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I'm in a master's program and have already completed my bachelor's, which is the only formal requirement for doctoral study for my program. The first semester went great and I received top marks. This semester, however, I suddenly became gravely ill (to keep it brief: COVID infection triggered a severe chronic health issue), and have been struggling to keep up. I've been committed to doing the work and have been working with several doctors, so I haven't wanted to tap out, but now I am concerned about my capacity to complete my course. The department is encouraging me to take a leave of absence before my dissertation due date that would (1) preserve my first semester work entirely and (2) allow me to renter next January, with no penalty, to complete the course.

The problem is that I was recently admitted to my dream PhD program, with full funding and an amazing stipend package. It is for the 22-23 year and I obviously mentioned my master's studies in my application.

Do you think it would be possible for me to defer this program for a year, during which time I would finish the second semester of my one-year masters? I know it's a loopy situation but the problem is medical (I have ample documentation), and I am only just realizing that my treatment plan may not be enough to get me through the semester. I am wary of continuing with the course only for things to worsen and to be unable to complete my final assignments.

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    Will the funding source wait that long?
    – DKNguyen
    Feb 25 at 19:06
  • The funding is from the university. They have guaranteed five-year funding for all students accepted to the program. I don't know, though, if the department's finances would be exactly the same next year. Feb 25 at 19:19
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    Ask your university / funding agency. We don't know.
    – Louic
    Feb 25 at 19:41
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    If you conceal significant information from the uni/funder, and it eventually comes to their attention, your funding might be adversely affected much more than if your current state comes to their attention. I would assume that the people trying to give me money were nice people and deserved honesty. But, that's just me.
    – Dan
    Feb 25 at 19:53
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    @GabrielHorn It's totally up to them, which is why you need to ask. They're not going to rescind for asking unless they are terrible people you never want to work with anyways. Being unable to complete a not-required degree for a medical reason is quite different from misleading them into thinking you plan to get a degree that you don't or even running into academic difficulties without a good explanation. They like you, that's why they accepted you as a student, and their goal now is just like yours: for you to succeed as a student.
    – Bryan Krause
    Feb 26 at 17:24

2 Answers 2

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I think you're strategizing too much and trusting someone you need to trust (your future program) too little. If you trust them that little, you should absolutely not begin a PhD there under any circumstance.

The question to ask your future PhD program would be whether it is A) Possible for you to join that program on schedule if you are unable to complete your masters for medical reasons, or B) Possible for you to join that program 1 year later than scheduled to allow you time to complete your masters degree as offered by your current institution.

Both of these options may be possibilities, but you won't know until you ask. I think you can take your current department's willingness to be flexible with you as a clear endorsement of the legitimacy of your medical concerns. There is no reason you should expect your future department to see it differently.

Of course, their hands may be tied by policy or outside factors (sources of money, for example), but ultimately it's much more important for you to learn about your options than it is to hide what you are suffering. Your original plan (complete masters this year, start PhD program in the fall) may no longer be feasible.

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So obviously we can't tell you whether your PhD program will accept your request, they may have a no-deferrals, period policy. We don't know.

But, if the question is "Is this a reasonable cause to ask for a deferral?" I would say yes. No reasonable department would consider this to "endanger your acceptance." The worst they can do is say, "no, you have to reapply," you aren't going to be blacklisted or something.

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  • They will consider deferrals, yes. Feb 26 at 2:37

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