I'm a maths student who did his BSc at a top 10 university in England and got solid first. After this, I decided to go to Cambridge to do Part III of the Mathematical tripos (a Masters). This was a HUGE step up for me and I felt like a fish out of water. It didn't help that I had personal problems going on in my life around the time of exams, and this ended up having an effect on my results: I got a pass grade.

The next step for me is a PhD and I have already been admitted to a program. My worry is that I don't feel I am good enough to do this. Yes, I got the place but it seems that everyone else I know who's doing a PhD ended up getting a distinction in their masters.

My question is this: how much does the Masters grade matter for fellow PhD students and supervisors? Are students with 'only' a pass looked down upon?

  • 18
    If you were accepted to the program you're good enough to be there. It's really as simple as that. Any credence you give to your insecurities is just going to slow you down.
    – abcd
    Aug 6, 2015 at 20:59
  • 2
    It doesn't matter. They accepted you, so you're in. Your instructors and peers aren't going to go digging around through your transcript or diploma, so they would never know about this anyway. And even if you told them, I doubt they would care or remember this. Aug 7, 2015 at 1:19
  • 3
    This is a common feeling in academia and it even has a name: "impostor syndrome". Knowing its name may help you look for resources to defeat it. Aug 7, 2015 at 4:41

2 Answers 2


I am a former 'pass' Part III student. I am going to be blunt here, as I feel emotionally attached to your case and I know why you may feel frustrated (it may be due to the typical atmosphere that part III students are supplied). Part III is just a course that people want to show-off in their CVs (only one final exam at the end of the year, busy professors, for no particular reason unhealthily competitive students). Nobody has ever asked me what my grades were in Part III. Never. I am a Ph.D., did postdocs and am finalizing a good academic job.

All that matters is your hard work in your research. Forget about the scores in Part III. If research is what you want to do in the coming years, just do it without thinking about part III results. You may end up proving that the Part III degree doesn't make any difference in anyone's life for better or worse!

  • Thank you! Is there any way to PM you?
    – Alvin
    Aug 6, 2015 at 17:28
  • 11
    Obligatory link.
    – eykanal
    Aug 6, 2015 at 18:29
  • 5
    I contest the idea that Part III is just to "show off". It is plausible that outside the most elitist situations nobody is ever going to care about your part III results, but that does not diminish the fact that I had a really great time doing it, and learned a f**k-ton of stuff. Aug 7, 2015 at 8:07
  • 1
    @TomBachmann, Many students from top universities around the world, even after or during their first masters in their home universities, go for Part III. Just for the prestige of it. (hence other students have to 'compete' with those who had already learned the course previously!). Many other students could have learned the same courses at their local institutes but come to Cambridge again for the prestige. Sure, Cambridge is a unique experience, but takes away a lot of money! In short, there is not much that they would not have learned at any other institute. That's why I used 'show-off'.
    – John
    Aug 7, 2015 at 16:23
  • 1
    I believe the majority of Part III students has completed just one degree before starting, although there clearly exists a significant group who has done a masters before. I would say that Part III offers a lot of choice of courses due to the number of students. Probably more than any other UK program. (To give an example, we had not only a course on category theory, but also one on Topos theory. There were further six courses to chose from in algebra). Although I personally would have not done it already having a masters degree. Aug 27, 2015 at 18:21

In short: no your master's grade won't matter much, but your love of the subject does. Since you got admitted to a PhD course it means you passed the evaluation criteria of the academic institution involved and you should be proud of it! Whether you think you have what it takes, you'll find that in the process. This wasn't just given to you, you earned it!

I had a pass in my BSc degree (Comp Sci) due to low marks at my final exams (my project scores were much better) and maybe due to other personal issues of my own back then, and had thought that was going to cause me trouble for the rest of my life! Thankfully I got into an MSc course and then onto a PhD. I became better over the years and graduated from my PhD.

Let me give you this advice: big name universities (or grades) don't necessarily mean a thing! The quality of the students and their research make the uni, not the name. If you think you are not up to standards you can only become better in time through your PhD research. Many people drop out cause they feel bored or lose interest or want to find a job and earn money. I got involved with things I thought I'd never touch (maths, statistics, user evaluations, etc) and a new world outside of programming opened up to me. You should feel excited and show this excitement so your professors and lecturers start to see potential in you. This will carry you farther in your career.

Congratulations! Carry on!

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .