Can one call oneself a PhD ABD (All But Dissertation) after completing all of the course work and working on the dissertation?
Some people think it's ok to call yourself PhD ABD when in the Canadian or US system, you pass the qualifying exams and coursework, but haven't yet, or fail to ever, deliver the thesis.
But simply do not call yourself PhD ABD.
It's not attractive to advertise failure.
You're either a PhD candidate, or you're a PhD, or there's nothing to say on the subject (bar a line on the CV filling in the black hole on your timeline with discreet mention of an aborted doctorate). PhD ABD is a ludicrous pseudo-title.
A PhD that's All But Dissertation is like an espresso that is All But Coffee. It's hot water with a bit of sugar, thus defeating the entire purpose of the exercise.
ABD is not an actual title but rather just a little construction people use to describe a state that many graduate students find themselves in. I think that you can honestly call yourself ABD if you have completed all of the requirements of your PhD with the exception of an approved dissertation and/or dissertation defense.
Here is a very incomplete lists requirements that PhD programs might include and which an ABD candidate would be assumed to have finished:
- Successfully completing required course work and/or resident semesters/quarters
- Passing general examinations and/or qualifying examinations
- Fulfilling language and/or fieldwork requirements
- Having written and/or defended a dissertation prospectus or proposal
- Maintained a grade point average over some threshold.
Of course, there are many other requirements like this that programs require and that an ABD student would have to have fulfilled. If you have done all of them, except the dissertation, you can call yourself ABD. If you failed to complete any of the non-dissertation requirements, you are not yet ABD.
In Germany and Belgium they use the (informal) title Doctorandus (abbreviated Drs.) which means something like "He who will become Doctor". In Belgium it means PhD candidate and in Germany it means the dissertation has been approved but the candidate needs to defend it in public (generally a formality). In the Netherlands they used to give the official title Drs. as an equivalent to a Master degree. In Italy, anyone with a university degree is Dottore (which means "Doctor" according to the dictionary but is not at all that level).
There are large differences in what a school diploma means. I have read (American but also some Southern European) PhD dissertations that would not be good enough for a Master. An acceptable dissertation is either a book that is published by a respectable publisher or a collection of 4-6 articles accepted by peer reviewed journals (at least one article in a journal with a high impact factor). ABD is ridiculous, to me it means that you did not finish it and you are not about to.
In the USA, PhD ABD is ludicrous only to the arrogant academic. PhD ABD gives very important information to non-academic employers. Namely, it signals rigorous training in the production of knowledge process, as attested by passing qualifying exams necessary for Candidacy. By definition Candidacy attests one has the tools to endeavor in that process; i.e., dissertation project. A Master's degrees' objective is different: it is training in specialized analysis. A distinction in title to reflect the distinction in training is therefore appropriate.
PhD ABD also signals that one has chosen to work in the productive sector v. in Academia. Plenty of reasons to make that choice!
Whether someone left the PhD program due to their inability to complete the dissertation/coursework successfully or their free choice is very easy to tease out (e.g., in an interview process, via transcripts showing performance, etc.).
So to the orthodox I say: be more open-minded. Show nuanced discernment. Note that your fundamentalism is against Academia's core mission!
In the end, a PhD ABD who knew he/she was in the wrong place and cut their losses is much better off (economically, and arguably socially and psychologically) than a 7-year frustrated post-doc that can sign PhD after their name! Due to structural problems in higher-ed that is where most PhDs land. The people vilifying the PhD ABD in pejorative terms here and elsewhere sound like the latter trying to prove that although they are unhappy, at least "they did not fail" like the PhD ABD.
As a PhD ABD I can attest that could not be further than the truth! I am much happier with my lot! One, by the way, which most people call remarkably successful!
Yours truly, M.M., PhD ABD
I have struggled tremendously over the use of the term ABD. Unfortunately, due to illness and institutional failure to process IRB application appropriately, I aged out of the program. However, course works and comps were completed on first round and when I look at the money I spent I feel that I am entitled to something. Therefore, I use the term ABD with pride instead of shame and have continued my PHD studies at another institution. So, if you have eaten up your student loans pursuing a PHD that you aged out of and passed your comps regardless of what others say it is time that we stand with our PHD ABD with pride because we have paid for it.