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"ABD" -- what does it really mean?

I thought I knew what the definition of ABD was. It was exactly the same as defined here in Carnegie Mellon's University Doctoral Candidate Policies for All But Dissertation (ABD):
After the completion of all formal degree requirements other than the completion of and approval of the doctoral dissertation and the public final examination, doctoral candidates shall be regarded as All But Dissertation(ABD).
I have, though, occasionally run into the term ABD being used as a somewhat disparaging designation for one who fulfills the formal degree requirements of the Ph.D. but never finishes the dissertation, and then quits the program. Most recently, I saw it in What They Didn't Teach You in Graduate School: 199 Helpful Hints for Success in Your Academic Career, by Paul Gray and David E. Drew.

Number 9 of their helpful hints is one that I strongly agree with: "Remember that a Ph.D. is primarily an indication of survivorship." They go on to say, "You stuck with it until it was done, unlike the ABDs (All But Dissertation), people who complete all the other requirements but bail out before they finish their dissertations."

In hint number 12, in which they remind the reader that "You must have the Ph.D. in hand before you can move up the academic ladder," they say "ABD's may be much abler and more brilliant than you but they didn't possess the stamina (or the circumstances) to finish the degree. In our judgment, being an ABD is the end of the academic line."

My guess is that the authors, as professors, have had to give such stern advice to their own students who were wavering about finishing the dissertation.

My only quibble is with their terminology. What do you think is the correct use of the term "ABD?" Should it refer only to people who have "bailed" on the degree? Or does it refer to those who are in the process of writing the dissertation, having fulfilled all other requirements?


  1. Anonymous10:22 AM

    I say why use "ABD" at all. Either you have a Ph.D. or you don't.

  2. Anonymous10:24 PM

    I say "ABD" be reserved to reward grad students who are working on their dissertation. If you drop out, you're a grad school drop out. No one talks about the college junior year undergrad drop out as anything more than a college drop out. What makes Ph.D. students any more special. You didn't finish.

  3. Anonymous2:25 AM

    I actually never heard the term while in grad school. We would just say "s/he is finishing" or "s/he is writing". So when I came across the term about a month ago, I automatically thought it meant a drop out. Only later I realized it intended to mean somebody writing.... I am perfectly ok with dropping the term altogether!

  4. I tend to agree with anon #2; it's a term used by universities to mean that you've passed your qualifying exams and you've done all that's needed to graduate except write the dissertation. That's a pretty big "except," though. What makes the PhD a particularly difficult degree to earn is achievement of writing the dissertation.

    In the world of employment outside of academia, I don't think that the label ABD has any meaning, or would entice an employer to hire you even if they knew what it meant.

    1. Anonymous6:00 AM

      I didn't finish my degree because it was to expensive to pay $3840 every 8 weeks. I had exhausted all of my options. With one child in college and another on the way it was to much. So, yes I'm a quiter.

  5. Anonymous4:17 PM

    You know- I hate being stuck in between my masters and my EdD. All I can put next to my name is my M.S. Ed- but I have done all my doc coursework.
    I am a doc candidate working on my dissertation so I would appreciate being able to at least say ABD, but I have run into people who have been ABD for 10 yrs and they are not even working on their dissertation anymore.
    What is the right term then?

    1. Anonymous7:02 AM

      Then you are (your name) M.S. That's my opinion. I worked long and hard for 7 year's + all while having a FULL time very demanding job and raiseing a family. Do YOUR research and quit trying to be something you are NOT.

  6. This is one reason I wanted to find out what others thought. My opinion is that others are not impressed by the letters ABD after your name. And after all, why are you putting the letters there, if not to tell others something important about your progress? Unlike the M.A., the doctoral degree (in most fields, although I'm aware that in a Psy.D. it's more about clinical experience and supervision) is not mostly about the coursework, but it's about the dissertation. Therefore, it doesn't really say much to let others know that you're ABD. Of course, an employer might want to know how soon you will graduate, in which case it's important to let them know that you've finished the coursework, passed the qualifying exam, and have finished x number o chapters of your dissertation. But again, I don't think letting them know by putting letters after your name is the way to go. Tell them in a letter or in your CV. Unless there is some kind of precedent or different rule in your field.

  7. Anonymous5:58 PM

    My impression is that ABD means "Has completed all requirements except dissertation; has not withdrawn from program." ABDs in my field (music) can go out and get academic jobs, with the assumption that they will finish eventually. So it's not a term of shame, and shouldn't be used as one because that lumps together people who just completed all their requirements and are racing ahead on their proposal, people who are 6 years into it and cry themselves to sleep every night, and people who met a wonderful man the following year and decided taking advantage of the childbearing years was more important to them.

    I seems inaccurate to characterize a person who dropped out/elected not to finish as "ABD," because they are no longer even pretending to seek a degree; more accurate to say they left the program when they were ABD. The 15-year ABD is a cautionary tale for the trembling graduate student, but in practice most schools have a cutoff number of years, and they also make you keep paying while you tell them you still might finish.

    That said, putting the letters after your name seems silly because it's not a degree. It belongs in the CV and cover letter.

  8. Anonymous6:58 PM

    In my department, once you have completed your coursework, language, and qualifying exams you have achieved candidacy. The appropriate way of indicating this level on a CV would be to refer to yourself as a candidate rather than a student. I have always thought of "ABD" as a less formal way of referring to a doctoral candidate vs. a doctoral student. It is used casually, but never appears on any formal documentation.

  9. Hi,

    I think the use of ABD by so many people who have dropped out has brought an unfortunate taint to the term in some circles.

    It makes to me that ABD would be used to indicate a particular stage in the degree-earning process, and that one might even apply for jobs while in that stage.

    As a recruiter for jobs requiring no graduate degree at all, I saw it used all the time in the headers of resumes, typically by people who were so caught up in their own sense of "failure" that, paradoxically, they announced it! Where M.A. or M.S. would have been sufficient - or even impressive - ABD said both, "I didn't finish!" and "I lack confidence."

