I read an interesting topic entitled "PhD candidate vs. PhD Student". I understood that the distinction between the use of those terms is strongly linked to the structure of PhD programs in the US/Canada. I wonder how should I phrase it for an application to a doctoral workshop that requires me to mention whether I am PhD student or candidate (I completed research master's coursework, passed agrégation examinations and defended my dissertation proposal before getting into doctoral school).

To be sure I well understand how it works in North-American universities: students often get admitted in 5-6 years PhD programs after graduating from a 4 years bachelor's degree. The PhD programs, therefore, include a 1 to 2 years first step (PhD student) in which students pursue intensive training in their field. Students have to work on a dissertation proposal which is defended at the end of that first step so that the second step (PhD candidate) deal with the completing the dissertation (reviewing relevant literature, structuring research questions, designing research protocols, testing, analyzing results ... and finally, writing the dissertation).

Considering that European students often have to complete a research master + research proposal (+ for humanities and social sciences in France, having passed a competitive examination for teaching which is called agrégation is often implicitly required, those demands seem similar to final exams of N-A PhD programs) before applying to 3-4 years PhD programs, should we consider they are "PhD candidates" from their entrance into PhD programs?

  • 1
    Related: PhD candidate vs PhD student
    – GoodDeeds
    Sep 13, 2020 at 8:02
  • Just a note: That some application requires the information whether you are student or candidate is really bad, as it assumes the whole world uses the same structure.
    – user111388
    Sep 13, 2020 at 22:00

2 Answers 2


In North America, usually PhD candidate is also called ABD (all but dissertation), so, are PhD students who has passed all PhD requirements but defending/submitting their final thesis. The distinction between a candidate and an ABD is not very clear, some say candidate may imply that one is still working on their dissertation while most candidates who quit may call themselves as ABD. I would not concern myself with the distinction between candidate and ABD on my CV as providing dates (e.g., expected finish time) can clarify it.

Now, in answer to your question, I would say if you can call yourself an ABD (nothing left but defending your final thesis) then you can call yourself a PhD candidate, else, you might count as PhD student.


In France, both terms can be used and no one would be bothered. Indeed, this can be confirmed through the residence permit status for non-EU foreign people who can make a choice between two different residence permit status.

Either you can have an étudiant residence permit which is the student residence permit or you can have the status mention chercheur scientifique which is the residence permit that shows you are a professional researcher. I think, in the first case, you can be called "PhD student" and in the second case, you are not legally considered as a student. So, you are PhD candidate.

Of course, you can have the second residence permit if your doctoral research is funded by the university, which is called contrat doctoral (doctoral contract). Otherwise, without funding, you can be registered to the doctoral school but you can only have the student residence permit and you are legally considered as a student.

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