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I am doing an 5-year Integrated Master's degree (3-year Bachelor + 2-year Master) on Physics in Europe. Aiming for a thesis in Quantum Computation/Information. I am currently on the 4th year and have a "good" overall grade (84%).

However, due to health issues, I failed to perform well on my 6th semester (the last of the Bachelor), almost failing half of the courses. I got 50%-60% on 4 of them.

So I am faced with a dilemma:

  • Should I focus on finishing my degree on time, potentially having to either manage doing a thesis and improving some grades at the same time, or settle for those low grades and just move on?

OR

  • Should I focus on improving my grades and achieving the ones I know I am capable of, potentially getting to ~88%, with the disadvantage of having to delay/prolong my thesis to a 11th semester?

This might be a very close call and depend on a lot of factors, but I am interested in knowing, in general, which option gives me the highest chance of success in continuing my academic career with a PhD.

Not sure if a Postdoc would follow after, but I eventually want to go for a top-tier job in industry, either related or not to research (like IBM's or Google's Quantum Lab, or some other not focusing on research).

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    I would also appreciate constructive criticism, instead of plain downvotes. – João Bravo Jun 20 '19 at 13:21
  • Since I am also interested in knowing the best option for an industry career, should I ask this question on The Workplace too? – João Bravo Jun 20 '19 at 14:22
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    Neither. You should focus on mastering course material and doing good research. If staying longer makes that easier (for example, because you can repeat classes), stay longer; if finishing on time makes that easier (for example, because you don't have to repeat classes), finish on time. – JeffE Jun 20 '19 at 22:28
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    I'll just guess Portugal, but don't know the system there. I think this depends on where you want to study. You can probably get local feedback from professors on how strictly things like grades are judged in applications. If they are generally very strict, then improving your grades seems best. Otherwise finishing. But you have an obvious explanation for delays in graduation. But local advice is probably necessary here. – Buffy Nov 25 '19 at 16:52
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This is location-dependent, as education systems vary widely across different countries in Europe. For example:

  • in Germany, taking an extra semester to do internships, research work or stays abroad is quite common, and is generally seen as positive if the experience acquired was good. In my experience, grades are more important than the time taken to complete the degree.

  • in Spain, especially in Bachelor, completing an engineering or Physics degree in the allotted time is seen as a difficult achievement and students who do it are valued. Still, those few 50%-60% grades will stand out among the many ~90% ones.

I would say the answer depends mostly on which courses you got low grades, and whether you are allowed to improve those grades or you need to take other courses to bump the average (also system/country-dependent). Spending an extra semester to get from an overall grade of 84% to 88% does not seem to be worth the effort. But spending it on getting rid of that 55% in Introduction to Quantum Mechanics is definitely worth it if you plan to continue your career in that field.

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  • Thank you. Most people in the academic field recommended that I spent the extra semester (the next one) improving my 3rd year grades, since the Bachelor here is very challenging compared to the Master, and at least our institutions take that into account. The courses I want to improve are Statistical Physics, Solid-state Physics & Quantum Mechanics 2. I scored quite well in QM1 & QM3 (which is kind of an intro to QFT), so I'm confident. I'll try to do it while planning my thesis for the following semester. – João Bravo Nov 27 '19 at 18:12
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Usually there is a scheduled time and an expected number of credits for a degree. A BSc normally takes 4 years, with a given number of classes. This is because the ability to absorb the material in the allotted time is part of the evaluation of the student.

Ordinarily that is. But you mention health issues.

If you had some major life altering illness then it is something you should discuss with the university. I mean something like as serious as pneumonia. I had pneumonia a couple years ago. If it had happened in university it would certainly have cost me a term, maybe a full year.

Under such circumstances, and presuming you now have some kind of control of the situation, you should consider repeating either a term or a year, depending.

First talk to your favorite prof or your department chair. Ask if there is the possibility of repeating the year. Or possibly repeating only some of the classes. In most cases, they will want to help you. It looks good for them for you to perform well in the university. They will nearly always want to help you finish the degree.

Be open to their suggestions. They may have suggestions of alternatives.

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  • Thank you. Most professors recommended that I spent the extra semester (the next one) improving my 3rd year grades, since the Bachelor here is very challenging compared to the Master, and at least our institutions take that into account. I'll do it while I plan my thesis for the following semester. – João Bravo Nov 27 '19 at 18:07
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My advice is to stick to the schedule and get the best grades you can along the way even if not perfect. Hanging out in school extra time is unproductive.

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    Well, I do not think it is that simple. I am willing to do it to actually learn what I should have learned in the problematic semester. So it is not unproductive. What I really want to know is which choice would make me a more viable candidate for a PhD admission and an industry top-tier job admission. – João Bravo Jun 20 '19 at 13:23
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    You probably have some lowering if your chances regardless. Stop worrying about past missteps and brushing that up. Move forward. Again my advice. You can get opposite points or just do what you want. But I mean the tough love from the heart. Won't debate it further. Finis. – Guest Jun 20 '19 at 14:23
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    "Hanging out in school extra time is unproductive" I guess it depends on why you're in school. If you're there to try and actually learn things then "hanging out in extra time" might be incredibly productive. – dwizum Jun 20 '19 at 16:39
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    Don't tell grad schools or employers you had bad grades from being sick? Why not, if your health problems are not going to re-occur? They're going to notice something happened in that semester no matter what you do. If you explain it, they won't be left wondering what happened and why you're trying to hide it, and whether they should reject you for that reason. (Of course, depending on the exact health problems, maybe it's something you do want to hide.) – Peter Shor Jun 21 '19 at 2:53
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    @JoãoBravo: As I said, whether you want to hide it depends on the exact health problem. Mental health issues are certainly ones you want to consider hiding. – Peter Shor Jun 22 '19 at 17:41

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