    So, I fear that in some circumstances, "real" ABDs are taken for those others.

  10. Anonymous8:49 PM

    That is to why this title can not be forever - you are given a timeline to write your dissertation - if undone within a reasonable time then you don't carrry this title anymore.

  11. I am an ABD grad school dropout, and I put MS, if anything. No one is ever impressed with your credentials, and if they are, they probably aren't the sort of person you're trying to impress.

    I work in administration right now and personally really hate seeing emails from grad students signed Billy Bob, Ph.D. (ABD). It's like cheating, and all of the emails from actual professors are just signed "Jane," no alphabet soup to confuse undergraduates into respecting them.

    I really don't get it.. if you're just getting the degree for the title, then you won't have the stamina to do much with your career once/if you finish. If you actually are someone important, you go out of your way not to fool with titles like Dr.....

    Unless of course you have an online EdD, and then it's Dr., even on your credit cards, because you DID buy your degree for the title.

  12. Anonymous6:08 PM

    I am assistant professor currently reviewing job applications. If I read an application from an applicant that had the audacity to actually write "ABD" after their name on anything (e.g. cv, cover letter) I would be hard pressed to be able to take their application seriously nevermind have any expectations of ever working with such. It is a "tongue-in-cheek" way of describing status equivalent to using slang on a job app/cover letter.

  13. Thanks for your comments, Karolyn and anonymous assistant professor. I've always thought that it's best to leave off any "non-official" credentials, and explain your status in a cover letter. It's certainly not ok to put Ph.D. and then qualify it with ABD or anything else. You don't have the Ph.D. until you've fully earned it!

  14. Anonymous12:43 PM

    Sounds like a bunch of academics drinking their own kool-aid. I'd like to offer a different perspective. When PhD students leave the program and decide to return the real world, they have to explain what they were doing for three years in school. ABD is a simple way to say, "I was in a program, I passed my quals and coarsework, but decided that academia wasn't for me so I left the program before finishing my dissertation." Since this seems to be the common use of the ABD, let it be so.

  15. Anonymous7:33 PM

    I challenged a friend who called an ABD a terminal degree. Now she is really mad. Maybe I was wrong. Does anyone consider the ABD a terminal degree?

  16. I don't think anyone considers ABD to be a terminal degree. It just means you've passed all the qualifications to getting your Ph.D. except for the minor detail of writing and defending your dissertation. Many would argue that the classes and comps are just a continuation of undergrad courses, only more intense. It's the dissertation process in their view that separates the women from the girls.

  17. Anonymous9:00 PM

    ABD means different things to to different people, depending on what relationship the 'judge' has to educational issues. Factually, ABD means having completed 'All But Disseration', and the reason for that status could be for any number of reasons, not just 'quitters' or 'losers' like some of the emails here naively imply. Some universities require more profound and justifiable dissertations than others do. People who work full time and study part-time may be 'ABD' for a while until they have time and money to finish. ABD does, in any case, mean the holder has accomplished quite a lot more than a Masters degree alone. Some remain terminal ABD due to health problems or heavy family commitments (common enough in recent years in the USA). There a lot of people who have not completed PhDs due to health or economic problems and thus why special PhD completion programs exist, and evaluating that negatively may interpret as bias toward those who do not come from socially or economically privileged backgrounds, or those with health disabilities. Whether or not ABD can be listed with letters after the name is a matter of debate and opinion, and the individual university may or may not endorse usage of the title.
    In any case, all degrees should be verified with the issuing institution since so many people try to fake credentials they don't really have. You may also need to verify the number of units beyond Masters with the issuing university in order to verify ABD.

  18. I am a school teacher, and having an ABD gives me a "T6" certification status, which is higher than the T5 for the Master's degree. The advantage of getting a T6 is to get a raise, so we can afford finishing our doctorate program.

    1. Anonymous6:55 PM

      That is exactly where I am. I don't know that it's going to be worth it to finish. I can opt to get an Eds from my program, but I have to be honest, I've done the work and I do want the title. There it is just so hard to teach middle school and work on a dissertation. I'm currently considering a sabbatical... I don't like to tell people that I'm ABD, they seem to frown upon it.

  19. I currently have to explain my lack of a phd after my program crumbled and left me without anyone to advise me through a diss. I have my coursework completed but did not do my exams and obviously have no diss to speak of. I decided to withdraw and take a few years to explore other venues before applying to another instutution.

    Any advice on how I might summarize this on a resume/CV? I'm not ABD, I'm not a candidate, I'm not CURRENTLY working toward a degree...

    ...sticky is appreciated...

  20. Anonymous1:19 PM

    Some universities, Carnegie Mellon for example, do offer terminal degrees that are essentially the equivalent of gaining ABD status.

    I'm guessing that most people who are complaining about ABD grad students writing "ABD" after their names do not have any idea how difficult it is to actually achieve ABD status.

    I'm sure Anon Professor knows, since he/she apparently completed the PhD. But, many people misconstrue grad school as a walk in the park.

  21. Anonymous2:57 PM

    The term "ABD" is a joke. It makes the user seem as though he or she is pretending to have a degree that he or she does not actually have. Worse is when someone with an "ABD" designation insists upon being called "doctor". I regard people who do this with the utmost disdain.

  22. Anonymous3:02 PM

    Guys: I have a law degree. If I quit law school halfway through, would I get to call myself a lawyer, "all but the other half of school"? This whole ABD thing is ridiculous. You either did the work to earn the PhD, or you didn't!

  23. Anonymous4:44 PM

    Is this blog still live? I am hoping so. I have been using ABD as a credential- as in: Mary Smith, MA, ABD - but from I am reading here that may not be acceptable? I asked my committee chair and he thought it was fine to use...

  24. Hi Anonymous,

    Yes this blog is still alive, although I have to admit I've let it languish due to a hard year (divorce after 34 years of marriage, sell a house in this market, buy a townhouse and move). Sorry if this is "tmi."

