phd student dismissed

PhD Student is Dismissed From Top U.S. University. Shocking But True Story.

Raghuram Sukumar Student Stories 18 Comments

Graduate School, Ph.D. and Study Abroad is not for the faint of heart.  Here’s a true and shocking story of a student dismissed from Ph.D. program at Texas A&M at College Station.

First, I want you to read the following experience and at the end I have my thoughts and what you can do to avoid getting dismissed from college or university when you study abroad.

Here’s the Story of Dismissal:

I completed my B.E in Agricultural and Irrigation Engineering at College of Engineering, Guindy, Anna University, Chennai.

I’m a 2013 pass out with a CGPA of 8.67. I got admitted in Texas A&M University, College Station for a Ph.D. program in Biological and Agricultural Engineering for the Fall ’13 semester (admitted for Ph.D. after Bachelors Degree). I was promised funding after starting my course only so technically I was a self-supporting student.

The first semester was okay, but I just made a 2.67 which put me in academic probation. My advisor wasn’t supportive of me with the funding, which put me under a lot of pressure. He even discouraged me saying I’m not fit for a Ph.D. even without assessing my abilities. I hadn’t started my research work according to his plan. I was doing well in the second semester.

Everything went fine until the last two weeks of my semester. Two of my course grades were solely dependent on my project (which I was working on my laptop due to the type of data used).

My luck was so bad that my laptop crashed during the finals, leaving me helpless. My professors weren’t willing to give me an extension. So I ended up getting poor grades again.

One of them gave me an F grade. I hadn’t told my family about the ordeal I was going through since they would be worried. They were already unhappy about me not having any funding.

I got a job in the library as a night shift worker in the third semester. I was getting confident that I could support myself financially, but I put my health at risk.

I was falling ill frequently.

Depression set in. I couldn’t bring up my GPA. So I gave up on my plans of doing a Ph.D.

My advisor initially persuaded me in doing my Master’s only though he was the one who encouraged me to apply for the direct Ph.D. program at TAMU. So I decided to file my degree plan as a Non-thesis Master’s student because of my poor performance and low self-esteem.

My professor declined to approve my degree plan. I retook some of the courses to improve my grades and again submitted my degree plan.

The fourth semester was much better for me. I was confident and made a 3.4. I went up to my advisor and told him that I’m able to show improvement and that I’m lot more confident about finishing my degree. He didn’t give any input then. After that, I came to India in summer to visit my family. I went back and started working on my research topic.

It was around the last week of August that my professor again rejected my degree plan. It put me at the risk of dismissal since I didn’t have a major professor. And my academic records were bad. I begged him for a chance, but he didn’t communicate with me.

I got the dismissal letter on August 23rd, 8 days before the start of the fall 15 semester.

I had just five days in hand to think about changing school, changing department within TAMU or getting enrolled in a community college.

One of my professors from another department was willing to serve my major professor, but I had to get admitted into the Geography department. They wouldn’t accept transfer within the short time frame.

So I had exhausted all my options including the appeal. It was hard for me to give up since only this year was I confident about myself.

I have never failed in school or during my undergrad. I have never been depressed but for two years, I went through hell. But things went wrong in the end. So I spoke to my International students advisor and decided to leave the country on September 3rd (my deadline was September 5th).

So this is pretty much my story.

I am back in Chennai. I appeared for a few job interviews and got placed in Zifotech  Pvt. Ltd as a Data Analyst.But I will start working in Jan 2016 only. I’ve applied for GATE 2016 just to make sure I have a backup plan to complete my Master’s degree.

Please let me know if I have any chances of re-applying and getting admitted for MS in the US. I know this is too late, but I still feel guilty of having missed a golden opportunity. It’s like an unfulfilled wish for my parents and me. Any input will greatly help. Thank you!

That was the student’s story.

What went wrong here?

Who to blame? The Student or the Professor?

Here’re my take and observations:

About Promised Funding: You have to understand that Professors are not going to hand over the money to any student. They want to see your performance. Based on what you have described, the professor did not see the potential in you.

