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I am an MS student in Data Science and have completed my 1st year. I decided to take Measure Theory because I was very fascinated by it and also wanted to challenge myself with an advanced proof-intensive course. However, I massively underestimated the jump in difficulty from undergraduate to graduate and failed miserably with a D. In retrospect, after completing a triple major as an undergraduate, I was becoming complacent and haughty. This was my first failing grade ever, and it took me a long time to accept it and myself. An ultimately harsh but necessary wake-up call.

Recently, however, my doubts have returned. This summer, I am currently working as a Research Assistant for a project in causal inference, an area that I am very passionate about. I have decided to pursue a Ph.D. to further study it. Based on what I have heard, a B+ in graduate school is a very polite fail; I can't even think what a D stands for. Moreover, I know that many statistics program weigh proof-based courses very heavily. I cannot retake the course in time because (1) a course conflict, (2) I will continue working on this research into the fall, and (3) I honestly don't think I ever use it much now or in the future.

As such, I hope you can give me your honest thoughts about my chance. My undergraduate GPA was 3.83 (BA in Mathematics and Economics & BS in Data Science). My current graduate GPA is 3.50 (All As except the D). My GRE is 166Q, 164V, and 4.5W. I haven't taken the Math GRE because of my summer work, but I can push if needed.

Thank you for reading and sorry for the long post!

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Disclaimer: this is merely my subjective experience and opinion. Please make sure to consult your school's academic policies.

Ok, so you got a D grade in graduate real analysis. I'll be blunt, anything lower than a B in graduate school is cause for concern and serious personal reflection. Usually, professors give either an A or B and seriously hesitate to give anything lower. That's because in most PhD and MS programs, you need a GPA of at least a B/B+ to make any kind of research proposals. That being said however, this being your only low grade, it shouldn't ultimately matter much if you seriously turn things around and keep getting good marks after this fact. You may already have been or are in academic probation for that D (I can't say for sure as it depends on your institution). Take this as a wake-up call in which you start studying differently and look for help if you need it. You say you became complacent and haughty, so you do have some self-awareness as to what could be going wrong. Fix the entitled attitude that you will get an A or B, you aren't owed anything in life, regardless of how good you may think you are. Just because you are a super rockstar and got all As in the past doesn't mean that you deserve to keep getting As. You should look at this as a learning experience and a chance to become a better version of yourself.

On the other hand, it is just a grade. If it is the only bad thing in your application, it won't be looked at too seriously. Also, do keep in mind that low grades can be compensated for with serious research or industry experience. PhD committees look for research potential, not whether or not you have perfect grades. Don't use grades as the only tool of validation to know whether you are doing well. There will be a point in your career that you will stop taking courses and you will face real rejection or setbacks. A bad grade can then seem to be a pat on the wrist, compared to your paper not being published or your boss firing you.

You will thus need to develop thick skin for this sort of stuff. Because you will keep failing, which is proof you are trying in the first place. I'd say don't give up just for this one grade, keep learning real analysis as yes, you will need to know it for PhD statistics research. Stay strong!

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    This is consistent with the attitude at the institutions I studied and worked at (Canada). Anything below a B is a pretty big red flag. Be prepared to explain it, and be honest about it too. "I didn't have discipline, and I fell behind. I don't have that problem now."
    – Kev C
    Jul 30, 2023 at 2:01
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    @KevinChurch Same here in the USA. This is of course a general rule. There are some nuances that I left out in my reply to the OP. But said nuances are really just a "set of measure zero", a pun I'm sure the OP will appreciate lol Jul 30, 2023 at 5:20
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    @KevinChurch some nuances can be for instance: A) The professor who taught you the subject (are they a hard-ass or easy) B) The institution C) Class size and grade distribution D) personal circumstances Jul 30, 2023 at 5:25

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