Thursday, August 11, 2016

Q & A: Applying for a PhD with average grades

Time for another episode of the Q&A series! (Not so) recently I received the following message (edited to protect the writer's anonymity):

Hi there,

I want to do a PHD, very keen to do it but my school academics and under graduation academics were not that good due to my sports activities. I have been a national level player and missed my classes for my sports practice. However, I have improved my scores in MBA. I have two years of work experience in Human Resource and at present I am pursuing a Diploma course in Something from Somewhere.

I am very keen to do a PHD after this from a reputed university which can help me get into teaching later. Request your guidance to help me give some information which can accept my PHD application and also the list of good colleges, if you are aware of, who can consider me with my average academic background.

Thanks in Advance


As always, let's break this question down.

I want to do a PHD, very keen to do

Very good - motivation is super important for a PhD.

but my school academics and under graduation academics were not that good due to my sports activities. I have been a national level player and missed my classes for my sports practice.

I think you can frame this very well when you apply for a PhD position. If you've been able to get your degree and be an athlete at a high level, that certainly tells us something about your time management skills, dedication to your studies and discipline. You can focus on what you learned by being a pro-athlete, and how you plan to take that special experience into your PhD program.

Secondly, if your PhD program is more research-based than coursework-based, your ability to study and your ability to do research are two separate things. Your ability to study sometimes unfortunately relates to how much information you can cram into your head to pass an exam, or how smart you are in figuring out what will go on the exam. Your ability to do research of course requires a certain level of intelligence, but research is a different skill than studying.

One final comment: my first year at university was not all sparkles. I had some trouble adjusting, was very affected by the way I was treated as a woman in an engineering program, partied too much and my grades were so-so. I didn't fail any class, but I passed without honors or anything. My grades gradually climbed up over the years as I figured out what was expected from me on exams, and as I gained confidence and learned to brush off the stupid remarks and everyday sexism.

I have two years of work experience in Human Resource


If this work experience is relevant to the PhD program that you want to apply to, take full benefit of the fact that you have industry experience. Otherwise, you can frame your work experience as a form of maturity, and that you have some real-world experience.

Request your guidance to help me give some information which can accept my PHD application

Hmm, that all depends on your field. What do you want to study? Who do you want to work with. If you need some guidance on selecting a PhD program and advisor, please check out this post.

the list of good colleges, if you are aware of, who can consider me with my average academic background.

Again, depends a lot on the country. If you want to go to a US university, your GRE grades and TOEFL (if necessary) will also tell them something. Your statement of purpose will be very important - you can use that opportunity to stress your former athletic career and your real-life work experience.

If you are going to go to a European university, a lot will depend on the contact you develop with your possible future advisor. Since you will be in a research-oriented PhD program, you need to make sure beforehand that you research plans and even your character are compatible with your advisor.

Hope that helps! Good luck with the applications.... and to all other readers, feel free to shoot me some more questions.

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