I'm taking a pretty high workload class this term and I also have a paper deadline coming up. I'm wondering if graduate students typically finish all their coursework, or if they often have to hand in their assignments incomplete.

I am in a STEM PhD program in the US.

  • 6
    This also can vary from course to course within the same department. I remember my first year I was taking a number theory course, and we got in this habit of turning in homeworks late. By the second or 3rd term, I didn't turn in my first homework till halfway through the semester, and apologized a lot. The instructor replied: Oh, it's fine. You're the first one to turn it in. But this was quite different from what happened in the required first-year courses.
    – Kimball
    Oct 15, 2017 at 11:19
  • 1
    In the US electrical engineering programs that I'm familiar with, the answer is "yes."
    – Mad Jack
    Oct 15, 2017 at 14:46
  • In the US CS programs I'm familiar with, the answer is somewhere between "usually" and "whatever".
    – JeffE
    Oct 15, 2017 at 15:37
  • Do you mean officially get an incomplete for a course? That's possible but you have to arrange it. Not turning in all work for a course otherwise could lead to a lower grade. Generally US grad programs expect you to maintain a 3.0 (B) average...
    – mkennedy
    Oct 15, 2017 at 22:49
  • I'm in my third year of a chem PhD. I took four lecture courses my first semester, and one lecture course + one lab course my second semester. During those times I put all my effort into courses and hadn't started research yet. I did all my work. I probably won't be in any more courses.
    – iammax
    Oct 16, 2017 at 0:29

1 Answer 1


In every program where I have been a student, a TA, or a faculty member, the default expectation has been "Yes."

That being said, individual instructors or departments may have different policies. I have definitely known of places where balancing coursework and research was intended to be a component of the "trial by fire", and failing there was taken as a bad sign. At the same time, most programs I have been in have been fairly generous with extensions and the like.

But yes, if you're taking my course, I'm expecting you to do the coursework. If you're not, you should at the very least let me know and talk to me about it.

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