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I was enrolled in the neuroscience Ph.D. program in 2020 in Turkey (without doing a master's because I graduated from medical school) in the condition that I had to take the GRE within my first semester. Our home lab and advisor were determined at the time of admission and mine was the psychosis lab. At the same time, I was a Research Assistant and a Teaching Assistant for the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, which was required for my fundings. Because of all the work pressure in a tough pandemic period, I could hardly make time to study for GRE so I ended up achieving a GRE score which was 2 points lower than the university's requirement, and this was not accepted by my university. My advisor suggested the department change my program to a Master's. I thought this was a great idea and I accepted. But, later in a talk, my advisor asked me if I am going to stay in her lab after completing my master's for Ph.D. and I said the truth that I will decide this in the future then she refused to change my program to Master's. So, I had to either take the GRE again or terminate my Ph.D. and I terminated my Ph.D. program. Of course, taking the GRE again was not the reason I left the program but there were some other reasons too. First, my advisor was not so helpful because she was very busy and the only time we discussed my research work and the lab work was in our talk before I apply to the university. Second, after taking the cellular neuroscience class I realized that I was more interested in cellular research and I was feeling like I was in the wrong lab. I thought it would be better to leave at the beginning than after some years when I have already wasted my energy and time as well as the university's resources. I studied 9 credits and two more classes that did not have credit according to the university system. My GPA is 3.80.

Now, I want to apply for a Master's degree in neuroscience in the department of biology in the U.S, so that I can make my mind clear for a Ph.D. in the future. I want to mention my previous Ph.D. program in my application. I am wondering how to explain the reasons I left my Ph.D. program. I do not think it would be a great idea to mention my GRE score there rather a change of interest sounds logical for me. Would you share your ideas on how can I justify my reasons? Also, will the fact that I left a Ph.D. decrease the chances of my acceptance for a Master's program?

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In situations like this, there is no need to "justify" your decision to leave --- just be honest and clear about what led you to that decision. It is best not to "get into the weeds" with excessive details, but you can give a basic summary that states the essential facts in a few sentences. Something like this might be reasonable:

During my previous PhD candidature I had difficulty with work during the pandemic, and as a result of this I failed to meet the GRE requirement for continuation in the program (2-points below). The department initially suggested that I transfer into a Masters program, but decided not to proceed with that offer unless I was willing to commit to remaining in the lab after graduation to pursue a PhD. I was not willing to make this undertaking, so I have decided to seek entry to a Masters program at another institution.

Now, you should be aware that this previous history will raise some questions, and you should be prepared for this. For example, if you were previously unable to succeed due to difficulties in the pandemic, what has changed? Why should the new department think you will succeed there? Just be up-front about your history and limitations, and explain why you think you will have greater success in the new program you are applying for. Good luck.

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  • Thank you for your guidance. The problem wasn't with pandemic difficulties. I was doing very well with all my responsibilities the TA and RA work and my GPA of the attended classes is also 3.80. I had positive feedback from my professors too. (I also asked one of them to write me a recommendation letter for the program I applying to ). The problem was raised with two less points in GRE. Also, I was getting fewer interested to my own lab work and more interested to the other lab work day by day and it made me realize I am going to the wrong path. And I could not risk 6 years.
    – Angel
    Oct 21, 2021 at 20:48

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