11

I am completing my PhD and I was wondering how much does the PhD coursework grades affect future academia applications? My undergraduate and master's was somewhat decent grade wise (3.8/4) in both. However, I had taken two mandatory courses during my PhD and I got B+ and A- in them. It was not because of the difficulty in the coursework, but I was burned out with courseworks from master's and did not put any effort. My GPA turned out to be 3.56. I did not take any other coursework as my qualifiers committee found my theoretical knowledge adequate for continuing with my PhD.

Back of my mind, I am concerned that this will affect my postdoc and subsequent professorship applications.

Is there any academic out there in same boat as me but have made it successfully in the professional world?

  • 14
    People look at your publications. If you don't have any, grades might start to matter, but then you have lower chances anyway because publications trump everything. – Roland Mar 20 at 11:46
  • 4
    No one looks at grades for even undergrads. Certainly no one is going to care if you have a PhD. – only_pro Mar 20 at 15:22
  • 3
    Related, if not duplicate: Why is PhD GPA considered irrelevant? – cag51 Mar 20 at 17:47
  • 3
    Given that many PhD programmes don’t include coursework, pretty close to zero. – Konrad Rudolph Mar 20 at 18:12
  • @only_pro: That is not universal. Undergrad grades matter quite a bit where I live, where competition for PhD scholarships is fierce and grades are one of the biggest factors in getting one. – Javier Mar 20 at 23:38
33

In the US, at least, and in most fields, no one will look at your grades or care much about them. If they were good enough for your institution to give you a doctorate, they will be good enough for everyone.

I'm not sure this is universal, and would love to hear of exceptions. Such exceptions might occur in situations that have rigid regulations. Of course, if you are specifically hired to do X and you got terrible grades in X as a student, people might have some problems that need answers.

  • 3
    NIH F32 postdoc grants ask about grades. Beyond that, I have never been asked for grades or my transcript. – StrongBad Mar 20 at 16:51
  • @StrongBad, yes, NIH might be a bit stricter, since the fact that they deal with health issues can result in tighter requirements on researchers, – Buffy Mar 20 at 16:54
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    @Buffy, I don't think it's the health issues per se, just the ferocious competition that's endemic to biomedical research. – Matt Mar 20 at 20:34
14

Having applied to a number of postdoc positions and some assistant professor positions (in Northern Europe and Germany), nobody has ever asked about my grades and they are not visible on my CV. Once someone asked about how quickly I finished my master's thesis.

12

Various people have described the norms for research jobs in academia, which is that nobody cares about your grades.

But I teach physics at a community college in California, and we routinely ask for undergraduate and graduate transcripts when we hire. I thought that asking for undergraduate transcripts was bizarre and offensive when I applied for this job myself, and even considered it as a red flag that should influence me not to apply, but now that I've been on a bunch of hiring committees for my department, it totally makes sense to me. We routinely get applicants who have a PhD, often even from a fancy school, but show up to an interview and don't know basic physics. Seeing their transcripts helps a lot in avoiding interviewing these people. Usually their graduate transcripts don't tell us anything, but we'll see people whose undergraduate transcripts are full of C's and D's in physics.

You might think that if these people didn't understand basic physics, and this was demonstrated by their poor undergraduate GPA, that they never should have gotten in to grad school. Well, that's correct for top-30 programs, but not, e.g., for a grad school like Kansas State or Kuwait University.

  • 1
    That's an interesting perspective that makes a lot of sense. In my (research) university I can confidently say that nobody ever asks about grades, but the larger part of the the job is disciplinary research anyway. We also have a few people around with somewhat spotty knowledge in some of the fundamentals, but that's ok - they are good in their field, and we don't have a need for them teaching basics in a field that they are unfamiliar with. I can imagine that to be different in a community college with (presumably) much smaller faculty. – xLeitix Mar 21 at 14:31
  • (though I should say that we sometimes have this issue with grad student TAs - they get moved around a lot depending on need, and it occasionally happens that somebody is asked to TA for a course that they really, really should not be teaching) – xLeitix Mar 21 at 14:33
7

The competition for faculty/postdoc positions is very stiff on:

  • Papers
  • Research interests/project proposal
  • References
  • Funding/grants/fellowships of candidate, if any
  • Prestige of alma mater
  • Prestige of advisor

If grades mattered to a search committee, they would be overshadowed by these. So they would come into play in two situations:

  • If you somehow get candidates that are so close that you need to resort to looking at their grades to distinguish them.
  • If the best candidates are seriously deficient in all the above points and grades are their biggest plus.

Due to extreme competition for academic positions, you are very unlikely to encounter either.

2

Just a short note from personal experience: I am finishing up a PhD in a science field. I will be "leaving my field" as it were and getting a job in industry not necessarily related to my field. In applying to jobs, most places did not care about my graduate GPA, but some of them (to my surprise) did, maybe about a quarter of the places I applied.

There was even one place that commented on my GPA and essentially asked why it was so mediocre (it's 3.7), and I told them (truthfully) that my department put much more emphasis on early research than on course performance. That appeased the person asking the question.

1

I have never been asked for my GPA, nor has anyone else I know in Academia. I'm most familiar with the U.S. system, but I know people with postdocs and professorships across the world and I'm pretty sure asking GPA would raise eyebrows world-wide.

  • Occasionally HR will require you to submit a transcript, but I don't believe hiring committees pay attention to this. Often they are submitted after an offer has been made. – Dawn Mar 20 at 17:51
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    @Dawn, that is probably just a formality and a check against fraud. Are you who you say you are? The existence of the transcript is likely what interests them. – Buffy Mar 20 at 18:00
  • @Buffy - Yes. And perhaps for bureaucratic record keeping and statistics. – Dawn Mar 20 at 18:11
1

I struggled in my first year of my phd and got a C in a course. I made a few B's as well. The transition to being a phd student and scholar was far from a smooth one for me.

That said, when things were all said and done, I graduated with multiple published papers and had a post doc offer at a prestigious school. Afterwards I accepted an offer at an R1 university for a tenure position.

In the job interviewing process for tenure track positions, I was not asked one time about the C I got in a seminar course. I was asked about-

  1. my research
  2. my teaching philosophy
  3. my thoughts on the open science movement

The only time that C comes up in academia is when I share grad school stories with colleagues. And I have found it useful to mention to those who are getting down about their grades in graduate school. If someone can go from academic probation after their first semester as a phd student to a tenure track faculty member at an R1, then getting a B in a course isnt the end of the world.

One other little tidbit. My adviser's thoughts on grades was that if you were only making A's, then you were not really challenging yourself or getting out of your comfort zone in grad school. She told our lab that she would rather you get a B in an advanced course in another department than coast through an in department course.

  • 1
    One good reason they didn't ask about your C grade in tenure track interviews: how would they know about it? – Pete L. Clark Mar 22 at 15:26
1

Certainly research is what distinguishes you, and you need to be or become an independent researcher during a Ph.D., but I would not totally discount your grades. Helped me get industry job offers and has helped me for decades post Ph.D. to have gotten a 4.0 in grad school.

I had heard the exact same "nobody cares about grades" as a student but was warned by a buddy not to believe it. He ended up being right. Note, I still did good research also. Wasn't hard, especially as most classes were early in the program and I picked an appropriate research problem.

Of course, what is done is done, so don't cry about spilled milk and concentrate on things going forward. For instance, I can't go back in time and get better undergrad GPA.

But I would feel a little amiss to have every new Ph.D. reading this Q&A to think grades don't matter. Especially because many will eventually have jobs outside academia.

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