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I have an undergrad degree in field A and have a lot of skills that led to me doing research in field B (not a lot of crossover traditionally, but the lab skills are similar and the experiments I run in field B are improved by the lab techniques I have from A).

I am now a fulltime research assistant at a top 10 university and have done interesting work including introducing methods from A to our work in B and proposing experiments grounded in understanding the science of B.

I want to do a PhD, but the trouble is I have an undergrad gpa of ~2.0, and my degree is in field A. (I also did several years of undergrad research in A, including some pretty advanced work, in a top 20 department.) I will have glowing recommendation letters from some top names in B because of my research work.

I want to do a PhD and a lot of people have suggested Europe because they're shorter. Do they care as much about gpa as American PhD programs? If so, I think it might not be worth applying because of GPA.

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There are a number of relevant differences between North American and European PhD programs. First, it is key to note that practices differ greatly from country to country. The following answer will focus on general trends across Europe, but be aware that there will be exceptions.

One big difference is that in Europe you generally would not be applying to a PhD program, but for a specific position with a specified group/professor. As such there are typically less requirements set by a graduate school (such as a minimum GPA) to deal with. Since there is typically only one position to fill, the hiring tends to be more risk averse, and things like recommendation letters become more important than pure grades. People will still however look at the grades and a 2.0 GPA will certainly raise some eyebrows.

Another difference (also mentioned in other answers) is that in continental Europe, it is typically expected that PhD applicants have already obtained a Master's degree. It is very unlikely you will be hired without a Master's. The only exception to this (I know of), is the UK where it is more common to start a PhD directly after the Bachelor (and PhD's have a short nominal length of three years to boot.)

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    It isn't common anywhere I have been in the UK (Oxbridge, and another Russell Group Uni) to start a PhD after Bachelors. We flat out wouldn't accept someone in my subject area at my current Uni who didn't have a masters and they would be unlikely to be eligible for research council funding without one (the council would make them do a 1+3). Master's is a must. – GrotesqueSI Oct 30 at 13:28
  • I suggest making the last paragraph the first, with suitable edits. – Tommi Oct 30 at 14:34
  • Discipline specific - I did my (life sciences) PhD at Cambridge without a masters, a postdoc in Oxford in a group where none of the PhD students had masters and now run a group of my own at a different RG uni were none of my students have masters degrees. – Ian Sudbery Oct 30 at 16:38
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European PhDs are shorter? From what I heard, here (in Germany), you take about 3 years if you can get governmental funding and work on your thesis full time. If you need to do lab/project work to fund your PhD, you are looking at something like 5-6 years.
On top of that you get at least two years to do your Masters, as here it is Bachelors --> Masters --> PhD, you usually can't do a PhD with only your undergrad (no matter the grades).

I can't speak for all European countries (although I saw similar systems in at least a few), but I would strongly suggest to research how PhDs work in your country of choice a little more.

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This will be UK specific and life sciences specific.

The fact that you will generally be applying to an individual rather than a program in the UK means that you have the chance to appeal directly to the supervisor in question. We (just about) understand what a GPA is, and so your poor GPA will be noted, but it is unlikely absolutely rule you out. The fact that you have worked for several years as a RA and have done well at that will argue in your favor, particularly if you have publications.

The TLDR is your GPA will hinder you, but its probably still worth applying in the UK. One problem will be funding, as most PhD funding in the UK is restricted to EU citizens only (soon to be UK citizens only).

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