6

I was a PhD student for 2-years. during this time, I did not get along with my adviser, who was psychologically abusive towards me. He left me no chance but to drop out because the situation was intolerable, and working with him was counter-productive.

I am thinking of going back to school as I have not given up on working towards my goal. In my Statement of Purpose (SOP) letter, Do I need to mention/elaborate on the reasons that made me drop out? If so, what is the best way to express them without hurting my chance of getting an admission?

Thanks!

| improve this question | | | | |
  • 1
    Of course this is a silly quibble, but (as in my correction in the title from "droping" to "dropping") it would be good to convince people of your focus by not mis-spelling things... I'm not at all meaning to be snarky! In some sense, obviously, spelling errors don't matter... but avoiding them is vastly better than not... And, in principle, it's easy to avoid spelling errors, by various devices. – paul garrett Aug 12 '19 at 23:49
  • I am not familiar with the statement of purpose letter, but is it completely necessary to mention that you have left a different degree program at all? I am not sure how ethical this is. However, I am just being curious. If you feel completely obligated to mention this, or if it’s compulsory, then I would strongly suggest you don’t point the finger without evidence of the unfair treatment from your previous advisor. This is definitely a very tricky situation and depending on how you address it, could quickly tilt the scales either way. – Rumplestillskin Aug 13 '19 at 6:43
  • is it completely necessary to mention that you have left a different degree program at all?Yes! PhD applications generally ask for records from all your previous academic programs, whether you successfully graduated or not. So even if your statement doesn't mention your previous program, your transcripts will, and then people will wonder what happened, and why you're not talking about it. – JeffE Aug 13 '19 at 12:30
3

The overriding goal in this situation is to communicate in a way that causes the admissions committee to believe that you have the qualities to get through a PhD program, and that you will be someone who is easy and pleasurable to work with. It is therefore important to communicate in a way that gives cues as to your fortitude and drive to get through the program, and shows that you are calm and able to deal with conflict in a mature manner. Anything you say that detracts from this could be detrimental to your application.

Do I need to mention/elaborate on the reasons that made me drop out? If so, what is the best way to express them without hurting my chance of getting an admission?

This is certainly a thorny situation. You will certainly need to give some explanation of why you did not succeed in your previous attempt at a PhD program. However, unless there is some simple, clear, and objective evidence of misconduct by your previous supervisor (e.g., a disciplinary outcome against him by the university for his treatment of you), it is not a good idea to go into specifics, or make statements claiming psychological abuse. The problem with doing this is that the committee will have no simple way of confirming that your claim of abuse is accurate, and it will therefore naturally give rise to the alternative possibility that you are just extremely sensitive, and perceive psychological abuse in ordinary supervisory activity. I am not suggesting this is the case, but just bear in mind that the committee will not have any way of confirming your assertions, so they might consider this to raise a risk for them.

In this kind of situation, assuming there is no simple, clear, and objective evidence of misconduct by your previous supervisor that you can cite, I recommend that you include a short statement to the effect that your relationship with your previous supervisor was "not a good fit", and this hindered your progress. The committee is likely to "read between the lines" and understand that there was some problem between you and your previous supervisor, so by understating the problem (e.g., saying it was "not a good fit" without blaming anyone), you signal that you are a person who can roll with the punches.

If you get an interview for a prospective PhD candidature, be prepared to field follow-up questions about this issue. I would recommend preparing some verbal answers that take the same understated tone, but also be prepared to give full disclosure in a calm and measured way if pressed on the issue. If this comes up, you again want to communicate that there was a good reason for your previous failure to complete, but you have the fortitude to talk about it in a calm and non-accusatory manner.

| improve this answer | | | | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.