Laptop Crash:  Always have backups of your work. When you are working on a project, plan to have three backups at the minimum. When you have a string of negative events happen to you, you have to be extra cautious. Take a step back, slow down and plan your moves carefully.

factors grad school performance

Part-Time Jobs: It’s difficult to perform when you are under pressure to earn money. Looking ate what has been written about,

  • Pressure to get funding
  • Pressure from parents
  • Pressure to perform
  • Promised funding wasn’t given to you
  • Low Grades
  • Night Shift job
  • Depression and falling sick.
  • Cultural shock in new country

Studying Abroad is not going to be a walk in the park for everyone. You are going to have ebbs and flows.

Stories like these are common among students studying abroad.

I have seen average and below average students get into a university that requires higher academic skills and ability to be a “Grade B” level student.

It’s hard to say if the person sharing this experience lacks academic ability, but the person didn’t perform as expected. When you are in Texas A&M, you are supposed to perform at a high level from Day 1. You have to impress the professors with your research findings and solving problems for them.

PhD is not for everyone. You may have to complete Masters and then move on to PhD.  Ask these 15 Questions to Ask before applying for PhD.

In Study Abroad environment, you have your expectations and assumptions. When your progress and achievements are not meeting your expectations, you feel the pressure. Combined with financial difficulties and whole new foreign country environment equates to low performance.

As an International student’s in the Graduate School are expected to maintain GPA of 3.0 or more.

If your GPA falls below 3.0, you will be put on Academic Probation. That’s what happened to this person. Followed by to failed grades to dismissal from the college.

This person studies Bachelors in Top Engineering College in Tamil Nadu, India. When there’s  student is trained to be an engineer from a Top Engineering college you would have high expectations and see that take off in their Graduate School and Career.

But, that wasn’ the case here.

As you can see, the student with excellent credentials crumble under pressure, but that shouldn’t define you as a person.

You should learn right lessons from this and move on.

My advice, in general, are not on those lines of  “you did you best, and it didn’t’ work out and probably America wasn’t the right choice”.

I think like this “That’s all right, now what should you do next to avoid the same result in the future.”

Failure is an experience. The story you tell yourself about failure is what that will define your next step and progress.

Whether you are going to hold-on to this or learn and grow depends on what story you tell yourself about this experience.

How to Overcome Difficulties?

peak performance formula

You should develop the mental stubbornness to handle such situations.

Each and every student studying abroad is likely to face similar situations.

Stay motivated internally. If you feel down, get help. find ways to stay motivated.  Learn to mange your time.

How you handle and respond to challenges and stressful situations will define you.

See the challenges faced by this student and how he overcame.

Keep Fighting.


  1. I have seen this in my own batch when I came here for masters!

    Often, people come in with pre-conceived notions and expectations without realizing the amount of Focus they need to have, on their career plans, and short term goals. Problem is that many just get distracted by dreaming about the long term goal, without focusing on the short term ones.

    In this case mentioned, I’d guess “lack of focus” was the main issue, that lead to all problems. Funding and completion of PhD, both would happen, if from day 1, focus was on just the courses taken, without having any other distractions. Whether you are from a top university in India or from your state, or not, don’t let it get to your head. I have seen people with good undergrad scores screw up, and vice versa too.

    Its difficult to maintain such sharp focus on undergrad courses if you are not having backups, both for finances as well as your project/assignments on your computer (can you imagine how often students use such excuses?).

    I’d say, if you still have some patience and time, give it an another try, but with an expectation that you are going to need your family support only to get an education loan and not for anything else. Rest everything else on your efforts in US.

    Also, think of it from the professor’s perspective: They have to show some result for the funding they give to the student. How would it look if professor tells the funder that data was lost because of crash?

    Least you can do is, have Dropbox/GoogleDrive for your laptop, backing up everything you work on. If you have a lot of data, buy a pro plan. It costs some money, but $10 a month is nothing, compared to getting dismissed.

    If you are not fit to be a PhD candidate, you have to accept that fact and figure out what you are good at, and improvise on that. If you are sure that it wasn’t due to your own mistakes, and that you can still make it, give it an another try.

    1. Author

      Thanks for the write-up and sharing your experience. I agree with you 100%

  2. I think you would have done whatever you could do to resolve your problem.

    See..Everything happens for good. I used to work for a start up company in Hyderabad, salary was around 20k INR per month, I was very happy about my salary and my life was pretty cool. Because of some personality differences between me and my manager, he spoke with management and apparently I was fired.

    Then I tried few jobs but I didn’t get any..then I decided to go to america.

    Now I work for a very established company in VA and I am getting very good salary.

    So what happened now.. when I was not getting job..I was really depressed.

