Though I did my bachelor's at a top-notch college, because of low GPA I had to settle down for PhD at a low ranked university. Now I see that there is lack of intellectual atmosphere and very few people to discuss academic stuff in and around my area of research. I discuss with faculty, but it would have been nice if there was a good graduate student atmosphere which is lacking. Now I get frustrated often with the fact that it was my low GPA which led to all this. Also in general the graduate student atmosphere is very discouraging.

What should I do to make my life better? Some people tell me to mind my own business and not worry about the environment. But to me no peer level discussion leads to feelings of loneliness.

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    Is it possible for you to get your Master's and then switch to another university? Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 8:01
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    What is "low ranked"? Is it a top 100 public research university (some people consider anything > top 10 "low ranked") -- or do you mean a small private college? Just curious.
    – James
    Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 23:55
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    Try discussing your work with undergrads. A major result in mathematics was proved by IIT undergrads together with a professor.
    – Suresh
    Commented Apr 2, 2013 at 4:55
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    One thing I found very depressing about graduate school is the lack of a 'team' atmosphere. When I did undergraduate research, my lab operated as a team. It made things fun, less discouraging, and facilitated motivation. Graduate school is much like the real world in a sense that everyone is 'out for themselves'. The concept of a team does not exist which took me a long time to come to terms with. Its odd because you would think that working as a team could only better science rather than a lone wolf approach. But that doesn't teach you to be independent either. Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 15:04
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    Who says you're better than them? Maybe there are other students at your school who also went to top universities and had low GPAs. Try hanging out with them. Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 1:20

5 Answers 5


Stop whining and start kicking ass.

Work hard with faculty (and undergrads!) that you respect, do some awesome research, and then (if you are very lucky) move to a better department, either as a PhD student, a postdoc, or even a faculty member.

Meanwhile, own your past mistakes, but forgive yourself for them. You put yourself in this situation, but holding onto your frustration and loneliness, instead of doing the best with what you have now, is only going to keep you frustrated and lonely.

(My undergrad GPA was 2.4/4.0.)

  • 22
    You, sir, have made my day!
    – amyassin
    Commented Apr 1, 2013 at 10:43
  • Agreed, if you want to be noticed focus on your research. Do a couple conference preceedings and meet some other PhD students. Expanding your network will get you more heads to bounce things off
    – John B
    Commented Apr 2, 2013 at 4:35
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    Your undergrad GPA is impressively low for someone who went on to a very successful academic career. I checked though that you got your undergrad degree in 1987 (at an excellent school). However, I think that times are different now: in 2013 graduating with a 2.4 GPA is perilously close to not graduating at all, and I think that such a GPA would strictly bar you from admission to most reasonable graduate programs. (I say this as a member of my department's graduate admissions committee.) Commented Apr 3, 2013 at 17:02
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    I think that such a GPA would strictly bar you from admission to most reasonable graduate programs — Yes, indeed. Including my own. (I'm also on my dept's grad admissions committee.) I got VERY lucky.
    – JeffE
    Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 0:56
  • More JeffE mindset scholars are needed for the dystopia!
    – Yes
    Commented Nov 16, 2018 at 17:55

Ok 1st of all I think you're delusional about what you "think" you're missing out on.

Everywhere you go, academia is a very independent vocation. That is, even at a top notch school, your peers probably wouldn't want to chit chat with you about physics much. They'd want to go do their own research. Life at a top notch institution isn't some all-day sitcom with witty exchanges about subatomic particles.

Friendships and conversations can be had with people in other disciplines.

One thing I think you don't understand is nobody cares about your research problem, not even your peers and equivalents because they are too busy with their own problem. The intellectual load of academia is such that if you don't narrow your focus, you'll never succeed. Simply because there is too much to know, and if you start exploring too many fields, all your time will be lost. If they are researching the exact same thing as you, then they are in competition with you.

You may also have a superiority complex that you need to overcome. You very obviously think you're smarter than everyone around you, and you look down on your peers. You have to stop doing that, and instead work independently, chat with peers on break times on common grounds.

Use the Internet for peer discussion.

  • 2
    I generally agree with this answer (and upvoted it). However, it seems a little extreme to say that "nobody cares about your research problem". There is such a thing as collaborators, and "better" institutions (for some value of better) might be reasonable places to look for them. Academia can be a rough business, but I don't think it is totally the law of the jungle out there. Commented Aug 16, 2013 at 19:15
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    Right. But there are severe limitations in your peers' capacity to help you, given that they must make sure they have their own research ball rolling (which, by the nature of the challenge, should take up close to 100% of their time).
    – bobobobo
    Commented Aug 16, 2013 at 21:10

A PhD is often, a very lonely beast. I go to a "top" school but often, I feel that there is no one to discuss my work with at a high level other than my adviser. Often, I feel that everyone around me is much smarter than me and can contribute so much to my general academic knowledge just by having a high level discussion over coffee.

This has nothing to do with my school or my department but everything to do with me. If I cannot make other people, especially my peers understand what work I am doing and have a broad level discussion with them, my science communication skills need to be improved.

As others have already pointed out, if you are indeed better, prove it by being the very best at where you are and you will soon magically see that there are plenty of people to discuss your work with no matter where your university or department is ranked.


If you are indeed substantially better than your cohort, prove it by far exceeding your professors' expectations, and then ask them to support transfer applications to more prestigious universities next year.

In the meantime, make the best of the situation you're in.


nobody cares about your university, the only important thing at least in Europe is your CV. If you can publish paper in good journals then nobody will think about your university.

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    exactly! it is more important what you do, not where you come from.
    – user7116
    Commented Nov 30, 2013 at 19:50

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