    I think the term is "acceptable," but the question is, does it achieve what you want? From the responses here, you can see that some people find it derogatory or silly. On the other hand, if you are using it within your university to communicate needed information (e.g. they need to distinguish ABDs from non ABDs), then I would use it. I think it will not do you much good in the job market. But I don't have the final word. It's in the eye of the beholder. So think of the eventual audience when you use the term "ABD."

  25. One person, a teacher, got a raise with the ABD. I know that small universities consider ABDs over folks with just a masters. Folks who say its nonsense simply don't know. If you can get a job or a raise as a result, it has currency.

  26. The best answer I have read about the use of "ABD" is from this page:

    Clearly, according to the American Psychological Association, the use of "ABD" after one's name has the potential to be misleading and therefore unethical. If you read this whole page (following the link), you'll see that the APA considers it a useful acronym when discussing or writing about one's status with other professionals in universities, but NOT when communicating with potential clients or consumers. I totally agree, and as a doctoral student myself, I get somewhat worked up about this issue. I will soon reach the comprehensive exams (July) and then I could be considered an "ABD," but I am not going to put it next to my name. I will still just be an MA and an LMHCA in this state. I look forward to being Ed.D. and LP, but I am not there yet!

  27. I would say, after reading over the comments so far, that it's important to be aware of your audience and the context in which you use the term. In some cases it may help get you a raise, as in the K-12 educational system, and in others it may make you seem naive if you put it after your name. I would guess that it's best to include the information that you passed all the course requirements for the Ph.D. but didn't write a dissertation in the cover letter. Even there, you want to make sure that this is a context where people admire course work completion and aren't looking for dissertation completion (and all that this accomplishment entails).

  28. So here is the problem that I am currently in with the use of ABD.

    I am applying for a job i hope to get in 2 months. As of today, I have finished writing my diss and have submitted it to my advisor for correction which will then go to my committee. The defense will happen shortly too. The issue comes with a pull down menu for the application that lists BS, MS, ABD and PhD. The job requires a PhD but I currently do not have it yet. If I put down PhD, I am lying, if I put down ABD then I feel like I am saying I am not planning on finishing.

    Any thoughts?

  29. Hi Nathan,

    Is there any opportunity to write a cover letter? Are there any fill in the blank questions with enough places to explain? It will hurt your job chances not to put Ph.D. (I'm assuming this), so I would put it and explain in some way -- you could even call the HR director. It must be a big company if they don't allow any type of human contact!

  30. They ask for a separate resume/CV which i am going to put down with a graduation date. The concern though is that the job posted has a requirement of a PhD so I am assuming that they understand that ABD means work in progress and not dropout but i dont want my app dropped due to one line.

    It would have been nice if they had a box that came up with ABD asking for expected graduation date but alas, they dont.

  31. Anonymous10:09 PM

    Why not use the more commonly accepted term for ABD? It is a Master's degree. I don't recall this designation being accepted in other programs. Either you complete the PhD or you don't. If I see ABD on a resume I think Master's.

  32. I'm actually not sure if all ABDs have a Master's degree. Some Ph.D. programs, I think, don't grant a master in a "terminal Ph.D" program. Does anyone know for sure if all ABD's in terminal Ph.D. programs are granted a master's degree?

  33. Dr. Pi11:50 PM

    Al C., MS, ABD, here...& my sources tell me that unlike the Bachelor's Degree a doctoral candidate does not mean that the student has also obtained a Masters Degree. I am in Comps & use 'ABD' in my current CV only w/an explanation in my cover letter to prospective clients & employers (Consultant).

  34. Anonymous3:31 PM

    ABD *does* carry weight. You get two chances to pass your comp exams. If you fail at the exams, you're out of the program. No other chances, no other universities, your career path as a PhD is gone. Not all PhD candidates pass their comps. Columbia has a fail rate of 50%. Bravo to those who do pass their comps and continue their research!

  35. Anonymous5:33 PM

    Agree. One either has a PhD or does not. The dissertation is integral and essential. Bailing means one does not have a PhD.

  36. Only academics get hung up on the minutiae of title designations.

    I do have to disagree with some comments that indicated that ABDs are quitters. I completed my coursework and passed my language exams, writtens, and orals but my committee wanted to stonewall my candidacy because one of the members had personal issues with me that I was not aware of. So I never quit on grad school and unfortunately, I will have to file an academic appeal because of the intent of the committee to block anything that I present as a prospectus.

  37. Anonymous11:14 PM

    The bottom line is that ABD is not a title or a degree. It is a status of two different types of people who have completed ALL of the requirements for a Ph.D. (or equivalent degree, which is another controversial issue) BUT the DISSERTATION. 1) those who are working on dissertations and intend to finish and 2) those who are not working on the dissertation and who don't intend to finish. Using this status in ways appropriate to one's academic or professional context is sometimes okay, but treating it like a degree is inappropriate.

  38. I'm sorry that happened to you, hootenany. I agree that ABDs are not quitters. In fact, I applaud people who make a courageous decision not to follow a path that doesn't feel right for them. In your case, I really hope that the grievance issue gets you the desired result. No one deserves to be treated that way.

  39. I can certainly understand that psychologist would like to protect their field by not showing acceptance to those using Ph.D. ABD. I can also understand that those who have put forth un-measureable effort in attaining a M.S. in psychology, completing all course work, passing comprehensive exams, and are deep into writing and completing their dissertation should be given recognition and allowed to use "some type of acronym" if not ABD; the use of Doctoral Researcher means nothing, in fact it is somewhat condescending for you don't have to be a grad student to hold that title. On a more personal note...I have earned a MS and in the doctoral PhD program; and have completed all course work (3.8/4.0), passed the comp exam (it was brutal), and am now gathering info and writing my dissertation to be completed by 12/2012. Given this information, I should be allowed to use as a measure of recognition: Ph.D. ABD, Doctoral Researcher. Oh sure, we even have a loan over $100,000 in an economy and through our leader who has never held a job.

