Last summer I failed my comps/quals of my PhD program. I did not have a chance to take a second try, as my spring semester grades were poor. The first semester (fall) was good, though.

I could not fully concentrate on my studies during the spring semester as there were some family issues in my home country.

My advisor believes in me and said I should continue my studies. I am still very much motivated to do research in my area.

There are couple of concerns, though. How will my poor performance in the spring semester (and consequently failing comps) affect my chances into getting to another program? How should I approach my personal statement?

  • 1
    what do you want to achieve in life? What is wrong with staying in the current program? What is your location in the world? What is your area of reserach? Nov 15, 2019 at 23:41
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    @aaaaasaysreinstateMonica I want to become a strong researcher in development economics as it is the only thing that I want to do in this life. I am from central asian country.
    – Mattheus
    Nov 30, 2020 at 11:15

2 Answers 2


Two bits of advice.

First, your SoP should be as positive as possible without hiding the setback. Talk, as usual, about your goals and how your preparation makes you a likely success.

But, I think more important, use your adviser's personal/professional contacts to help get you in the door somewhere. The advisor, even beyond a LoR, can boost your chances if they are willing to speak to others they know who can help you.

If you say "I failed comps, but ..." it is an entirely different thing than a professor saying "He failed comps, but ...". The professor is putting their reputation on the line for you. It is likely to be respected.


I agree completely with Buffy.

RE the SoP, I would add:

  • You need to spend a paragraph to address it honestly. They're not going to admit you until they feel like they understand what happened, so you want to give your side of the story. In particular, you should honestly answer why you think you will be more successful someplace else.
  • But don't dwell on it or make excuses. Your SoP is not the place to do a lengthy introspection or post-mortem.
  • If you can summarize the problem at home in a sentence or less (e.g., "my father died"), that is probably worth doing.
  • If you can take responsibility for some aspect of the failure in a sentence or less (e.g., "I didn't spend enough time studying for quantum"), that is also probably worth doing.

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