Can one call oneself a PhD ABD (All But Dissertation) after completing all of the course work and working on the dissertation?

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    and student who has just enrolled in PhD without coursework? are you a PhD ABD immediately? The PhDs I am considering are "assessed solely on the basis of a thesis", which is not at all unusual here in Australia (to my knowledge). Sep 20, 2014 at 12:39
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    You can call yourself whatever you like, whenever you like. But I wouldn't recommend using "ABD" in any official capacity, ever.
    – JeffE
    Mar 4, 2015 at 10:11
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    Just remember, ABD means Almost Became Doctor.
    – Bob Brown
    Feb 1, 2016 at 12:42
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    @JeffE I once commented that ABD is like saying you climbed Everest (All But Summit) because you made it to base camp.
    – Fomite
    Aug 30, 2016 at 19:18
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    Any natural born US citizen over the age of 35 who has resided in the US for at least 14 years can call themselves "President of the United States ABE" -- all but elected. PhD ABD is similarly ridiculous; the dissertation is the requirement of the PhD and everything else is meaningless.
    – Thomas
    Aug 3, 2017 at 17:16

8 Answers 8


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.

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    @TobiasKildetoft: because hot water on its own would just be a masters? Sep 19, 2014 at 9:53
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    The question seems to be about current PhD candidates using the term to indicate a stage in their candidacy. The distinction being made is useful, the term ABD is commonly used to make that distinction, and completing the non-thesis requirements for a PhD before the thesis is the ordinary process, and not any kind of failure.
    – Henry
    Sep 19, 2014 at 18:08
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    @Henry I haven't heard of someone calling themselves ABD if they've left the program, but EnergyNumbers (apparently) has: "or fail to ever, deliver the thesis." If the term connotes that possibility in some places, I'd hesitate to use it there too. But even where I would use it, it's more of an "in-group" term for others in a PhD program. E.g., "So how far along are you?" "Oh, I've been ABD for about 8 months now." I wouldn't expect to hear it in wider usage. Sep 20, 2014 at 13:02
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    I once said that ABD is like saying you "Climbed Everest, except for that tricky part above base camp with all the rocks and snow".
    – Fomite
    Mar 2, 2015 at 2:45
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    @Henry, in the vast majority of times I have heard someone refer to themselves as "ABD", it was because they had essentially washed out after comps/quals. Very few current students call themselves "ABD" ... as EnergyNumbers states, once you've completed the coursework and defended your prospectus, you're a "candidate".
    – Yasha
    Mar 2, 2015 at 15:40

At many schools there's an official step of "advancing to candidacy" or something similar which is the last official hurdle before the dissertation. Although ABD is an informal term, I would expect somone who described themself as ABD to have passed that step.

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    There is a huge level of variation in what "advancing to candidacy" means. In many programs, one can advance to candidacy well before reaching ABD status.
    – ff524
    Sep 19, 2014 at 0:34
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    @ff524: Fair enough, I'd still expect someone who said ABD to have advanced to candidacy or done something similar. Sep 19, 2014 at 2:58
  • No. If you have advanced to candidacy, you refer to yourself as a "PhD Candidate," which is an official title, and which is superior to ABD status. "ABD" is only used by people who have not yet or have failed to advance to candidacy.
    – SigmaX
    Jan 27, 2016 at 20:23
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    @SigmaX: That simply isn't true. First, ABD literally means that every requirement for the degree has been met except the dissertation (and dissertation defense). If the requirements are (coursework, teaching practicum, candidacy, dissertation), then an ABD must have completed the coursework, teaching, and candidacy. Whereas a Candidate might not have completed the teaching requirement yet. On the other hand, the title PhD Candidate requires candidacy in the present, while ABD only requires it in the past (possibly now expired), so Candidate is more promising of a future degree.
    – Ben Voigt
    Mar 4, 2018 at 2:59
  • @Ben Voigt: i suppose I always thought of the dissertation proposal as being included in the 'D' of ABD. In programs where the proposal is the final step before candidacy (and the only step left before diasertation), then perhaps we're both right :). You're right that programs that have additional requirements that may be contemporaneous with the dissertation would yield a more complicated picture.
    – SigmaX
    Mar 5, 2018 at 4:12

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 most programs, defending the proposal/prospectus advances you to candidacy. At that point, you're beyond ABD—you are now a "PhD candidate," which is a genuine title. If you tell me you are ABD, I will assume that you have not advanced to candidacy.
    – SigmaX
    Jan 27, 2016 at 20:25
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    (edits elsewhere recently bumped this question to the front page, which is why this comment is nearly 1.5 years after your answer) For what it's worth, where I work (not academic) we often get applications to job postings that include ABD. These are typically people 10+ years out of graduate school with no intention of returning to academics, and their use of "ABD" serves (correctly) to distinguish them from Masters only applicants (e.g. MFA degree is common here). Often, these are people in humanities disciplines who spent several years working on a Dissertation and finally left academics. Aug 30, 2016 at 14:39

If I saw this, I would read it as someone that had passed a PhD in a subject of ABD then after I found out; discount them for any jobs for misleading me.

“PhD candidate with publications” or “Withdraw from PhD but published” would be more meaningful.

  • You're not a "PhD candidate" until you advance to candidacy. An ABD student is typically someone who has not advanced to candidacy.
    – SigmaX
    Jan 27, 2016 at 20:24

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.

  • By you are not about to, do you mean an ABD will never finish it?
    – Nobody
    Feb 1, 2016 at 11:56
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    Maybe it's used in some fields that I haven't come in touch with, but I've never heard about the title Drs. in Germany. Aug 30, 2016 at 7:18

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.

  • I am so disgusted by people downvoting those comments. May 21, 2020 at 21:54

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

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    I like the humor, but how's "PhD ABD" different from just having a Master's, outside of the implication that a PhD was attempted-but-not-achieved? Or was this intended as tongue-in-cheek?
    – Nat
    Nov 13, 2017 at 12:33

For academic jobs it's important on your application to indicate that you are post-comps or "ABD". Many institutions will not consider your application without the accompanying ABD if you are still working towards completing the PhD (usually in the Spring following your Fall applications).

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    The usual way to do this that I have seen (in the US, in philosophy) is to have a line in the cv like: "Ph.D. (expected 2015, defense scheduled for 5/1)" I wouldn't ever use the phrase "ABD" officially. and if one doesn't at least have a defense scheduled, I can't imagine one is a serious contender for any academic position.
    – user10636
    Aug 25, 2015 at 15:52
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    I agree. There are other ways to indicate your status in the program, as jakebeal has suggested. And putting ABD after your name is often seen as just plain foolish. I know someone who kept it attached to his name for his 30+ year academic career (he was never on the tenure track), and it was thought to be silly.
    – ewormuth
    Aug 25, 2015 at 22:10
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    Officially, you are either a "PhD student" or a "PhD candidate," and there is no in between. I, however, do like to tell potential employers that I have "finished my coursework." That makes clear that I am advanced PhD student, although I am not yet a candidate, and avoids the connotations of failure that come with "ABD."
    – SigmaX
    Jan 27, 2016 at 20:28

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