  40. Anonymous11:21 PM

    The poster who said an ABD = Masters must never have attended graduate school. Not at all interchangeable.

    I've been 50 pages shy of completing a diss for nearly 2 years. What's keeping me? My sick child.

    Finishing the diss isn't all about determination. Some academics (or academic wannabes) are so busy being enthralled with their own specialness that they can't see past their own belly buttons.

  41. Anonymous6:48 PM

    In my department, ABD is also used to "qualify" you to teach as an adjunct. Many internal job postings will have "masters or ABD" as the primary requirement. Since our program doesn't offer the terminal masters, it allows people who may not have completed a masters prior to enrolling in our PhD program equal footing in the job application process.

    I'm in a rather large program at a huge public research university and NOBODY uses ABD as any sort of badge of honor. It's just a way to internally classify people, mainly for various sorts of employment opportunities inside the university--teaching, research or T/A jobs, etc. Some "superstar" profs will only take ABD as T/As for instance.

    Hope this helps...

  42. "I have, though, occasionally run into the term ABD being used as a somewhat disparaging designation for one who fulfills the formal degree requirements of the Ph.D. but never finishes the dissertation"

    Yeah, but I still agree with the literal Carnegie Mellon definition, which is honestly descriptive of a level of accomplishment. After all there are academic snobs with Habilitations who have the same attitude towards PhDs.

    Maybe we could have another term for ABDs who haven't bailed out and are still *continuing* their dissertation work. How about ABCDs? (Just kidding.)

  43. Hi there....

    My dad got an ABD because the school administration changed staff and policies while he was working on his dissertation, and when he submitted it, it wasn't accepted because it didn't meet the requirements of the new administrative standards....

    The administrators were kind enough to give him a second Masters degree since he put in all the work.

    Totaling 1 ABD, 2 MA, 2 BA, 1 AA
    All he ever wanted to become was a fucking teacher. And no school would hire him because he was too smart "cost too much" because he was qualified to teach at least 6 subjects at a college level.

    And he grew up and worked so hard just to be so poor he couldn't home school his kids.

  44. Anonymous9:53 PM

    I actually am ABD and didn't "bail" on my dissertation. In fact, one of my directors bailed on me when she quit her job about a semester before I was due to finish, and the department informed me she had never actually filled out any paperwork to ever be my director in the first place, so I was left high and dry without a director. Then, the replacement took his time filling out the appropriate was a lot of rigmarole that had little to do with what I'd actually written up to that point, which was about 80% of my goal. That's not "bailing" on anything; my stamina got redirected to dealing with bureaucracy and paperwork instead of my subject matter. The only thing I didn't do was defend my paper. I think therefore that ABD, though a general term, lets departments know that you've got a little something extra; it just doesn't come with a degree attached.

  45. Anonymous12:29 PM

    In technical fields at some universities, you don't pass your qualifying exam unless you essentially have an academic paper completed. The rest of your dissertation corresponds to two other academic papers. So, ABD should never be taken to mean anything except what it is (dissertation was not finished). Every other sentiment corresponds to snobbery (something in ample supply at many schools).

    I worked with an ABD who I consider to be better than most of the PhDs today (an old school physicist). That being said, I am an ABD and plan on finishing soon. I admit that I would give preference to a PhD over an ABD if everything else was equal. Of course, everything else is never equal. And I consider many other things to be more important than whether or not you completed your dissertation. None of this applies to you if you work for brilliantly incompetent managers (e.g., the overwhelming majority of state and federal government positions).

  46. Anonymous10:11 AM

    I review resumes and forward worthy applicants for possible employment. I highly suggest not to use the ABD. Either you have the degree or you don't. That's how this employer looks at it regardless if you're in the process of completing your dissertation. Also, to call not completing it a "minor thing" is an absolute insult to those folks who did the work to earn their Ph.D. Again, omit the ABD from the job application and on your CV. I agree with the previous posted comment stating that ABD should be used only for internal academic use.

  47. Anonymous, you said, "I review resumes and forward worthy applicants for possible employment." (Just being clear which "Anonymous" I'm addressing) :)

    Yours is a valuable comment because you've been on the "other side." People need to be careful when they're applying for a job not to confuse or annoying anyone on the hiring committee.

    Thank you for taking the time to give us your point of view.

  48. Anonymous7:14 AM

    I strongly disagree with the posts above that "ABD" (as status/level of achievement) should be disregarded because ABDs are quitters... Quitters, my.... Do you even know how much it takes to get to the ABD stage? Second, it may not be useful to call yourself ABD if you are in, say, history or psychology - but ABD in economics/finance is extremely highly regarded and equivalent to Phd when it comes to working in the private sector. Not without a reason!

  49. Anonymous5:26 AM

    Have to disagree with calling people with ABDs "quitters." I never quit—I worked up to the end of my time limit, but ran out of time, and there were other things going on as well. Ph.D.s who did defend their dissertations didn't suffer half as much as I did getting half my dissertation finished; in fact, if you're getting the work done, that's great, but it's hardly survival. At that level, actually writing the thing is easy—because if you're in a Ph.D. program, it's likely you've never failed a paper in your life, anyway. What's hard is dealing with everything about life that comes your way—funding, food, relationships, etc.

    And to think that ABD can mean so much, from either passing the comps exam (a lot of work unto itself—it's pretty much all the research for the dissertation, leaving you with naught but the writing), to actually writing it but getting sidetracked for a myriad reasons. Calling ABDs quitters is just an ignorant statement.

