Four years ago, I withdrew from my Ph.D. program for several reasons. I had passed all exams and only needed to write and present my disertation, I had a 4.0 GPA, several publications under my belt and plenty of conference presentations. I did not pass two dissertation proposals. I was feeling burnt out and a lack of support from my advisor.

After withdrawing, my advisor floated the idea of finishing in the future. She also asked to used the data I collected for my dissertation for a conference presentation, and we published a paper together. She gave me the green light to apply this year, but I was not readmitted. No reason has been provided yet.

So my question here is what are the chances of finishing at a different university relatively quickly (with the understanding that some courses or milestones may need to be repeated).

Edit: In the US, Cognitive Neural Science, focus was on visual perception and spatial cognition

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    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Mar 27 at 20:17
  • Is your former advisor still at your former university?
    – Allure
    Commented Mar 28 at 6:02
  • Yes, still there.
    – Dev15
    Commented Mar 28 at 13:46

2 Answers 2


Even though you got turned down by your department, I believe (could be wrong, as your explanation for what happened is rather terse) that your best chance for picking up your degree program anywhere near where you left it is with the university and department you withdrew from.

Regardless of whether you intend to try with your old Uni again (I'll outline how I would go about it, if I were in your situation), there will be a flavor that your application package would need to have, I think, for any PhD program to consider you.
If I were reading your application package, I would be looking for

  • a fair acknowledgement of your own role in the previous outcomes
  • why you feel the same outcome is unlikely to happen again
  • what you've done over the last 4 years to maximize the likelihood that it won't happen again, and
  • some evidence that you haven't been sitting around doing nothing for 4 years.

Now, back to how to reapply to your old uni. I recommend trying to set up a meeting with the head of the grad program in your department and your old mentor. If your old mentor is unwilling to take you on, you're probably dead in the water, so you may as well have that very adult conversation as early as you can. You'll want very good answers to the four points I listed in your pocket, both when you try to have this meeting, and for any application this may generate. Any official status associated with your separation will need to be determined. If you "withdrew", that's one thing, and you can probably work with that. If you were "separated" based on performance, that's a different kittle of fish, and your chances for success in getting back into this school would be much lower. Your description of these circumstances is less than perfectly clear, and they're not really any of our business, but rest assured, your old mentor and the director of your grad program will know, and any euphemisms you place on your exit won't help these discussions at all.

Next, you should have frank discussions with these people about how much more time you need (a realistic estimate, not a pipe dream), whether you need to collect more data, whether the project you were on is still active, ..., and most importantly, the level of financial support you would need, and for how long. If the program gets the feeling that you've spent some time resolving any issues, that you could be productive, and that you'll be fast and inexpensive, they may be able to find a way for you to rematriculate. You might also ask about finishing up on a part-time basis -- the more reasonable options you can give them, the higher the chance that they can get you back in the program.

In these discussions, it would be wise to avoid the term "ABD". It doesn't feel accurate, especially without a passed proposal exam, and won't help your discussion about how much time you would need to finish up.

As to "finishing up" at a different university, I think there might be a chance to start again fresh, but I believe that if a university gets the feeling that your admission won't contribute to the career of a faculty member, that would be a non starter. Perhaps you can transfer some or all of your academic credits, but admissions committees expect you to find work with a faculty member to help them develop their portfolio.

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    Thanks for the very thorough response. Your thoughts here are in-line with how I attempted to approach my application this past round. I think a meeting with the head of the grad program could be fruitful, at least in terms of understanding where I stand. Also agreed concerning finishing at a different university. I will need to demonstrate that I can provide immediate value to whichever faculty member I can work with.
    – Dev15
    Commented Mar 27 at 18:11
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    Just to add another viewpoint on part of this fantastic answer, it doesn't sound like his mentor is unwilling to take him since they published together (but who knows); but if this is the case I believe it is feasible to switch to another (willing) PI within the department. In the Ph.D. program I did I believe several people did this. Of course every department is their own little fiefdom so I'm just guessing here. Commented Mar 27 at 19:11
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    @syntheticgio -- I think that's right. Departments, every now and again, need to "rescue" a student from a situation, whether it's a mentor losing funding, or just a mismatch between mentor and mentee, where another faculty member can pick up a student. For this case, in particular, I think it's probably important for the original mentor to at least not have something too bad to say about the student. Commented Mar 27 at 19:26

Unless there are some special circumstances, I'd guess that your chances of a quick solution at another university are remote. They will have procedures that must be followed, etc.

If you are co-author with some senior person at another place then something could possibly be arranged. But your best course is probably to work something out with your old place and get your old advisor involved in insisting on it. That would seem to be the best place to have exceptions made. If she has some clout it might be made to happen.

Good luck.

  • Thanks for your thoughts. The fastest route would definitely be through my old advisor/program. Doubting that I'll find a viable alternative solution.
    – Dev15
    Commented Mar 26 at 23:33

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