    Nobody can get your experience.. Can Rahul gandhi come to USA and go through this are lucky have a story in you..which one in a million have…

    I wish you a very good luck for your career..don’t worry.. everything will be alright very soon.

  3. Here are a few point from my side..
    1. Most Indian students or even employees tend to take negative feedback personally and do not look into the merit of the feedback. If the professor is making an assessment comment, try to look at it objectively, plan how to address it in a positive manner and re-engage with the professor in a manner which is beneficial to both. Just preparing an easy way out for yourself that does not add value to the department may not be acceptable to the professors.
    2. Based on the academic culture in India, students are overtly focused on grades and not on the actual learning process. Students in India have good strategies to do well in university exams and it works very well for most. However, in premier US universities, particularly for PhDs, the focus is more on displaying technical aptitude, critical thinking and engaging in discussions with your mentor/PI. Scores on exams count but lot of flexibility is provided by professors if they believe in you. I have personally been allowed to skip some exams because my professors was convinced that I was competent in those topics. Moral of the story- Engage closely with your professors and apply yourself through out the course and not just for exams.
    3. If something is not working out for you…identify and shift to alternate options at the earliest. Do not wait until it is too late. In the US, people plays to their strengths and work on perfecting them, they do not try and spend a lot of time on fixing their weaknesses. In India, we try to be ‘ok’ at everything. This is a big difference. So, while in the US, if you feel that you are not able to master a particular area, move on to something that you feel you can excel at. It is not considered a negative, but rather a positive that you are showing interest in making changes to do something you are good at.

    1. Author

      Good clarity in your words and thoughts. Well said.

      “In India, we try to be ‘ok’ at everything.” I couldn’t agree more. U.S gives an opportunity to excel at things like are passionate about. Even if you are not sure what is your passion, there’s ample, you can create the opportunity to find your passion.

      Did you face any sort of pressure when you came to U.S. with the college and courses?

  4. I did my graduate school from Texas A&M as well. I have seen lot of people going through lot of struggle during grad school including myself. I didn’t go through the exact same experience though and didn’t have trouble with grades or laptop etc. Stuff happens. Few point that I can tell you are –

    1) Be flexible. I can’t stress this enough. When you are on a visa in a new country, you are not going to get everything you have planned for. Adapt and adapt fast. If your research plans aren’t working very well, switch to non-thesis path etc. I am not advocating to give up, but suggesting that don’t clash with your ego.

    2) A big portion of desi crowd at A&M only talks about two things. Job and funding. That’s it. When you live among that crowd, you get tuned to the same frequency. My analysis is this – When you get here, make you have 1 year worth of expenses for sure including tuition and living expenses. Don’t worry about finding a job/funding during first semester. Don’t even try it. Choose a set of courses that don’t overwhelm you. In other words take 1 or 2 moderate to easy courses. Focus on study, chill out, find people who have been there for long and go talk to them . Try to find a mentor who is not a prof etc. Try to understand the system, and see if you need to adapt you plans accordingly. Generally people apply for internship during 1st semester. If you are just doing an MS non thesis, then you should apply too. Since you are not looking for/doing a part time job and have reasonable courses, you have time to do it. Try to bridge the culture gap if you can by learning about American culture. It help you if you find an internship in a company where there aren’t lot of Indians. It will also help you overall while you stay in US.

    1. 3) If you are doing Phd or MS thesis, then talk to your prof about whether you can go for an internship. Most likely he will say no as he will want you to stay in college during summer and do research. This would be a good time to bring up funding etc. If you are absolutely sure, you are going to do Phd, it makes sense to stay there in summer and research. Most likely your prof will help you out if you are sincere. If he can’t give you TA/RA, he can definitely make sure that you pay Resident tuition.
      4) If you have slightest doubt about whether you are liking the research or not, then keep your options open. Be open to stay in summer and search for internships as well. As I said l already, adapt your plan and take the best decision that suits YOU.
      5) Work hard.
      6) Graduate school sometimes require taking tactical decisions as well. I have seen people spending two semesters in college and then disappear for almost 1 year for co-op ( a much longer internship). I have seen people being very opportunistic. For example – Someone got a good job, they quit the research, changed degree plan and graduated even though prof funded them to do research. These things depend people to people and I am no one to judge people based on this. For me, I had come to study and learn, so I decided to focus on that. But if you have to take a tactical decision, you should.

