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And how often does it happen? I know someone who was de facto kicked out of Harvard due to some conflict with his advisers, though he was later able to transfer to Caltech.

As an example - what if there was an irreconcilable difference between the student and adviser, and what if other advisers were reluctant to take the student on (for whatever reason)?

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  • 1
    Define "forced". Does it differ from "driven around the bend and taken away by the nice men in white coats"? May 14, 2012 at 18:14
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    As an example - what if there was an irreconcilable difference between the student and adviser, and what if other advisers were reluctant to take the student on (for whatever reason)? May 14, 2012 at 19:37
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    @InquilineKea: In that situation, even if they aren't officially kicked out, leaving the program might be the student's sanest option. (I really hope this is just a hypothetical question.)
    – JeffE
    May 16, 2012 at 3:05
  • I wonder what happens in the opposite situation: you are recommended to defend much, much earlier due to early completion of your project. Would you be "forced" to leave then?
    – user8160
    Aug 13, 2013 at 14:48
  • At the university where I did my master's, the form for submission of dissertation asked "is this dissertation submitted with the acquiescence of the supervisor?" -- I always wondered what the procedure was for "no" answer here, since the rest of the form assumed the supervisor's approval.
    – Max
    Aug 15, 2013 at 21:55

5 Answers 5

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Like @Suresh says, in the US, I would expect that the advisor-advisee relationship would be separate from enrollment in the department. The advisor can decline to continue funding the student, and can decline to continue advising the student. However usually the advisor cannot force the student out of the graduate program; that's up to the department or university. I would expect that most departments or universities would have an established process for asking students to leave, which would typically be if the student is not making satisfactory progress towards their degree or meeting other requirements. Normally I would expect this process to include some degree of warnings and feedback.

That said, there is some coupling between the advisor-advisee relationship and one's status as a graduate student. Many PhD programs have a requirement that the graduate student must have a faculty advisor. If the student's current advisor is no longer willing to continue advising them, and if no other faculty is willing to advise the student, then this may eventually lead to the student being asked to leave the graduate program, for failure to meet the program requirements. Normally I would expect that to happen only in egregious cases: most departments probably feel a sense of responsibility towards their graduate students, take care to look out for their students, and try to create an environment that gives students a chance to finish their degree.

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  • "towards their degree or meeting or other requirements." Can't parse this. Perhaps "towards their degree or not meeting some other requirements", perhaps? Also "try to create an environment gives students a chance to finish their degree." I think there should be a "that" before the "gives", or similar. Aug 14, 2013 at 15:48
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This is such a loaded question I'm hesitant to answer. While it might seem that a student was "kicked out" of a program for conflicts with an advisor, most departments (including ours!) have a procedure and policy for when students are asked to leave the program.

Usually, the reasons would be some mixture of lack of basic minimum grades and lack of satisfactory progress. if there's conflict between a student and advisor, there's usually some departmental mediator (a director of the graduate program) who should be able to step in and deal with the situation (either finding the student another advisor, or something like that).

But I'm not aware of it being generally possible for an advisor to fire a student and have that student then be removed from the graduate program: these two things are usually separate.

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The answer is "it depends". It depends on the country and it probably even varies between universities.

In some countries, Sweden or the Netherlands, for example, it is virtually impossible to force a graduate student to leave, though eventually the funding allocated to that student may expire. I am aware of one case of academic misconduct in the Netherlands where the student was more or less forced to quit or otherwise face a long and painful series of disciplinary hearings to officially make him leave.

In other places, Belgium, for example, students are often paid based on year long contracts (graduate students are employees). The contracts can be evaluated each year and terminated in the case of unsatisfactory performance. Of course, matters are handled delicately, and often by involving the student in the process. That is, discuss the student's performance and paint a bleak picture and let him/her see that quitting is the best option.

From the student's perspective, it is best that they do not waste 4+ years of their lives and achieve nothing.

From the university/department/professor's perspective, it is best that the student does not waste 4+ years of funding and achieve nothing.

It's a win-win.

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In my college a graduate student was terminated with a master degree in the middle of PhD due to his inabilities to perform well in the lab.

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Almost absolutely. This happened to me at a university computer science Ph.D program in the US. I was admitted with only one year of funding guarantee. When I asked about the offer and questioned about the funding for remaining years, I received vague answers.

When I arrived there, I was told if I can not find an advisor in a year no more funding would be offered. Though this seems reasonable, the trick was that no advisor was interested in or available to take me. I was ignored to death and could not find an advisor in a year. The funding did not continue and I had to leave the United States, as I was international and can not pay from my pocket.

Later I realized that this was a scam and department over admits in the need of cheap teaching TA labour under the disguise of a PhD. No professor had voted for my admission, at least softly. Also, students they trusted were offered full (multi- year) funding packages. Though I was suspicious of only one year funding guarantee in my admission offer, I was naive to US funding system and could not see the scam at that time.

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  • I had written the university name for shame and name purposes, seems like it is removed and anonymized. Not surprised how these suckers can get along with what they do easily, as they are protected by the community by being anonymized.
    – said
    Sep 6, 2023 at 10:48

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