June 22, 2008

"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?

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62 Comments:

At 10:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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

 
At 10:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

 
At 2:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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!

 
At 11:20 PM, Blogger Gina said...

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.

 
At 4:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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?

 
At 4:37 PM, Blogger Gina said...

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.

 
At 5:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

 
At 6:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

 
At 7:39 PM, Blogger Barbara Ruth Saunders said...

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.

 
At 8:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

 
At 5:36 PM, Blogger karolyn said...

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.

 
At 6:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

 
At 7:01 PM, Blogger Gina Hiatt, Ph.D. said...

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!

 
At 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

 
At 7:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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?

 
At 11:21 PM, Blogger Gina Hiatt, Ph.D. said...

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.

 
At 9:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

 
At 10:06 PM, Blogger EPeck said...

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.

 
At 3:46 PM, Anonymous Jane Fader said...

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 stuff...help is appreciated...

 
At 1:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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

http://www.cmu.edu/policies/documents/ABD.html

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.

 
At 2:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

 
At 3:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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!

 
At 4:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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...

 
At 5:07 PM, Blogger Gina Hiatt, Ph.D. said...

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."

 
At 2:59 PM, Blogger Chris said...

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.

 
At 12:37 AM, Blogger Bri said...

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

http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb06/ethics.aspx.

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!

 
At 11:54 AM, Blogger Gina Hiatt, Ph.D. said...

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).

 
At 2:13 PM, Blogger Nathan said...

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?

 
At 4:35 PM, Blogger Gina Hiatt, Ph.D. said...

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!

 
At 6:03 PM, Blogger Nathan said...

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.

 
At 10:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

 
At 11:59 AM, Blogger Gina Hiatt, Ph.D. said...

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?

 
At 11:50 PM, Anonymous Dr. Pi said...

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).

 
At 3:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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!

 
At 5:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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

 
At 8:51 PM, Blogger hootenany said...

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.

 
At 11:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

 
At 6:00 PM, Blogger Gina Hiatt, Ph.D. said...

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.

 
At 2:48 PM, Blogger Mike N said...

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.

 
At 11:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

 
At 6:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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...

 
At 1:34 PM, Blogger Mister Ed said...

"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.)

 
At 8:00 PM, Anonymous Remrie said...

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.

 
At 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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 paperwork...it 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.

 
At 12:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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).

 
At 10:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

 
At 10:30 AM, Blogger Gina Hiatt, Ph.D. said...

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.

 
At 7:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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!

 
At 5:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

 
At 9:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

 
At 9:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

 
At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

 
At 2:32 PM, Blogger hello friday said...

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!

 
At 9:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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 dissertation...it 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 .

 
At 2:53 AM, Blogger MyLena said...

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?

 
At 4:41 PM, Anonymous Doc Student said...

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.

 
At 5:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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.

 
At 7:36 PM, Blogger Gina Hiatt, Ph.D. said...

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?

 
At 11:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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?

 
At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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?

 
At 1:31 PM, Anonymous Scott Edwards said...

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

 
At 7:25 PM, Anonymous Bob said...

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! ;-)

 

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