How will dropping out for medical reasons affect future applications?

  • As many already know, studying for the physics GRE and getting accepted into a graduate program is not the final hurdle in your physics career.
  • There are many issues current physics graduate students face such as studying for their qualifier, deciding upon a field of research, choosing an advisor, being an effective teaching assistant, trying to have a social life, navigating department politics, dealing with stress, utilizing financial aid, etc.

Catria
Posts: 353
Joined: Fri Oct 26, 2012 4:14 pm

How will dropping out for medical reasons affect future applications?

Postby Catria » Sat Apr 16, 2016 5:00 pm

Let's say that I was given unacceptable conditions for returning from medical leave; basically I had to self-fund at least the following year of a physics PhD. Knowing that doing so would result in a financial disaster, I am definitely withdrawing from the program that I spent just one semester in, doing no research whatsoever, with the understanding that, if I still wanted to earn a PhD at some point, I would have to transfer.

I could always mention, in an addendum (if there is space for one), medical problems, going to medical services, such as a physician (on-campus and later off-campus) on a regular basis for 75% of the only semester I ended up attending, and leaving school to take better care of myself. (I feel I did what was right from a medical standpoint) But when there is no space for an addendum in an application, I was advised to just drop a line about "personal problems" or "extenuating circumstances" and, now that these issues are resolved, I am excited to do research again. :D

And also, I have two publications on file by now (one in PRD and another in JMP), whereas I had none when I applied to PhD programs the first time around (2015 cycle). Because I do not feel my GRE scores were an issue, I do not feel the need to re-take the GRE, general or physics, since they are still valid. But TOEFL, on the other hand, I would have to retake because the scores are no longer valid.

P.S.: I never had Ws before that particular semester, but still somehow ended up with 3.80 for what coursework I still managed to complete. If you need more information about my file or anything else, please, let me know.

How will an early departure from a PhD program (in its early stages) due to medical reasons affect future PhD applications?

TakeruK
Posts: 813
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: How will dropping out for medical reasons affect future applications?

Postby TakeruK » Sat Apr 16, 2016 7:28 pm

I think that you should not worry about future PhD programs think you are unqualified based on you leaving your program for medical reasons, lest it become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

At this point, now that you have taken time to take care of yourself and you are ready to resume your studies, you should apply to schools this fall/winter as if this never happened. What I mean is look at what your interests and qualifications are and apply to programs that are good fits.

All the new school needs to know was that you started a PhD program, encountered medical problems and had to withdraw. You made the decision to take some time to take care of yourself and now you are ready for a PhD program.

That's all you should say, in my opinion. There is no need to put more details because the admission committee is not qualified and should not be making the decision on whether or not your personal problem is "truly resolved" and whether or not you are ready. They just have to take your word for it because you know yourself the best. So, their job is to evaluate whether or not you are qualified for their program and whether your experience will lead to success, not to evaluate your medical history.

I think you will be a stronger candidate this time around with the additional papers. I think there are a few things you should be aware of though:

1. Will you have strong LORs from your former graduate school? Since you are saying that you are withdrawing for medical reasons (instead of academic ones) then it would be good to have a letter from someone at your former school stating that you were a good student and the only reason you left were medical related. If you have not already done so, it might help to find an ally in the department that would understand your medical condition to write this letter. I'm saying this just in case because it would hurt you if you picked someone that didn't understand the medical problem and they wrote negative things about you without understanding all of the facts.

2. In your previous posts and a little bit here, I got a small sense that you were frustrated about the coursework in your former graduate program and that if you were only doing research, it would not be a problem. I don't think this would be a good message to convey because all programs will require a fair amount of coursework. Show your enthusiasm for all of graduate school, not just the doing research part. (Corollary: Only you can judge whether or not you are ready to resume a PhD program, but make sure you are ready for all aspects of a PhD program---it's not just research!)

3. You wrote "transfer" but you really should approach this as starting over again at a new program. I think you should structure your application in this way. You can't expect your courses at your former school to count at the new school and I wouldn't only apply to programs that will accept them. Once you get into the new school, you can talk to them about your previous coursework and maybe you can get a couple of requirements waived (in my experience, you won't get your coursework total reduced, instead, they will just be replaced with electives).

I think with these three points in mind, you should not be very adversely affected by the fact that you were in another PhD program for a semester in Fall 2015. Good luck!!

TakeruK
Posts: 813
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: How will dropping out for medical reasons affect future applications?

Postby TakeruK » Sat Apr 16, 2016 7:32 pm

Note: I just want to clarify---I think the toughest thing you will have to overcome is the fact that your former program required you to self-fund at least Year 2 if you wanted to stay. Normally, a medical leave doesn't come with this condition and it could be interpreted as potentially a problem in your academic performance. I'm not sure if this is a legitimate concern, i.e. I don't know if the school was justified in removing your funding or if they only did so because they did not understand your condition. Either way, this is why it is important to get a strong letter from someone at your former school. This is true for all students who started a PhD program in one school and then plan to leave to apply to another school, whether or not there was a medical leave involved.

Catria
Posts: 353
Joined: Fri Oct 26, 2012 4:14 pm

Re: How will dropping out for medical reasons affect future applications?

Postby Catria » Sat Apr 16, 2016 9:45 pm

This time around Canadian schools will be added into the mix, but at the same time it also means applying to less schools in the US. I still need to contact the right professors in due course.

TakeruK wrote:I think that you should not worry about future PhD programs think you are unqualified based on you leaving your program for medical reasons, lest it become a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Oh no, I don't think I'm unqualified by any means. I would probably still apply at top-10 schools, for observational cosmology now, with the proviso that my role in a project would have to be mostly data analysis or modelling, or a combination thereof. That, knowing that the day-to-day work in data analysis or modelling is actually rather similar to that of theory. And that I'm free to choose non-top-10 schools based on theoretical projects.

I don't think this would be a good message to convey because all programs will require a fair amount of coursework.


I knew a few programs in Europe would be free of any coursework, except that they are usually placing rather strict time limits (stricter than in the US for sure and, in some cases, stricter than in Canada as well) which is not ideal to become "the best one can be", and also it can sometimes lead to defending a dissertation based on an unfinished project left in a condition where it would otherwise make no sense for the parties involved to let someone else take over. Knowing that even industrial research jobs move more slowly than most of the job market, and that academia moves at a snail's pace, I am not that concerned with age at graduation.

Just that Canadian PhD programs usually have less coursework for people with a masters (and, since some Canadian schools put all students on RA from day one, said coursework usually is chosen according to how relevant is it to your dissertation) than American ones do.

TakeruK
Posts: 813
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: How will dropping out for medical reasons affect future applications?

Postby TakeruK » Sun Apr 17, 2016 12:14 am

Definitely agree with you that not all programs require coursework. I should have said "all US programs" or "most programs". Also, I had assumed that you went to your former PhD program right from undergrad, which means that if you go outside of the US for a PhD, you would have to do some sort of coursework either through a Masters first or as part of your PhD program. However, maybe you already have a Masters from Canada that I forgot about?
Sorry for the mistake.




Return to “Current Physics Graduate Student Topics”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

cron