  50. Anonymous9:18 PM

    I wound up becoming an ABD. I was on my way to earn an Ed.D. degree but eventually realized all of the additional education was in no way helping me with my job search. I am a high school teacher and aspiring to become a Vice Principal. I always felt that furthering my education would make me a more desirable candidate---I could not be anymore wrong. I struggled to even get preliminary interviews. I would submit 30-50 applications to job postings annually and was lucky if I was called for 2 interviews. It left me feeling extremely demoralized. I came so far into the program and had completed my comprehensive exam and was almost done with my dissertation proposal when I just gave up and said to myself "the hell with this." I was losing jobs I interviewed for to candidates with just a Master's and even less teaching experience than me. I no longer felt the additional debt I would have accrued was worth the pain and hard work. Fortunately, I completed enough credits to at least take an Ed.S. with me (Educational Specialist degree) and get paid at the level of Masters + 30 Credits. My district doesn't have an additional level for teachers with a doctorate. In the beginning it was hard, but I no longer regret my decision. I've had a certification for 5 years now and still haven't even been able to put it to use.

  51. Anonymous9:19 PM

    I wound up becoming an ABD. I was on my way to earn an Ed.D. degree but eventually realized all of the additional education was in no way helping me with my job search. I am a high school teacher and aspiring to become a Vice Principal. I always felt that furthering my education would make me a more desirable candidate---I could not be anymore wrong. I struggled to even get preliminary interviews. I would submit 30-50 applications to job postings annually and was lucky if I was called for 2 interviews. It left me feeling extremely demoralized. I came so far into the program and had completed my comprehensive exam and was almost done with my dissertation proposal when I just gave up and said to myself "the hell with this." I was losing jobs I interviewed for to candidates with just a Master's and even less teaching experience than me. I no longer felt the additional debt I would have accrued was worth the pain and hard work. Fortunately, I completed enough credits to at least take an Ed.S. with me (Educational Specialist degree) and get paid at the level of Masters + 30 Credits. My district doesn't have an additional level for teachers with a doctorate. In the beginning it was hard, but I no longer regret my decision. I've had a certification for 5 years now and still haven't even been able to put it to use.

  52. Anonymous3:47 PM

    So for those of you who disparage the use of ABD, what do you suggest to represent those of us who are at this stage and still have the dissertation to write? I just passed my comps two weeks ago, and I would like to be able to share this information with my co-workers and future employers without a lot of explanation. So what fits in a signature file and is not offensive? Doctoral Learner and Doctoral Candidate both do not fit. I've been a Doctoral Learner since the first days of my degree program, and Doctoral Candidate often refers to someone who is in the final stages of writing or defending their dissertation. My Ed.S. looks good on my signature line, but it does not really reflect my level of academic accomplishment.

  53. I just want to put in my 2 cents. I am in a PhD program right now in statistics (actually biostats) and considering going ABD, and finishing up while working because it makes so much more sense financially.

    As a employee, my value to the company greatly increases from master's to ABD, so there IS a significant different in amount of knowledge learned in those two extra years. Our written preliminary exams and oral qualifying exams are not easy and if I were hiring I would definitely choose a ABD candidate over a master's degree.

    Why not finish then? Because I could get a six figure salary right now. And further more, the stuff that comes after the ABD, ie research and dissertation writing is so narrow in my field that's it's unlikely I will use that specific knowledge in any job that I apply for. And I think that's the case for a lot of people. Whereas prior to ABD, that knowledge from the prelims and quals is much more broad but still rigorous.

    My conclusion is in my field, there is almost no different in hiring a phD ABD versus phD in terms of quality of candidate because most likely what that person worked on during their dissertation will not be relevant to their day to day work anyhow. I would still like to complete my phD though, the only reason I'm considering working first after ABD status is because it makes so much more sense financially not because I'm some kind of quitter or because I cannot get the phD!

  54. Anonymous9:24 PM

    To the lawyer above re your comments not relevant because with kaw school tge equivalent is different. Academically ABD have done all the work if course requirements exams comprehensive qualifying ...all that is left the would be like telling a law student no Juris Doctorate until you pass tthe Bar Exam....Having both MA degrees law degree and finalizing a doctorate in a diff field I see it this way....Give people credit for what they have successfully accomplished...dont diminish them ...ABD is ok to acknowledge .

  55. I didn't finish my Ed.D because my sister died and I had to settle her estate (no will) and then my dad died and I had to settle his estate (no will). I lost the drive to write without my two biggest cheerleaders in my court. However, when I did pick up the drive again, it was too late. UOP has a deadline for submitting dissertations and finishing the program. I was wondering if anyone knew where I could pick up and finish my dissertation. Do other schools take on ABD students?

  56. Doc Student4:41 PM

    I am not an expert, however being one who has just successfully competed their comps (yeah!) and after much review of ABD vs candidate, there sure are many differing views and opinions. In addition, many universities vary in their approach as well as to whether they recognize ABD, some do and some do not. In my experience, we have come to understand that it's important to determine who clearly is "working" on their dissertation currently and who is not (AKA who dropped out and has no plans to finish). This can be determined of course either on a resume by dates if listed or in the interview process.

    I found this blog because I was trying to determine the best way to represent my situation. On my resume I clearly state the following to ensure they know I am currently in process and not a drop out with no intention of finishing. I still struggle with whether to keep the ABD or not so hence that's why I came to the blog. But here's a sample of how it might look.

    Ph.D. student (ABD)
    XXXXXXX University
    January 2011 – Present
    Currently entering the research and dissertation phase of the Ph.D., Leadership for Higher Education program with completion goal date of August 2014. All coursework completed in June 2013 as well comprehensive examination passed in October 2013.

  57. Anonymous5:29 PM

    I will preface my comment by saying I think the nature of ABD may be different in various fields.

    When it comes to History, a Master's degree is nowhere near as advanced as ABD or Doctoral Candidacy. To become ABD you have to become an expert in your field, completing extensive readings and comprehensive exams -- these are not required of Masters-level students. The dissertation is new work utilizing all that you have learned, and will give you a deeper grounding in your field, but the field studies/candidacy exams help make you qualified to teach in your area.

