I'm currently debating whether or not to stay in a PhD program. My mother was diagnosed with a potentially terminal cancer last week. While I'm waiting to hear back from further analysis/prognosis, has anyone had any experience with this type of situation.

I'm currently in my second year and would very much like to leave with my masters. In my department, you have to "petition" to the department to receive it and its pretty much up to the sole discretion of the faculty members. Are they likely to give my masters, considering I have been in the department for 2 years? What type of information can they ask me for? Can they ask for certification of my mothers illness? When should I tell them?


  • 2
    Have you completed the necessary coursework that you would in any other case have completed a non-thesis masters minus the comprehensive examination? Mind you your committee are still people, they will understand if you must lengthen your PhD studies for such reasons. In other words make sure to talk to someone.
    – CKM
    Mar 1, 2016 at 20:32
  • I've completed all my necessary coursework and have passed my comprehensive written defense (the equivalent of the comprehensive exams). Mar 1, 2016 at 20:59
  • 8
    I'm guessing they will probably grant it to you given the circumstances. However; should you be interested, it's quite possible that you'd be able to get an extended leave of absence as well which would allow you to come back and complete your PhD later. Mar 1, 2016 at 21:27
  • How could you even start on a PhD without having finished an MSc? Mar 6, 2017 at 19:14
  • Many departments accept students without MSc - usually these students have extensive research experience or are naturally gifted. Mar 6, 2017 at 21:52

1 Answer 1


I would do the following:

  1. Talk to supervisor: First of all, you need to talk to your supervisor about this, and see how much leave you can get. Very unfortunately, I see this every year many students have the similar situation.

  2. Aim for 6 months leave first: You shouldn't just drop the whole thing. I would suggest you to take a leave for 6 month, and then extend it if necessary.

  3. Don't Lose Touch: I know it is a hard time, but do not just drop the whole thing completely. You can still read about the subject you are working on. Through university's VPN, you can still read research publications and be up to date.

Little Note on Big Picture: We all go through these sort of issues somewhere in our life time. We shouldn't make career suicide, or get into hard medication through drugs because one of our family members is passing away. We need to be strong, somewhere in our life time our parents pass away; and even though it is sad and hearth breaking we need to carry on and keep fighting.

  • 1
    In addition, there will be someone in the department who does the administrative work for the graduate students. That person will know the rules, and the right paperwork to file for exceptions to them. Mar 1, 2016 at 23:22
  • @PatriciaShanahan The person you mentioned, is better to be contacted by the supervisor for the authenticity issues and reaching a faster resolution overall.
    – o-0
    Mar 2, 2016 at 0:17

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