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Apologies if this is not the right place to ask this question, but I absolutely need advice. I am currently third-year international PhD student living in United States on F1 visa and full funding. So far I have been performing quite well, I finished almost all coursework with good grades, completed most of other requirenments, and had pretty good standing with my advisor. However, for the past couple of months I have been struggling A LOT and unfortunately, due to different reasons, I was unable to pass my Comprehensive exam last fall. My dissertation proposal was a total mess, and unfortunately, it only got worse from there. In few weeks I have to submit new proposal which is still terrible, and today I found out I have to basically re-write everything from scratch. Moreover, I am not sure if I will be able to pass the part of exam which I failed in fall (although I do feel way more confident).

It is truly difficult to explain the shame and guilt I am feeling right now. Especially since my University gave me a chance. I do not want to quit, but I feel like I may get terminated. If I get terminated, I may have to leave the United States. This will destory me, especially since I have mypartner here. I know all of it may sound silly, but I am panicking right now. I though I will be able to push through this spring, but I have panic attacks every day now.

Therefore, my question is: What happens if international student gets terminated from the program? Do you believe, if I fail comprehensive exam once again, my department may give me once more chance? What would you do in my place? Can I still transfer/change my major on my F1 visa? Should I just master-out and apply for OPT? Is it even possible?

My university does not give me any specific answers. My advisor knows I am struggling, but not the extent of it.

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    The first step is to tell your advisor the extent of your struggles. Try to do that without too much panic (that may not be possible). See if they are amenable to some kind of grace period so that you can keep the immigration folks at bay. Good luck. Mar 11 at 0:41
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    I think you should tell your adviser, even though he's older (even older than I am). If your department is anything like mine, decisions about things like "one more chance" are strongly influenced by the adviser. If one of my students goes to the department administrators with a request, one of the first things they do is to ask me whether I support the request (unless, of course, the request is about me and my behavior). Mar 11 at 1:44
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    Panic attacks are something that should be discussed with a mental health professional. Mar 11 at 1:53
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    Perhaps your advisor can intervene with the program director. If he is still advising he is not too old to care about his students. Mar 11 at 2:24
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    Also, try to keep in mind that the department wants you to succeed! Mar 11 at 15:47
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How many chances to take a qualifying exam are extended to you depends on how much support you have in the faculty - how much they, or at least someone, believe(s) in you. I’ve seen people being counseled out after one failure, and others passing in their third try. Even if it’s nerve-wrecking, you should treat every exam as if it might be your last chance.

As to “mastering out,” if you went through the entire coursework and were given at least a second chance, they quite possibly would offer you to leave with an M.Sc. anyway, if it comes to that.

Finally, as to changing fields, that depends on how much work you have put in in the field you might be thinking about, and if you have connections in a different department. You could also switch advisers, but from what you write here, your adviser sounds supportive and not the source of your problems.

You’d probably have to leave the country if you’re here on an F1, but for now I’d focus on passing the field exam coming up.

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  • Thank you so much. The simple thought of leaving the country right now is so distracting that I fail to focus on the most important things. I just need to prepare myself for every possibility and try my best to pass this time.
    – DiscoV
    Mar 11 at 1:08
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    I completely understand. Despite the fact that he’s old, I’d do as @EthanBolker suggested and sit down with your adviser too for some pat on the back, and whatever advice he has to share, then throw myself entirely into preparing for the field exam. Mar 11 at 1:19
  • I will do it. Thank you once again :)
    – DiscoV
    Mar 11 at 19:32

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