    So, as a candidate who completed 20 hours more coursework than the Masters students, and who wrote 160 pages but timed out due to family & personal health issues, and as someone seeking work teaching in my fields, I really want to find a way to show that my education was more than a Masters degree. (And in seeking work outside academia, I would like to explain why I took 7 years to complete a Masters degree).

    So if anybody has useful advice on how to address the years of unemployment and the mastery of my field that can't be captured through listing of the Masters degree I actually received, I would be grateful.

  58. That's an important distinction, anon from history. I think you must use whatever designation helps potential employers know the most about you. If in your field, it is generally known to mean a certain set of accomplishments, why not make use of it?

  59. Anonymous11:01 PM

    I don't have an issue with the term at all. It's widely used.

    I once made the mistake of using the term in conversation with an ABD who is a small campus dean who had never heard the term. In denial, maybe?

  60. Anonymous1:23 PM

    So Gina, why don't you tell us something we don't know. College is a business and business's are motivated to make money. Once a candidate advances to ABD and strives towards reaching some of the SMR/IRB milestones they either go broke, loose their family, and/or just keep paying the university quarterly. Just so you can be shot down by your mentor. The real question is "HOW MUCH MONEY DOES IT TAKE TO FEED THE UNIVERSITY MILKING MACHINE?

    Scenario 1

    An ABD is unemployed, GI Bill was erased, and one of his parents lives 1,000 miles away and is terminal. The small amount of $ made via online courses is going towards the Univ for PhD. Now he needs to temp stop PhD program (No more funds); what are the alternatives in getting back to college to finish up?

  61. Scott Edwards1:31 PM

    An active ABD must leave the PhD program for (1) Family health resins, and (2) all funding is depleted. what are the alternatives for someone who has an ABD to get PhD somewhere?

    Thank you so much

  62. Very interesting reading in this blog! Opinions vary like, well, pick your variable...

    I'm coming to believe that the value of the "ABD" designation depends strongly on the field of study (this blog has enlightened my view!). It's apparent that for some, it is highly regarded, and for others, perhaps not.

    I obtained a Ph.D. in the early 1990s in a field (~ a form of applied physics) where one completes coursework and oral prelims (aka comps) within about two years after program admission. Then you spend the next few years (typically, 3-4) doing the research and writing it up (while concurrently publishing some peer-reviewed papers). I spent 5.5 years beyond my B.S. (no M.S.), about 3.5 of which was post-oral prelims. In my field, it is what you did during those last years that people use to develop an opinion of your qualifications, and not the coursework, which is considered a given. However, in many of the non-physical or non-biological sciences, it is the coursework that seems to be the key indicator of ability or suitability for a particular job. As someone mentioned, it could be that no one cares about your dissertation work.

    Funny thing is, where I work (a National Lab), the Ph.D. designation carries less and less weight the longer one works - it gets you in, but the performance during your employment is what ends up being key. No one here uses letters behind their names - it'd be like a sign telling people you're an ass. An elitist, fresh Ph.D. would be quickly straightened out.

    Anyway, my $0.02, at no charge to any readers! ;-)

  63. Anonymous4:25 PM

    I am currently an ABD student at an institution that is mentioned in this thread.

    I have completed all the placement exams, qualifying coursework, seminar requirement, oral research progress exam, original research proposal and oral exam, and have enough material to write a 200page dissertation, although I could finish one with 140pages, and already have 60 pages of that done.

    I will not receive a PhD because my adviser did not get the promotion he wanted and quit to take a job at another university.

    As there is no research adviser at my institution that performs the type of research I have done I am unable to transfer to another group, and unable to complete my PhD dissertation as I have no adviser or committee chair anymore to see over the thesis dissertation. I could transfer to another group and begin the original research process again at a committement of another 2 years, but at that point although I am learning a new branch of my field I have already demonstrated that I can carry forward original research, making it highly superfluous and just something to appease the meritocracy that often is established around PhDs.

    A masters in the field I am in is only required to take 6 full time graduate courses, and has no other formal requirements for presentations or exams.

    I would say ABD shows commitment and work far beyond a Masters in that case. It depends on the field of study the person was in often, but it shows more than

  64. Anonymous8:09 AM

    I'm sorry, I come from the REAL world. I got my PHD to reach a goal my mother always wanted for herself and it became my dream. It took me a long time, it put me in debt, it caused me problems with my employer, myself and even with my wife and our children. But, you are never more than you accomplished. I equavelate this to saying you climbed 75% of Mt. Everest. You did NOT make it. Regardless of the best excuses, you didn't make it.

  65. Anonymous5:15 PM

    wow.. Here in Puerto Rico ABD is used when you are writing, still some people write "Ph.D in progress"

    By the way... I'm proud of having an ABD, and yes I'm writing.. But at the same I think that there are diffrent reasons for those that drop-out... some don't have the guts.. but others don't have the money. Yo see. in Puerto rico we have helps to finish a doctoral degree.. out of 51 credits the federal grants paids 70%.. the rest is paid by the student. Dissestatin is the most expensive part of it all.. we need to paid for the statistics, reader, editor, specialist... so most dont finish...such is life

    justMe, ABD, defending may 2016

  66. Anonymous1:27 PM

    My Master of Science required advanced course work, a Scholarly research project, and a thesis (+ defense). I would claim that this exceeds that of "ABD" because the thesis was based on original research, while ABD does not include a thesis defense. Also, if one is pursuing a Ph.D. in the UK, then by definition, ABD is automatic the moment the student begins the program, since in the UK, there are no qualifying exams or course work. I favor the UK Ph.D. academic system, because the only requirement is a dissertation (demonstration of original research), which is the main point of going to graduate school in the first place.

