I know someone who received a scholarship to do a Ph.D. in Applied Physics & Electronics in Australia. The length of the program was 3 years. She took 4 years, and couldn't finish the Ph.D. I don't know why. Because she never answered.

In the meantime, she moved to Canada as an immigrant and has been working as a software developer. However, because of Covid, she is now unemployed.

Now, my question is, suppose she wants to do a Ph.D. in Canada, what hurdles she could face?

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    This is a question about a hypothetical situation for a person that we don't know. Maybe this person has PTSD and would never apply for a PhD. In general she would face the same process as every applicant: she would have to demonstrate that she's a good candidate, with the additional difficulty to explain why she didn't finish the previous PhD.
    – Erwan
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 12:11
  • @Buffy Exceptions are exceptions because they are rare. There is anecdotal evidence that they occur but realistically the chance is very small in all somewhat popular fields. Your answer is way too optimistic, in particular in today's academic environment. Beware of survivor bias.
    – user9482
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 17:56
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    I would be concerned that her skills in physics and electronics were rusty if years have passed since her last involvement in physics/electronics. Software development won't keep you fresh for that material if it's a physics/electronics PhD they want. Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 19:44

1 Answer 1


The hurdle is to get accepted to another program. If you can be accepted then nothing else will stand in the way, though you may have to convince a new advisor that the reasons for the earlier failure to finish are reasonable.

A three year limitation on a degree isn't actually very compatible with the realities of serious research. It can't be scheduled. Some problems seem to be amenable to solution but turn out not to be. Some researchers spend many many years on a problem and don't come to a solution. I think Einstein spent about ten years to gain insight into special relativity.

And, you don't know why it didn't get done in four years. It might have been the problem itself. It might have been health, or having a child. It might have been an advisor who insisted on solving an impossible problem. It could have been any of a hundred other things. She "didn't" finish he program. That may not say anything about her skill. Your use of "couldn't" is pejorative. It may not apply.

I was once in a similar situation, moved to a better place, got a better advisor and finished with the respect of the faculty. It certainly isn't impossible. I had a sort of sponsor who helped me make the move. He was a mentor, but was in a different subfield, so not my advisor. But he saw promise and was happy to say so.

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    That third paragraph is key.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Mar 30, 2022 at 14:14

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