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Do grades in PhD program matter?
March 10, 2014 8:59 PM   Subscribe

I got a B+ in one of my first-year statistics PhD courses last semester (measure-theoretic probability theory) thanks to botching one question on my final. I'm a bit concerned because this is in my area of interest. Now I've heard grades don't matter in PhD programs, but at the same time, I feel like I should have an A in this class if I'm doing research in the field (and if I have to teach this type of class if I become a professor). I'm thinking about retaking this class in my fourth or fifth year when I'm done with all my other courses. Or should I not bother? If it helps, I may get an A in the 2nd semester of the course sequence and have A or A- (I know A- isn't that great in grad school) grades in everything else. I just want to avoid getting grilled by professors in my department about grades, lol.
posted by molamola to Education (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I can't speak for statistics but I'm a math professor and teach a first-year course in my research area. If a student planning to specialize in my field got a B+ in that course, I guess it would affect my very first impression of them, but that impression would very quickly be replaced by something more meaningful once I'd spent some time talking to the person about math. Under no circumstances would I expect or advise a student to retake the intro course, nor do grades in the program have any effect on a student's career prospects whatsoever. Do good science and you'll be fine.
posted by escabeche at 9:05 PM on March 10 [6 favorites]


Retaking a first-year class in your fourth or fifth year (do you really have four years of classes in your program, though? That seems like a lot) sounds utterly pointless. If you do good research, no one will care. If someone whose opinion you really care about (read: potential adviser or committee member) gives you a hard time about it, ask if you can sit in on next year's session.
posted by kagredon at 9:08 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


You'll be fine. I wouldn't worry about it. You could ask your advisor but my gut says they'll strongly advise you not to re-take the course. There will be better uses of your time come your 4th and 5th years in the program. Trust me.
posted by sockermom at 9:10 PM on March 10 [3 favorites]


Nah, don't worry. I've never been asked for my GPA or transcript except as an after-the-job-has-been-accepted, just-making-sure-you-really-went-there thing. And the chair at an excellent department once told me that he got a B in the intro course that he ended up teaching...
posted by karbonokapi at 9:18 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]


If the course is in your subfield, your future advisor (assuming you don't have one already) might want some sort of explanation. But it's absurd to retake the class.

I wouldn't worry about it affecting anything else in your future. I speak as a person who had multiple bad grades in grad school and still ended up with a prestigious fellowship & postdoc, due to good research and ability to talk to other people.
posted by ktkt at 9:39 PM on March 10


If you want to work with someone, and you haven't distinguished yourself in their class (or if they don't teach much and don't have much to judge you by except grades), it's a harder sell. And, for sort of obvious reasons, when paid teaching assistantships are in short supply, having low marks in the class you want to teach will knock you out of competitition.

Obviously, if you're in a program or school or have a fellowship with a GPA minimum, you want to keep an eye on it. But otherwise, no, no one cares.
posted by gingerest at 9:46 PM on March 10


Yeah, I was pretty pissed off about that grade too because I thought I deserved at least an A- (in case you were wondering, I solved 4 out of 6 problems on a really hard take-home final).

Oh well, looks like I'll have some explaining to do now...
posted by molamola at 9:54 PM on March 10


Hi, I'm a phd student in statistics who at one point was strongly considering doing probability. I wouldn't worry about this too much, especially if it really did come down to 1 question on the final. Unless your future adviser is the one who taught this class, they probably won't even know what your grade was. And even if you do want to work with the prof teaching this class, they won't care at all about your grade given other evidence (either through knowing you from the class or through your research) that you know your shit. This isn't something to worry about.

Oh if this really is your research area, by 4th or 5th year you'll have most of this stuff down cold anyways, just from doing your research.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 9:57 PM on March 10


Grades in graduate programs are important for only two possible reasons: looking good for funding sources, and for getting accepted into future graduate programs. You'll be fine. Nobody cares about your grades as much as you do most likely.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:23 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


You just need to keep your GPA above the threshold for fellowships and your CV filled with desirable publications and you'll be fine. Spend the time worrying about this grade on discussions with interesting minds and contributions to your field. If it still bothers you in 3 years, you can retake it then. Otherwise, it doesn't benefit you in any way to stress. :)
posted by semaphore at 11:16 PM on March 10


In the MS and Phd programs I was a part of, there were GPA requirements. 3.7 for phds, which meant A- .. so a B or B+ could really sink you.