  67. Anonymous7:16 AM

    In the business school market for new assistant professors, the job descriptions often read "ABD considered if Ph.D. completion date is before start date of position." This means that doctoral candidates can apply before they graduate with Ph.D. in hand, if they finish before the assistant professor term starts. So for us, on the job market each summer, ABD = doctoral candidate = one who has completed all coursework, comprehensive exams, defended their dissertation proposal, and who is *just* working on finishing the dissertation before graduating with a Ph.D. in the near future. So ABD is used as shorthand both by the hiring business schools, and by those candidates applying for the positions. It indicates "gotta finish--all other requirements but diss must be out of the way" or "gonna finish--I finished everything else but the diss and that will be done before your job starts" respectively. It's a relatively important designation for us. So when you're on the job market the phrase is bandied about quite frequently.

  68. Anonymous3:08 PM

    You know, I'm from the real world too - and I find some of these comments appalling. I know two people who were cut off by a major university when they dropped the program we were all in. I only had two courses down - so eh -- but one of my friends was ABD. For 18 months we were told that we would be given another adviser, then we were told that the program was being closed and we COULD transfer to a "general studies" ph.d. if we wished. The ph.d. we were in was highly technical, so that was not a choice. I stewed for years (I also work full time) and then went to another university to finish the degree. I do not blame those who did not, but simply gave up ever having a ph.d. however - does that mean that with no punishment to the uni for simply dropping people, those people must be themselves punished to assure your academic purity? It's disgusting to read the supercilious arrogance of some of you. I don't know your fields, but I know in technology their degrees are still respected.

  69. Dinah DeFord5:48 PM

    I am conducting dissertation research on adults that graduated from a "dissertation required" doctoral program. In addition, I want to hear from the student who had to withdraw from the same type of program as an ABD.

    Research can facilitate a greater understanding of the understudied ABD population, and give them a chance for their voice to be heard.

    If you are interested, please copy and paste the link below:

    Link to survey:

    Deadline to Respond: August 15, 2015

    For additional information contact:
    PI: Dinah DeFord or

  70. There is a terminal degree between the master's and the doctorate, in Education. It is called the Ed.S., which I have. I completed all the same coursework as my Doctoral candidate peers, passed my comps and my orals. The only difference is that I didn't write a dissertation, the program completed at that point with the degree. My husband was in the same department as I was, but was a Ed.D candidate. We took courses together, had the same tests, and he never wrote his dissertation. We refer to him as "ABD" at times so people can understand what happened, but would NEVER write that anywhere! He writes his degree as MS. Ed. Both of us have exactly the same education.

  71. I don't see a way to follow your blog? I'd like to ask you some questions.

  72. Anonymous6:28 PM

    I just came across a profile of my coworker on a law firm website. In his profile on the website, he talked about attending Ph.D. program and his research. It really gives an impression that he got his Ph.D. I know for the fact hat he didn't get his Ph.D. Thus, his profile is rather misleading, which violates the ethic conduct for attorney. And then, I see that under the education (side tap of the profile), he wrote "{ABD)" under his Ph.D. degree. So now, I know the meaning of ABD. I think it is misleading the public who may look for attorney and are not familiar with the meaning of ABD.

  73. My Code of Ethics clearly states that ABD is never to be used

  74. I am sorry, but I will be 78 years old and am still getting my PhD. I worked hard-yes, I am a Candidate, but I will use PhD, ABD for now, as I did not drop out.

  75. Anonymous9:10 AM

    law schools don't usually have dissertations, so he was just being clear on that.

    "A dissertation is a body of research written by a candidate for an academic degree. Candidates for the Juris Doctor degree are not required to write a dissertation to obtain their degree. Rather, they are required to take rigorous legal writing courses as prescribed by the American Bar Association."

  76. I'm a doctoral student who decided to pursue this dream at age 58. Now, at almost 60, I have completed all but dissertation, while working a full time job in education. It's been tough and I am I nto my dissertation as I type. When I had completed all but my dissertation, I announced to my friends and family that I was ABD, with one more hurdle left. I think students all feel the same way I do... it is just a milestone on the pathway to the final achievement. I'm hoping to have all complete, edited, defended and ready for publication by Summer 2017. To me ABD simply shows me light at the end of the long tunnel.

  77. Dear Tired Doctoral Student, congratulations on your accomplishment, especially while holding down a full time job. I agree with you that ABD is a milestone, and a huge milestone (equivalent in some cases to a Master's Degree). The metaphor of the light at the end of the tunnel is a perfect way to describe it.

  78. Anonymous3:34 PM

    What is the usual time limitation a university allows for completion, defense etc. of the dissertation? I know someone who was an adjunct and used ABD. He is 10 to 12 years out of his program and I think definitely no longer working on his diss. I thought that for a while you could be a "candidate" but that at some point, you simply "left the program" if you didn't write the diss. The guy I know continues to tell people he will finish the diss someday. The university where he teaches recently let him go as they discovered he not only didn't have a PhD, he also didn't have a masters. (Apparently this was a dual program where you achieve both degrees or neither.) Not sure how they missed that for so long.

  79. It is one thing not to finish your dissertation it is quite another to not have your MBA. Every university requests transcripts when hiring teachers as well as professors to teach their students for good reason. If a job candidate does not show a transcript that lessens the job hiring into the desired position. Furthermore, if a persoon has submitted a transcript that is faux it is highly against university rules and that person will face consequences.

    To answer your question about completion of dissertation to the best of my knowledge each university has different rules and policies. There are certain rules a person must follow when being in the All But Dissertation status (ie - cannot use Dr. before name is a good example along with other specific items) In this case it sounds like issues run deeper as this person may have more important things to be concerned about.

