I am an international student and was enrolled in a PhD program for the last 4 years. My GPA is above 3.8.

I was recently given a termination letter(without any warnings) from my department regarding my PhD program. Apparently my termination is because I missed a deadline for an article submission. I am surprised as I was not given probation for even one semester before termination. It could be because in the last 6 months my progress on my thesis was slow because I was busy with a few personal commitments. i was getting married and had a couple of unexpected deaths in the family.

EDIT: "The deadline I missed first was a mutually set one to review the final draft of an article to publish. I missed it by more than 10 days as I had a death in the family. I sent the final edition of the draft 5 days before actual submission date for the journal. But got no response. I missed the submission date as I had no feedback from him."

I am in the last year and finishing my data analysis. I was outside the US for my research and my I-20 expired last week and now I am stranded outside the US. As it is the summer vacation, the staff and my adviser are unavailable on the phone. I got a reply to my emails as follows: For the i-20, since you are currently no longer in the program. I cannot complete a graduate student program extension form for you. I wish it had turned out better for you. I am available at any time to talk.

But the office line is still under answered. I don't have any other number. I have emailed him asking for a time and number I can contact him. Weirdly got an email today saying let's talk on 17th June. The other members havnt responded. An old student of the my advisor told me something similar has happened before where a student was told to look for another advisor by my advisor. But she was in her first year. It was because he felt the performance wasn't up to the mark. It was also very unexpected as he was always very cordial with her too in team meetings and department meeting. The girl took up another professor and completed her PhD.

What options do I have?

Should I wait to get back in contact with my department or should I look for other universities and programs?

What happens to the data I have collected? As I was outside the USA during the data collection, I was not given any stipend while I collected the data. Do I have rights on my data or does my adviser or does the department? The data is in audio format collected by me using a set of guidelines created by me but approved by my adviser.

I might be getting ahead of myself, but I am, to say the least, feeling panicked right now.

UPDATE Jan 2020: The advisor never explained properly, but 5 years down the line I understand what happened. My advisor wanted to leave the institute. I believe his contract/commitment made it impossible to do so while I was a student there. He did write me glowing recommendation and helped me secure a good institute in my own country. Due to the setback and credits not transferring, I had to "sit" through some courses but I will be defending my PhD this year. In the mean time I have written chapters and articles with my new and my old advisor. The old advisor runs his own research institute. The data is mine to use without issue.

I do not like being in the dark and my life partner helped me live through those times. What I will say is that power dynamics for an international student make the advisor more powerful than should be. And without an option I had to spend more time than I should have to complete an already long PhD.

Thanks for all the responses. As you can tell I opened this account and have worded everything to ensure that there is anonymity for all involved. The advisor is highly regarded in my field and his willingness to work with me is a disincentive to reveal/smear his name. Now that he has a private research institute without any international students, I hope the same will not be repeated with others.

  • 3
    What field are you in? How is your relationship with your supervisor? Have you signed anything regarding the data and research you have already done? Unless you work with very expensive equipment/large projects (I am thinking astrophysics or particle physics) or sensitive proprietary info (say some bioscience project with an eye toward commercialisation), I can't imagine you would not be able to retain the benefit of your work or that your former university would bother to go after you.
    – Relaxed
    Jun 1, 2015 at 12:39
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    Are these all the details? It is very unlikely for an institution to just terminate someone with a letter like this. One exception is that the student cannot be reached and his/her academic standing has not progressed. Did you commit any misconduct? Have you ever ignored their attempts to communicate with you? Notice that I am not doubting you, I simply think our advices will be more useful if we know any facts that you have not disclosed. Jun 1, 2015 at 12:41
  • 2
    I think what the two gentlemen above have pointed at, are details which are absolutely necessary for an appropriate answer to your post (i.e. one that's not diving into the hyperbole which ain't relevant to you). Please consider editing your post to include all these details, and welcome to Academia.SE BTW. Cheers :)
    – 299792458
    Jun 1, 2015 at 12:48
  • 4
    I missed a deadline for an article submission — There are many aspects of this story that I find difficult to wrap my head around. Are you sure that wasn't the deadline for your thesis submission? Or perhaps the submission deadline for some visa paperwork? Were you communicating regularly (at least once a month) with your advisor before the termination letter arrived?
    – JeffE
    Jun 1, 2015 at 20:44
  • 4
    While I'm not sure we're hearing the whole story here, I suggest contacting your Dean of Graduate Studies, and the University Ombudsman, if there is one. Jun 2, 2015 at 12:18

3 Answers 3


In general, I've never heard of a student who was dismissed from a PhD program without sufficient warning and advance notice to make necessary alternate arrangements (for instance, write up and leave with a terminal master's instead of a PhD). The fact that you've been summarily terminated from a PhD program comes as a complete shock to me—you should have been given some knowledge and warning that this was coming.