What does your course catalog/degree requirements bit have to say about it ?
posted by k5.user at 7:50 AM on March 11


My GPA is fine (above the cutoff).
posted by molamola at 8:32 AM on March 11


I have never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never, ever been asked for my grad school grades. No one has ever cared about them in the slightest, beyond one admin person checking "Did you meet the requirements for Admission to Candidacy? Ok, fine." before scheduling my thesis defense.

Grad school is all about your research and your publications. No one cares about your grades.
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:59 AM on March 11 [3 favorites]


I have a PhD in the UK and a postdoc in Germany, and I'm now non-tenured faculty at a US research university.

My response to this question was, "they give grades in grad school?"
posted by caek at 10:57 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]


Did you learn the material? Can you navigate the literature and concepts enough to function in that field? Then grades schmades! Move on!! Worrying about grades in grad school is about like worrying about SATs any time after the age of 19. Life gets graded on different things!
posted by acm at 1:28 PM on March 11


Nobody will ever give a single shit.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:58 PM on March 11


This is all very good news. I was mostly concerned about the reaction by my professors.
posted by molamola at 5:04 PM on March 11


I got a B in one of my first-year courses in physics graduate school, specifically General Relativity. I ended up doing my dissertation in General Relativity. With the professor who gave me a B.

Don't worry about it.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:52 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Wow, I still have to go against the grain.. getting a B in the grad schools I attended more or less put you on notice. A second B would get you dropped from the program. (The first B usually got you a letter from the graduate dean putting you on notice, though in nicer terms and asked if you were OK, and take advantage of resources available blah blah blah).
posted by k5.user at 7:50 AM on March 12


k5.user I think it may be different in social sciences/humanities. In math/stat/cs, graduate grades are usually centered around an A-/B+ curve.
posted by molamola at 11:47 AM on March 12


Not to belabor the point, both programs I was in were CS.

One had a 3.7 requirement for phd (I don't recall if there was one for MS, and I was only getting an MS). So 2 Bs and you wouldn't make the requirement. There wasn't much of a curve (though phd students may have been given leeway).

Other had pass/low-pass grades for graduate classes. A low pass got you in trouble. Ask me how I know ;) [phd wasn't right for me anyway] A lowpass meant a few things: you'd probably be assigned to teach/TA/tudor the undergrad version of the class, and usually re-take the grad class [as a sit-in, not registered for it, but still do the work - depending on if you could pass the qual]
posted by k5.user at 12:26 PM on March 12


Lol I'm at the 3.7 GPA at the moment. Just borderline!
posted by molamola at 12:39 PM on March 12


Grades generally matter a lot more for an MS than they do for a PhD because advanced coursework is proportionally a much greater part of the degree. The CS department was also particularly strict at my institution (below an A- was a failing grade).

Even there, though, my impression was that the GPA only really mattered as a minimum bar and that as long as you met that requirement and passed your quals, that was the end of it. In fact, in my (quant-y science) department, you could actually get in a little trouble for doing too well in classes because it meant you probably weren't spending enough time on research.

In my department, I know they look at your grades right before your qualifying exams, so if you are pre-quals I guess you might expect to get a little more heat on the subjects you did worst in. How formal this is depends on the format of your exam (and it might contribute to you getting something like a conditional pass if they really don't feel like you're at all prepared in that area). But post-quals, seriously, water under the bridge. Certainly nobody looked at my graduate transcript when I was applying for postdocs and if you're going straight to faculty they are not going to be looking at anything except your publication record.

FWIW, I had a 3.6-something by the end. Nobody has ever cared besides me, and I care 1. a vanishingly small amount and 2. only because I'm still slightly annoyed about one of my grades.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:54 PM on March 12


(not kidding btw, my advisor once half-jokingly scolded my labmate for getting an A in advanced algorithms because it was 1. a very hard class and 2. not directly relevant to our research)
posted by en forme de poire at 4:56 PM on March 12


So I got an A- in the second semester of the probability sequence! I'm going to assume that this makes up for my terrible mark in the first semester.
posted by molamola at 9:43 AM on June 5 [2 favorites]


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