I was forced to leave a STEM program after a fight over whether I could apply the NSF sponsored summer abroad fellowship. I was given a letter of resignation and 2 month of notice. The situation was not good before the fight anyway. I left after those 2 months. The MS is not from a prestigious program albeit a good undergraduate school.

I was not thinking about grad school. But I graduated 2 years ago for a MS, and haven't found employment using my BS. I was tempted to apply again, if only for better employment perspectives.

My question is: if I apply to a PhD again, I have to ask my previous adviser for a letter of recommendation which I have no faith will be good. Even if he writes one, I worry that the wording would be cautious. I want to bypass this, if possible, but how? If it can't be bypassed, what can I do ?

The program I left was a PhD. So perspective programs would possibly ask for it.

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    I'm confused - why do you need a letter of recommendation from that one specific person? Most applications I'm familiar with don't dictate who you get letters of recommendation from - there is just a preference for those who can speak to your abilities and character. And what is the meaning of STEM program - did you leave a graduate program, or some sort of summer internship? You graduated, so I assume you didn't have to leave your department. It's unclear to me why you have to ask that one person for a letter, rather than asking 3 entirely different people. – BrianH Feb 9 '16 at 17:27
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    Because my previous program is a PhD other programs would like you to talk about why leaving the program ... etc I was forced to leave as adviser refused to pay stipend and resigned as a adviser – sadandfrust Feb 10 '16 at 17:06

My understanding is that you finished your BS 2 years ago, took a year off, entered a PhD program this year but just left due to some dispute about wanting to spend a summer abroad, correct? (Or maybe you left the PhD program last year?)

Anyway, you should not ask someone to write you a letter of recommendation unless you think they can write you a good one. If you think your erstwhile advisor thinks well of you and will be supportive, then it makes sense to ask him. If not, then you should probably stick to letters from your undergrad professors.

If you apply to one PhD program after having left another, the admissions committee will naturally wonder why you left and if you would have reason to be successful this time around. Just hearing that you left because of a fight is a big red flag, particularly if it was from a reputable department, so it would be best if you can suitably address this in your application. You should convince first yourself, then your letter writers, that this is unlikely to be an issue at another department. Then your letter writers can try to convince the admissions committees on your behalf.


Like others said, base on your description you should not ask the person you've fought before for a letter. It'll almost certainly harm you more than benefit you. People do remember who they hate.

If you cannot find enough people you've collaborated on research before to write you good letters(1st priority), look for professors you've taken courses before that are related to the field you're applying now instead. At the very least, a "(s)he got an A in my course." letter is mediocre but harmless.

Without former advisor's letter it'll be unfavorable but not impossible to get into a Ph.D. program (I'm an example), if other parts of your application are reasonably good.

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