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I've had discussions with professors in conjunction with my postgraduate application. Many were very skeptical at the fact that I completed one BSc and two MSc within 4 years. This would normally take at least 5-6 years in my country. I explained that I did it because I was very interested in my subjects. However, they thought it was strange and concerning since I had a small portion of "bad grades". This can be explained by a combination of heavy workload, bad family situation, and poor mental health during one or two semesters. I did not mention the latter parts due to social stigma. As a result, professors said I may have "learned more", i.e. gotten straight A's, if I'd have studied a year or two longer like most people. Other than this I have a very good record, which made this seem strange to them.

I live in a small country that has a lot of ex-Soviet professors, many of which believe that a student must have straight A's and a standard educational history to succeed. However, in my country universities are very diverse in terms of expectations and grading. Every university has their own grading scale and level of education. My university, for instance, likes to fail 50% every module to weed out bad students. Sometimes, up to 85% fail, because they give undergraduate students graduate modules because "life's tough, just learn it".

So, depending on where you study, your grades will be wildly different, and it can be hard to convert between places. There's even massive variation within my department alone, where they have the same module but different formats depending on who takes it. This means that an architect taking linear algebra who gets an A may be counted as a C for someone who studies physics, for instance.

Given this knowledge of the educational system, what could be the reason that professors dislike accelerated education? If asked at my university, where it is common, they'd just say good job. When asked at the universities I applied to, it's almost unheard of. How can one highlight the advantages of having taken a fast educational route?

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    "My university, for instance, likes to fail 50% every module to weed out bad students." Sounds like a terrible place. Don't they realize that failures can be caused by bad teaching as well as bad students? – Anonymous Physicist May 16 at 8:40
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I think they realize it, but from what I've learnt (having spoken personally to the head of education) they want to keep a certain standard and reputation. Also, the university gets paid per student at the start of their education, so it doesn't really affect them if people give up and drop out. I've also experienced courses with 10-20% fail rate that they made harder because only 10% failing means "it's too easy". – Seal May 16 at 8:54
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I believe this is the result of trying to stand out and earn a reputation rather than accommodating students and help them. For instance, it took several years to get rid a module I had to take which had a semester worth of prerequisites in another subject that we never got. Some professors also have the attitude "if you think this is hard, you're not good and should drop out", instead of trying to help students. – Seal May 16 at 9:01
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    What I hope is that you didn't miss out on other oppurtunities while studying. Did you work in lower jobs? Did you spend time with friends? Did you learn other things (eg taking courses from humanities subjects, going to theatre). Did you do enough for your mental health? Through these things you develop skills (eg social skills) which make you a well-rounded person and more pleasent to work with. When I had an appliciant who did study very fast I was slightly worried that they might not have developed those skills. – user111388 May 16 at 9:10
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    @Seal: I am happy to hear that. However, this may some prejudice against fast study people - that they are completely not in touch with the rest of the world or with people from "poorer backgrounds". – user111388 May 16 at 11:46
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From the point of view of a professor who does not really know you and who only sees that you finished exceptionally fast, the crucial question is how that result came to be.

From the cultural differences between the two universities in Germany where I studied 20 years ago (one "Western", the other "Eastern"), I can easily believe that two universities may be so different that the professors feel uncertain in their judgment (or feel certain but are way off).

Here are possible reasons for your record:

  1. You are one of the very few really exceptional students. => they want to (prospectively) hire/get into their group

  2. You are an exceptionally clever student wrt. to optimizing their grades very well by reducing the workload per grade to a minimum. The implicit concern is: get good grades with low overall knowledge, and that is someone whom they may rather not have in their group.

  3. In case the professors are not sufficiently close [culturally] to the courses and university you attended so that they can accurately judge, there may also be the concern that your achievements have been due to your courses/grades being "softer" than what they are used to.
    I'm in Germany, and whenever there is such a concern (i.e. a student showing up with grades that are not in the list of equivalent grades that are automatically accepted), the procedure here is to ask the student to take an exam locally to prove their knowledge/performance.

  4. For the sake of completeness, there may also be professors out who do not want to have the exceptional student in their group since they feel endangered by such a student.
    Whether such professors exist or not, if they exist it is better for the student to not end up in their group.


