Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Failure

I was at a PhD oral exam this morning and the student failed. For the second time.  It's not clear what happens now, but s/he will not be getting a PhD in that program.

I have not served on many PhD committees, because my department does not offer them. I am on several committees in related disciplines, but few of them have gotten this far in the process (a few students dropped out before this stage) and the other one that is further along than this went well.  I would have been okay with passing him/her on my part of the exam, but a few other committee members felt the s/he did not even work to learn the follow-up material for theirs (and I agree).

I feel just terrible about the whole thing and keep wondering what went wrong- should the advisor have held back on the oral exam when the written exams were not stellar? (I think so!) Should this re-take have been postponed to allow more time for the student to prepare? It's not clear. We did not have the student come back in afterwards, but I saw him/her with her/his advisor afterward and gave her/him a hug (I'm the only woman on the committee, by the way). I told her/him to come and see me soon. I want to encourage this student to apply to another PhD program (maybe in my field instead), because s/he is smart and I think s/he could do it. But today is just NOT his/her day. 

6 comments:

Arbitrista said...

Wow. I've never heard of that happening. I always just assumed that if someone was about to fail their defense the advisor told them to wait until they were ready!

Addy N. said...

Well, this was the oral exam- not dissertation defense. But, I agree- a lot of the committee was not happy with the writtens, so that should have been fixed first. I think s/he expected the student to redeem him/her self on that- when that didn't happen, we scheduled the re-do (which was just as bad) I really like this student and feel just terrible about the whole thing... :(

Geeka said...

There were a few people in my program that failed the comps 2x. A couple got MS degrees and were out, another got an MS and reapplied to the PhD program, got accepted, and had to do the comp thing again.

In our dept, the smartest (IMO) were the ones that failed 1x, and passed the second.

TiredProf said...

Wow (I came to say what's pretty much already been said). Seems to me the advisor should have stepped in, especially if this is the second time through. On the other hand, sometimes folks can be bull-headed and ignore advice.

But still...geez. A student shouldn't be moved along this far in a PhD program if they're not going to make it (IMHO).

Super Babe said...

Yikes! Considering that you think s/he is a bright student otherwise, I would think a lot of the blame goes to the adviser... after all, that's part of what advising is! We had people fail the comps and then leave with a Master's degree... but not twice...

Seeking Solace said...

Ouch. I couldn't imagine how horrible that would be for the candidate. The adviser should have done more.