I am an ABD (all- But-Dissertation) student. I have done all my work, completed my credits, passed my qualifying exams, I passed my oral exams, but I am having trouble finishing my thesis (advisor problems) , and I was wondering if there may be some variant of the standard post-doctorate for people in an ABD status.

EDIT: Basically, are there post-doc programs that will accept someone who did all the work but did not finish their thesis? Or are there programs similar to a post-doc for people who have

SECOND EDIT: I am in a Mathematics Program. Does anyone know of schools that will allow me to transfer with relatively few requirements, i.e., not needing to take years worth of classes?


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    See this
    – 410 gone
    Oct 16, 2014 at 19:26
  • What do you mean by "variant of the standard post-doctorate"?
    – Paul
    Oct 16, 2014 at 19:30
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    A postdoc without a PhD is called a PhD student.
    – xLeitix
    Oct 16, 2014 at 20:05
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    My father was ABD when his advisor failed to get tenure and was fired. He had already lined up a post-doc position at another university when this happened, and he managed to make arrangements to start that post-doc before finishing his dissertation because his old department cut off his pay and health insurance (about 1 month before I was born). He was so mad he couldn't finish his thesis for a year. This was 28 years ago, so maybe things have changed, but at least it used to be possible to start a post-doc before finishing dissertation. Probably depends on department and professor.
    – user137
    Oct 16, 2014 at 20:29
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    At this point in the year, nearly every mathematics post-doc position being advertised in the US will be to start next summer anyway. Why not just apply like every other candidate who is finishing this year, and get your thesis done by next May? There are usually also some teaching-based positions that specify they will accept ABD.
    – Jessica B
    Oct 17, 2014 at 21:41

6 Answers 6


The fundamental misconception is that there can be "someone who did all the work but did not finish their thesis". The thesis is the focus of a Ph.D. program, while coursework and other requirements are nothing but preparation for the thesis and are of negligible importance in comparison. Postdoctoral positions are meant to give people a chance to deepen their research experience beyond what they achieved while writing a thesis. If they haven't written a thesis, then they haven't completed graduate school and do not yet need to move beyond it.

Occasionally people do begin a postdoctoral position without yet having received a Ph.D. This happens when they have completed their doctoral research but have not yet graduated, for example because their institution awards degrees at only a couple of times each year. I've never heard of someone starting a postdoc if their thesis wasn't at least nearing completion, and I think it's so unlikely that it's not even worth looking into (although I can't conclusively rule it out).

Although postdocs per se are not the right program for this, one could reasonably ask whether there is anything else. There are plenty of postdocs intended to help recent Ph.D. graduates gain additional experience, but are there any programs aimed at helping students who are struggling to finish their degrees (perhaps for reasons beyond their control) become successful and productive researchers?

Unfortunately, I don't know of any. The general feeling is that this is the responsibility of the department you are studying in. They know better than anyone else what you have accomplished so far and what your future potential is. If they have faith in you, then they can help you try to find additional funding, transition to another advisor, or whatever might be appropriate. If they don't have faith in you, then it will be difficult to convince outsiders to take up your case. It could happen in theory (if, say, a faculty member somewhere else is impressed with you and helps you transfer), but I don't think it's likely. Looking outside your current department/university will be seen as a sign that they have given up on you, and unfortunately that will tend to put other institutions off.


Simple answer: you can't be a post-doc until you're a doc.

If you want your Ph.D., what you should probably instead be looking do to is to change advisors, within your institution if possible. I know a number of people who have done that, sometimes rather late in the thesis process. You'll likely need to change your research and take more years to complete, but there's nothing shameful about that. Think of it as no different than finding out that your first research project simply wasn't possible to complete.

Alternately, many institutions will allow you to take a Masters and leave, at which point there are still lots of research jobs available in industry, government, and even non-traditional posts in academia such as project research staff.

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    For someone who has actually completed every requirement except submitting the final thesis, I'd be a little wary about recommending changing advisors. At such a late stage in the process, it's worth doing everything possible to try to work things out with one's current advisor before looking to change.
    – David Z
    Oct 17, 2014 at 2:23

You can certainly get hired as teaching faculty at a lot of places with those qualifications. But you're not going to get hired into a research oriented postdoctoral position without the PhD.


I know of at least one person who was hired for a postdoc and began work before his dissertation was officially filed. I also know of someone who applied for and was interviewed for a tenure-track job; she didn't get the job, but if she had, she would have begun work before receiving her PhD (and the people offering the job were aware of this).

However, these were both cases in which the people were clearly on track to complete their PhD and simply needed more time to see it through (e.g., more rounds of revisions). In other words, they were not people who hadn't finished their thesis, but people who hadn't finished their thesis yet --- the people hiring them were confident that they were obviously going to finish. Indeed, they basically were finished with the actual writing, but were just making some revisions in response to committee comments.

You don't say exactly why you haven't finished, but the phrase "advisor problems" suggests it is not just a matter of needing more time to do another round of revisions. No one will accept you if the reason you haven't completed your thesis because you are locked in some sort of stalemate with your advisor. However, they may accept you if you are clearly on track to finish, even if you may not actually officially receive the degree by the official deadline. I would imagine that in most cases the letter of recommendation from your advisor would be a major factor here. If you haven't received the degree yet, but your advisor says your research is coming along nicely and the end is in sight, hirers may be satisfied. If your advisor mentions that the two of you are at an impasse over substantive issues (i.e., he wants you to do something with the thesis that you haven't agreed to do) that will raise a red flag.

As a side note, my impression is that many hirers would not see a problem if you have not officially received the degree yet due to purely procedural problems (e.g., it has been approved by your committee but not yet officially filed because your margins were the wrong size). I gather that is not the nature of your situation though.


There are pre-docs for people who are in their final year. They are usually called dissertation writing fellowships and are more common in the humanities and social sciences.

That being said, they always require a functioning committee in your home university and a strong sense that you will be able to finish and submit your dissertation (at your home university). The fellowship supplements but does not replace your home committee.

My advice is to scrounge and beg together a new committee at your university.


In the UK it is possible to be hired as a research assistant on EPSRC grants. You receive a lower salary until your corrections (if any) are accepted, at which point you're upgraded. It can be a tough grind though if you discover e.g. a gap in your PhD which needs plugging. Your new boss may not be happy either.

In all cases I know of, there is a expectation that you will complete quickly. I certainly don't think anyone would hire you into such a position if you told them you weren't going to finish the PhD. A postdoc is partly for training future faculty.

I have lots of sympathy for advisor problems but really encourage you to persevere with finishing the PhD. It might take another year, possibly living on baked beans, not talking to your advisor much. [Are there other grad students in your area to chat to?]

Without a PhD, you might get one (or exceptionally two) assistant positions.. but, realistically, long term you'll be scrabbling for teaching jobs assuming you stay in academia. Not sure about industry jobs.

  • I don't think that 'corrections' is exactly what the OP is talking about. I think `hasn't written up' might be closer, although I'm not sure that's quite right.
    – Jessica B
    Oct 17, 2014 at 21:30

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