Here's my take on what you write about your achievements

1 BSc + 2 MSc in 4 years

IMHO hard to judge without further details. Relevant details may be

  • how different the fields of your two MScs are?

    I'm chemist. Had I found out during my Hauptstudium (≈ MSc) that I'd like to actually become a chemical engineer instead, that would have been feasible without that much additional workload.
    OTOH, I'm acutally analytical chemist and in fact do statistical data analysis. I don't think I'd have been able to study maths with specialization statistics alongside my chemistry studies without that taking substantial amounts of additional time - here the overlap between the curricula is already too low.

    OTOH, there exist exceptional students that can do much more than is considered usual. I met a biologist who while doing her PhD as a side-line studied law. She explained to me: knowing what you want (she knew which specialization she wanted to take when she started), already having the general experience of another university degree plus also more experience with life in general/being more mature than a student fresh from school in her experience made a whole lot of a difference. In addition you may decide for which courses you want good marks and which just to pass and focus correspondingly.

  • how feasible it was to assemble your choice of courses yourself?

    One of my universities had their students basically assemble the coursework themselves. The other handed out fixed schedules.

  • whether it was possible to take exams without attending the course?

    Again, the university with the fixed schedules would have administrative heart attacks if someone enrolled somewhere else wanted to take some exams. At the other university that was maybe not super frequent, but it was not unknown, neither.

I think you can see that what is hard work but doable at one university may be not possible at all at another. And that would mean that a professor from a university culture where such things aren't even considered may conclude that your record was obtained via reasons 2 and/or 3, so not favorable.

As a result, professors said I may have "learned more", i.e. gotten straight A's, if I'd have studied a year or two longer like most people.

... IMHO hints at the professors considering 2 and or 3 rather than 1 the likely reason (or considering that even the exceoptional student 1 could and should have learned more)

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  • Very interesting points. I think that they it could be 3, mostly since they have a 7-tier grading system, while we have a 4-tier, and they are not really comparable for these courses. Even more since we have very different local grading routines, so top percentage doesn't correspond to a specific grade. For instance, in some cases the top 40% can get a pass or higher, or the top 40% get top grade. – Seal May 16 at 17:50
  • Furthermore, my degrees are BSc and MSc in math, and a MSc in general engineering sciences (general physics, computer science and data science). It came off as strange that I wanted to do math when I had put down the effort to get a degree in something that wasn't math. – Seal May 16 at 17:56
  • Chemical engineering is nothing like chemistry. I think the transition would be quite the workload. – Cell May 17 at 17:07
  • @Ceil: I didn't write that in order to keep the answer from getting too long, but that university was a technical university offering specialization in industrial/technical chemistry for chemists. Anyone considering to switch to chemical engineering would have taken that track. Maybe more importantly, I found the workload at that university much less than at the other where I came from. I used that to go working, but had I used that time (and some free time, holidays and the time I spent in philosophy lectures) for engineering instead that would have amounted to quite some additional courses. – cbeleites unhappy with SX May 17 at 20:00
  • ... I don't deny it would have been a substantial workload, but it is not something that would be plain impossible for a very dedicated and good student. – cbeleites unhappy with SX May 17 at 20:02
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Given this knowledge of the educational system, what could be the reason that professors dislike accelerated education?

There is not a good reason, and most professors do not hold that view.

How can one highlight the advantages of having taken a fast educational route?

I have not have much success with that, and I am not sure you should try.

The advantage of accelerated education goes to you personally, not your supervisor. If you complete you degree at a younger age, then you work for more years between that degree and your retirement. As a result, you achieve more and earn more. Graduate school supervisors will not care much. It's true that students who have successfully accelerated their education are hard workers, but they are not the only hard workers.

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  • Could this be more of a culture clash then? I've seen this in general in my modules too, and especially on exams. Russian faculty tend to work by the books, while local faculty are very open in their approach as long as it works. A few times I took the more advanced modules before the easy ones, and the Russian examiner said you must take his course first and then advance to the next one. Meanwhile, in the advanced course the examiner (a local) didn't care as long as we could follow him. – Seal May 16 at 11:04

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