    2. Hi5 on point 2. Same here at Iowa State. People literally spam every prof in the department for funding and then switch when they lose it. I went to the one professor whose work I liked and worked for free for a month before he gave me funding. And I dont give jack s**t about the OPT extension. Whatever happens happens. Enjoy your time in the US, get to know people and control what you can. If you stick with the desi crowd 24×7, you are asking for the blues.

  5. Buddy, dropout out the college and be the next zuckerberg.
    remember the dialogue from 3 idiots. Gadhe produce ho rahe hain, gadhe.
    I salute that Patel who comes from Gujarat to US and makes it big with his business brains
    Instead of being in this situation. Keep studying and be in the rat race for a slavery for 20 years to get a GC…….After PHD u can’t even apply for EB1, coz it be back logged 10 years.
    Invent, Patent and sell your idea and go to your next adventure….instead of PHD.
    Put all your efforts in inventing an idea instead of PHD

  6. Ok, here are my takes.
    You: Got funded, messed up your 1st semester, got a GPA of 2.67( well at least you did better than me in my first semester): Happens.

    I had a bigger nightmare when I got a 2.0 because of 2 bad grades. One of the professors hated me when I took his class for the first time(His views on me did a 180 one year later), and I fell ill on my second courses exam. So no guesses I messed up big time. Prof lost hope in me and I lost my funding in the summer.
    Here’s what I did differently: I didn’t work on campus. I was broke and needed cash from a loan. I was on borrowed money, but I stuck with my project, made progress and got my funding back. You cannot cry about research not working out and falling ill when you take up a campus job because that is what you bring on yourself. You are in the US to study and not to work in a library at the cost of health.
    Also, I was proactive and went to the academic success center at my university, learnt time management skills, which took a while to apply but paid off, and boosted my GPA. Note: I still messed up one more exam in the summer, but what I see as a striking difference between your story and mine is attitude. I was down in the dumps but still didnt ditch my professor or the research or the fact that I saw myself as a good student no matter what.

    One year round, and everyone in my department likes me: Even the Chair smiles at me when he walks by, just because I put on a positive vibe. My prof has hope in me again. My grades are on the way up(retaking the subjects with bad grades as I type this, I’m in no way out of the woods yet). Still have funding and really enjoying things here.

    I still have a lot of pressure on me to perform and my poor 1st sem grades have ensured that I need to put in my best or I’ll end up back in India too, but I chose to ignore the worries. Stay upbeat and things will work out!

  7. here is what i understand from the story,
    Our friend like most of the cream of India was brought up in well protected environment, never seen a failure, was trained to read books and remember what he learned than learn it practically. its the case with most of the students from India.
    I am sad that he has to face his failures far away from his mother land with less support on his side but at the same time i am glad that he faced his failure in toughest environment and happy to see that he is still strong and continuing his life with better steps.

    failure is never a bad thing, it teaches you a lot and i believe that it is the best way to learn and is the key process in researching and doing pH.D.

  8. I think this PhD student did not receive best advice. I know that F1 students can take up to one year or 2 semesters off from school and need not leave the country in cases like mentioned in this stories. When I was a F1 students a lot of Nepali students were using this option to stay out of school for variety of reasons and were working in gas station , restaurants , pubs etc. And come back to school with lots of cash to pay tuition for following couple of years. This PhD student based on his story should have definitely used this option and bounced back even stronger.

    1. Author

      That’s impossible. You can’t take break and stay in the country. You can take break and leave the country, get new stamping and enter if the break is over 5 months.

      1. Ragharam- What I have said isn’t wrong. it depends on case by case basis & DSO. Not always all students come up with true stories. I am not a advocate of making false excuses to the DSO to get a break. But this PhD student did have a perfect reason. even 1 semester off +summer vacation would have saved his dismissal.

        1. Author

          “While in the United States, students in F-1 non-immigrant status must be continuously enrolled full time during the academic year until the completion of their programs of study. If you take a non-medical leave of absence, withdraw voluntarily, or are suspended or required to withdraw from the University, you are required to leave the United States within 15 days of this action.The only exception to these rules is a medical leave of absence.”

  9. All this said, I would like to add that all indians need to be better connected and United. A British, Australian or Canadian student could have got a transfer with some help instead of getting fired and having to leave the country.
    Indians need more unity.

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