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I am a Ph.D. student, and I took a course with my supervisor last semester. Our class consisted of only three people, and our grades have been released. My grade is 91 out of 100 in the Canadian grading system. In my opinion, I performed better than the other students during both the term project and the final exam. I noticed that the class average is 92.3, and it seems that my grade might be the lowest. This is quite disappointing for me. When I inquired about my grade from my supervisor, they said:

Ranking the three students in the class was a challenging task. I had to evaluate their performance comparatively. Your achievement of 91% indicates your exceptional performance in the class. Typically, I reserve scores above 90% for students whose term projects have the potential to be developed into significant research papers. In your case, I made an exception.

could someone explain this paragraph to me? what does he mean by exception? How can I improve my grade, I have two more classes with him and I do not want to score low. We are planning to do reasearch together, and this grading makes me feel disappointed.

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    Typically they reserve scores above 90% in case XYZ, but in your case they made an exception, i.e. gave you a score above 90% even though you did not satisfy condition XYZ. Oct 13, 2023 at 21:18
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    Is it your opinion you performed better on the term project, or you are saying: on all assignments they were graded individually, you received a grade higher than your peers, and then the final grade was changed to be lower?
    – 001001
    Oct 15, 2023 at 4:16
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    Grades are not the purpose of graduate school, and your performance relative to the other students isn't relevant unless you significantly underperformed or the instructor is your advisor. I think you need to think more carefully about why this matters to you, because it shouldn't, and it serves as a legit red flag regarding your educational path. Oct 15, 2023 at 16:10
  • When you graduate with a doctorate, nobody will care what grades you got. NOBODY. You will have a doctorate. I challenge my students to take an out of major course so hard ( to them) that they struggle to get a C. :). You grow by being pushed.
    – MikeY
    Oct 24, 2023 at 18:36

4 Answers 4

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I'd guess you ignore the grade completely and depend entirely on what you were told. He considers you and your work to be excellent.

There is no real need to be competitive about it. The differences are minor in any case and may turn on minor things as well. A doctoral program isn't a race against other students. You waste mental and emotional effort in treating it that way.

Relax. Have a culturally appropriate beverage (or a bowl of poutine, if you prefer).

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  • could you please explain what this sentense means? "In your case, I made an exception" I do not understand what exception means here. Oct 13, 2023 at 20:22
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    Hard to say, but it sounds like he gave you a boost.
    – Buffy
    Oct 13, 2023 at 20:30
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    Yes, it seems quite clear. Typically grades over 90% are only given for work that could become a significant research paper. Your work does not meet this standard, but he still gave you a score over 90% due to "your exceptional performance." You may feel that your performance was even more exceptional than he acknowledged, but I agree with Buffy that you would be unwise to prosecute this matter.
    – cag51
    Oct 13, 2023 at 21:28
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Is the real issue here the 91%, what the professor might think of you, or the fact that other people may have gotten higher grades?

WRT the first one, objectively, 91% is not a low grade (unless I'm missing something about the Canadian grading system).

WRT the professor's opinion of you, his email seems to imply that he was perfectly satisfied with your performance.

WRT the comparison issue, at risk of sounding harsh, it's 1.3 points - get over it. In the grand scheme of things, the difference is negligibly small and unimportant. I can't imagine that small of a difference in one course having any meaningful impact on your future career prospects.

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Apparently you performed well, but not as well as the other two students in terms of developing and presenting a project that is fit to be turned into a research paper.

If I were you I'd ask your teacher nicely for a one on one or a short email in which they give you a few pointers where your ideas are not developed enough and what needs to be improved for your next project/proposal.

Depending on your field of study this could be things as small as your research question being too vague, your choice of material/data not explained well enough, or your analysis strategy not the best fitting to your material/data. Receiving this feedback will greatly improve your research going on, so you should definitely ask for it. However without any further information we can only speculate on this.

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Ranking the three students in the class was a challenging task. I had to evaluate their performance comparatively. Your achievement of 91% indicates your exceptional performance in the class. Typically, I reserve scores above 90% for students whose term projects have the potential to be developed into significant research papers. In your case, I made an exception.

could someone explain this paragraph to me? what does he mean by exception?

I assume the first three sentences are clear. The sentence with "Typically" is emphasizing just how excellent a score above 90% is. I agree that the final sentence is a bit confusing, because it is negative (your project doesn't have the potential to be developed into a significant research paper). But the main message is that your project was exceptionally good.

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