How does one address a doctoral candidate who completed all his/here requirements except the dissertation? Would they be referred to as Doctor? Or is there another title?

In the past, I believe I've seen "ABD" added as a postnominal in a signature. For example, "John Doe, ABD". But I don't believe I recall reading how to address such an individual.

Related discussions (thanks Nate (or is it Doctor?)):

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    I would call them John, unless they request something else. I usually ask "Do you prefer Mr. Doe, John, 'Hey you', or some other form of address?" – Not Quite An Outsider Jul 10 '14 at 4:12
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    @NotQuiteAnOutsider That's going to cause a little confusion. D'you mind if we call them Bruce just to keep it clear? – David Richerby Jul 10 '14 at 9:19
  • If you're from the other half of the planet, sure @David. Works for me. – Not Quite An Outsider Jul 10 '14 at 19:02
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    You may call then Master John or Mistress Karen if they got their MS/MA/MPhil in the process of advancing to candidacy. – RoboKaren Aug 24 '15 at 22:25
  • It feels good to finally get to the point where you have completed all but dissertation. But you are correct it is not a degree and can bite you in the butt if you add ABD and it stays there for more than a year or two. – user39173 Aug 26 '15 at 18:50

Address them the same way you would address any other person without a doctorate: e.g. in many English-speaking cultures, "Mr. Smith", "Ms. Jones", "Mx. Brown", or if you are on friendly terms, by their first name.

If they have successfully defended their dissertation but not actually received the degree, this is a bit of a gray area (see When can you call yourself doctor?) but I think "Dr. Brown" is reasonable.

  • Thanks again Nate. I never commented, but I hold PhDs in awe. I only managed to get through undergrad and grad coursework. So I'm happy to give them lots of credit. – user18370 Aug 24 '15 at 22:39
  • Ad the 2nd paragraph: You can't make a mistake by calling them "Dr" in that case; they should be a bit more careful :) – yo' Aug 27 '15 at 15:02

"ABD" is just silly, IMO, and I'd avoid using it like the plague. To me, it carries nothing but negative connotation.

First, defending a dissertation is too big to be an "all but". It's the culmination of a serious academic experience. I've seen plenty of students get to that point only to have the degree disappear.

Next, the dissertation and the defense is a big step. Not being able to get your act together to write and defend when you're at the "all but" stage is a sign to academics that something is not quite right.

Finally, even if everything is going perfectly, and you've completed the research and writing it up will take the normal amount of time, then using an artificial title makes it look like you're anxious to have a title.

Long story short, when you start, use "Ph.D. student". When you've been advanced to candidacy, use "Ph.D. candidate", because that's what you are. I'll stick my neck out and say that when you've successfully defended and dealt with any corrections and revisions your committee wants handled, but you're just waiting for a ceremony, it might be OK to use Ph.D., but I'd leave it out, and on my CV I'd list Ph.D., with the date defended and the date the degree will be conferred.

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    I agree. ABD sounds as silly as a Bachelor All But Exams. – Davidmh Aug 31 '15 at 15:08
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    What is the difference between PhD student and candidate? I've been using those synonymously. – mathreadler Aug 24 '18 at 13:29
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    They are not synonomous @mathreadler. Advancement to candidacy, at least in most US programs, is a formal step that usually occurs after formal "proposal" of your thesis topic or passing of a qualifier exam. i.e., a first year PhD student that has zero idea of the exact topic of the dissertation is most often not considered a candidate. – Scott Seidman Aug 24 '18 at 13:32
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    Ok. As far as I know there is no such step of changing name or title in many places in Europe. There may be an evaluation, say after a year after having started if the PhD student is judged reasonably able to finish given the progress during the first year. – mathreadler Aug 24 '18 at 13:35
  • @mathreadler: In many places/programs the PhD is split into an initial coursework phase and then a later phase where you have proposed and are working on your dissertation. This gives rise to a distinction between a PhD "student" (earlier phase) versus "candidate" (later phase). Note that some countries/institutions/programs do not have this split, and so in those places there is no distinction between these terms (i.e., they are synonymous). – Ben Oct 16 '20 at 13:46

Such a person is entitled to be recognized as a "PhD Candidate", which would follow the name and probably mention the department or emphasis ("PhD Candidate in Electrical Engineering" in my case). This might be used in a signature block or a biographical sketch.

There is no special honorific to use antecedent to the name, as Nate has already told you.


Before I post my comment I strongly caution one to review the institutional policy regarding this topic. In some program and student code of conduct policies credentialing and use of titles prior to the awarding of the full degree is grounds for dismissal from the program.

Having been ABD for longer than I should have been I can tell you it is not something I wanted to advertise. It was more like an albatross when I was required to report annually on my progress.

In an earlier post the term “candidate” was discussed. This would be appropriate when presented in a vitae or resume in the educational section for degree not yet completed along with the anticipated completion date.


XYZ University City, State Ph.D. Management (Candidate, 2016)

My advice is to finish the dissertation and earn the degree. The satisfaction of being called Dr. or adding the letters in your signature is far less important than the actual work.

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    I appreciate your answer. There is no such degree as "ABD," so there is never a reason to add it after a name. In the academic culture I spent my time in, it was seen as foolish. – ewormuth Aug 1 '15 at 21:27
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    A student was dismissed from my own doctoral program after sending out resumes with "Ph.D." after his name, but before he had defended. This was done quietly but with great finality. – Bob Brown Aug 26 '15 at 22:00
  • I mostly agree with this answer, but even writing "PhD (Candidate, Year)" as a postnominal seems extremely dubious to me. You should not be listing postnominal letters for a degree that has not been conferred, even if you parenthetically note that you are merely a candidate. I would tend to read that as a heavy negative --- i.e., the writer is trying to pass himself off with credit for a degree that is not finished. – Ben Oct 16 '20 at 13:48

in "real life" you'd refer to that person with an honorarium of "ABD" as "hey, you over there!" "yeah...you with the funny hair."

i.e. almost really really is only valid in horse shoes and hand-grenades.

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    This seems adequately covered by the very first comment on the question. – Ben Voigt Dec 4 '15 at 2:00