  80. Anonymous9:38 PM

    I'm an ABD. Having both an ABD and a separate Master's degree in Finance, I can safely report that to say that the ABD is "equivalent in some cases to a Master's Degree" is totally silly. The ABD is far, far advanced beyond the Master's Degree. The Master's degree requires about 1 year of work after the bachelor's degree. The ABD in most cases can only be achieved with about 3 years of grueling effort at a fundamentally higher level, getting your teeth kicked in anew every week, the whole way along. We're talking totally different leagues here - there's really no comparison. Moreover, some here have written that the ABD is a negative sign in that it is a signal of a person who "dropped out" of doctoral work. Nothing could be further from the truth; at least that is not necessarily the case. Obviously, whoever wrote that has never done doctoral work. The comment reveals incredible ignorance of the range of realities facing students in doctoral programs in the United States, at least in finance and economics. In my case, I didn't drop out - I was *pushed* out of the program, as were 75% of the doctoral students in our program like me, when half the faculty in our department turned over and our advisors allowed us to be devoured by the wolves of circumstance. To insinuate that ABDs all *make the decision* to become ABD is completely asinine. It wasn't my choice at all. And by the way, I thank God every day for not allowing me to complete the Ph.D. I am far, far advanced today both professionally and personally beyond where I would have ended up had I "chosen" to continue on for the Ph.D. 10 years ago. The ABD has received training that is *far* advanced beyond any Masters degree. If you're an alternate for the Olympic team, and you just miss the cut at the end, you're still playing the game at a fundamentally higher level than the college athlete that wins their conference championship. Doctoral work is not "like Masters work just a little harder." It's a completely different level of play. People put ABD on their resume because they know when a hiring manager like me who *actually* understands what it means sees that, they will gain instant credibility in my eyes. Our company has hired multiple ABDs and has benefited from their advanced skills, training, and most importantly *grit* reflected in these individuals, over the last 10 years.

    If any manager turns away an ABD only due to some perceived "negative signal" associated with a person claiming the ABD designation, I can assure you that manager is basically an idiot, or at least disgracefully ignorant of what ABD actually means and is thereby doing their company a disservice. Either way, they should probably be getting their own resume ready.

  81. Anonymous9:18 PM

    Thank you for your post regarding ABD. I was in a situation working quite hard toward finishing the dissertation and unfortunately needed to step back. In my case, my PhD is in Global Business and I have an MBA in Business Administration. I can fully relate with what has been mentioned on knowledge gained through working.

    I have obtained more knowledge through work experience than what I would of gotten through completion of the dissertation writing. Even thogh I would love to complete my ABD status I have not done so as of yet; will I complete it, maybe but as for now it's sitting in limbo because I'm happy with my work status and the experiences that are being learned.

    I would like to thank you for sharing your comments about using ABD on a resume or CV this lets me know I am doing what is right for my career focus.

  82. Anonymous1:19 PM

    I don't see an ABD as quitters. I finished all my coursework and my study. I was approved by my committee for my writing up through my 3rd chapter. I was in the midst of completing the writing of my 4th chapter on the stats when I experienced a brain adenoma that adversely affected me being able to complete on time. And the university would not approve a medical exception. So I am stuck as an ABD because I can't afford to pay to repeat the entire program and I had already completed my study. So not all ABDs are quitters.

    1. I AM an ABD and I did NOT bail, quit or fail. I chose the Wrong Program and found out Too Late in the process THAT: students were being USED for profit and so were the Chairs who often had too many students to properly manage. We Fell through the cracks having one chair after another replaced only to find the next chair MIA, or off to serve active duty as an admiral etc. My Best chair after the THIRD one, Died abruptly. No one can imagine how disheartening it can be to have worked for years on your Dissertation After having successfully completed all Course work to discover your University KNEW the ultimate fate would be ABD due to THEIR intentional sabotage. I cannot discuss any specifics due to legal issues but I WILL stand FIRM and say no amount of disparaging comments from those who were fortunate to get their three letters will make me feel ashamed of my years of hard work only to find I had been sabotaged. I WILL say ABD and I KNOW the assumptions and prejudgemental remarks and snickers but I KNOW and that is good enough for me. In this society knowing how greed an corruption often finds those who can often will take advantage of anyone Vulnerable I donor believe anyone should judge any Group as a Group when there Exists Individual circumstances. You got yours GOOD. My WORK acknowledged by my statement if being ABD does not take ANY thing away from You. It also grants me NO Privileges to SAY ABD but it also affirms what LONG Hours in EARNEST I SCrificed to be Screwed with my other cohort members by GREEDY Corp EXECS. So YES I AM AN ABD an PROUD of it! And BTW CONGRATS you Pompous PhDs😀

  83. MANY ABDs have OUR stories and MANY of us did NOT Quit Nor BAIL. Some had illness some had LIFE happen to Them. Some had Greedy Corp Execs paying Chairs so Little and burdened them with Too Many Students that the students Never really had a chair at all. I had Ine chair disappear without notice only to be told months later he was called to active duty as an admiral?? Then my next chair DIED he was the Best and the rest just disappeared MIA. My other cohort members experienced the same. I worked HARD finished all but the D. YES I AM a Proud ABD. Congrats to You PhD. But I will not care one iota what ANY one THINKS really. I did THIS for ME and I Earned Every Letter of MY ABD thank you. And IF you are Worthy of YOUR PhD you would NOT PRE JUDGE. After all isn't Tgat What Your Research Taught You? Here is to ALL ABDs. OWN it! You. EARNED it every Single Letter!!😀

  84. Anonymous5:44 PM

    Unfortunately, I do not think that academic institutions care about the designation of ABD because it is not a terminal degree. In the 3 years that I have been ABD, I have never used it in any sort of academic correspondence or anything at all related to my job/job searches. I am finally about to defend my dissertation, but I had many ups and downs with my committee - people quitting/getting sick, etc. There were factors that were just out of my hands. I feel fortunate to have clawed back to a place where I do have an opportunity to finish. Not everyone is that fortunate.

    While I agree that it really isn't the same as a terminal degree, there is something to be said for a student who does 60 credits of coursework beyond a Masters degree, passes written comps, passes oral comps, etc. That is a significant body of work. Some of the comments in this thread are demeaning: a "quitter" or a "loser" does not complete this much work. There are any number of obstacles that might complicate someone completing the dissertation. I think we who have been in the struggle owe each other a little compassion and acknowledgement of the work that has been completed by those who are ABD. I applaud your hard work.


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