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I'm doing a PhD in Economics, a 3-year program. I am required to do 4 coursework and receive a grade of B+. The thing is I didn't meet the grade requirement of all four courses, although I didn't fail the courses. I have a very good research proposal (in my opinion). I've got all the data on hand. I have discussed about this with my supervisor and he said I might get terminated; it depends on the research committee after I defend my proposal. I think it would be very unfair if I've got a justifiable proposal but still got terminated because I didn't meet the coursework requirement. The university regulation does not say clearly what would happen if someone fails the coursework requirement.

So, I was wondering if there is anyone out there who is/was in my position. Did you get terminated from the school?

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    So there's a clear requirement that you did not meet and you feel it's unfair if you are not allowed to continue? – JohnD Nov 29 '14 at 7:36
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    I suspect a program requires what it thinks is important. – JohnD Nov 29 '14 at 7:42
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    Yes indeed. A requirement is a requirement. If they want you for other reasons, they might bend the rule a bit to keep you, but if they don't want you in program they can use this as a valid reason to kick you. Both options happened to colleagues of mine. One failed and was the "straw that broke the back" and got kicked, while another failed a course and they kept him because they liked him otherwise. – Behacad Nov 29 '14 at 7:55
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    I have been the evil professor who gave the student a grade that was too low to let them continue in the PhD program. So, yes, it does happen. – JeffE Nov 30 '14 at 4:40
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    I was not trying to be funny. If you mean "Wh did you gve the student a low grade when you knew they would have to leave the program as a result?", the answer is that I assigned the grade I thought the student deserved. – JeffE Nov 30 '14 at 5:13
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Yes, it happens. And it has to be this way.

We've had students who do not do sufficiently well in the coursework, but do so well in other regards that they are allowed to continue on to their Phd: the research committee is there to weigh up the positive and negative signs, within the regulations set out for them. Occasionally, we have students who pass the coursework and then struggle with self-guided research. So now we have two gateways: the coursework, and then a year later an upgrade report and seminar, which is their formal transition from an MPhil programme to a DPhil programme.

A department may not get many opportunities to formally remove a failing student. This will vary by institution and discipline, but it can be the case that there are not many opportunities within the trajectory of a single PhD to terminate cleanly and indisputably.

We never like to do it. It's the worst thing we can do. Apart from the alternative, when the alternative is letting a candidate go forwards into a drawn-out and ultimately unsuccessful attempt at completing the PhD. This is exacerbated if they might make increasing demands on staff, and/or might become increasingly disruptive to other students.

If the supply of good potential candidates is greater than the number of available places; or there are financial penalties when students fail later rather than earlier in the process; then the imperative to filter out weak candidates becomes stronger.

Coursework, research proposals, upgrade seminars and upgrade reports, are some of the small selection of tools we have to help us identify weak candidates. Writing a PhD thesis is indeed completely different to doing coursework. And there are candidates that excel at coursework, but could not write a doctoral thesis; and maybe there are candidates where the reverse is true. Nevertheless, the coursework gives us an opportunity to assess a candidate's skills and domain knowledge.

So that's why a justifiable proposal is not in and of itself sufficient (even when it's a self-funded candidate). If successful coursework is specified as a requirement, then the regulation doesn't need to say what happens if a student fails the coursework: if any requirement isn't met, then the candidacy doesn't have a right to proceed - that's the essence of a requirement. There might be alternatives to some requirements: these should be in the regulations somewhere. Your supervisors, or the faculty's graduate tutor, or the university's graduate school, should be able to advise.

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Story time!

At one point in my past life, I was in a graduate program for a certain subject which has nothing to do with computers. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I was not cut out for such work. I ended up missing the cut severely on two courses, and was told I was withdrawn from that graduate program. So, that was it. Just one day, I stopped going to classes, and I was no longer a graduate student.

So, yes, if you don't meet grade requirements, you can get terminated in some programs. This is a very real outcome that you need to consider, if you've been told it is a possible outcome.

Depending on your grade layout, you may get by, you might not. If you needed a B+ in 4 classes and ended up getting a B or a B- in a single class, I don't think the research committee would be out to kick you out. If, however, your performance was sub-par based on their requirements repeatedly, such as a pair of Cs, they may be wary as to keeping you on board if their requirements were B+s.

That being said, you should probably talk to your adviser about how to proceed. If the research committee is willing to work on a case by case basis, you might be able to work something out. Either way, your end performance has to be stellar from now on, as anything you do poorly will make it harder to support your case.

Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that no one here can guarantee success. You should, at the very least, consider what will happen if you are terminated from the program, as a safety measure.

Epilogue - I ended up getting a Master's in Computer Science and found a happy career.

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    +1 Thanks for sharing your story. Glad it worked out for you – Alexandros Nov 29 '14 at 8:58
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I almost didn't compose an answer because others have covered almost all the ground, but I do have this to add:

I think it would be very unfair...

If you whine complain about fairness, it will work against you. You presumably knew the requirements going in, and you didn't meet them.

The university regulation does not say clearly what would happen

If you try to "lawyer" the regulations, it will work against you. Others have already explained that "requirement" means requirement.

Talk to your proposed supervisor, ask what, if anything, you can do to remedy the situation, and do what the supervisor says. They are giving you a chance to redeem yourself; don't blow it.

  • Hi Bob. First, thanks for the comment. I feel like I'd like to make it clear about what I meant. The thing is the university regulation only states that I need to present a viable research proposal in order to pass on to full registration; it does not say whether one would be terminated if s/he did not meet other requirement so I think it would be unfair if the school does otherwise although I'm fully aware that they are capable of doing so. – user24910 Nov 29 '14 at 22:12
  • For what it's worth, what you think or feel doesn't matter in this situation; what your advisor tells you to do matters. Listen to what your advisor says. – Bob Brown Nov 29 '14 at 22:32
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    @lovemelovemydog: in this comment you say all that's required by regulation is to present viable research. In the question you say "I am required to do 4 coursework and receive a grade of B+". So, what requires you to do the coursework at a grade of B+, if not some kind of regulation or other university authority? – Steve Jessop Nov 29 '14 at 23:39
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    @SteveJessop: the research proposal is required by the university and is applied to all students across any discipline.The grade requirement was imposed by the school (my school). The uni says the school can impose other regulations during the first year, but it does not say what would happen if the student does not meet the other requirements. – user24910 Nov 30 '14 at 1:03
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    @lovemelovemydog: I would assume that means the school gets to set its own consequences for its own requirements. – BrenBarn Nov 30 '14 at 2:54
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Universities will impose some minimum course work (credit) requirement on the students. For example: in my institute I need to take 2 course work and a seminar with a CGPA of 6.0. This rule is strict. Suppose, a student gets CGPA less than 6, he/she should take an extra course and make up for the CGPA 6.0.

In my institute, course credits cannot be compensated by research proposal or a conference/Journal paper.

What I suggest you is, go to acad section of your university and meet Dean/registrar (acad). There will be a committee in every university to take care of all such type of problems. Explain your problem and I hope it gets solved. All the very best.

Even if it doesn't get solved, don't worry. This is not the end of the road. PhD is not life.

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