For a student who has failed the PhD qualifying exams twice, is there usually any hope for him/her appealing to stay in the school?

Any advice from professors/students with experience in this will be greatly appreciated. Thanks a lot.

Edit: Just asking out of interest, I haven't taken the quals yet.

Extra info for those who saw my previous question: I am now on good terms with 2 of the admin staff. One of them regularly chats with me. Learnt my lesson, no intention to make any enemies / offend anyone.

  • Probably not good enough to finish the topic anyway
    – SmallChess
    Oct 23, 2015 at 8:07
  • 4
    You may want to add some details. Failing a very difficult qual in a very top tier program is different from failing a relatively easy qual in a middle tier program. I do agree that failing qual twice is very serious. Have you talked to your advisor?
    – Nobody
    Oct 23, 2015 at 8:54
  • 5
    I know more than one person who got a PhD in mathematics at a major US state university despite failing qualifying exams twice. One of them became a professor and continues to publish. In his case it was a particular exam that gave him trouble and the difficulty was some strange psychological barrier. He convinced some professors of his passion and his ability to work hard by writing a good master's thesis, and was allowed to continue in the program. While this is probably best considered the exception that proves the rule, it does show that there is hope.
    – Dan Fox
    Oct 23, 2015 at 9:26
  • 1
    @DanFox Can you please turn your comment into an answer so that I can vote for it?
    – jakebeal
    Oct 23, 2015 at 11:26

1 Answer 1


Sure you can, however there are the following points to consider, before jump in to the next Ph.D. position:

  1. Abstraction On Failure and Potential Side Effects: First of all, failure is not a bad thing, it just means the person is not ready yet. However, most people deal with depression after a failure, and for few suicidal thoughts come to mind. So in one hand, it is not a big deal, however it is a big deal in another hand; if the person does suffer from depression. The person needs to be very honest with him or herself about this. In case the person is not sure, he/she needs to talk to a psychologist about it.

  2. Supervisors' Role: I saw students who were smart and determined, and finished their Ph.Ds through though times (a friend of mine, finished her Ph.D, where her supervisor had a cancer and needed to be absent the last 12 months of her Ph.D.). However, some students, throughly need supervision, through out their Ph.D. programs, and their supervisors play a big role in their success. If the Ph.D student in the question, belong to the second group; then he/she needs to find a supervisor who take care of his/her students and provide an excellent service. Starting at the same environment, does bring the chance of failure to 100% ... again.

  3. Student's Role: If a Ph.D. student, does not have a good manner, and wastes his/her time; and/or does not listen to his/her supervisor, having the supervisor and getting another Ph.D. position, does not change a thing; and result in the failure again. This is one of those things, that the student him/herself need to commit to do. The Ph.D. student needs to throughly look at him/herself and see what traits he/she has that effects the outcome of his/her progress.

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