug 17 '13 at 3:23
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    If you got the letter telling you to leave at the end of the term/year, then yes, you've been expelled. Regardless of how thinly you split hairs on this question, if you don't have strong supporting letters from faculty at your current institution, your application is hopeless anyway. – JeffE Aug 17 '13 at 4:44
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When applying to another graduate school, will the student be asked if he has ever received a probation and termination? How will that affect the student's chance to be admitted to the new school? For example, he received a probation because he didn't manage to find a research direction and research advisor in 2.5 years, followed by a termination a few months later because he didn't pass his PhD qualification exam without "protection" from an advisor?

It sounds like the student is simply not prepared for graduate school, or at least that graduate program. (Moreover, the department was irresponsible for letting them stay so long without an advisor.)

Unless the student has a very compelling story about why they could not find an advisor, why they did not pass quals, and why neither of those circumstances will repeat in a different department — with all three explanations backed up in the student's recommendation letters — this will almost certainly kill their chances of admission anywhere. Admissions committees are looking for students with strong evidence of research potential, and failing to find a research direction, secure an advisor, and pass quals is a rather strong signal of the opposite.

In light of this answer, the student may be tempted to lie in their application, by claiming not to have been kicked out, or not to have attended the other graduate program at all. This is a VERY bad idea. Unexplained gaps in an applicant's academic record are extremely suspicious. And even if the student somehow got admitted, if the dishonesty is discovered later, they'd immediately get kicked out (again), and possibly asked to pay back any financial support they received.

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  • What about applying to master not phd? – Newbie Aug 17 '13 at 2:51
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    @T.. Look -- if a student has to be dishonest or misleading on an application in order to be accepted into an academic program, consider it a bad idea likely to get the student into more trouble later on. If the student thinks there is a legitimate excuse for the termination/suspension/etc., he or she needs to carefully lay this out in future applications, and hope for the best. Otherwise, the student is playing with fire, and has a potential to be burned. – Chris Gregg Aug 17 '13 at 4:26
  • @ChrisGregg: Thanks! My last comment wasn't saying to be dishonest, but asking about the chance of applying to a master program (such as CS), with that termination and probation due to not finding a research advisor and not passing the qualification exam. – Newbie Aug 17 '13 at 11:12

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