However, the silence from your advisor is quite unusual. Even if your advisor were not supposed to converse with you about your situation, a short email saying "You need to address all of your concerns to [person X]" would not violate any such issues. So, it's not clear why your advisor is ignoring you—but it does seem rather obvious that your advisor has consented to your termination. (In my experience, if the advisor is willing to fight for a student, then only very serious issues such as plagiarism or sabotage will lead to termination.)

  • 1
    and if the advisor is willing to go to bat for a student, then he/she would not ignore the student.
    – StrongBad
    Jun 1, 2015 at 15:16
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    I have the distinct feeling that there is more going on than is included in the original question. Being busy for 6 months on personal issues rather than the PhD and being outside the US - if not in close communication with the adviser, it could easily look like job abandonment. I suspect that multiple communications have been missed. Yes, the termination could be a surprise to the student, but not to the (likely very frustrated) adviser.
    – Jon Custer
    Jun 1, 2015 at 16:47

Departments generally do not terminate PhD students without letting the student's advisor know in advance. The fact that your advisor has not responded to you for 3 weeks, suggests the possibility that he/she is ignoring you. This is reasonable behaviour, if in fact your advisor was behind your termination.

As you are not currently in the US, you need to call your department chair and/or the chair of graduate studies and figure out what is going on. In my opinion, it is too soon to look for a new program or to start really worrying about your data.

  • 1
    that's what i am telling myself, just wanted to hear it from someone else too. The shock of this is what brought me to ask on the group. Jun 1, 2015 at 13:33
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    @PhDinperil If your adviser was really the one that caused your termination and is intentionally ignoring your attempts to contact, my only word is this: childish. I can't imagine that you've done anything so wrong that your PhD adviser would act in this manner to get rid of you. One would hope that academics were more mature and had a better moral compass than say, a thirteen-year-old. Jun 1, 2015 at 14:50
  • 12
    @ChrisCirefice unless university policy prevents direct communication at this point to prevent them from getting sued.
    – StrongBad
    Jun 1, 2015 at 14:55
  • 4
    @StrongBad Aha, that makes more sense. Still, it's unsettling that a PhD student was terminated without warning and doesn't know why. That's a lot of time and effort spent. Jun 1, 2015 at 14:59
  • 2
    Another possible group to contact are the other members of your thesis committee. (I'm assuming you already have a thesis committee assembled, as you're in the last year of your Ph.D.) In many programs, the thesis committee is there to be faculty champions of the student when the advisor and student have a falling out. For example, they can provide independent assessment if the advisor is being reasonable about "lack of progress". Just be aware that involving your committee may put additional strain on the advisor/student relationship, if it isn't already broken.
    – R.M.
    Jun 1, 2015 at 18:00

Out of curiosity, can you explain the significance of the article submission deadline? I finished my PhD in the life sciences, years ago. Having peer-reviewed publications certainly helped me complete in a reasonable amount of time, but the ‘deadlines’ to have these submitted were not true deadlines, but moving ones I decided upon with my advisor to push our projects along. I’m certain I missed more than a few of these.

In any case, my guess would be that your advisor is solely responsible for having you terminated for what they deem as lack of progress, and is presenting this as a decision made by the department. I’d agree with the others that this does seem very childish on their part, and if the only criticism they have is that you missed a paper submission, then you definitely deserve more of an explanation that that. I'm not sure exactly what your options are - but if I were you I would first want to know why I'd been terminated, and I wouldn't be satisfied with the reason you've been given.

  • The deadline I missed first was a mutually set one to review the final draft of an article to publish. I missed it by more than 10 days as I had a death in the family. I sent the final edition of the draft 5 days before actual submission date for the journal. But got no response. I missed the submission date as I had no feedback from him. Jun 3, 2015 at 14:45

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