A friend of mine had failed core courses during his master's program. He had to retake the exams and passed them with minimum grade. However, his research output was good and he was able to publish a journal paper (first author, IF~4).

Now he has been accepted for a PhD in Canada on the same topic as his master's. He will be working with application of the courses he had failed in.

Should he continue with his PhD journey? At the university he will be carrying out his research, they don't have to take any coursework. So, he would have to continue with his research without having to take any courses.

Is he suitable for PhD? As far I know, PhD students are supposed to be proficient in the coursework.

  • 3
    If he wants to and if the university is happy, what is the issue? In particular, what is your interest?
    – Buffy
    Oct 18, 2020 at 20:26
  • 2
    "to fail a course" can have many reasons, including that the exam was not suitable. Does he feel to have the skills one should have in this area? Also, why isn't he himself asking here?
    – user111388
    Oct 18, 2020 at 21:24

2 Answers 2


I'm going to answer here as if you are the "friend."

If the university accepts you into a doctoral program they have fairly high confidence that you will be successful. Otherwise they are just wasting scarce resources, including money, space, and faculty time.

It may be that you have some deficiencies and I hope that the educational system in place gives you the time and opportunity to fill any gaps, but you probably also have some compensating points in your favor.

It is good, of course, to try to figure out why you had issues in the past and to correct what can be changed.

But doctoral work is different from coursework and the skills required are not the same. Trust the people who admitted you to the program that you can do it.


I'm not a major believer in the performance in a single or even several courses as an indicator of research potential.

People come in with different skill sets, different studying skills, even different life starting points. How many grad students struggle with depression or other mental illness? How many are from disadvantaged backgrounds? How many are the first in their family to attend higher education?

It is cruel to use course grade to fully determine a person's potential.

If the person is doing research despite failing courses then there are other things going for him or her. Perhaps they are good are organizing information and giving presentations. Or perhaps they are a different type of thinker/person than what those courses demanded, e.g., a hands-on person vs a theory type.

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