I think I am a hard-working graduate student, but not a successful one, because I failed my PhD qualify exam and have to leave my school soon. There won't be a master degree for me, because I have received it a few years ago. I am now looking for a job using my master degree (my area is applied math and statistics, and I am looking for a statistician position, such as biostatistician in hospital or school or research organization), and was wondering how to describe that during my job hunting? Is it bad to not mention that in resume or interview?

  1. In the resume, is it good to not list the Phd student experience in my "Education", but still list my projects done during my Phd study in my "Experience"? If I have to list it under "Education", how shall I describe that?
  2. In the cover letter, how shall I describe my situation?
  3. If I am lucky to have an interview, what are some good ways to explain or describe the reason of not continuing PhD?



1 Answer 1


There are any number of reasons why one can't finish a PhD. A good one is you need to make a living. Therefore, you list your Masters, you name the school where you studied for your PhD program, and about all anyone will do is call to confirm you were in the program. Why you dropped out is generally considered a private matter. If your intention is to resume PhD education later, indicate you'll try again once your job situation allows it. If that doesn't occur until you're 65, well, them's the breaks.

  • Meredith Poor, thanks for your advice! So the true reason of failing the phd qualified exam is generally not allowed to be revealed if an employer is contacting my phd program (in US)? So it may be wise to explain to an employer that I need to make a living, if they ask me for the reason?
    – Tim
    Aug 7, 2013 at 23:21
  • @Tom Unless you are listing your advisor as a reference, it is extremely unlikely that an employer would contact your school for any reason. If you need to show proof of a degree, a that happens via a transcript. If your Master's and PhD institution were the same, failure of your exam will be on your transcript. However, unless you are applying to a position that requires a PhD, it is extremely unlikely that an employer would care that you failed your exam.
    – jcmeloni
    Aug 7, 2013 at 23:49
  • @jcmeloni, and Meredith: Thanks! "Do not list the range of dates in which you have attended school." I saw this piece of advice from jhu.edu/careers/students/BuildyourSkills/Resumes%20Web.pdf. Does that mean if no degree is conferred, the education experiment is not put on the resume? Thanks!
    – Tim
    Aug 8, 2013 at 18:50
  • @Tom IANAL, and this is a few months late, but I believe (from my hazy recollection of my FERPA training) that it would be a violation of FERPA for anyone associated with your school to disclose just about anything about your academic career (positive or negative) without your permission. If you listed a former Professor as a reference that might open up a FERPA loophole as it could be construed as permission.
    – Dennis
    Jan 23, 2014 at 2:09

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